Before arriving at Albright College as a first-year student to pursue a degree in child and family studies with minors in music and political science, Shelby Woodard ’22 felt a lot of uncertainty about where to go or what to pursue for her future. But now, she realizes that her unique interdisciplinary major — which combines the fields of psychology and sociology — was the perfect fit for her.
“I definitely think I would’ve been unhappy if I had chosen a different path of study, so I think my major allowed me to get the best of both worlds and take the classes that I was really interested in,” said Woodard.
Throughout her Albright career, Woodard has experienced immense personal growth in addition to academic development.
An active member of Albright’s jazz ensemble and orchestra, Woodard was also a Lion on the women’s tennis team. Academically, she tutored a variety of music, sociology and psychology students – eventually graduating summa cum laude, with a departmental distinction in child and family studies award, and recognition as Jacob Albright Scholar, which celebrates the college’s top graduates.
But acclimation to college life really began for Woodard when she joined the co-ed fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, in her first year. She also became a member of Alpha Delta Pi in her junior year.
“When I came here, I didn’t know anybody, and I was that freshman who sat in my dorm and didn’t talk to people and didn’t do anything,” said Woodard. “And so, when I joined [Alpha Phi Omega] in the spring, it really got me to actually go do things and meet some people for the first time.”
Perhaps the most rewarding experiences for Woodard, however, were her Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) project and the subsequent honors thesis that she wrote. Under the direction of professor Julia Heberle, Ph.D., Woodard first began her ACRE project, “Older Children’s Understanding of Real/Not Real,” during her junior year Interim session. Woodard knew from the start that she wanted to work with Heberle on a research project, and she readily pursued that opportunity after the pandemic made online collaboration more accessible.
“I think we [students] definitely lucked out here because not a lot of undergraduates get to do research with professors. So, I definitely think the ACRE program is something unique about Albright, and I’m really glad that I took the opportunity,” reflects Woodard.
Fascinated by children’s perception of reality, Woodard found her inspiration for the project from the HBO documentary, “Beware the Slenderman,” which recounts a 2014 stabbing. Woodard wanted to gain an understanding of what drove two teenagers to attempt to sacrifice their friend to a fictional character.
Woodard proposed the research idea to Heberle, who was able to help her turn the idea into an thought-provoking academic research project.
In addition to studying children for her ACRE project and her senior thesis, Woodard gained on-the-ground experience through volunteer work for the 13th Street Educational Partnership, an initiative that connects Albright students with Reading community organizations. Serving as a mentor to underserved students in the Reading School District, Woodard had the opportunity to foster learning and creativity among younger students, share her experience and expertise, and expose them to new ideas. During her time as a volunteer, however, she also recognized the disparity between the educational system of the Reading area versus her own.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that the kids here are all so excited to learn, but they definitely have a lot fewer opportunities than I had in my education,” said Woodard. “And so, it’s just kind of sad and disheartening that if there were things that could help them a little bit more, they could be doing so much better. I would say definitely we can all see, in most areas of life, that there’s room for improvement.”
With the goal of directing more resources to underserved student populations, Woodard intends to one day work at a nonprofit organization that facilitates programs similar to the various projects in which she participated through her volunteer work. As her next step toward that goal, she has committed to attending the University of Pittsburgh to earn her master’s degree in social work.