By Beth Colvin
Shawntelle Fisher got out of prison on her birthday — Nov. 3, 2011 — and she came out with a mission.
“The last time I went into prison, I decided
that was it for me,” the St. Louis native, 46,
says. She sought God, she says, and he led her
to higher education.
For the past 20 years, Fisher had been in
and out of prison. She would pass bad checks,
she says, creating different identities and accounts to steal money.
“I always learned well and learned easily,”
Fisher says. “I was using my smarts for the
But in 2011, at age 43, she had a plan.
“I’d been to college before, but I was just
kind of doing something. I’d never been serious about my education,” she says.
She was serious now, though, enrolling at
St. Louis Community College-Florissant Val-
ley and graduating with an associate’s degree
in a year before moving on to the University
of Missouri-St. Louis, where in May she
earned bachelor’s degrees in education and
media studies, with a minor in social work and
with a 3. 9 grade point average. At the UMSL
“That’s something I never dreamed I could
be,” the grandmother of three said, voice
catching on tears. “An ex-offender holding that
flag … . No one could’ve told me that. I
wouldn’t have believed it.”
Fisher wasn’t just a student. Back at Floris-
sant Valley, she took a leadership course that
had her create a business plan.
Through study and prayer, SoulFisher Ministries ( thesoulfisherministries.com) was born.
SoulFisher provides tutoring and other services for incarcerated people and their
During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri,
Fisher and SoulFisher got a new objective.
Fisher’s church served food to displaced peo-
ple and she realized the unrest also closed
schools, including those in the Riverview Gar-
dens district. That meant children who re-
ceived free or reduced-price lunches — most
of the children in the district, Fisher says —
were missing meals. The church started feed-
ing them, too, and, through her service, Fisher
met school officials. SoulFisher’s tutoring pro-
gram, which now serves elementary and mid-
dle schools, was born.
Back at UMSL, Jeanne Zarruchi was looking for student volunteers for the university’s
Phi Kappa Phi chapter. Fisher responded, and,
Zarruchi said, almost single-handedly coordinated the chapter’s first book drive.
“I became very impressed by her work
ethic,” Zarruchi said. “When paths were
blocked, she created her own path.”
The drive gathered 1,200 books in two
weeks, Fisher said, enough for Koch Elemen-
tary School in Ferguson to divide between
classrooms, and for students to get a book to
take home over spring break. Fisher was se-
lected as a 2015 Phi Kappa Phi Fellow and
elected to publicity officer of the UMSL chap-
ter. She also earned a full scholarship to Wash-
ington University to pursue master’s degrees in
social work and divinity.
“There is strength of character in Shawntelle,” Zarruchi said. “To accomplish what she
has in that short amount of time speaks to her
dedication. I have never known a student to
come back from such a difficult place and end
up so far ahead of her peers and even her professors.”
Students from Koch Elementary in Ferguson, Missouri, read some of the 1,200 books collected by Shawntelle Fisher and the University of Missouri-St. Louis chapter of Phi Kappa Phi.
Dr. Jeanne Zarruchi, advisor for
the UMSL chapter of Phi Kappa
Phi, stands with Shawntelle
Fisher in front of some of the
books the chapter collected.
30 WINTER 2015 PHI KAPPA PHI FORUM