After a 30-year career at Weatherford College, Dr. Shirley Chenault is retiring, leaving behind a $50 million legacy.
Chenault started at WC as an instructor in August of 1985, but her role evolved into that of a full-time grant writer and the title of Officer over Resource Development.
During her tenure, she successfully secured grants from The United States Department of Labor, The National Science Foundation, The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, The Texas Infrastructure Fund, The Texas Workforce Commission, The Texas Education Agency, The Sid Richardson Foundation and many more.
“Shirley is one of the best known grant writers in Texas, not to mention Washington, DC,” said Katherine Boswell, WC Dean of Health and Human Sciences. “Her contributions to Weatherford College are far reaching and will serve students, the citizens of Parker County and our service area for years to come.”
Chenault is most proud of the Title III grant WC secured for 2010 to 2015 which added three new programs to the college and established a WC Foundation endowment currently exceeding $500,000.
The Title III grant is responsible for the development of an occupational therapy assistant program, physical therapist assistant program and a health professions academic support center.
“All are thriving programs that perform well nationally,” Boswell said. “The grants Shirley and I were involved in are only a small number compared to the overall grants that she has written for Weatherford College.”
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Other grants secured by Chenault include funding for The Big Read: Parker County Reads Together in 2003 through the National Endowment of the Arts Foundation, and a Texas Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund grant which led to the installation of two-way audio/video conference systems at seven partner institutions with WC serving as the hub and resulting in dual-credit classes with local school districts.
Chenault and a core group of colleagues further strengthened WC’s relationship with area school districts through the development of The Jack Harvey Academy of Exemplary Teachers in 1997.
“That’s one of the things I’m really proud we brought in,” she said.
WC’s most lucrative stream of federal funding for the past 20 years, according to Chenault, is the U.S. Department of Education TRIO grants which fund Upward Bound, Student Support Services and Talent Search.
Each of these programs targets a certain population of future or current college students who, due to socio-economic reasons, rural locations or lack of a family history of attending college, are less likely to complete a post-secondary education.
“The Resource Development Office was quite successful in acquiring new programs and expanded services benefiting students in the service area,” Chenault said. “This has a special meaning for me because of my background, going to such a small country high school.”
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Chenault grew up in rural Palo Pinto County. Her grade school days were spent in a one-room school house, and her graduating class from Santo boasted 14 students. The idea of attending college didn’t cross her mind.
“In those days, the teachers’ children were the only ones who went to college,” she said. “We weren’t prepped or even told about college. We didn’t think we had any chance in the world. I just wanted to get a job.”
For the next 20 years, Chenault worked as a secretary for various companies including Gulf Oil Company and General Dynamics. While at GD, she had the opportunity to take a few classes through Tarrant County College offered on the GD plant.
She decided to continue her education at Weatherford College as a full-time student in between jobs, and she earned her Associate of Arts Degree in 1973 at the age of 33. She was later named a WC Distinguished Alumnus in 2009.
“Shirley has been a role model for many people,” said Brent Baker, Vice President of Institutional Advancement. “She’s a great example of what you can do with your education even if you start later in life.”
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Before Chenault joined the staff at WC, she completed her Bachelor of Business Administration degree from TCU, worked at the Edna Gladney Home for Unwed Mothers and taught office education classes at Everman High School while earning her Master in Business Administration degree from the University of North Texas.
While attending UNT, she became active in several professional associations and met Marilyn St. Clair, WC’s current Business Computer Information Systems Department Chair, who informed her of an open position at the college.
“We made quite a team back in the ’80s and early ’90s,” St. Clair said. “Her guidance and encouragement have helped me, so many other coworkers and students thrive in a very competitive environment. WC has been very fortunate to have her expertise.”
In 1992, Chenault successfully obtained her first grant and began the transition to WC’s official grant writer. All the while she was continuing her own education. Chenault received her Doctorate in Higher Education from Texas A&M-Commerce in 1996.
“When I got my doctorate at the age of 56, I didn’t think I’d get to use it,” she said. “You always think you’re old until you look back and see how young you were. I’ve used it 20 years. I never could find a quitting place because of the projects, the grants that kept coming in. I never felt like I could walk off and leave it. When I came here and got this job, I thought I wouldn’t stay here long, but it became part of the fabric of my life.”
The public is invited to a reception in Chenault’s honor from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, in the Allene Strain Community Room located in the Doss Student Center.
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