LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — From addiction to a devastating medical diagnosis, Dr. Shellie Keller grew up with a lot of obstacles. Despite these, she’s a shining example of how the biggest challenges can become opportunities to change your own life and the lives of others.
Keller has inspired countless students to achieve their dreams. She’s spent 15 years at the College of Southern Nevada, a place she never imagined she could be.
“I walked into that campus, and it changed my life,” she shared.
Keller was born in Ohio. She experienced trauma as a child and remembers having her first drink at 6-years-old.
“Just a sip, you know,” she said. “When I tasted it, I immediately thought, ‘this helps me feel better.'”
By the time she was 13, Keller was drinking heavily. She was also having major stomach issues, had surgery, then received devastating news.
“When I woke up, the doctor told me I could not have children,” she recounted, “and I was 13, and that devastated me.”
Keller dropped out of high school, continued drinking and became addicted to meth for 15 years.
“That was the hardest thing I ever did was to stop drinking. I went to that rehab, but that wasn’t the first rehab I went to.”
She kept fighting.
In 2006, Keller was figuring out her next steps, and a counselor asked if she’d thought about community college. She walked onto the CSN campus, and with guidance and encouragement, enrolled as a student.
“It gave me hope. It gave me self-worth,” she said. “It connected me with people who lived different ways and allowed me to see other ways to live and think.”
Keller went on to UNLV, where’s she earned a PhD. She is the first in her family to graduate college. She wanted to return to CSN and was hired as a public speaking professor. She’s now the director for the Centers for Academic Success, where her job is to help students achieve their dreams.
“It’s the most remarkable experience to be giving back in the areas,” she said.
Barbara Ayarza’s dream was college. At 40-years-old, a single mom of six and a high school drop out, her dream seemed out of reach.
“Been through the worst of the worst: homeless, battered women’s shelter, lost both my parents,” she shared.
Ayarza went to student orientation at CSN and met Keller her first day.
“Basically, just balled my eyes out and told her my story and how desperate I was,” she recounted, “having no idea that she was the perfect person in the perfect position to help me achieve every goal.”
Keller helped Ayarza with a job, childcare, and most importantly, encouragement. Ayarza landed a full ride to UNLV, where she earned a bachelor’s in psychology.
“She’s really everything to me. I would have never made it,” said Ayarza. “She does that for everyone she’s come into contact with. There’s thousands of students that can tell you how she’s touched their lives.”
While she succeeded professionally, Keller still wanted her own family. She and her husband became foster parents when they adopted their two children 14 years ago. Emma and Joseph both were impacted by drugs and alcohol.
“I wanted to make it meaningful,” said Keller. “I wanted to give back, and I knew that I would have something to offer to those kids. They’re the best kids. They’re remarkable!”
8 News Now asked Keller if she went back to being 13 and could see herself right now, would she ever believe it? She replied:
“That question will make me cry because no … no. I had lost hope as a child.”
Keller has been sober since 2010, and her mission to help is far from over.
“Some of the hardest things you go through, in the end, you see so much meaning if you look for it.”
Keller credits counseling for helping her turn her life around. She just went back to school to become a counselor herself. She also started a nonprofit: the Nevada Institute for Mental Health and Addiction.