“I bleed blue,” exclaims Shanna Webster ’04 ’09 ’20, referring to the iconic color associated with Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. “It means coming to work with the best possible attitude.” When discussing her journey at Saint Joseph’s, Shanna’s eyes excitedly grow wide and a spirit of pride mixed with gratitude emanates from her voice.
As director of the the College’s Academic Center For Excellence (ACE), Shanna’s office on the third floor of Alfond Hall overlooks the center of campus. “I grew up in Hudson, New Hampshire, but my family vacationed on Frye Island,” she says, pointing out her window past the College’s expansive quad and towering Tudor-style Xavier Hall to the seasonal resort town on Sebago Lake with dramatic snow-capped White Mountains panning the distance.
This love for the region combined with the College’s small class sizes provided her with the ideal undergraduate experience. “Because of the type of learner I am, I wanted my professors to know me,” she says.
After earning a BA in Communications and Public Relations, Shanna spent a brief period working in insurance before returning to Saint Joseph’s as an academic support coordinator. She enrolled in SJC’s Master’s in Business Administration, Leadership program, which offered her a supportive network and flexibility while she was working full-time. “I did not feel isolated, even though that can be the perception of online learning.”
Building upon the work of her predecessor, Rick Dennison, Shanna has expanded services offered to students. Her department was previously known simply as the Academic Center but Shanna wanted a title that better reflected the College’s Core Values and commitment to all students. “The Academic Center For Excellence is not just for students who are at risk; it supports all students of all abilities. I want to teach them the importance of education. I want to create a space and an environment where it’s okay to ask for help.” Shanna works collaboratively with nearly every other department. Some days she might be facilitating one-on-one support between a faculty member and a student; other days she’s sharing effective test-taking strategies, setting up tutoring sessions, or providing accommodations for students with disabilities.
Shanna has also been instrumental in the Center’s Peer Mentor program, which helps freshmen students become acquainted with college life as they develop independent living skills. It is a certified Level I and Level II/Advanced Mentoring Program by the College Reading and Learning Association, an international organization of learning-assistance professionals. Peer Mentors co-facilitate one of ACE’s most recognized programs, the First Year Experience (FYE) Seminar, which assists new students with critical thinking, reading, and writing skills. After freshman year, Peer Academic Leaders (PALs) provide peer-to-peer support for students in need of academic recovery or peer engagement (Certified Level I Mentor, Advanced Level II Mentor, and Level III Master Mentor).
The College has also received a CIC NetVUE Vocation Across the Academy grant, which specifically focuses on discussions and programming related to cultivating a sense of meaning and value through one’s work. The grant includes a President’s Vocation Institute (featuring a student leadership retreat), a faculty/staff reflection group, and the SophoMORE Experience with programs addressing social, academic, and career initiatives specifically tailored to second year students and implemented by ACE. The grant’s task force uses this definition for vocation: “an intentional journey of discovery of the self and the sacred in pursuit of a purposeful life and one’s connection to the whole.”
“I want to create a space and an environment where it’s okay to ask for help.”
A firm believer in lifelong learning, Shanna continues to lead by example while pursuing her own vocation. She is now enrolled in a second master’s program at Saint Joseph’s, this time in education. “The MSEd is a very reflective program. I’m learning about classroom management and how to improve processes. As a student, you can sometimes take for granted all the work that goes into the seamless experience,” she says.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is definitely hearing the success stories—helping students see their own potential and value.”
Shanna and her husband Matt live in Gorham. Shanna is mom to two daughters, Sophia and Viviana, and stepson, Sebastian.