Shannon Baldwin grew up in Catherine, Alabama, a small rural community in the middle of nowhere. Baldwin, the oldest of four siblings, learned to be responsible and take charge of others at a young age. The daughter of educators, her mom is a college professor and her dad is a retired school superintendent, they taught her the value of hard work and how to keep going when the going gets tough.
Growing up, she woke up early on the weekdays to make the 45-minute drive to school in Selma, where her mom worked. She and her siblings got home late in the afternoons after finishing up their extracurricular activities and sometimes late in the evenings if her mom had to teach a night class. On Sundays the whole family would pile into the family car and drive 33 minutes to attend church in Thomasville. She spent Saturdays outside playing basketball with her siblings or riding their bikes and ATVs down dusty country roads.
Perhaps because both her parents are educators, Baldwin has always loved learning and going to school and, not surprisingly, was a straight A student throughout high school. Few people knew it, but she was very competitive and driven to go above and beyond in her academic studies. She liked most of her teachers, got along well with her fellow students, and was well-respected by her school administrators.
When the high school principal needed to pick a senior to represent Selma High School and the Selma City School system at an upcoming weekend event, Baldwin was an easy pick. But neither of them knew it would involve her delivering opening remarks for President Barack Obama during the March 7, 2015 ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of the Voting Rights Act and the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery by voting rights activists.
Her principal notified her on Thursday to attend a meeting on Friday to learn what she would be doing on Saturday. Those were all the details he had. “In shock” was the best way to describe her feelings during her meeting on Friday with White House staff members, who informed her she would need to prepare a speech and be ready to give it the next day. Anyone would be nervous at the prospect of having to write and deliver a speech in less than 24 hours at an event where the president of the United States would be speaking. But not Baldwin.
When she was much younger, she had to give a speech during church services, a speech she knew by heart after hours spent practicing and rehearsing. Her parents and siblings were sitting in the front pews, and she didn’t want to embarrass them or herself. Her nerves got the best of her anyway, and she forgot the rest of her speech midway through it. She still doesn’t quite know how she completed it, but she did. Afterward, she vowed never to let her nerves get the best of her again. Because of that incident, she was able to draw on the techniques she had learned to combat nerves. After she and her mom stayed up most of the night rehearsing and perfecting her speech, she gave a flawless delivery before the crowd of thousands of people who had turned out to hear President Obama speak.
With that out of the way, Baldwin completed her dual enrollment at Wallace Community College in Selma. She graduated with both an Associate of Science and Associate of Arts degree at the same time she graduated from high school in May 2015.
She later attended an historically black college and university (HBCU), Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU). She was selected as an HBCU All-Star Ambassador during her sophomore year. The HBCU All-Star Program, a White House initiative started in 2014, recognizes students for their academic accomplishments, leadership, and civic engagement. In 2019 she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and a concentration in computer engineering.
Since 2020, Baldwin has worked at the U.S. Army Redstone Test Center (RTC) on Redstone Arsenal, a United States Army installation in Alabama. Assigned to the Advanced Test Instrumentation Products Division, she works as a test engineer in the Stockpile Reliability (SRP) Lab. As a test engineer, she tests missile components from older missiles in storage around the world to ensure these components will function as intended when needed.
The SRP Program was established to help senior Army leaders determine whether the shelf-life of a missile could be extended after being stored in a bunker over a period of time. By testing the missile’s components, the SRP program helps extend the shelf-life of missiles found in bunkers worldwide. In 2021, Baldwin was awarded a Civilian Service Achievement Medal for her hard work, ingenuity, and technical ability in completing an aggressive test schedule for the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, Hellfire, and Stinger using unique and innovative methods.
Baldwin admits to being an overachiever and is a self-proclaimed workaholic. Recently she took on added responsibilities as program manager for the Test Set Integration Lab to manage the lab’s funding and its scheduled work. In addition, when not working her full-time job at RTC, Baldwin works part-time at Best Buy on the weekends. Even with all the different hats she wears, she still found time to check a few more educational goals off her list. In 2021, Baldwin graduated from the University of North Alabama in Florence with a Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in computer information systems.
Her parents and teachers have been the strongest influences in her life. Her parents never put limitations on the things she dreamed of one day accomplishing and instead always pushed her to go after whatever she wanted. They raised her to be a self-sufficient and independent adult who would one day be capable of living on her own. She treasures the valuable life lessons they taught her that not only molded her into the person she is but also prepared her for the challenges she would face in the future.
Her high school teachers challenged her with rigorous coursework and motivated her to excel by setting high standards of excellence. Her academic advisors at AAMU treated her like family, and her professors knew her by name. They made the time to talk to her and get to know her. Because of the unconditional support, guidance, and acceptance she received from her parents, high school teachers and college professors, she knows there’s nothing she can’t accomplish. And at 24, she’s only just getting started.
Link to video of Baldwin’s opening remarks for President Barack Obama: https://www.c-span.org/video/?324607-1/50th-anniversary-selma-montgomery-march