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Like mother, like daughter, like mother? It’s up for debate.

Katherine and Fatima ShortenKatherine and Fatima Shorten disagree on whose idea it was to pursue a degree in education. Both are sure that it was their idea that they came up with on their own. The loving bond between the mother and daughter is obvious but, like many relationships between mothers and daughters, there’s also a little bit of good-natured teasing.

“You really copied me,” they both half joke.

“I was doing an accounting program at Community College of Aurora,” Katherine said. “I’d done tax preparation for years, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about.”

“And I started out as a biology major with an eye toward medical school,” Fatima said. “Then I took an Ethnic Literature class and discovered this whole other world that I want to share with others.”

“I asked myself what I really wanted to do,” Katherine continued. “And I always had this love for history, so I started over at MSU Denver so I can teach history.”

“We didn’t discuss it with each other in advance,” Fatima explained. “But we both ended up in the School of Education around the same time.”

The conversation turns serious when they start talking about the power of education. Each has their own reason for pursuing education as a career but they both agree that education has the power to change communities for the better.

Fatima, an Africana Studies major with a minor in Secondary Education, radiates excitement about the opportunities that education has provided her during her time at MSU Denver. “I spend my days reading Black authors, people like me,” Fatima said. “I see myself or see my grandparents in their stories,. It’s very powerful.”

Last summer Fatima received a Fulbright Scholarship to live in Morocco for one month. It was there she realized the importance of learning another language. “I met an elderly Senegalese woman at mosque in Casablanca,” Fatima said. “I couldn’t speak her language but I knew she had so much to tell me. It was a powerful experience.”  

Katherine wants to provide a blueprint for success for students in lower socioeconomic communities. “[A blueprint] is not something that I had, so I’m trying to provide that to my children and others in my community,” said Katherine. A Muslim who moved to Denver from East Texas, she married and had Fatima at a young age.

Her goal is to teach middle school history and encourage children of color to pursue education. “There aren’t a lot of role models that look like me; most children of color see the only way to success as getting rich through entertainment or sports,” she said. “That’s the ‘lottery’ whereas education is the ‘reality’ they don’t see as often. I want to be the role model for reality.”

Fatima plans to teach history or English, but wants to move overseas and empower women or aide refugees through education. “School is a place of solace in a tumultuous world,” she said. “I want to recreate my experience of what my professors have done for me for someone else.”

Both mother and daughter are involved on campus and praise the resources available to students through the School of Education, the history department, the Student Academic Success Center, and the Student Engagement and Wellness Services through the Dean of Students office.

It was through campus resources that Katherine was able to present her research on the black feminist movement at the biennial conference of Phi Alpha Theta, the national honor society for history, in Florida last year. The history department paid for her accommodations and she applied for student activities scholarship funded her travel funds to cover registration and airfare. “It was a honor and my first experience being viewed as an expert on a topic,” Katherine said. “Someone from the Smithsonian came up to me after I spoke and talked to me about opportunities there.”

In addition to school, work and family, Katherine tutors through the Center for Urban Education, and both ladies volunteer for the Denver Public Schools 9th Grade College Readiness summer camp. The dynamic duo both are also involved with the Colorado Education Association student chapter as officers. Katherine is the vice president and Fatima is the treasurer.

What’s next for these two? Fatima will graduate in May 2016 and her prior experience and passion for working in urban schools led her to pursue a position with Teach for America. Katherine added a culturally linguistically diverse endorsement, which certifies that Katherine has had instruction in how to teach students where English is not their first language, Culturally Linguistically Diverse, and will finish her program in the fall 2016.

After that, the doors to opportunity are wide open for both of them. “Sometimes it will be hard to be a teacher in today’s environment,” they both agreed. “But it’s supposed to be hard - because it’s worth it.”

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