By Lindsay Downey
THE MOMENT SHE FIRST clicked her fingers across a computer keyboard, a whole new world opened up for Laquetta Shaw. She was a sophomore in high school, and her parents, Lillian M. Shaw and the late Elder L. J. Shaw, who had always preached to their three daughters about the importance of faith and higher education, had just bought Shaw her first computer, a late ’80s IBM-compatible model. “My dad said, ‘You can do anything with this computer,’” Shaw remembers. “It was magic.”
Now, as she walks the halls at George Washington Carver Learning Center and Cedar Valley College in Dallas, with years as a computer specialist under her belt, Shaw is determined to create a similar techno-epiphany for her students by minimizing the digital divide. Too many at-risk children who attend schools in the Dallas Independent School District (ISD)—which has the seventh highest dropout rate in the nation—don’t have access to personal computers. To learn how she could bridge the technology gap, Shaw knew she had to return to school. But when the Dallas native enrolled at Walden University, she had no idea just how profoundly the social change message that glowed on her computer screen would become enmeshed in her life.
As Shaw worked toward her MS in Education, she talked to her sisters, Karen and Lillian, about the empowerment she felt in completing her coursework and about big social change plans that began to percolate in her mind. When they attended graduation events with Shaw in 2007, Lillian and Karen began to envision their own futures at Walden. “When Karen saw me cross the stage at graduation, she said, ‘That’s the school for me,’” Shaw recalls. Today, both sisters are enrolled in master’s programs at Walden.
Laquetta Shaw has returned to Walden for a Doctor of Education (EdD) to gain more credibility for her business ventures and to transition to a role as a school administrator. She’s enhanced her research skills through work on her digital-divide doctoral study and will put her knowledge into practice after she graduates. “I would like to place a laptop in the hand of every sixth grade student,” she says.
And she’s bringing her mission of technology and educational empowerment to adults as well. In January 2010, Shaw, along with her sisters, mother, and brothers-in-law launched Brand New Life Ministries, a nonprofit that helps underprivileged job seekers create résumés, sharpen interview skills, and search for employment. They host clothing drives for the homeless, teach illiterate adults how to read, tutor at-risk students, and counsel people about the importance of obtaining their college degrees. “Through the skills we gained at Walden, we were able to develop our dream and vision into reality,” Shaw says of the ministry, which she hopes to expand worldwide.
Whether she’s poring over job sites with a single mother or solving math problems with a student online, Shaw says adopting Walden’s social change mission helped her see the impact she can have in the world. “I’m a different person,” she says. “I have a higher purpose in my life.”