Staff Success: Former Custodian Earns Civil Engineering Degree

Alumnus Chris Shapley earned an engineering degree while working full-time, helped in part through a Staff Senate Scholarship.
Photos by Russell Cothren, University Relations

Alumnus Chris Shapley earned an engineering degree while working full-time, helped in part through a Staff Senate Scholarship.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Chris Shapley came to the university as a custodian, waxing floors and cleaning carpets all over campus. He is leaving as a civil engineer, heading for a career with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

The 13 years between are a story of grit and perseverance, as Shapley juggled full-time work with the demands of an engineering degree program. He also pursued a minor in math because: Why not? He was interested; he was here; he wanted to take advantage of every opportunity.

That seems to be the mantra for Shapley, the first in his family to graduate from college and the first male to earn a high school degree. His family instilled the virtues of hard work and pride, but encouraged him to go beyond physical labor if he could, Shapley said.

“This was my opportunity. It would have been foolish not to take advantage of it, not to keep trying,” he said.

As a university employee, Shapley received a tuition discount, but he was also helped through a Staff Senate Scholarship for three years.

“Chris demonstrates that when you put your mind to it, you can do anything,” said Teresa Waddell, secretary of the Staff Senate, which oversees the staff scholarship program. “It’s sad for us to lose him, but we’re excited that he’s moving up.”

Shapley worked the graveyard shift for six years, taking classes and studying during the day. He never brought his schoolwork to his job, he said, wanting to avoid any hint of compromise. Instead he studied when he got off in the mornings, catching 4 to 5 hours of sleep later in the day.

He distinguished himself in the several jobs he held on campus, rising quickly to supervisor, then coordinator, of the Building Services Project Team, a crew of up to 12 people who handle special projects such as floor work, carpet cleaning, weather-related emergencies and other needs.

In 2012, Shapley was named an Employee of the Quarter and an Employee of the Year for his work with the project team.

In 2015, he became facilities manager for the Walton College of Business, where he oversaw construction and design, served as liaison with Facilities Management, approved all keys and electronic access, updated facilities and performed small repairs.

Not satisfied with merely performing job duties as described, Shapley took on aspects of design, added signage and hydration stations and started a Walton College substation for the University of Arkansas Police Department.

He was named Staff Rookie of the Year for Walton College in 2015 and Employee of the Quarter for both Walton College and the University of Arkansas last fall.

“Chris is highly collegial and energetic and hard-working,” said Tanya Clayburn, assistant dean for finance and administration in the Walton College. “He’s one of those people who gets the job done, no matter what.”

Shapley graduated in December, his job with Oklahoma Department of Transportation already secured. Yet he insisted on staying at the university until March to wrap up existing projects and help his successor with the transition.

Now he’s off to Oklahoma City, where he will spend a year in training in the various aspects of his new job – design, construction, materials, inspection. ODOT wooed him away from state agencies in Arkansas and Missouri by promising him he can pick his own area of concentration, and pledging to help him obtain a master’s degree.

Shapley plans to take advantage of that opportunity.

He’s sad to leave the university, which he considers a home, but ready to tackle the next challenge life brings his way.

“It’s been a long journey – and a lot of long nights – but I wouldn’t trade it if I could,” Shapley said. “Sometimes with challenge and hard work, you get more reward out of it. I guarantee you – no one was happier than I was when I walked down that aisle and got my diploma.”

Shapley serves as an inspiration for the entire staff body, said Avery Minor, Shapley’s former supervisor in Building Services. “Chris had a drive and a desire to do better, to go through school and reach the highest peak that he possibly could.

“He shows that you can grow where you are.”

The application for the 2017-18 Staff Senate Scholarship officially opens April 28 and closes on June 2. Find out more at Staff Senate Scholarship announcement.


Bettina Lehovec, staff writer
University Relations

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