20 for 20: Sheila Dixon

Say Hola to Sheila! Sheila is currently playing semi-pro basketball in Barcelona, Spain. She plays for FC Barcelona, which is one of the most well-known sports franchises in the world. She is on the senior women’s basketball team. She graduated from Schenectady High School in 2009, in 2013, earned a degree in History and Political Science from Brown University and played basketball throughout her time in college. After college, she played basketball in Scotland.

How did Sponsor-A-Scholar help you in high school?

First, Sponsor-A-Scholar acknowledged me. They gave me affirmation. In areas where I needed support, they gave me support--academically, emotionally and financially. It also helped to be part of a group of students who were all working hard. We all supported each other. We were held to a high standard and we all had to strive to succeed.

What was it like being the first person in your family to go to college?

College for me was a different world opening up. In some ways, I couldn’t recognize it or process it. I had so many new experiences. At times, I clashed with my parents. Even though my mother had always insisted that I would go to college, she didn’t have the experience of going herself. She couldn’t help me navigate things, or answer questions about school loans or other challenges I faced.

What was the most important thing that you learned from Sponsor-A-Scholar?

Accountability and discipline. I was constantly held accountable by my mentors, teachers and counselors throughout high school and college. It gave me a sense of responsibility that goes beyond just doing your homework.

What’s the one thing that you now know about – which you wish you either knew about in college or wish you had taken advantage of while you were there?

As an athlete, I had to constantly balance basketball and academics. Sometimes I didn’t give my all to my studies, and I missed out on some academic opportunities because of this. Also, in retrospect, I wish I had majored in Business or Economics, something that had more of a direct connection to a future career path.

I do wish had taken advantage of my professors while I was in college to build relationships with them, visit their office hours and ask their advice.

I wasn’t prepared for the diversity of people I met in college. Yes, Schenectady was diverse in some ways, but being at Brown exposed me to a completely new and different world that I didn’t even know existed. For example, at Brown, I was one of a small group of students who were first-generation-to-college students who were African-American, but there was another contingent of students who who first generation who were African--from Nigeria and Kenya and so on--and their challenges were in some ways similar to mine, and in many ways, very different.

How did having a mentor (either in Sponsor-A-Scholar or elsewhere) help you in college and beyond?

Yes, in high school, Margaret McCaffrey, the wife Fran McCaffrey, the men’s basketball coach of Siena College was my mentor until my senior year in high school, when she moved away. She was a college basketball player at the University of Notre Dame throughout her college career. After she moved, Mr. Barcomb filled that void, and he and I have been close ever since. For me, having support systems outside of my family was really helpful. Having someone to talk to and lean on whose support was very appreciated.

While I was in college at Brown, Kristen Buckley, one of the assistant basketball coaches served that role. She would tell me: “You have to do the work--no one is going to do it for you.” Kristen really held me accountable to myself.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to earn your degree?

Honestly, I was burned out by the end of my junior year at Brown. I spent more than twenty hours a week practicing basketball, and I didn’t have the energy to devote to my studies. At the end of that year, I was on academic probation. I had to find the drive to ‘get back on board’ with my studies. I had to remind myself that I was capable of doing better work. I took a class over the summer, which helped me to ‘reset myself.’ My final semester, I got all A’s and I graduated on time.

Throughout the time that I struggled, Kristen, my coach, would give me pep talks about personal responsibility. She really kept an eye on me and was tough on me when I needed it most. She held me accountable by letting me know she was paying attention to what I was doing (or not doing) and she held me to a high standard.

If you could talk with your 18-year-old self about where you are now, what would you say? What would you tell yourself about the path that it took to get here?

There’s always room to improve--don’t settle for being good enough or being just as good as you are right now. Take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you and push yourself. There will always be someone out there who is better than you. It’s up to you to do your own work, and find the drive to keep going.

What do you wish Sponsor-A-Scholar had offered to you either in high school or college?

Sheila with former Sponsor-A-Scholar executive director, Bill Corbett

Sheila with former Sponsor-A-Scholar executive director, Bill Corbett

I wish that I knew more about financial aid and student loans. Even though I had generous scholarships for tuition, I still needed loans to cover my living expenses in college and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and my mom couldn’t help much. Even though my loans aren’t as much as some people’s, I wish I knew more about what I was getting myself into.

But that being said, so much of what Sponsor-A-Scholar did for me was fantastic! The stipend was so helpful between semesters of college, and all of the support from my peers was great.

If you could say one thing to your Sponsor, what would it be?

My Sponsor is a local (Capital Region) business, The Winfield Group. They are the big part of the reason for where I am today. They were supportive of me throughout college. They played a huge role in my success. It’s amazing to me to have this kind of support from people who didn’t even know me. I cannot say thank you enough.

How do you give back - to help the next generation of students?

Last summer, I hosted a basketball camp in Schenectady when I was home. I like to use what I am most passionate about to give back, and for me, that’s sports. I’ve done this in Spain as well. I love to work with kids from low-income backgrounds to help them find purpose and create goals.

How do you feel about your future?

I’m motivated to be a part of something that I can see but I can’t see. I am looking forward to new opportunities. I will soon start working in a paid internship at Puma in Spain. It will give me opportunities to explore many different avenues, which is exciting to me. Since being here, I’ve developed a Spanish proficiency and I am learning Catalan. I want to be fluent in the next year or so. I’m hopeful for what’s to come. I know I can achieve anything if I work hard.

Anything else?

I am honored to be part of Sponsor-A-Scholar. Every student in my class has gone on to do great things. Sponsor-A-Scholar saw the potential in us early on. Our successes are incredible and some of our stories aren’t known. We should be shouting about Sponsor-A-Scholar from the rooftops! Sponsor-A-Scholar helped us to tap into our potential and find the opportunities so we could follow our dreams.

Gracias, Sheila! Buena suerte!