TPS grad on pathway to pediatrics thanks to UPS commitment to local students

3/7/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

Shannon Jasper Woods dreams of serving Tacoma by opening a pediatrics practice especially for people of color and those without health insurance. But first she must tackle the challenge at hand: passing organic chemistry. 

Shannon attends chemistry class at the University of Puget Sound, where she enrolled two years ago after graduating from Tacoma’s Mount Tahoma High School. Like many Tacoma students, Shannon thought hard about her future and decided to dream big: she wanted an outstanding education at a cost she could afford. 

Enter the University of Puget Sound, whose leaders share the vision that an excellent, affordable education can set Tacoma students up to achieve anything. The university offers two programs to meet the financial need of Tacoma students: the Tacoma Public Schools Commitment and the Access Program.  

Shannon Jasper Woods with her biology professor, Mark Martin,
during a laboratory class at the University of Puget Sound.
The Tacoma Public Schools Commitment, in its second year, provides financial support for students who graduate from Tacoma Public Schools and earn acceptance to the university. The Access Program helps admitted students from Tacoma and across the country who come from groups facing traditional barriers to college enrollment, such as low-income, minority and first-generation college students. To be eligible for Access Program’s special financial aid, students must have participated in the program for a specified period during grades 7–12.

Shannon, as a qualified member of the Access Program, earned scholarships and grants covering much of her college costs. Without that help, Shannon’s “dream big” hopes to attend the highly regarded and relatively expensive university would have remained a dream. She threw herself into campus life—majoring in molecular and cellular biology with an African American studies minor—and serving as president of the Black Student Union and member of a community service group. 

“The University of Puget Sound has amazing resources and networks,” she said while taking a break in the campus student center. “Having an education in today’s society is vital because it will make your future 10 times easier. Even though the thought of college may seem scary, once you get there, there’s a lot of people in the college environment who will help you complete your education.” 

Teacher, lawyer, doctor – is it possible? 
Shannon grew up knowing she wanted to attend college. Her mother teaches in the Tacoma School District and beginning in kindergarten would ask her what she wanted to become. 

“I told her a teacher, a doctor or a lawyer and then I asked, ‘Is it possible to be all three?’” Shannon recounts. “She told me, ‘Anything is possible.’”

As she grew up and studied at Birney Elementary School, Stewart Middle School and Mount Tahoma High School, Shannon narrowed down her interests to one aspiration: helping kids and her community as a pediatrician. 

When it came time to apply for college, Shannon met with people in her school’s career office for advice. She applied to eight schools and earned intriguing offers. Puget Sound rose to the top when she received a letter offering her a place as an Access Programs Cohort Scholar, which would provide substantial financial aid, plus support services such as mentors and a tutoring center on campus. 

“I knew with the college I chose to attend I wanted to have enough money in store so I don’t have to take out lots of loans, especially considering the cost of attending medical school, too,” she said. 

Staff at Puget Sound helped Shannon set up an internship with her childhood pediatrician and will support her as she applies to medical school and seeks scholarships.  

Joseph Colón, coordinator of Access Programs at Puget Sound, says Shannon brings a “personal determination and grit” to campus which helps her as a leader on campus shattering stereotypes of Tacoma and women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). 

“One of the main stereotypes students have on campus is Tacoma is this dangerous, working-class place, or they think Tacoma students are underprepared for a prestigious liberal arts school,” Colón said. “It’s really cool when we do have exemplary students like Shannon to show them their assumptions about the city are incorrect.” 

“Puget Sound’s willingness to throw open more doors to its prestigious college experience is a priceless investment in the future of Tacoma students,” said Tacoma’s Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia. “We’re seeing it pay off right before our eyes. We have hundreds of Tacoma seniors from underserved populations and low-income families applying to colleges and universities who might not make it without the kind of assistance UPS offers.”

Since 2015, the number of Tacoma Public Schools graduates enrolled at the university has grown from 16 to 23 students in two recruitment programs with slightly different financial aid packages.

Shannon helped raise $25,000 this year through the Black Student Union to provide scholarships for more black students to attend the university. She praises the effort on campus to recruit more people from varying backgrounds and values the strong relationships she has formed on campus. 

“Diversity gives you the opportunity to know someone different from you,” she said. “I enjoy getting to know different students from Hawaii, Colorado and California and hearing their experiences and I educate them about how I’m different but also similar because I’m human.” 

When Shannon takes a break from her extracurricular activities and her two jobs, she dives back into organic chemistry work. It’s her hardest class yet, but also her favorite. 

“The professor is helpful, supportive and everything a good professor should be,” she said. “He really makes the class enjoyable.”