New SCPS Students Display Diversity of Backgrounds and Experiences

One of the UVA School of Continuing and Professional Studies' strengths lies in the diversity of its student body. The background, experiences, stories, and goals each student brings with them enhances classrooms and the learning that happens. We would like to introduce you to a few of the 229 new students who joined SCPS this fall and allow you to hear a little about each of them and their goals for the future.

Laura Shelton, Master of Public Safety degree program

Laura Shelton Ed

After living in New York as a child, Laura Shelton’s family relocated to the Shenandoah Valley when she was a teenager. Deciding to make the valley her permanent home, she eventually graduated from James Madison University. A proud mother of an adult daughter and a teenage son, Shelton now lives in a home on family land, surrounded by acres of natural beauty and shared with her husband, son and their beloved, adopted cat, Apollo.

While Shelton’s husband dedicated 25 years of public service to their local sheriff’s office, Shelton’s own career path led her to become a civilian employee within a police department. For the past eight years, she has cherished the opportunity to serve as the department’s accreditation manager.

“I’m grateful to be a part of the department’s management team, contributing significantly to its daily operations,” she says. “My unique position as a civilian in the public safety sector allows me to offer a distinctive perspective to my agency, the town organization and the state accreditation program.”

Shelton’s diverse professional background, which includes experience as a juvenile probation officer, an auxiliary deputy sheriff and work in a small for-profit mental health agency, has provided her with a wide range of insights.

“These varied experiences enable me to approach issues and solutions from multiple angles,” she states. “My passion for learning has driven me to pursue a master’s degree, a goal I’ve held for many years. When I learned about the Master of Public Safety program from my Chief, I recognized this as the opportunity I had been waiting for.”

Shelton believes the MPS program is tailor-made for her current position and the future growth of her department, providing her with the skills necessary for direct improvements and professional growth.

“One aspect of the program that excites me is the networking opportunities it offers. I’ve already connected with peers from similar agencies across the United States, allowing me to learn from their experiences and gain insights into handling the challenges we currently face, including ideas for program and initiatives to implement in our department, potentially alleviating or preventing future problems.”

Shelton says she eagerly anticipates meeting more individuals as classes continue.

“I envision using the knowledge and experiences gained from the program to enhance the law enforcement community as a whole,” she says. “My aspirations include advocating for law enforcement, bridging gaps in communities with law enforcement agencies and improving the landscape of policing.”

Dennis Empson, Leadership in Human Resources Management certificate program

Dennis Empson

United States Army veteran, Dennis Empson, was born in Houston, Tx., but raised in Altoona, Pa. Now residing in Culpeper, Va., he is a proud husband and father of six children, who range in age from 4 to 18.

Although he is new to SCPS, having recently enrolled in the Leadership in Human Resources Management certificate program, Empson is already a proven leader who has served in multiple locations and leadership positions during his military service from 1999 to 2014.

“I have had many opportunities and take pride in my tenure with each organization,” he says. “I love sharing knowledge and making people around me better by using their strengths and weaknesses to make them even stronger.”

Empson says that, despite his large family’s busy schedule, he decided to continue his education to help him succeed in a new role he has achieved. “I chose SCPS because it has a good reputation, is near where I reside and has the education level I am looking for,” he states. “What made me most interested was my experience with the staff when my father-in-law had heart surgery. The team went above and beyond in their efforts to care for our family.”

When asked what he’ll enjoy the most about his classes and being a member of the UVA family, Empson says, “I want to pride myself in knowing that I am affiliated with a top-level university. I am most excited about future opportunities to make an impact that is lasting, such as the one UVA made on my family during our time of need. My overall goals are to be more knowledgeable, so I can share my experiences, educational expertise and dreams with future generations, carrying on the success I have had.”

Mariano Alejandro Hornedo, UVA Edge

Mariano Alejandro Hornedo

Twenty-four-year-old UVA staff member Mariano Alejandro Hornedo was born and raised in Baltimore, Md., before moving at age 13 to Mechanicsville Va., where he graduated from Atlee High School. 

After graduation, Hornedo job hopped, with stints at Geek Squad and Amazon Web Services (AWS), and took some community college classes. Eventually, he decided to pursue learning networking on his own over continuing on with school.

“I became a data center technician, working at night for AWS,” he says. “Unable to remain a vampire, however, I bought a house in Richmond and started with UVA on the network engineering team.”

Hornedo says he is continuing his formal education with UVA Edge because it provides a visibly clear and reasonable path toward a degree.

“The program is clearly run with passion and is hand-crafted with the students it serves in mind,” he states. “The material is highly accessible, and the professors are eager to assist. I plan on completing my entire degree using all of the programs and resources SCPS has to offer.”


Sherry Dudley, BIS bachelor’s degree completion program

Sherry Dudley

Like most SCPS students, Sherry Dudley is juggling many roles. She is a proud wife, mother and grandmother — better known as “Nanny” — to her four grandchildren. Dudley, who is 54 years old, was born in Sacramento, Ca. After her parents’ divorce, she moved with her mother and older brother to the east coast, eventually landing in Virginia, where she was raised from age 5.

Her mother remarried and added to their family with two more brothers for Dudley. Dudley received her high school education through the Greene County Public School System.

“I was a good student,” she says. “Out of everything in my life that I couldn’t control, school was one thing that I could, so I always wanted to do my best. I graduated in 1987 in the top 10 of my class with a ranking of 7.”

However, attending college was not a goal Dudley thought she could attain since no one in her family had ever done it, and she had not received any urging from anyone to apply.

“I didn’t know how I would pay for it since I knew my family couldn’t afford it,” she remembers. “Financial aid was not something I knew about at that time, so I found a job at a local restaurant and started in the workforce.”

It was not until a tragic life event occurred that Dudley revisited her dreams of attending college.

“My mother-in-law always encouraged me to go back to school, and after her death in June 2013, I decided to take a leap of faith and enroll at Piedmont Virginia Community College,” she says. “My oldest son, Logan, graduated high school in 2013 and began attending PVCC. We both graduated in 2016.”

Dudley decided to continue her education because it is something she has always wanted to accomplish, and she thinks her strong desire to walk the Lawn will overcome worries of self-doubt.

“I want to prove to myself that I can do this. I chose the SCPS program because I wanted to attend UVA, and this program is a good fit with my life at this time. The flexibility of having classes at night works well with my work schedule.”

When asked what she’s looking forward to the most now that she is officially part of the UVA family, she responds, “I think I will enjoy the sense of community. I’ve always been a Hoo at heart, and now, I can officially say, ‘I am a Hoo!’ I am most excited about all the new things I will learn and have a strong desire to walk the Lawn and call myself a UVA alum.”