Scholarship helps former corpsman toward dream of becoming doctor
June 29, 2007
David Hamilton, College of DuPage
Though he has worked in the trades most of his life and runs a successful remodeling business, Shawn Robertson discovered his true calling while serving a hitch as a Navy Corpsman.
That calling was to become a doctor – an emergency-room doctor, to be precise. So the Villa Park resident enrolled at College of DuPage. This summer, he is completing his coursework at the Glen Ellyn community college in preparation to transfer to Benedictine University, where he will begin his pre-med studies this fall.
As he moves closer toward realizing his dream, Robertson has the support of family, friends – and now the Rotary Club of Naperville, which has awarded him a $25,000 scholarship to pursue his studies. Earning the scholarship was one feat he thought he could never achieve, even as fellow classmates encouraged him to apply.
“Pretty much everyone around me knew that I was going to Benedictine,” Robertson explained. “Somebody from every class brought me the application. Many people here said, ‘Shawn, did you see this? You have to do this.’ Some even e-mailed the application to me.”
Robertson’s classmates and friends obviously were not the only ones impressed with his potential and his drive to become a doctor. The scholarship’s screening committee, which reviewed 22 applications from College of DuPage students, also found his ambitions impressive.
“I felt that he was very motivated,” said John W. Sims, O.D., a partner in Naper Grove Vision Care and screening committee member. “Through more education, he is reaching higher limits. He has the ambition to become a doctor, and I think he’s going to make it.”
Serving with Sims on the committee were Naperville residents Roy Grundy, a retired College of DuPage faculty member; Gene Drendle, a former District 203 superintendent; Ron Ory, a real estate agent and Naperville Park District commissioner; and Kenneth Kolbet, a retired vice president of Administrative Affairs at College of DuPage.
While in the Navy in the late 1990s, Robertson served on Okinawa and at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. On Okinawa, in particular, he enjoyed the freedom with which he could observe and learn the procedures involved in practicing medicine.
“As a corpsman with the Marines, we were given a lot of freedom to perform procedures that I would have never been able to experience in the civilian world,” Robertson said. “That freedom was dictated by the amount of trust a corpsman earned from the physician he served under. So, if you gained his respect and showed him that you had studied hard and knew your material, you had many opportunities open to you.”
Robertson once assisted in delivering the baby of a Marine in the battalion he served with, a sergeant whose contractions started occurring 20 seconds apart. The sergeant gave birth to a girl that she and her husband, also a Marine, named Michaela.
Following the Navy, Robertson decided to embark on a career in medicine. He enrolled in pre-med studies at College of DuPage. But there was only one obstacle: He had to support himself and make a living. So he went back into the construction business.
“Everyone in my family is an electrician or carpenter or something in the trades,” he said. “I’ve
worked in construction – remodeling, carpentry – since I was 14. I fell back into that routine. I was no longer surrounded by medicine, and I ended up stopping school. I worked on my own for the past four years.”
Luckily for Robertson, he was very successful in the trades. His business was always growing and he was much in demand from referrals, sometimes even turning down work because he was too busy. But he never stopped thinking about the passion he had for being a corpsman.
“I went to paramedic school,” Robertson said. “I rode along with the Carpentersville Fire Department, and I worked in the Sherman Hospital emergency room. If I was scheduled until 4:00 a.m., I would end up leaving at six because I loved being there. I loved the atmosphere, the people and the excitement.”
Longing to work again in an ER may have been the incentive to resume his career in medicine. But there was another stimulus that helped spur him on. Robertson had read the book, “Hope in Hell: Inside the World of Doctors Without Borders,” by Dan Bartolotti.
Robertson became fascinated by the organization Doctors Without Borders. Created in 1971, the humanitarian, non-governmental organization takes on projects in war-ravaged and poverty-stricken nations where people are in desperate need of medicine.
Robertson said that he could easily envision himself working in a place like Darfur once he becomes a doctor.
“They go into areas where other people won’t go,” he said of the Doctors Without Borders medical staff. “They go into areas that are destroyed by war, by natural disasters, helping people who have absolutely nothing. There are people who are dying of malaria, which can be so easily treated by antibiotics. Malaria is only one of many diseases that can be treated with antibiotics. Yet people are still dying because they have no access to medical care.”
When he applied for the Rotary Club of Naperville Scholarship, Robertson was required to write a one-page essay about himself that detailed why he would be the best candidate for the scholarship. Not wanting to sound “cocky or conceited,” Robertson had a hard time putting words to paper. It took him days to complete.
“It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve written. After three days of typing a sentence, deleting it, typing two sentences and deleting it, I couldn’t put the thoughts on the paper the way I wanted to,” Robertson said. “Then, on the third day, one page of exactly what I wanted to say just flowed out onto the paper. I got it done and I read it and I was really happy with it.”
Earning the Rotary Scholarship could not have come at a better time. When Robertson met with the pre-med adviser at Benedictine University, she suggested that he not work while attending school. He responded that he did not know how he was going to pay his bills and pay for school.
“Then she said to me, ‘Shawn, is this your dream?’ ” Robertson said. “I said, ‘Of course it is.’ And she said, ‘Then you need to give up everything else in life and focus on your dream.’ ”
Robertson decided to take the advisor’s advice. Because of the scholarship, he is now comfortable with that decision.
From his own experiences at College of DuPage, Robertson credits a number of faculty and staff mentors responsible for his success. They include Brenda Marcy, the college’s coordinator of scholarships, and Bonnie Shalin, administrative assistant to the vice president of Academic Affairs Kay Nielsen, who also wrote a letter of recommendation for him.
Robertson also gives much credit for his success to his significant other, Carly.
“I could never have gotten the scholarship without the help of Brenda, Bonnie and Dr. Nielsen,” Robertson said. “If Carly weren’t so supportive in my endeavor, I would never be able to go to school.”
Faculty mentors include Chris Petersen, professor of Biology, who also wrote a letter of recommendation for him; Nancy Kett, associate professor of Anatomy and Physiology; Mary Newberg, assistant professor of Chemistry; and Jonathan Brockman, a full-time faculty member and the chemistry lab technician.
“They helped build my confidence because they are such incredible teachers,” Robertson said. “Every day you meet great people who are so focused and so driven. My outlook on things has changed 100 times every day since I’ve come back to school.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.