Samantha Shields excited to start stint as WTCS state ambassador

Mark Feldmann,

May 19, 2022

Samantha Shield

MILWAUKEE – Samantha Shields isn’t afraid of much anymore.

She’s not afraid of asking for help. She’s not afraid of admitting her past mistakes, and certainly not afraid of taking classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College as a retired great-grandmother.

“Fear crippled me from doing a lot of things in my life,” she said. “Now I’m facing my fears. I have found that when I do that, I find my growth.”

And Shields has blossomed. She overcame a rough start — pregnant as a teenager, dropping out of high school — to work at Milwaukee Public Schools for two decades and enroll at MATC in her 50s.

This month, Shields, who is studying web and digital media design, was selected as MATC’s state ambassador for the Wisconsin Technical College System. Every year each of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges selects one student to participate in a leadership development and recognition program, and help extol the value of technical education.

Ambassadors are chosen based on academic excellence, community involvement and leadership qualities. At MATC, students submit an application and a letter of recommendation from a faculty member from their program.  

MATC received 31 applications for this year’s ambassador, said Anne-Marie Bernard, MATC’s student life manager. A committee scored the applications and selected Shields.

“The college has decided that I’m doing well and deserve to be recognized for my work and that felt really, really good,” Shields said. 

Educational encouragement was hard to come by during her high school years, following her family’s move to Milwaukee from Chicago, Shields said. Especially after she became pregnant. “There was no support from the school,” she said. “That made it easier to go ahead and drop out.”

She left school, raised her family, looked for steady work and eventually earned a General Educational Development (GED) diploma. In 1998 she took a job with Milwaukee Public Schools as programming assistant and spent 23 years managing financial statements, scheduling appointments and processing payroll.

“But I realized that no matter how much experience I had, I wouldn’t be really recognized unless I had a degree,” she said. “Plus, my mom one day told me she always thought I would be the one to go to college.”

She started taking information technology classes at MATC in 2018 when she was 54.

“It was scary for me, to be going to college at that age,” she said. “I asked the counselor at MATC to hold my hand and she did. It felt comfortable and it felt like a family.”

MATC also offers excellent hands-on learning, small class sizes, flexible start dates, convenient campus locations and a high-quality education for a lower price, Shields said.

After a few IT classes, Shields switched to web and digital media design. She loves harnessing her creativity and has earned top grades in almost every course. Her success sparked her to apply to be a state ambassador.

On April 21, Shields and the other ambassadors participated in leadership training in Madison, then attended a recognition banquet ambassadors officially serve for one year and, after that, unofficially for a lifetime.

“Several other ambassadors at the event commented on how inspirational her journey has been,” said Erich Zeinmetz, MATC’s Director of Student Life. “She prides herself on being a real example to others.”

Shields said she has already been asked by several community groups to share her story. “And I am honored to do that,” she said. “For people thinking about their lives, I would tell them to do something that makes you proud of yourself and don’t worry about what others think. And if going to school is what you want to do, then do that. Don’t be afraid to do what you think is best for you.”

Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.