By Ashley Hughes
After dropping out of high school, Shayla Bischoff reconsidered her future when, as a teenager, she became a mother. Determined to set a positive example for her daughter, Bischoff earned her diploma online and set her sights on a college degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Today, she’s a role model for her daughter not only as a college graduate with two degrees but as the Provost’s Award winner for spring 2020.
Though she initially began working toward a degree in secondary education, Bischoff later switched gears and majored in English. She also decided to pursue a second degree through MSU Denver’s Individualized Degree Program, which allows students to design their own majors.
“I was able to combine my love for linguistics, culture, political science and globalization into a major titled Global Studies,” Bischoff said. “It took a long time because I bounced around between the things I enjoyed and the things I realized I needed for a good, well-rounded major program. It definitely made my educational experience more in-depth and exciting. I was excited about every class I took.”
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Bischoff was just as committed to work outside of the classroom. In addition to her role as a mother, she’s a conference speaker, fosters elderly dogs and teaches children the Native American beading techniques that she learned from her grandmother. She was also heavily involved in the MSU Denver Honors Program, a community of high-achieving students that made her feel at home.
“I think the Honors Program was maybe one of the biggest reasons I stayed at MSU Denver. And that’s because there, I found a really good sense of community and a sense of home,” Bischoff said. “It’s just a reminder to get involved and check out what’s on campus. Because even if it’s not for a grad school CV or for your résumé, it’s for a personal sense of health and wellness. Education can’t be done alone. It’s a group thing, and we have to work together to get the most out of it.”
As a tribal member of the San Carlos Apache Nation, Bischoff also wanted some of her studies to focus on indigenous people from around the world. In fact, her Honors Program thesis centered on indigenous graphic novels – a topic on which she was able to share research during a study-abroad program at Tokyo Metropolitan University.
English Professor James Aubrey, Ph.D., noted that Bischoff “sets a high academic standard for herself” and said her willingness to take on some managerial responsibilities as a student worker shows “she is the sort of person who rises to such occasions.”
Bischoff also served as a teaching assistant for Megan Hughes-Zarzo, Ph.D., director of the MSU Denver Honors Program.
“Shayla has been a team player who brings energy, good humor and new ideas to the conversation on a daily basis,” Hughes-Zarzo said. “She is dedicated to creating as many academic and social opportunities as possible for her campus community.”
For her part, Bischoff credits Hughes-Zarzo for encouraging her to “never take yourself out of the running.”
That advice has served Bischoff well as she prepares to apply to graduate schools in the fall. But she recognizes that while she has been positively influenced by so many people, it’s her own ambition and desire to make her daughter proud that have propelled her forward.
“I chose something that I thought would be good for myself and my family,” Bischoff said. “I hear (my daughter) say things like, ‘I want to be a teacher like you,’ and, ‘I want to do things like you,’ and that to me was the greatest compliment.”
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