College of Engineering News Room

Sharing Opportunities in Engineering

by Russell Nay

Two USF alums established a scholarship fund to help the next generation of USF engineering students overcome obstacles in their education and make the most of their time in their programs.

Karen and Bill Shannon

Karen (left) and Bill (right) Shannon stand with one of the racehorses they raised on a farm in Bill's hometown in Kentucky after retirement. Karen's and Bill's careers include positions at Tampa Electric and Honeywell, respectively.

For Karen and Bill Shannon, USF holds a special place in their lives for being both the home of their greatest achievements in higher education and where the two first met while taking classes in the 1970’s.

“We’re kind of attached to the school,” Karen Shannon said. “We met there, we got married there, and we’ve been married going on 53 years.

Now, the two have established a scholarship fund — the Karen Moses and Bill Shannon Endowed Scholarship in Engineering — that will support full or part-time engineering students at all academic levels pursuing most engineering majors on all USF campuses. Scholarships are awarded with a preference for supporting students traditionally underrepresented in engineering fields.

“My husband and I worked very hard, and we feel like we have the opportunity at this point in our lives to give back to our community,” Shannon said.

Shannon, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and later a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from USF, faced a disconnect between the subjects she enjoyed studying in high school and the majors she could select before attending classes at USF in 1969. While she took all the math classes she could take at the Tampa high school she attended and enjoyed science and physics classes there, she said she was limited to studying to become a math teacher, a healthcare professional, or a social worker in college.

“This was back when women weren’t promoted throughout different professions,” she said. “They give you a test if you’re really unsure what you want to major in, and I took the test and they said ‘Well, your options are kind of limited.’”

After graduating and working for 10 years as a social worker for the state of Florida, Shannon became dissatisfied with her career and returned to USF to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. She and her husband owned an early personal computer, and he worked at Honeywell at the time, which helped her focus her interests in STEM to the field of electrical engineering.

Shannon said that she was one of three women out of the 130 students in her program who graduated and that she needed to overcome a variety of barriers in order to graduate while she and her husband raised their son and while she worked a co-op position at Tampa Electric.

“I had a professor in one of my classes who flat out told me that I was the only woman in the class and that I’d never make it in his class and to drop out and start looking for something else,” Shannon said. “That was all I had to hear. I stayed in that class, and I didn’t make an A but I did make a B. That was kind of the attitude back then, and now it’s changed. We’ve progressed a whole lot in the last 30 to 40 years.”

She said that her experience completing her degree was a large reason she wanted the scholarship to support future generations of engineering students at USF who would benefit from taking classes and sharing experiences in their programs with students from similar backgrounds.

Additionally, she wants students supported by the scholarship to have time to work, intern or pursue a co-op in their field while going to school full time. She said she doesn’t want a student to be denied the opportunity to finish their degree or be discouraged from simultaneously pursuing professional experience if they can’t take the time they need.

“I want them to have the opportunity I had and not worry about having to do it in four years,” Shannon said. “It took me about 8 years to finish my degree with a co-op.”

Following her graduation from USF with her electrical engineering degree in the 1980’s, Shannon worked at Florida Power and Light for a year before returning to Tampa Electric to work a full-time position for 10 years. She achieved her professional engineering license while at Tampa Electric and also maintained the license in Indiana and Nevada, where she worked for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Since retiring, Karen and Bill Shannon moved to Bill’s hometown in Kentucky to raise racehorses and lived there for 14 years before selling their farm and moving to Dunedin, Florida. Their son is also a USF alum who earned a bachelor’s degree from the USF College of Education and taught at a local junior high school in Tampa before moving to California.