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Family matters

May 11, 2015

Mother and daughter, Katherine and Fatima D. Shorten, share a goal of transforming lives through education. PHOTO: MSU Denver
Mother and daughter, Katherine and Fatima D. Shorten, share a goal of transforming lives through education. PHOTO: MSU Denver

How did a mother and daughter wind up at the same university in the same degree program?

Believe it or not, they didn’t plan it.

“When she first told me, I thought she was copying me,” said daughter Fatima D. Shorten with a laugh. “I was researching colleges and programs, and so was she, but we hadn’t talked about it.”

“She was definitely copying me,” deadpanned mother Katherine Shorten, trying not to crack a smile.

Katherine and her eldest daughter have a lot in common these days, and not just a penchant for teasing one another. They’re both students in the Secondary Education Program in Social Studies at MSU Denver and take a lot of the same classes. They sometimes study together and often read each other’s papers. But their respective journeys to the University have been markedly different.

Katherine, the matriarch of a blended family of 12, has been going to college on and off for the better part of 20 years. She started studying nursing in her home state of Texas, then switched to business, but life always seemed to get in the way. It was a history course in Denver, and learning things she “should have known already,” that ultimately propelled her toward a career in education. She vowed to teach children, especially children of color, the importance of history.

Like her mother, Fatima also tried several colleges and majors before settling on secondary education at MSU Denver. Initially, she was drawn to science, studying things like physical therapy and biology. It was a cultural anthropology course that changed her direction, compelling her to try to understand every aspect of the human experience, especially her own African-American history and culture. A calling to pass that knowledge on to the next generation pushed her toward education with a specialization in Africana studies.

The Shortens share more than just a career goal — they share an admiration for one another as well.

“I appreciate her sacrifices,” said Fatima. “She’s spent so much time in the battle of life. For her to come back to school and be so focused on the goal is impressive. I feel like she’s having a time of renaissance that she didn’t get to have when she was younger. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Katherine also appreciates seeing how far her daughter has come. “To hear her talking about classes, to see how much she is pushing toward her goals, just makes me so proud.”

The Shortens have made the most of their time at MSU Denver. Katherine recently spent spring break participating in an intensive cultural and educational immersion course in Puerto Rico. Fatima will experience something similar in Morocco this summer, where she will spend a month studying the country’s culture, traditions and education system.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Shortens will graduate together in fall 2016. But when asked if their post-graduation plans included teaching at the same school, they rejected the idea.

Katherine wants to teach in inner-city middle schools where she can preach the power of history and education. Fatima would prefer to work with women, educating them to become empowered and upwardly mobile, possibly in an international setting or maybe in a women’s shelter in the U.S.

Both will work toward transforming the lives of others.

“We should probably be statistics,” said Katherine. “We are regular, poor people. We have 12 kids in our family. But education has given us so many opportunities. We’re going to make sure others have the same chance.”

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