Alumni Spotlight: Betty-Shannon Prevatt
Betty-Shannon Prevatt (’95) was in the first-ever graduating class from what was then called the Governor’s School for Government and International Studies. She attended Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, after which she went straight into a clinical psychology master’s program, where her focus was on women’s studies, domestic violence, and sexual assault. After several years working in a college counseling center and later in private practice, she decided it was time to switch career tracks. Betty-Shannon is now pursuing a Ph.D. at North Carolina State University.
Her first go-round with graduate school was “intense,” she explains, because North Carolina licensing guidelines put clinical psychology master’s degree holders in direct professional competition with Ph.D.s. “But even though it was intense, Governor’s School was so much more intense. When grad school came around, it wasn’t that bad. You just do it and keep going. You just work hard–and maybe you cry!–but you make it through.”
Betty-Shannon finished her master’s 2001 and practiced at Meredith for the next five years in addition to serving as an adjunct professor. She then went into private practice in order to have a schedule that would better allow her to balance working and parenting. Her focus on reproductive mental health meant that she counseled many patients struggling with infertility and postpartum mood disorders. The latter has been a significant focus of her doctoral research.
“The transition to motherhood is such an important one,” she says. “It can be hard for anyone, but it can be particularly hard for women managing multiple roles. Throw in trying to be a full-time worker or a partner to someone, and that can be really difficult. People with and without resources struggle.”
Her volunteer work with a non-profit peer support group for mothers struggling with postpartum depression had a big influence on her decision to return to grad school. “This support group had been running for 15 years on a grassroots model,” she explains. “We were going to try to replicate the group at another location and we couldn’t get the group to run, even though we had tons of institutional report. No one would come. Trying to figure out why was the catalyst for my research and return to school.”
When she started at NC State, she was coming back to school not only as a Ph.D. candidate in a rigorous program, but as a mother to two young children who was also operating her private practice part-time. “In the beginning, the balancing act was the hardest part,” she says. “I had this idea that I would go back to grad school during the day, be a mom in the afternoon, and study at night. It turned out that our program had me as a primary instructor, so I ended up teaching morning courses and attending afternoon and evening courses from the get-go. My fabulous husband really stepped in to make sure I could be where I needed to be, but the timing has always been the hardest part.”
That said, coming back to school after some professional and life experience has its advantages. “It has given me the focus and perspective to laser in on what I want to do,” she says. Her research quantifies the widespread underreporting of postpartum mood disorders and raises questions about how healthcare providers and community support can work more effectively to identify those in need of treatment and to provide treatment that works. To get a more thorough understanding, listen to a WUNC interview with Betty-Shannon about her research here.
Besides working on research that deeply interests her, one of the best parts of returning to graduate school for Betty-Shannon has been the opportunity to continue teaching. “I taught as an adjunct for years before deciding this would be a full-time career move,” she explains. “I had a student who came back to see me two or three years after I first started teaching who told me I said something in class that inspired her: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ This was part of a discussion about the absence of diversity in positions of power and how hard it is for women and people of color to imagine themselves in positions of power without role models. She told me that it changed her perspective and made her want to be a mentor and a role model for young women. Hearing that made teaching feel even more like a calling.”
The most rewarding part of teaching for Betty-Shannon is being there for her students. “I’ve been so fortunate to be able to mentor undergrad research and to see them grow and develop. The success that my students have with their research isn’t my success; it’s theirs. But I love being there to foster and support them.”
As she prepares to move on to a new phase of her career, Betty-Shannon says that thinking back to her time at Governor’s School, she now sees that she probably wouldn’t have been there in the first place if she weren’t something of a natural risk taker. After all, the school was totally untested and lacked many of the things she would have been able to get at her home school. Like, say, a girl’s soccer team. “Three of us played on the TJ varsity boys soccer team: me, Abra Greenway, and Misha Gulak!”
The willingness to take risks has been an important part of making a life she loves. “I took the risk to leave my job and go back to school,” she says. “I took the risk to move into a second career at 40. If I hadn’t taken these risks I wouldn’t be where I am, and I wouldn’t know some of my very best friends in the world.”
She will be finished with her Ph.D. very shortly and is currently on the academic job market. “I’m looking forward to August when life is settled, and I know where I’m going to be living and working,” she says. “Ideally, I’d like to teach full time and continue my research program.” It’s easy to tell from talking to her that any student would be lucky to have her as a professor. We wish her the very best in whatever comes next!
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