Legacy of Learning Inspires Scholarship

UMKC alumnus and physics professor honors father’s dedication

John Shaw, Jr., Ph.D. (M.S. physics ’76), watched his father go to night school and do his homework at the kitchen table to earn a college degree as he worked and raised a family.

Shaw, a retired physics professor, established a scholarship in his father’s name to give other students the opportunity for academic achievement.

“My father liked to be busy from the minute he got up in the morning to the minute he went to bed,” Shaw says.

John Shaw, Sr. took correspondence courses early in his career as a technician with the Federal Aviation Administration. When he became a FAA instructor, Shaw’s mother suggested that he attend night school.

“I never felt neglected by the fact that he went to school,” Shaw says. “When I was young, he would play catch with me, and read to me and my sister before we went to bed at night.”

In addition, Shaw’s father, who was the first person in his family to graduate from college, was teaching him the value of education and perseverance through his own academic goals. He graduated from college two months before Shaw turned twelve. When Shaw’s father retired, he was deputy regional director for the FAA.

“When I asked him of all the jobs that he had, which was his favorite, he said, ‘Teaching,’” Shaw says.

This is something Shaw and his father had in common. By the time Shaw started college, he knew that he wanted to earn his doctorate and be a college professor; he taught physics at Northwest Missouri State until he retired in 2016.

“Seeing my dad graduate was an extremely important event in my life,” he says. “I’d always loved learning, but when I saw him graduate and the professors in their full regalia, I began to realize that there was more to education than I’d realized. That was when I became more goal oriented.”

Shaw is a proponent of urban higher education. He says that people may not understand that even students who receive scholarships and aid struggle to meet the financial demands of college.

“Urban universities offer opportunities that are out of reach for other schools,” he says. “If you’re in Kansas City, the large employer base means it’s easier to get a job while you go to school. My father wouldn’t have been eligible for a scholarship in that situation. Urban universities offer paths to education with which rural schools can’t compete.”