Keesha Chavis ’97, ’03 MA knows just how hard it is to be a teen mom and pursue an education. She also knows what a difference outside help can make.
During her senior year at Arts High School in Newark in 1991, Keesha gave birth to her eldest daughter, and it would have been easy to lose sight of her college dream. But because she was still determined to get an education, her mother and sister stepped up to make it possible.
“I had thought about going out of state for college, but after having my daughter, I needed to stay close to home,” says Keesha, who instead became an Educational Opportunity Fund scholar and benefited from all that EOF had to offer, including the pre-college summer program.
Having grown up watching her own single mother struggle to make ends meet and provide for her family, Keesha was determined to be the first in her family to get a college degree, and to one day have a partner to help raise their children.
“Without my mother, my sister and EOF, I could not have done it,” says Keesha, who lived on campus for a year and a half, spending weekends with family in Newark, and weekdays focusing on her studies.
While living on campus, she met her future husband, Jonathan William Chavis ’99, and together they had a child. Even with juggling classes, work and her children’s needs, she graduated in 1997 with a degree in psychology. Soon after graduation, she was hired in Montclair State’s Physical Plant and has been at the University ever since, working her way up to assistant vice president for talent management in Human Resources, the job she now holds.
“That was a significant year for me: I graduated from college – with tears in my eyes – obtained my driver’s license, married my college sweetheart and landed my first full-time permanent job,” she recalls, adding that she and her husband eventually had two more children. A believer in lifelong learning, she earned a master’s degree from Montclair State in 2003 and is working on a doctorate in Higher Education: Leadership, Management and Policy at Seton Hall University and hopes to complete it spring 2020.
When her sister, Tanya Green, passed away in 2016, Keesha created the Tanya Green Memorial EOF Scholarship, which is available to students from Newark who are also parents and struggling to pay tuition. The first scholarship will be awarded this fall. “Without my sister’s help, I would not be where I am today,” Keesha says, adding that her sister had eight children and was always helping young people – taking in neighborhood kids who were struggling or having issues. “This scholarship is my way of offering assistance to those in need but also acknowledging that my sister played a key role in my journey to obtain higher education.”
Keesha’s professional accomplishments include being a founder of the University’s chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and a former president of the Colleges and Universities Professional Association in Human Resources.
Keesha plans to endow the scholarship to continue to help students into the future. “I feel it’s my duty to assist young parents who don’t see a way out of challenging life situations,” she says. “I want to help them access higher education and provide some additional resources for them. That is the key to unlocking a future they have only dreamed about.”
Most recently, Keesha served on an alumni panel at virtual event geared towards graduating seniors. Along with two other alumni, she shared insight on what employers are looking for and shared overall career advice to students and recent alumni. After a 24 year career at Montclair State, Keesha recently left her role in Human Resources for a new opportunity, but remains a valued and engaged alumna.