Alumna credits BGSU Firelands for inspiring future

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In this 2014 file photo, BGSU student La-Shawna Stegall visits The Little Gallery at BGSU Firelands

By Patrick Pfanner

La-Shawna Stegall '16 remembers her experience at Bowling Green State University Firelands fondly.

“My time at BGSU Firelands was some of the most formative of my life,” Stegall said. “So many professors and advisers were willing and ready to assist. They helped me build confidence. Part of the reason I’ve excelled is because of that support system.”

Stegall lives in the greater Washington, D.C., area with her fiancé, Alex Meija, and they plan to get married this October. She graduated from BGSU with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and recently earned her Master of Arts in Health System Management. Now she wants to attend medical school.

“I hope my story can spark inspiration in someone out there with big goals who doesn’t know how to approach them,” Stegall said. “I’d want to tell them to keep working at it.”

Stegall said she learned how to approach her dreams one success and failure at a time.

“Just because someone fails, that doesn’t make them a failure,” Stegall said. “I came to that realization while at BGSU Firelands.”

Beginnings and BGSU

Stegall grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, just a few miles west of BGSU Firelands. She’s the first from her immediate family to attend college.

“Early on, I fell in love with learning and school," she said. "I had some opportunities to take advanced course work, but it wasn’t at the forefront in my household.”

Attending college quickly became a goal upon graduating high school. She attended Cleveland State University and encountered the challenges many college students face: changing majors and financial hurdles.

“I was suddenly in a whole different world,” Stegall said. “I was initially in a photography class but quickly realized I was interested in science. I wanted to make a difference and learn more.”

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BGSU alumna La-Shawna Stegall '16 attends a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Stegall took some time away from school. She returned to Sandusky and got a job. That’s when friends and family pointed her to BGSU Firelands. She petitioned the University to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.

Stegall said the faculty and staff made all the difference during her journey. She certainly made an impression on those who taught her.

“I still remember my first encounter with La-Shawna. She was standing in my office door, appearing very concerned about understanding some concepts in an upper-level undergraduate psychology course I was teaching,” said Dr. Chris Mruk, BGSU professor of psychology. “Not only is it pleasing to most professors who find students willing to use office hours to enhance their educations, but La-Shawna took the initiative to do that with me and several other professors throughout her time at BGSU, especially at BGSU Firelands.”

Mruk said some students suffer from what instructors call “A-itis,” which he said is a state of being overly focused on test scores and grades.

“Education is more than just performance, although that dimension of the process is important,” Mruk said. “Once a person breaks free of the ‘have to’ part of the learning process, as La-Shawna did, they often engage in the ‘want to’ part of it.”

Stegall started to excel once she found an area of study that felt right. She joined an American Psychology research fellowship while at BGSU Firelands and flew to Washington, D.C., to participate in presentations.

“It was a great experience, and was my first taste of the D.C. area,” Stegall said. “After that, I got another awesome research fellowship with the Consumer Protection Bureau looking at some outreach initiatives to help people be more aware of how finances impact overall life.”

From BG to DC

Stegall graduated from BGSU in December 2016. After that, she was determined to live in the Washington, D.C., area.

“I made connections there fast and found a job serving tables at a fast-paced restaurant. I ended up falling in love with the people there. Later, once I committed to staying, I got a full-time position as a stylist at a fashion company, which gave me the income I needed to survive in a big city.”

She looked to build her education further and joined a master’s program at George Mason University for Health Systems Management. Her experience reinforced the education and life advice received at BGSU.

“Whether I hit my goals or not, I knew that education would give me skills I could use in everyday life," she said. "That experience helped form views on American health care. During my course work, I advocated strongly for mental health. That’s where my passion lies.”

She started to work with children on the autism spectrum as a registered behavior technician. But she didn’t stop there. Stegall was accepted into a competitive pre-med program at Columbia University. The program helps post-traditional students finish prerequisite courses to get into medical school.

Stegall said she was pleased with her progress, especially at this point. She was in her preferred city and was part of a stable relationship, but tragedy struck when her brother, Brandon Stegall, died in 2019.

“I was really close with him,” Stegall said. “That put my life upside down. I was figuring out how to cope and accept what happened, so I took a step back and refocused on my master’s degree."

Always a Falcon

Stegall finished her master’s degree in 2021, and now she’s refocused on pursuing medical school. Although she’s poised to keep growing, she won’t forget her time with BGSU.

“My experience at BGSU Firelands is still helping me today," she said. "A lot of my personal development occurred there and a lot of my foundational science came from there.”

Mruk admires Stegall’s courage to seek new opportunities.

“No one forced La-Shawna to seek out professors, take advantage of office hours and be willing to do more work than most in class," Mruk said. "These characteristics came from within. Once they are spotted by an engaged faculty member, we often try to help the person grow as much as we can. Sometimes, these individuals keep in touch long after they leave us, as La-Shawna has, which is one of the finer rewards of teaching.”

Stegall said Mruk is an example of the exemplary faculty and staff at BGSU and proudly shares her college memories and Ohio roots with her East Coast friends and co-workers.

“From home, I learned to be more family oriented and enjoy the small things, like sitting by Lake Erie. Being a Midwest girl means I’m humbled," she said. "We have a strong work ethic. There is a special place in my heart for Sandusky. When I get a chance to come back and be part of the community again, I will.”

Updated: 04/19/2022 09:40AM