In families, in communities, in academia, in every setting, Crystal Shannon has dedicated her career to helping women harness their potential as leaders.
A nurse for 25 years, and now an associate professor of nursing at Indiana University Northwest, Shannon wants women to feel confident wielding their influence in every aspect of their lives.
In nursing, her specialty is women's health. To most, that term means health conditions that affect women, but to Shannon, women's health is a philosophy.
"When I think of women's health, I think of anything that gender can do to stabilize health within the family unit. Women are making the primary health decisions for a family," she said. "We have a level of power that we don't even know we have. Sometimes it takes someone to nurture that and help that to grow."
Shannon grew up living between two of Chicago's roughest neighborhoods. A teen mother, she found herself returning home at 17 after a brief stint at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, to regroup and forge her next steps. Her grandmother and great-grandmother were nurses, so that career choice quickly came to the forefront of her new options.
"I found myself at the City Colleges of Chicago -- Kennedy King College -- right in the inner-city area in Englewood," she said. "It was a wonderful experience. It taught me all about the connection between health care and the community."
Shannon worked as a nurse for about 10 years before pursuing advanced degrees in nursing and business. In 2007, she delved into nursing education, accepting a position at IU Northwest. Now a tenured professor, Shannon still keeps her passion for community health care active by working as a home health nurse.
"It's a connection I keep because I love it,' she said. "I love working with patients in the environment where they are most comfortable."
With female decision-makers dominating both households and the nursing industry, Shannon looks for ways to "connect the empowerment that we feel within this field to environments where women don't necessarily feel as empowered."
"Sometimes it's as simple as feeling emboldened within your own home environment and knowing that you have the knowledge, skills and ability to make those decisions," she said.
One powerful book for women
As chairperson of the "One Book … One Campus … One Community…" reading initiative -- which chose "Women and Power" by Mary Beard as this year's common campus read -- it seems Shannon found the perfect tool to help women find and use that ability.
"'Women and Power.' Those two words together speak volumes to me in terms of what we don't have and what we could have. This notion is what I've wanted to embody my entire career," she said. "Women traditionally ARE in a position of power, but we do not know it and we do not take advantage of it. We often let people put us in a position of dependence, be it at home, at the workplace, in the hospitals, in academia."
Even more importantly, Shannon said, is for women to realize that they have knowledge and expertise -- and also, a voice.
"I want women to know they have a voice," she said, "and be willing to speak up and say something and feel OK about what happens on the other end of that."
In the classroom and clinical lab settings, Shannon teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in women's health, growth and development, public health, family health care, and disaster nursing.
Maintaining a personal relationship with students is an expectation for her personally and a part of the mentor-mentee process within the School of Nursing. Shannon estimates that over her 12-year career at IU Northwest, she has served as a personal mentor to well over a hundred students, at least 15 to 20 each year.
"We take mentoring to heart," Shannon said. "We not only believe in it, but we live and breathe it. We celebrate our students' successes, and we cry with their losses."
Shannon reached for a paperweight atop her shelf and fingered the words on the silver disc, "Operation Enduring Freedom."
"One of my female military students gave me this," she said. "She talked about how this item represented her unit and being a champion for others. She told me that every time she saw this, it reminded her of the people who were a champion for her, and she wanted to be able to pass that on. It means a lot to me and reminds me that even when it gets hard, I need to remain a champion for other people and encourage them to be champions for others."