Alumni Spotlight: Terri Shanahan '90
June 27, 2014
Written By Reid Oslin
When Dr. Terri Shanahan '90 arrived at Boston College for freshman orientation, she had decided to forgo participation in intercollegiate athletics to completely focus on academics during her four college years.
But when the former high school volleyball star from Wisconsin saw the BC team gearing up for pre-season practice, she reconsidered her decision and elected to excel in both pursuits.
Shanahan, who today is a pediatrician in Newton, Mass., as well as an active community volunteer in her hometown of Sherborn, went on to cap an outstanding undergraduate career by winning the prestigious Delta Award from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) as the nation's top female scholar-athlete.
Shanahan, a team captain and two-time MVP was named recipient of BC's Nathaniel Hasenfus "Eagle of the Year" Award as the preeminent female student-athlete in her graduating class and she graduated holding school records for kills, digs and aces. In 1997, she became the first volleyball player elected into the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame.
"I had never even been to Boston College before that freshman orientation program," Shanahan admited. "Our family actually had a long legacy at Notre Dame, but from a very young age I was interested in studying medicine and I knew that Boston offered a lot of opportunities for that. Also, the Jesuit tradition was very important to me as I was looking for schools. Putting those two together, I ended up in Chestnut Hill."
As a high school volleyball star in her hometown of Wauwatosa, Wisc., Shanahan had options to play the sport at several colleges in the Midwest.
"Athletics had defined so much of my high school experience that I figured that I was just going to go to Boston College and concentrate on pre-med studies," she said.
At the time, BC's freshman orientation program was held in the Flynn Recreation Complex and when she and he parents checked in for the event, she noticed that the BC volleyball team was practicing there.
"I loved the sport. I just couldn't walk by," she recalled. "I spoke to the coach, Gary Gilday, and although I knew that they had already started their season, I asked him if it was possible for someone to try to walk on to the team. That was how it all started."
As a biology/pre med major, Shanahan faced a lot of academic challenges in addition to a busy sports schedule.
"I think if there are things that you are interested in and committed to, it can work," she said, looking back at her athletic and academic career. "I had a lot of early morning classes and always did my weight room work early in the day, because we had to be ready for practice by 3 p.m. I was probably the only non-football player in the weight room at that time of day.
"I always had this pretty specific focus. So, from that aspect, it was easy. I have never second-guessed the decision that I made."
At BC's graduation, she was designated a "Scholar of the College" by the Deans of the College of Arts and Sciences and went on to pursue her career goal at Harvard Medical School, eventually specializing in pediatrics.
"I have enjoyed all of my experiences in the different medical specialties and fields," she said, "but in the end, kids can always make you smile. Children are some of the most rewarding patients I have ever taken care of because they have such a great way to approach life. You may give the same diagnosis to older age patients, to adults, but kids just seem to take it and run differently. It's pretty inspiring."
Shanahan is also very involved in community activities in her Metrowest hometown. She has coached each of her three children in their various sports, is a mentor to Boy Scouts in her area who aspire to attain Eagle Scout status, Scouting's highest achievement, and, since 2010 she has accompanied a medical and social service team sponsored by St. Theresa's Parish in Sherborn to Chile.
The Chilean outreach program "has been one of the most enjoyable and enlightening experiences of my life," Shanahan said. "Being able to take young people and have them go through the experience of serving others. I think that we have learned as much from the people down there as they have learned from us. It has been remarkable and I plan to continue going there."
Shanahan is married to another physician, Dr. Charles "Chuck" Czeisler, a sleep disorder specialist, who has worked with a number of professional sports team, including the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, to help athletes plan sleep schedules that will enhance athletic performance. The couple has three children: Emily, a rising BC sophomore; Mark, a football, basketball and lacrosse player at Dover-Sherborn High School, and Meaghan, an up-and-coming crew and rowing enthusiast.
Overall, Shanahan says that her Boston College educational experience has been the underpinning of her multi-level success.
"BC is really an entire lifetime experience," she said. "You appreciate it more each year.
"Just recently, a group of Boy Scouts I was working with was holding a car wash to raise some money and a car came by - it was an older couple - and they had a BC sticker on the window. I struck up an amazing conversation with them. We probably talked for 20 minutes. It was pretty neat.
"The BC experience - academic, outside of the classroom, and beyond - really develops a community, a network of people, and I think that one of the best things is to be able to pass this on to the next generation.
"Our daughter Emily just had the most fantastic year at BC and is just doing amazingly well," Shanahan added. "A lot of that has been her freshman experience at Boston College and defining what it is for her. My husband and I have complete confidence that this is just not an institution educating our child, but it is really looking out for the whole person, if that makes sense."
It most certainly does.