A Place for Everybody
CALS student finds second home at U of I
After attending a university for a semester and a half when she was 18, Shannon Royals knew that she wasn’t ready to pursue higher education.
So she decided to travel the world instead.
This May, after 29 years of traveling the world, experiencing new adventures and raising her three children, Royals will graduate with a degree in horticulture and urban agriculture from the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
A Free Spirit
Royals, 46, is originally from Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada. After dropping out of college, she left Newfoundland and drove across Canada with just her dog and cat. She lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a few years, before eventually finding her way to Virginia.
“I went to university in Newfoundland right out of high school, but I felt like I wasn’t ready or didn’t belong there,” Royals said. “I felt like I needed to be out on my own and explore. I was just kind of a free spirit through my 20s I guess.”
In 1997, Royals took a job in Virginia as a deckhand on the Norfolk Rebel, a gaff rigged schooner used for towing, fishing and salvage. Royals lived on the boat for a year and helped to launch a replica of the Kalmar Nyckel, a ship that originally sailed from Sweden to Delaware in the 1600s.
Royals married a member of the Air Force in 1998 and for the next 16 years she traveled with him to bases around the world and gave birth to her three children, now 17, 11 and 9. She managed to acquire 50 college credits while living abroad through the University of Maryland-Asian division in Japan and the University of Maryland-European division in Portugal and Italy.
When Royals and her husband divorced she decided that it was time to finish her degree.
“I felt like I needed to improve my career opportunities and my kids were a little bit older,” Royals said. “Just the fact that they were getting older made it easier for me to go back to school.”
A Love of Plants
Royals has always excelled in math and science and loves plants, so she began looking for programs in horticulture. She talked to her longtime friend, Jen Kottas, a Vandal alumna, about wanting to finish her degree and Kottas encouraged her to look at U of I.
“She said, ‘You have to go to U of I. It’s your kind of town, it’s family oriented and U of I is a great university,’” Royals said.
Royals met with plant sciences professor Bob Tripepi and knew that U of I was the place for her.
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Tripepi,” Royals said. “I feel like he’s everything to his students. He’s always been there with scholarship and career opportunities or advising recommendations. Dr. Tripepi is a dedicated and wonderful professor. He’s there if you just need someone to talk to. He’s all about the students.”
Royals started classes in January 2015 and quickly learned that she enjoyed being in the lab and greenhouse. She has worked as a lab assistant in Tripepi’s lab for the past two years where she has propagated woody plant species and worked on a research project to develop the sterile triploid of the litchi tomato to help control the pale cyst nematode, a microscopic worm that dramatically reduces potato yields.
Royals hopes to one day have her own growing operation, doing propagation and producing plants.
“I like seeing things grow,” Royals said. “I like for the spaces around me to be pleasing and I’d like to provide that for other people. I always thought I wanted to do food production because it had a purpose. But I think through this and my time landscaping I also learned that flowers and plants bring so much more to a person than just food. It improves their surroundings and wellbeing. That’s what I want to bring to people.”
A Second Home
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. The University of Idaho feels like a second home to me.” Shannon Royals
As a non-traditional student, Royals did have reservations when she first arrived on the Moscow campus.
“I thought, I’m going to be there with all those young kids that are going to be talking about drinking and partying,” Royals said. “I have been so amazed at the young people that I have met. They are very studious, focused and serious about their education.”
Now, Royals sees U of I as a second home.
“I would say there is a place for everybody here,” Royals said. “I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I’m not sure if I would have made it through if I didn’t have all these people around, their encouragement has kept me going. The University of Idaho feels like a second home to me.”
Learn more about the horticulture and urban agriculture program at U of I.
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in May 2018