K’Nya Holmes ’24 transformed “pain into purpose” with the help of the Shippensburg University faculty and staff. 

Holmes began her education at Shippensburg University in 2019 through the Academic Success Program, which acts as an extended orientation to college and is designed to enhance a student’s college readiness. 

After successful completion of the summer program, Holmes was excited to continue her journey, but soon learned her parents could no longer financially support her. She had to quickly figure out how to pay for her own academic future. Felicia Shearer, executive director of Retention and Student Success and one of Holmes’ professors at the time, helped to connect Holmes to the Financial Aid Department and helped her navigate this uncertain time. 

“Professor Shearer took me under her wing and helped me to find the resources that I needed,” Holmes said.

Holmes’ next challenge is one many of her classmates faced in the spring 2020 semester. She struggled with the transition to remote learning that she experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and had to navigate personal tragedy.

“While transitioning to online school from face-to-face it was challenging for me to balance helping my grandma with the bills and schoolwork. Through fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters, I failed nine classes,” Holmes said. “My sister, her boyfriend, and their unborn baby passed away in a tragic car accident on October 24, 2020. Both my sister and her boyfriend were 19-years young and full of life.”

Though heartbreak and struggle were ever present in her life, she was determined to keep going.

“In the fall semester of 2021, I claimed it to be my redemption semester because I was able to turn my pain into a purpose,” said Holmes.

She became a peer anchor in honor of her sister, and started to help first-year students to transition into college and help them to adjust. It was an experience she could easily understand. 

Along with her role as a peer anchor, she interned with the First-Year Experience Program, where she mentored a group of five to six students in their first year of college. Holmes helped these students connect with resources on campus like the ones that helped her through her personal challenges. 

“One of the gifts she (Holmes) gives students is sharing her experiences and stories and sharing why education is so important,” said Shearer

With the guidance of Shearer, Holmes found her path to her major in Communication Studies and new mentors that would inspire and support Holmes.

Her first course in the program was Survey of Communication Studies with Dr. Melissa McNelis, associate professor of Communication Studies. McNelis helped Holmes explore potential career paths.

Dr. Sharnine Herbert, associate professor of Communication Studies, is another department mentor who Holmes credits with supporting her success.

“She pushed me to help me get to where I am now, which is graduating and applying to graduate school. If it wasn’t for her (Herbert) I probably wouldn’t know any of the people at Shippensburg who have helped me to grow as a person,” said Holmes.

Through these mentors she discovered additional opportunities to grow as an individual and support others along the way. She is a member of the Frederick Douglass Institute at Ship and has served as a guest speaker with the State System’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit and at the university’s Minds@Work Research Conference.

“I want to open doors for Black women like me to have a seat at the table and make sure that the space has been created for people who don’t have a space at the table and giving them the chance to have the whole room,” said Holmes.

With graduation on the horizon, Holmes is excited for the opportunities ahead. With the help of her mentors, she is exploring graduate programs and is thankful for the women who helped her get to this point.

For Holmes, these three women are mothers away from her grandmother. For Herbert, the beauty in Holmes’ story is what is yet to come. 

“The fact that she is accountable for her actions and for herself is beautiful to see, and she has a promising future in the education world. We all know that she is going to have a prosperous future,” said Dr. Herbert.