Sonya Shinhoster and Katina Edwards, sisters and classmates, are achieving their mother’s dream of higher education by graduating from the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Each say they couldn’t have done it without the other.
Family and faith played a role in Shinhoster and Edwards’ education journey. Originally from Sandersville, Ga., a small town of less than 6,000 people, the sisters are two of seven children born to parents who did not finish high school. However, Shinhoster and Edwards became first-generation college graduates and blazed the family trail into the nursing profession. Two older sisters later followed their path to nursing.
Despite their mother’s lack of formal education, she encouraged her daughter’s education and modeled their future careers in nursing as a private caregiver. Mom also proudly attended her daughters’ dissertation defense earlier this year.
“We all watched her be the caregiver for many. That sparked my passion for being a nurse,” said Shinhoster.
Shinhoster began her career as an LPN and worked through the ranks from LPN to RN and RN to BSN bridge programs before pursuing a master’s degree in nursing, post-master’s certificate and the DNP at Georgia State University.
Edwards began her career as a pharmaceutical technician for 10 years before getting interested in nursing.
“I wanted to focus on a more active role in helping patients, before they needed medication,” she said.
Both work in challenging psychiatric/mental health jobs, Shinhoster for the Department of Veterans Affairs as an outpatient mental health provider at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Ga. Edwards is a psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner working on a crisis stabilization unit with patients experiencing severe mental illness and substance abuse issues.
When it came time to pursue a master’s degree, the sisters found strength in each other. Shinhoster applied to two Georgia nursing programs, including her BSN alma mater. However, the college didn’t have the psychiatric nursing program Shinhoster wanted, and she left the admissions interview discouraged.
“Then Professor Traci Sims called and said ‘Hi, we’d like to interview you for psych.' I was so excited and so overwhelmed,” said Shinhoster. “When I left that interview, I called my husband told him, ‘I got in.’ I didn’t know that I got in, I just felt it in my spirit.”
She received an acceptance letter just a short time later.
Edwards chose Georgia State for its reputation for preparing students for success, and location and diversity. Having her sister at the same school at the same time helped, but initially Edwards wanted to have her own identity. She is the youngest of the five sisters.
“When we first started the master’s program, I only had one request of [Sonya]. For her not to tell anyone that were sisters,” said Edwards. In their first class, they sat on opposite sides of the room. Edwards introduced herself, but when it was Shinhoster’s turn, she “outed” her sister.
“Hi, I’m Sonya Shinhoster and my major is psych and my baby sister is sitting right over there.” Edwards was not pleased with her sister.
“I wanted to take my book bag, toss it across the room and hit her in her forehead!” Edwards said.
“I couldn’t help it. I’ve always been her protector, you know I’m the big sister,” Shinhoster said.
Edwards came around quickly.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be on this journey without [my sister]. It’s been a wonderful ride, having her beside me for support now.”
-- by Angela Arnold Go