Photo courtesy of Sharon White
Sharon White is the McNair coordinator for USC’s first generational college students.

Dr. Sharon White. If you had to describe the word unbreakable, Sharon White would be first on the list. A woman who’s spent 17 years, including four as an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina, mentoring and caring for students. That has always been her passion. After a decade of working in New York City, White decided to return to  USC to further her education. Career opportunities offered by her bachelor’s degree just were too little. As a woman whose goal is always to provide for her family, she had to make sacrifices in order to live a better life.

By all statistical data, given her humble beginnings on a farm in rural Orangeburg County,White grew up poor, African American, and female. Sharon White was not predicted, nor expected to attend college, let alone earn four degrees. Two TRIO Programs at the University of South Carolina have contributed immensely to her academic success. TRIO programs provide services, support, and information for low-income and first generation college students.

When she returned to college in 2000, she was an adult student. Her whole idea of schooling shifted from her previous experiences. She had no idea the environment she once knew, was now fast-paced because of her age. She joined one of the fastest growing college populations: adults, usually female with children.

The TRIO Educational Opportunity Center Program assisted her through this transition. As her then counselor said, “you like a deer caught in headlights,” when she walked into his office. She had been thinking of returning to school for some time but was afraid. The idea of starting her education over frightened her because she had more to care for now, a family. So much had changed in the 17 years since she had been away from the college classroom. The technology was evolving, and she had no idea how she was going to pay for school, let alone raise two pre-adolescent children as a single mother. Her intent at that time was to complete my undergraduate degree and return to the job market. However, life had another course. She did indeed earn her Bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communications with a concentration in Public Relations in 2002; however, her academic career did not end there.

Her journey has not been easy. Obstacles, health crises, births, and deaths littered her road to success. Through the support of her new profound family with the TRIO program, the unconditional support of mentors and loved ones, Sharon White accomplished something far greater than she imagined.

When Jarvia Meggett, one of White’s students, said White was a pleasure to know and love. “Dr. White is a woman you cannot forget. I remember the first time I met her, her spirit was one of a loving mother, someone who is driven, dedicated, and determined to beat the odds no matter the cost. She has given so much for me in a short period of time I have known, and I am forever indebted to her because of it. There are not many people who can overcome the battles she has. She is truly an inspiration.” University of South Carolina student Youstina had nothing less than kind words to say about her Ronald E. McNair coordinator. “I met Dr. Sharon White last summer during the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Program. She welcomed everyone with open arms and had a personality that lit up the entire room. The program consisted of students doing individual research proposals while also learning the necessary tools for entering graduate school. She was never hesitant to lend a helping hand or simply share her roadblocks while obtaining an education,” said Rezkalla. Through my experience with the program and the mentoring of Dr. White, I found a community that represented home for me. I never knew one woman could single-handedly empower a group of students to do far more than what their college experience entailed.”

“It was hard. I could probably write a book on the things I have experienced. I have faced battles I would not wish on anyone. I was taught from a young age that it’s not what you go through, but how you go through it,” said White.

White explained that although she has faced many obstacles to get her to where she is, she would not change her experiences. She defined herself as a walking testimony. Although pain has occurred throughout her life, she has much to be proud of as she stated.

As White glanced off into a distant direction, her eyes began to get glassy. She breathed heavily and a soft smile began to form. While admitting the road has not always been easy, she says to me, “Life is going to come at you faster than you know. You are young and are in an environment where change will constantly persist. I have seen a lot, more than I would like to share but through all my struggles I was steadfast and rooted in my beliefs. I am a strong woman and there comes a time when every woman has to be.”