January 18, 2000
Volume 52, No. 17
Cynthia Shaw: Keeping MLK's dream and Emory's celebration alive
With another King Week under way, Cynthia Shaw shifts into overdrive.
Shaw, director of student development for Campus Life as well as the chair of the King Week committee, makes it a point to attend each King Week event. With campus activities on the slate all week--Wednesday and Thursday are particularly hectic with three separate events on the schedule--Shaw is certain to log a lot of mileage.
And that's exactly the way she likes it.
"I enjoy King Week because I always learn something," said Shaw, who has chaired the King Week committee for the last nine years.
"It's a labor of love, and as someone who oversees activities of the week, it is important to me how Dr. King is recognized and remembered on our campus."
The work actually starts in mid-September, when the 30-member King Week committee meets as a whole for the one and only time. Throughout the fall semester, the group's communication is by e-mail or phone. Although she doesn't plan all the events, Shaw facilitates the entire process. While it may appear that running such a large organization would require the skills of a diplomat and the patience of a saint, Shaw said the program planning runs itself since each sponsoring organization knows what it wants to do.
"She has it down to an art now," said Vera Rorie, assistant dean for Campus Life and director of multicultural programs and services. Rorie is also a member of the King Week committee. "[Shaw's] leadership is essential; it's very, very valuable. She provides tremendous leadership and recognition for King Week in Atlanta."
It wasn't always so easy. When Shaw first took over the responsibility for King Week, the event was much smaller in scope. Some strategically placed phone calls on Shaw's part changed that.
"It was just a matter of simply inviting people to participate, and they were delightfully surprised that they could be a part of this week of celebration," she said.
But Shaw's contributions to King Week only scratch the surface of what she brings to Emory every day.
Among her duties, she is co-director of the FAME (Freshman Advising and Mentoring at Emory) program, which is the academic advising program for first-year students. Shaw also assists sophomores with their academic decision making through the "Sophomore Season Seminars," which she developed 10 years ago. These voluntary workshops, held four weeks each semester, help second-year students decide on majors and whether they want to apply for an internship, decisions that must be made before a student's junior year. In addition, Shaw chairs the Alcohol Judicial Council, which hears cases of students involved in alcohol policy violations.
Shaw also supervises the office of Volunteer Emory. Her interest in service took her and several students to South Africa in 1997 and Honduras last May. The trips were part of the "Journeys of Reconciliation" sponsored by chapel Dean Susan Henry-Crowe.
"It's a different experience. We visited some ravaged areas, especially in Honduras, where they are still trying to recover from Hurricane Mitch [in 1998]," Shaw said. "It helped us understand how other people in the world live. They don't have the same resources as we do, and we often forget that. It was important for us to see those communities."
Just as important, according to Shaw, is the direction and insight such trips give to the students she chaperones. As an academic advisor, that's the backbone of her responsibility.
"These 'journeys' often help students put into focus what they might want to do with their lives," she said. "Many of the students who apply to go on these trips are already predisposed to service, and the trips help sharpen that service orientation.
"They come back changed. They are less self-indulgent. They think about what's going on the world beyond themselves. To me, that's what the college experience is supposed to do--help students come to some conclusions about their lives."
Shaw talks a lot about her students; she has developed strong relationships with many of them. With almost 20 years experience at Emory--Shaw has held her current position since 1980--she has significantly touched the lives of dozens of Emory alums. She keeps in touch with many of them by e-mail, receiving constant updates on jobs, marriage and children. It's a way for them to pay her back for the help she offered while they were students.
Former student Jeff Gold-blatt went one step further. A senior who graduated in 1999, Goldblatt nominated Shaw for the Mortar Board National Excellence in Advising Award, an honor she received this past September, besting eight other finalists. Mortar Board, a national honor society for college seniors, has 40 members at Emory, and Shaw has been the organization's Emory chapter advisor for the last six years.
Although she has kept the same position at Emory for nearly two full decades, Shaw still finds a great deal to enjoy at Emory and new challenges around every turn. "It's reassuring for [former students] to come back [and visit]," Shaw said. "A lot about the University changes, and I am that familiar face.
"I love that part of what I do."