Vershaun “Shawnni” Evans can’t wait to be a social worker.
“I feel like I’m on fire right now,” say the 34-year-old from the Arlington Heights neighborhood. “I want to just jump right in, keep going and get my master’s.”
Her first encounter with Santa Monica College hadn’t gone so well. Coming straight out of high school in 2006, “I wasn’t really prepared, and I messed up,” she admits.
So Shawnni took a clerical job at the DMV. Soon she had two kids and was focused on providing for them as a single parent. Ten years passed. She found herself in an abusive relationship that spiraled into domestic violence.
“Thankfully, the Good Lord made it possible for me to finally leave, and that separation caused me to really pursue going back to school and focus on myself,” she says.
When Shawnni returned to SMC in 2018, she says, “I just hit the ground running.”
Being a role model to Ta’Leeyah, 15, and Ta’Jah, 12, is her top priority now. In 2022, the girls saw their mother graduate with her associate degree for transfer.
“That moment, for me, made all the difference in the world. It was everything that I wanted to be able to show my children,” Shawnni says.
On June 13, Shawnni again donned her SMC graduation gown. Though already a freshman at Cal State LA with a sociology major and psychology minor, she had returned to Corsair Field to collect her second AA in arts and humanities. This time, she was also honored with a graduate profile in the 2023 Commencement Program.
She had completed the necessary SMC coursework alongside her full load at Cal State, while holding down her full-time job as a senior clerk typist with Los Angeles County’s purchasing department and parenting two teenage girls.
Cheering her on was Shawnni’s mom, Marva-Lynne, who had raised her own three children as a single parent on a clerk typist’s salary. (She works for the City of Los Angeles.)
Asked what her mother did to support her, Shawnni laughs out loud as her eyes grow misty: “Oh, my goodness. My mom did everything for me. Everything. Her sacrifices helped me become who I am today.”
Though a first-gen college student, Shawnni benefited from having family role models in her cousin Robert Adams, beloved retired SMC vice president for student affairs; and her aunt Phyllis Hall, an EOPS counselor and longtime faculty member at Long Beach City College.
There were times she felt overwhelmed, but SMC counselors and support groups stepped up to help.
Sherri Bradford of Black Collegians was “a very, very impactful person throughout this time here,” Shawnni says. “She’s just been that rock for me. She literally watched me drop to my lowest, and helped pull me back up. She never judged me.”
EOPS provided crucial program-based counseling. “I must have seen Jackie Del Banco a hundred times,” Shawnni says. One semester, after she wanted to sign up for 15 units, Jackie had hesitated.
“Give me those 15 units, please,” Shawnni had begged. “And Jackie put her faith in me: ‘You can do this—I know you can. I just wanted to make sure.’”
As assignments piled up, Shawnni soldiered on: “It was definitely Jackie’s words and her voice in my head that kept me going,” she recalls. “Once I set my mind, I realized: ‘Yes, I can do this!’ Our conversation at the end of that semester was so rewarding. Jackie is wonderful.”
She got emotional support through the Rising Program. Shawnni’s brother, Vernon Evans, is incarcerated.
After a workplace injury left her hand temporarily in a cast, Shawnni reached out to Disabled Students and received assistance in the form of note-takers and extra time on exams.
Her success also hinged on financial support from CalWORKs and the EOPS. Thanks to generous grants, free book vouchers and other services, Shawnni was able to attend SMC with no out-of-pocket expenses.
“Thankfully, I haven’t had to experience that part of the education system,” she says, referring to college debt. “It was a major worry for me, especially transferring to a university. These programs really do help.”
Shawnni is on track to finish her bachelor’s degree in December 2024, and excited about transitioning from her current clerical job with purchasing into a professional role with some other LA County department—perhaps social services, family services or mental health.
“That’s the beauty of it,” she says. “My career is all set. I have lots of mobility within the county.”
Her training won’t end there, however. She’s already exploring MSW degree options at several UC and Cal State campuses, as well as USC. Based on past results, it’s a safe bet she’ll surpass expectations and be an inspiring role model to her daughters.
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