Indiana State University Newsroom

Communication student finds success through obstacles

May 3, 2010

Shanel Poole is accustomed to going about things the hard way.

Years ago, there were times when the 27-year-old late bloomer slept in her car to avoid going to her volatile home. Or she'd stay with friends who took her places and introduced her to people in Indianapolis who led her to drugs, run-ins with police, and eventually juvenile detention.

Her rebellion used to be so strong that she couldn't successfully complete high school because of the repeated disrespect she showed for teachers and administrators.

But that was then.

As an Indiana State University Sycamore Ambassador, Poole has learned to be an advocate for those she once might have disdained. As an ISU Ronald McNair scholar, she has met and mingled with graduate school deans and explored law schools that could prepare her to protect children who behave as she once did.

And as an ISU student, Poole has acquired an education that she believes has permanently and irrefutably altered the direction of her life. She'll share that message with the ISU community Saturday when she speaks at ISU's commencement ceremonies.

"It's very hard to come from a dysfunctional family, being kicked out of school since sixth grade and lacking an education," she said. "Indiana State University has given me the confidence that I am more than a conqueror, that I can do all things ... It has given me knowledge."

Poole, a first-generation college student who earned a GED, left her home in Indianapolis shortly after the death of her father. The transition to college in the fall of 2005 was difficult for her, she said, because she was still trying to come to terms with her father's death. But by the end of her freshman year, she realized she was doing something right.

"That first semester, I got a letter of congratulations for academic excellence," she said. "It was pretty amazing for a girl that got kicked out of school."

After that first year, Poole returned to Indianapolis for the summer to work at Piazza Produce where she'd worked the previous year as a customer service representative. She entered an essay contest and wrote about her life experiences describing how she'd benefit if she won the grand prize of a new car.

"I sat at the computer crying and typing, but I didn't complain about anyone in what I wrote," she said. "I just poured out my life story."

Her brutal honesty helped her win a 2006 Chevy Cobalt.

"It was a changing point in my life," she said. "It helped boost my confidence in myself. It helped boost my involvement at ISU.

"From that point, everything changed."

When Poole returned to campus, the story of her car win leaked to the ISU Statesman and her picture wound up on the front page. The moment in the spotlight helped further boost her confidence, she said, and as that confidence grew so did her accomplishments.

She began networking with faculty, staff and students and landed a position as a Sycamore Ambassador - the official student ambassadors of ISU. In that position, she worked closely with the ISU President's office, the ISU Foundation and Alumni Association and the Admissions Office.

"The more people I got to know, the more I realized ISU was here to help me," she said. It became "a second family for me."

Poole learned about the McNair Graduate Opportunity Program - a doctoral preparation program for first-generation college students and students from groups that are underrepresented in graduate education. Being a McNair scholar enabled her to travel abroad to Guadalajara, Mexico where she studied for a summer to earn college credit toward her Spanish minor. The McNair Program also has paid for her to visit graduate schools and learn about the advanced degree programs that might better equip her for her future.

During Poole's third summer back home in Indianapolis, she worked as an intern in Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's office. This summer, she'll be an intern with the Marion County prosecutor.

Beyond the summer, Poole is uncertain about what the future may hold. She'd like to attend law school, but the impact her story has had on those with whom she's shared it makes her think she could end up in ministry.

Poole is convinced, though, that none of these opportunities would have been possible without the education she's received from ISU.

"I have new relationships, new support teams," she said. "Not only that, I have some of the most amazing leaders and role models that are not only going to teach me but are going to walk me into a successful future."

"It doesn't get any better than that," she said.

Photo: Shanel Poole, (ISU Photo/Tony Campbell) 

Writer and Contact: Rachel Wedding McClelland, assistant director of media relations, Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University at 812-237-3790 or