Staff Success: Former Custodian Earns Civil Engineering Degree

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…

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