Student Trades Serving Tray for Cap and Gown
May 06, 2016
For four back-breaking years, Sharmayne Schaffer hoisted trays heavy with enchiladas, burritos, tacos and other zesty fare while serving tables at Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant in Warrensville Heights.
“I can remember saying to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life,’” the 30-year-old said. “I knew I had more in me.”
So she crossed the street and unlocked her potential at Cuyahoga Community College.
Schaffer thrived after enrolling three years ago at Tri-C’s Eastern Campus, located within sight of Abuelo’s at the corner of Richmond Road and Harvard Road in Highland Hills. She’ll graduate in May with an Associate of Arts degree and numerous academic honors.
She recently was named a 2016 Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Scholar, a national award recognizing students for leadership, community service and academic excellence. Judges considered more than 1,900 students for the honor.
In addition, the Garfield Heights resident earned a spot on the All-Ohio Community College Academic Team, which honors top students at the state’s two-year schools.
“My time at Tri-C,” Schaffer said, “has been better than I ever could have imagined.”
She found that success during her second try at college. After graduating from Trinity High School in 2004, Schaffer signed up for classes at John Carroll University. The tuition proved crushing. She left after one year with thousands of dollars in debt.
Afterward, Schaffer spent a year in California pursuing an acting dream and continually took various restaurant jobs to whittle away at her debt.
She said the time away from school positioned her to succeed on her return.
“When I look back now, I’m thankful I was out for so long,” Schaffer said. “I’ve lived life and understand why college is so important. It made me more determined and dedicated to my studies.”
It shows, too. Schaffer entered her final semester at Tri-C with a 3.68 GPA.
She immersed herself in the college experience, too. Schaffer joined the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Eastern Campus and was eventually named president of the award-winning chapter.
Her interest in journalism led her to The Voice, the College’s independent student newspaper. She started as a writer for the publication and ascended to the campus editor position.
Schaffer also was selected for the inaugural class of future leaders attending Tri-C’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center. The center opened in January at Eastern Campus.
Tri-C launched the center to offer a unique liberal arts learning environment and cultivate civically responsible citizens to lead the region toward a stronger future.
Schaffer said she has seen changes in herself since becoming a Mandel Scholar. (“I’m much more confident,” she said.) She called the leadership program “Training 101” for her future aspirations.
Her career goal is to someday open a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring young women in Greater Cleveland. She plans to transfer to Case Western Reserve after graduating from Tri-C to work toward a bachelor’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies.
“A lot of important people in my life pushed me to do the things I’ve done,” Schaffer said. “I want to be that person for others. I want to give back. That’s my passion. That’s my calling.”