Legislative Staffer Aspires to New Career as Elementary School Teacher

By Tom McLaughlin

Looking back now, Melisa Shultz says, there’s not much that she hasn’t seen or heard.

For the past 12 years, the graduating Rutgers University–Camden senior has served as constituent services director for N.J. Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, who represent the Garden State’s Sixth Legislative District.

When people in the district are told to call their legislator, they are more than likely calling Shultz, working at the behest of her bosses.

“I’m the person who often fixes it,” says Shultz, who will graduate from Rutgers–Camden on May 17 with a bachelor’s degree in childhood studies and a minor in psychology. “Every day is different, and I feel like that experience has really prepared me to handle any kind of situation thrown my way.”

Shultz with her husband, Steve, and sons (l to r) Jack and Stephen

Set to be certified in K-6 and special education in December, the Pine Hill resident now hopes to bring her search for common understanding, a willingness to serve others, and an openness to adjust to any situation that arises to a new career as an elementary school teacher.

A career in politics might have seemed like a perfect fit, but it took her most personally prized role – that of “mom” to her young children Stephen, 8, and Jack, 4 – to realize her true calling.

“Having my kids helped me finally figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she says with a laugh. “I know what I want, I have a goal, and I am going to achieve it.”

It’s a career path, she says, that would have surprised the 20-year-old version of herself. Upon graduating from Paul VI High School in 1999, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in communications at Arcadia University, with intentions of going into either radio or TV broadcasting. While that didn’t work out as planned, little could the Rutgers–Camden undergrad know that a prominent role serving the community was right around the corner.

In 2002, Shultz took a temporary job making photocopies of deeds and mortgages for the Camden County Clerk’s Office. Regardless of the task at hand, she gave it her all and quickly gained a reputation as a consistent, dedicated worker. Consequently, when the position of constituent services director opened up, she was highly recommended for the post.

Shultz celebrates her graduation from Camden County College in May 2015

“That’s how it all started,” says Shultz, one of two recipients of the Outstanding Senior Award in Childhood Studies. “I would never have guessed where that first job would lead me.”

As she gained intensive, day-to-day experience in politics, Shultz naturally considered a career in the field and pursued an associate’s degree in political science at Camden County College. Still, lacking a passion for it – “It was like bringing work home with me,” she readily admits – once again, she put her studies on hold.

Things began to change, however, after she and her husband, Steve – a double graduate of Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2005 and an executive master of public administration degree in 2015 – welcomed the birth of their first son.

Shultz set her sights on returning to school and earned her associate’s degree in elementary education from Camden County College in spring 2015 and arrived at Rutgers–Camden shortly thereafter.

This time around, she says, she has been “laser focused” on her studies.

“Whatever the subject is, I put in the time and don’t expect anything less than an ‘A,’” says Shultz, who is a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education, as well as the New Jersey Pre-Service Education Association for students.

Shultz poses with Clifford at the NJEA Convention in November

In addition to balancing her job and her studies, Shultz has remained very active in her community. She is currently a member of the Pine Hill Democrat Club, the Camden County Democratic Committee, and the Pine Hill Education Foundation, an organization whose mission is to supplement and enhance the quality of education for the students of the Pine Hill School District. She also volunteers at her sons’ schools whenever her schedule allows it.

With her background in politics, Shultz envisions serving a unique role as a teacher by making children more aware of the importance of being informed citizens.

“I think that most people lack that awareness and understanding,” says Shultz. “Many kids – and many adults, for that matter – don’t want to get involved anymore. Everyone gets jaded by the whole process.”

She notes that, while she has gained immeasurable, personal experience being a mom, the childhood studies program at Rutgers–Camden has given her a new perspective on childhood that will undoubtedly benefit her in the classroom.

“If you don’t listen to a student’s voice, and what their needs and wants are, you are just throwing information at them,” she says. “They are their own people and you have to realize and respect that. I think that any future educators should gain that understanding.”

She adds that, although she took a roundabout route to becoming a teacher, the timing couldn’t be better.

“As a mom, I’ve worked with kids, but now I am also equipped with the knowledge that my Rutgers–Camden degree has afforded me,” she says. “It’s all coming together at the right time.”

Posted in: Student Achievement

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