Catching Up with Doni Shepard-Steele (2008 Graduate)

By Deborah Bosley

To follow is an update provided from Fridonna (Doni) Shepard-Steele based on a set of interview questions developed by Deborah Bosley and Heather Caudill. The following represents Doni's responses to Deborah Bosley.

Deborah Bosley (DB): Is there anything you'd like to tell us about you personally? (i.e., family, pets, hobbies, any fun facts)?
Doni Shepard-Steele (DSS): I am now a grandmother of a beautiful little girl named London Kathleen Rose Basilici, who will be two months old on January 17, 2021. I often think about how another part of me exists, which knows that love that can never be replaced. I am sure the grandmothers within our WINGs network can understand this love of a grandmother. I will also be celebrating my 10th marriage anniversary, which I am truly grateful for as well. I am so grateful for the endless love and support from my superman, Jeff Steele. My daughters' Faith and Cheyanne are now adults; they, too, have my heart as always, and as their mother, I am always proud of their accomplishments.

DB: During your time in school and in the WINGS program, what were the biggest challenges you had to overcome to complete your degree? Can you tell us a story about an accomplishment you are proudest of?
The biggest challenge I had to overcome to complete my degree was learning how to balance my life. By keeping a daily schedule and using my organizational skills, I became a better planner. This allowed me to pursue other endeavors as well. As a wife, I made sure that I made time for my husband and my family, which can demand a lot of attention. However, spending time with my husband and my family was exactly what I needed to help me get through that tough day I had in school or work. As a mother, I learned to listen a lot more. I know I did not have my daughters in my home, but maintaining that contact was important. As a child, I learned the value of collective identity and in my Native American Indian culture, this is very important.  

So, in whatever I did, I worked hard to better myself with the intention of teaching my children that life can be challenging, but we as a group need to learn how to support and help others as well. And it was only through the wisdom of our ancestors and teachers that we should honor ourselves by being honest with who we are as individual, which I feel is the roadmap to self-discovery. Moreover, in return, and through this commitment to ourselves is when we can find our true purpose in life.  It was hard, and it still will be, but that is a part of life and a lesson that I will always truly be grateful for.

As far as my classes, I made sure that I communicated with my professors, and I took advantage of help when it was offered. For example, I got up extra early to meet with study groups and or meet a tutor to help me stay on track. I also utilized the writing lab and library, which made a difference because I stay focused and completed my school projects and assignments on time.

DB: How have you have been doing since you graduated, and how your career has progressed over the years?
After graduating with a Bachelor's in Sociology, and minors in Public Health and American Studies, life was different. I learned that my degree was not just a  piece of paper. It was also needed to fulfill a job requirement. I also learned that my degree helped me to achieve a level of success, and it also told me that I am a success and that I need to continue to advocate for more. Meaning, with the help of WINGS, and mentors Pam West and Frances Queen, I have learned to look at life on a bigger scale, which has made a difference to my education and career choice. I am now working toward my Master's in Social Work, which has been my initial goal when I started my educational journey. I have joined the Capella's Social Work Leadership Group, and I have been accepted to join the Phi Alpha Honor Society, which also opened the door the joining the National Society of Leadership and Success.

Regardless of the hard times that I experienced in between my undergrad and graduate studies, that fire in me, and my experience with the professional development of WINGs and Dress for Success Charlotte, I have turned my journey into a world of "I can" even more so than before. I am now more than half-way to completing my MSW with Capella University. I will begin my first practicum with the Indian Health Service, and I will be working with the Navajo Tribe and allowing me to give back to my people. Those who interviewed me for the WINGS scholarship at Central Piedmont Community College, my mentors, and scholars who know my passion for service, understand that I hold this dear to my heart.

Under the leadership of my mentor, WINGS, the professional service boards I'm on such as the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board, and the wisdom of my elders, I will continue to uphold traditions, values, and competency that can then be l be passed on to the next generation. I am happy and grateful for the lessons, the unconditional love, and the support from WECS, WINGS and other women of leadership. Without them, I would not be where I am at today.

DB: What advice do you have for future mentors and students?
The advice that I have for future mentors and students is to love and have faith in yourself. Love is something that I had to learn to do, as this was something I did not know how to do. Secondly, have faith in yourself. Faith is what I had to lean on when I was overwhelmed. I think it has a lot to do with my self-esteem, so I made sure that I utilized a lot of positive self-talk; I also read daily meditations, whether it came from a recovery or faith book. I also listened to "I can only imagine," by Mercy Me. When I listened, I would ask myself "what I can do to show God that I am doing his will" throughout the day and how I would feel when I see Him. Especially on cold, hot and rainy days, because those were the days that were most difficult. Lastly, I also changed my cell phone ring tone to the Rocky theme song, "eye of the tiger." I know it's unconventional, but I loved hearing that song in the mornings; it motivated me to do my best.

DB: One of the themes for our 25th anniversary is a quote from scholars and graduates that begins with "I soar because....." How would you complete that sentence?
"I soar because, I am a part of a group of women who are in charge of their success."