Shankle family

A winning team – Jonathan and Samantha Shankle of Marion will each earn bachelor’s degrees Saturday during 2019 spring commencement exercises at the SIU Arena. An important part of the effort has been their sons, Mason, 3, left, and Maxwell, 5. (Photo by Russell Bailey).

May 08, 2019

A winning ‘tag team’ as Marion couple prepare to earn degrees

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Although they will soon be moving to another state and new journey, the path for Jonathan and Samantha Shankle might become a bit easier and less stressful.

For the last four to five years, the Marion, Illinois, couple juggled a variety of schedules, classes and commitments – along with two youngsters – while relying on each other to achieve their goal. The two non-traditional students will both graduate during 5:30 p.m. commencement exercises Saturday in the SIU Arena at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

While the path might have seemed a “bit murky” at times and resulted in some anxiety, the couple knew the goal was there, said Jonathan, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Management and Applied Engineering from the College of Engineering.

“The feeling of seeing everything through to fruition was there in the beginning,” he said. “As we got another year in, another year in and another year in, it’s becoming more of a reality. But I don’t think it will be a reality until we are loading up and get headed west.”

‘Kind of like a tag team’

For Samantha, returning to the classroom to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene after working as a certified medical assistant was about an opportunity to get into the health care profession to help people. But she wanted regular hours to be able to spend time with her family, which includes couples’ two sons, Maxwell, 5, and Mason, 3.

“It’s important to me to have that time after work to spend with them,” she said.

In planning out the weeks and who was responsible for what, Samantha and Jonathan sat at the kitchen table after making their class schedules and compared who was in class on what days and at what times. Whomever did not have the early class was responsible for getting children ready and off to school or pre-k; whomever got out early would pick them up and bring them home for dinner.

“We make a great team. We did it. We are graduating,” Samantha said.

The couple, both 33, will celebrate their 10-year anniversary in November. They note that there were times when they pushed and encouraged each other.

Even the littlest break from school helped. Sometimes that came in the form of doing dishes. Or going to McDonalds to treat the kids, even when both were exhausted from their studies. Often times, the relief came from just being with Maxwell and Mason.

“You have those days,” Jonathan said. “You are like, ‘I’m done with coursework. I’m done for the day.’ But, then you have this little person around you who says, ‘Let’s go play with this.’ And you are like, ‘I’m going to sit down and play Legos for an hour.’ It’s kind of that welcome distraction is there almost at the right time.”

Students ‘gravitated’ toward him 

Bruce DeRuntz, a professor in the technology degree program, said Jonathan brought a lot of maturity and focus to class discussions and even with being an older student, was collaborative with younger students in class projects. Jonathan was part of DeRuntz’ project management and manufacturing processes classes. 

“He was always an outstanding student who sat in the front row and was able to answer every question. That in turn set a great example for those around him,” DeRuntz said. “You would find the best students would gravitate toward him.” 

DeRuntz helped Jonathan secure his post-graduation job. Jonathan learned last week that he starts May 27 as an entry-level manufacturing engineer with Spartan Light Metal Products in Mexico, Missouri. The company is a long-time supporter of the engineering college, DeRuntz said, noting that matching this employer inquiry with a good student is a “win-win” for everybody.

“It makes you feel good when you can help people out,” DeRuntz said. “Those opportunities exist. SIU has a great reputation for producing gritty, smart, hard-working students and Jonathan would definitely fall within those ranks.”

‘Compassion and personal care’ for patients

Jennifer Sherry, an associate professor in the dental hygiene program, said Samantha also goes “above and beyond” when it comes to helping classmates in terms of finding patients, marketing the SIU Dental Hygiene Clinic services and helping the underserved in the community.

Samantha is looking to work in the public health field as a dental hygienist and will be taking her national board certification.

“She will be a great asset in a public health center or Federally Qualified Health Center because she gives wholeheartedly and never asks for anything in return,” Sherry said. “When you discuss certain topics in class, it truly does touch her in a way that is palpable. I really can appreciate her drive and self-starting character. She has done all of this while being a mother of two young boys and a wife. That is impressive!"

Seeing each other walk across commencement stage will be special

For Samantha, seeing her husband receive his diploma will be a special moment. Jonathan dropped out of high school, earned his general equivalency degree and attended John A. Logan College. His career including working in manufacturing and retail sales and he wanted a career change.

“It’s probably going to be surreal for me because it will be the first graduation I’ve actually been a part of,” said Jonathan, who watched when Samantha earned her history degree from Webster University. “I’m going there for the experience and to enjoy it. I’ve never had the experience of being the person walking across the stage so that will be cool.”

For Samantha, it will be another affirmation of meeting an expectation and setting the bar higher for the next challenge. Both believe even though their children are young, Maxwell and Mason will be able to take positives away from their parents’ experiences and examples as they grow older.

“Jon and I are pushing each other to get through it. You try harder and make good grades and have that positive outcome of having good jobs so we can take care of the kids,” Samantha said.

Available resources provided a boost

They emphasized the importance of non-traditional students relying on available resources, both federal, state and at SIU. Samantha noted the numerous resources available to help offset costs, including childcare through the state’s Child Care Resource and Referral agency. Neither of the children were in school until this year when Maxwell started kindergarten.

Samantha emphasized the family friendly study room within Morris Library which allows parents to study with their children still nearby.

“That was amazing. They have toys and books in there and they were occupied while we studied. That was awesome,” she said.

Encourages others to consider a return to college

Samantha noted that even with the struggles, non-traditional students who have children can succeed in pursuing their dreams. The question is the willingness to make short-term sacrifices.

“It’s not forever. It’s a relatively small amount of time for a payoff that is going to benefit you in ways that you never thought possible,” she said. “You have to remind yourself every day that this is short term. It’s just a stepping stone for a better future.”