Ms Shelly Williams

Week after week Delux sheds light on an outstanding woman who is breaking barriers and doing great things in the community and workforce. However this week’s #WorkingWomenWednesday was a tad bit different. It was like interviewing your mentor, someone who has influenced you in more ways than one. Both professionally and personally, so I was a bit nervous interviewing Shelly Williams, Director of the American Graduate Initiative, of the Nine Network of Public Media.

Now I promise I won’t get all mushy, I’ll just share her story of hard work and the importance of giving and being engaged in the community.

Giving back was instilled in Shelly since she was an itty- bitty girl, she could remember as far back as childhood preparing care-packages for the homeless. Hearing words of wisdom growing up, like “it is your role and responsibility to give your talents and skills and resources” was something she heard regularly.

Switching her major her sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame from Pre-med to Anthropology, may seem like a major leap, but for Shelly she had simply found her place and purpose in society. After working at the Robinson Community & Learning Center at Notre Dame, tutoring and mentoring youngsters became a natural fit. Guiding them in their studies towards college, Shelly had the opportunity to witness first-hand her mentee reaching and achieving their goals. However, the magical mentor-mentee relationship has a powerful exchange which allowed Shelly to learn from them as well.

Attending the prestige Notre Dame, community involvement just leveraged what she had been taught her whole life. It is so interwoven in the curriculum it just became a vital role in who she became.

“I didn’t have to go to that center every day; I did it because I loved it. I knew I was doing something that was helping those kids out”, said Shelly.

After graduating from Notre Dame in 2007, Shelly went to teach at Fanning Middle School, and from there, is where the American Graduate Initiative journey began.

All of her volunteer work and diligent studying of human behavior as an Anthropology major, and working at Fanning Middle School prepared Shelly for her next esteemed role. Now as the Director of the American Graduate Initiative, being on the frontline and witnessing the everyday challenges some children face allowed her to really understand how these factors can affect a young child’s education and success.

Shelly learned how to listen to the concerns of the community, helping to gather local organizations to bridge the gap between our young people, and sealing the holes in our education system, which by the way  has pushed this initiative into its 5th year.

Being the initiative director at Nine gives Shelly the chance to broadcast these challenges and hopefully inspire the community to get involved to come up with solutions.

“I knew this initiative was greatly needed, they were thinking against our kids instead of for our kids”, said Shelly.

So what is the American Graduate Initiative, well I’m glad you asked. In a nutshell the American Graduate Initiative is Public Media’s response to the dropout crisis. The American Graduate Initiative works in the communities to understand what the challenges and barriers are that youth face. The American Graduate Initiative is leveraging relationships with local organizations to provide solutions to help young people stay on track towards to success; while making sure produced content speaks to those supports.

“We are the voice of the unheard and unseen. Our goal is to uplift and give voice to the people you don’t normally see, giving them the opportunity to express what their needs are and how to move the community forward”, said Shelly.

Shelly’s success with the American Graduate work helps keep this dialogue going and even won her an Emmy.

Vividly showing me her reaction when she won her Emmy, Shelly stands up screaming yes and waving her arms, enjoying this monumental achievement she then tells me she had to remind herself of where she was and quickly composed herself.

“It was literally like oh my God, this is real. This is so special because usually the producer or production team wins the award because it’s a visual award, but the fact that my name is on this award is amazing”, said Shelly.

Shelly carries so much wisdom with her and at any given moment, will share it. She stands by this 100 percent; always remain true to yourself, no matter what. Listen to your internal navigation that will help you stay on the course that has been designed for You!


Ashley Winters
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