At first glance, one might assume that Dr. David Shockley spent his school years as the teacher’s pet, went to college and continued on until he received a terminal degree. Your basic, boring life of academia.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
“I was about this far from spending my life as a brick mason,” he said, holding his fingers millimeters apart.
Shockley grew up just outside of Martinsville, Va., during the heyday of the furniture and textile industries, a time when a young man could drop out of high school, get a factory job and live a reasonably comfortable life.
A bit aimless, the thought of a life of factory work was perfectly fine for Shockley.
“I was a solid ‘C’ student in high school,” Shockley said from the comfort of the President’s Office at Surry Community College. “I was a true underachiever, but then I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.”
But, as a young man who wanted to accomplish something , Shockley needed to push himself.
“After high school, I went into the Marine Corps Reserves because I wanted a challenge and wanted to complete something I felt was challenging. I thought if I could accomplish graduating from the Marine Corps boot camp, I could do anything.”
At the same time, he had a parallel life complete with its own challenges.
“By this time I was dating my now-wife,” he said, noting that during high school he and his wife were best friends who then started dating. “We were thinking about marriage, so I immediately went from a single guy trying to find himself to a person who was thinking like a man who was not only trying to figure out life, but needed to support a future family.”
After completing boot camp, Shockley served as a combat engineer specializing in demolitions until his active duty discharge on April Fool’s Day in 1987.
Which is where his story takes a fateful turn.
Growing up, education was always an important part of his family’s life, despite his tendency toward the mediocre.
“My parents valued education,” he said. “My father drove a truck for 37 years, and my mother was a school teacher for 34 years, so I was lucky to have that drive at home. Unfortunately, I was an underachiever despite all of that. But my parents gave me unconditional love and a strong work ethic. I just had a bit of a lack of motivation.”
On the day he returned home from Camp Lejeune, his family had a surprise for him.
“I got home and my mom said, ‘glad to see you, I love you, you have class tonight,’” Shockley said with a laugh. “My mother and sister had gone over to Patrick Henry Community College and enrolled me in the community college so I wouldn’t lose time. I was discharged in the morning and that night I was in class.”
And he was no longer the aimless young man of his youth.
“From June 1986, to a year later, the difference in mentality is incredible,” Shockley said. “I had a transformed attitude about life and the seriousness of life.”
And Shockley was off and running.
A Newly-Focused Man
After spending one year at Patrick Henry Community College, Shockley transferred to Appalachian State University, where he studied electronics engineering and computer science.
“Ironically, on Patrick Henry Community College’s records, I’m a non-completer,” he said, laughing. “But I graduated from Appy State. It was an interesting transformation. I went from an underachiever to holding a master’s degree in four years.”
Receiving his bachelor’s degree in industrial technology, Shockley went ahead and stayed at Appalachian State, earning a master’s degree in engineering technology with a concentration in physics.
“You take a guy who was in the middle of the pack in high school, who a few years later graduated from graduate school with an ‘A’ grade point average with honors,” he said.
The year, however, was 1991, and the nation’s economy was tanking.
“I sent out hundreds of resumes,” he said. “I’d graduated at the top of my class and couldn’t buy a job.”
That didn’t stop him and his girlfriend Stephanie from getting married, however, and a fellow needs to put food on the table.
So Shockley started remodeling Wendy’s restaurants in Southside and Southwest Virginia, traveling home to Boone on the weekends.
“I worked from the time they closed at night until they opened in the morning while Stephanie was working on her master’s degree,” he said.
Eventually, those graduate school connections paid off.
“My lab partner in graduate physics turned out to be my future boss,” Shockley said. “He was interested in what I was doing in the labs, and the university had a position open in computer management services. That was my first career-related job.”
After two years in that position, Shockley made the decision that he didn’t like driving so much to be with his wife, who by that time had graduated and taken a position outside of Hickory.
“I took a position with the Department of Corrections,” he said, noting that under the state employee’s plan he received a raise because it was considered a promotion. “I got promoted and went to prison.”
But he went back to academics eventually, getting his Ph.D. in education leadership from North Carolina State University.
He began his life in academia working his way up from director of computer services to executive vice president at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, a position he left to take the helm at Surry Community College.
And it all began with a young man walking into Patrick Henry Community College on April Fool’s Day in 1987.
“I worked as a laborer for a brick mason while at the community college, and if things hadn’t happened the way they did I’d be a brick mason today,” Shockley said. “Community college put that foundation there, there’s no doubt about it. If I had to rate between Appalachian State University, North Carolina State University and Patrick Henry Community College, three of my five top instructors were at the community college.”
His advice for young people trying to find their path in life? Work hard and enjoy the journey.
“It takes hard work. Nothing comes easy. I’ve been extremely blessed but looking back, it takes sacrifice and commitment to achieve what you want,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it was that hard, but there were times when my wife and I lived in a one-room apartment not even as large as this office.
“But those were some of the most joyous times of my life.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.