AJ Shirey, an annual member, took an uncertain future and turned it into years of impressive accomplishments. Through her hard work, perseverance and a positive attitude, she has gone on to receive four degrees at the University of Arkansas. Acknowledging those who inspired and helped to shape her as a student on campus, she is grateful for the opportunities and people that have come into her life.
Growing up in Mesquite, Texas, her family moved to Rogers in 1992 when her father, a pastor, took a job at a local church. Although she wanted to attend the university upon arrival, the deadline to sign up for classes had already passed. Choosing not to wait, she took a semester of college courses at Northwest Arkansas Community College before enrolling at the University of Arkansas in January 1993.
Unsure of her major, she became interested in Human and Environmental Sciences, which led her to pursue a bachelor’s in family and consumer science education. Graduating in 1995, she successfully completed her degree in three years and gives much praise to her undergraduate advisor, Cecelia Thompson. “It was like having a mom at the university,” she said. Making sure that Shirey stayed on track with her courses, Thompson later served as her professor and provided support and guidance while Shirey worked as a student teacher.
The time she spent on campus, she took very seriously. Treating school as if it were a full-time job, she made it a point to stay on campus from 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 at night. Studying was her main focus, but in her spare time, she could be found working out at the HPER. A student in 1994, she also found enjoyment in watching members of the National Championship basketball team play games at the HPER during the off-season.
After graduating, she quickly obtained a teaching position, but after a year, returned to the university as a full-time student to achieve her master’s in vocational education, a degree she received in 1996. After completing her second degree, she went on to teach at Woodland Junior High in Fayetteville before moving on to McNair Junior High to serve as the Assistant Principal. In 2001, Shirey had a son, Spencer, and began working part-time at NWACC as a special projects coordinator before becoming the Assistant Principal of Central Junior High in Springdale, in 2004.
During the two years she worked with Springdale Public Schools, she worked to write a grant that would fund a non-traditional teaching licensure program. Officially the site coordinator for the program, she oversees over 75 students each year who are enrolled in the program.
Although she seemed to have enough on her plate with working full-time and raising her son, she decided to pursue a doctorate in educational administration and believes it to be one of her greatest accomplishments. While working toward her doctorate, she admired the work of her advisor and retired superintendent, Carl Holt. Helping her to understand real life versus textbook examples, he provided important insight for Shirey.
In 2005, while still in school, she met her future husband, Jason, who was studying for his bachelor’s in agricultural education, communication and technology. Both graduated in 2006 and married in 2008. Two years later, they welcomed a son, Benjamin.
Still working as the site coordinator for non-traditional teaching licensure program, she is also working as the CEO of Shirey Educational Consulting. While taking on various roles within the company, she seems to have reached her goal of helping and educating teachers and students.
Looking back on her years at the university, she jokes that several of her tuition payments paid for one of the new parking garages. All joking aside, she often returns to campus to speak to classes and substitute teaches. Appreciative of the education she received while at the university, she encourages other students to “major in something that makes you happy and to follow your passion and go for it.”