May 06, 2015 1:45PM
When Shontae Cobb walks across the stage to receive her diploma this weekend, she’ll be accomplishing more than earning a college degree.
She’ll be setting an example for her four siblings.
“I want them to see me do this and know that anything is possible,” said Cobb, a native of Kansas City, Mo. “I want them to know that there is a big world outside of the inner city and that it can be theirs if they work for it.”
She’ll also be keeping a promise she made to her grandfather nearly 15 years ago.
“When I was in first grade, my grandfather came to my school for Grandparents Day,” Cobb said. “He always told me that I told him that day that I’d be the first one in our family to graduate from college.”
And there was never a doubt in her mind.
“Growing up in the inner city and seeing so many people who had never gone to college, I just knew that life needed to be different for me,” she said. “I wanted to get out of that environment. I wanted to grow and challenge myself. Higher education is one of the best ways to do that.”
Cobb will graduate with a degree in construction management, a program on which she left a noticeable mark. She was one of “just a few” women in the program when she started, but that number has grown significantly during her four years at Pitt State.
“I always had an interest in the construction field, and I’ve always loved building things,” she said. “Robotics was a big thing for me in high school. I knew Pitt had a great construction program, but I also knew it wasn’t exactly a woman’s world. I like challenges.”
Not only did she fit right into and excel within the program, she made a concerted effort to recruit more women into the field. Cobb helped charter the student Women in Construction group at Pittsburg State – she was its first president -- as well as the southeast Kansas chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.
“We want women to know that you can go into construction management and still be feminine,” Cobb said. “You can still be a woman.”
One of Cobb’s instructors and mentors, Jenny McCool-O’Dell, said Cobb’s energy and passion for the field was evident from the start.
“Shontae is a go-getter, and she is fearless,” McCool-O’Dell said. “She brought the women in this program together and opened their eyes to the fact that there are more women in this field than they probably imagined. She helped create a new culture and comfort for those women.”
For Cobb, the experience was as much a necessity as it was a goal.
“It was important to me that the women here understood that they were just as capable and valuable as the men,” she said. “The great thing about the program here at Pitt State is that all of the faculty share that sentiment. They treat us all the same and push us all to do our best.”
This summer, Cobb will take her passion for construction to Chicago, where she’ll join Walsh Construction as a project engineer. She said moving even further away from family in Kansas City is hard, but it’s also the next step in her path.
“I want to take a risk,” she said. “I want to get out of my comfort zone and see where the world takes me.”
And, as always, her family will be right there by her side.
“My family will all be down here to help me move to Chicago,” she said. “Their support has always been there, and that’s a big reason I was able to graduate. Their support as I make this next move means so much. It means the world.”
As for the world she’s about to exit, Cobb said she’ll always have nothing but fond memories for Pittsburg State and the community.
“This place is amazing,” she said. “It truly is. The professors and instructors here take you in immediately and help you in any way they can. They become your family while you’re here, which is great for me because I was a little homesick after I left KC.
“There is no place I would rather have earned this degree than Pittsburg State,” she said. “I feel like I am where I am supposed to be and that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”