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Sharon Sanders-Funnye

Photo of Sharon Sanders-Funnye Sharon Sanders-Funnye came from a family that couldn’t afford to send her to college. Nevertheless, her mother encouraged her to submit college applications and she received a Pell grant to attend Savannah State University (formerly Savannah state College).

A support system helped Sanders-Funnye achieve her college dream. Today, she is helping young people achieve the same dream. She is the director of the College of Lake County’s Educational Talent Search program, which is funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant. Each year, the program helps more than 800 high school students from Round Lake, North Chicago, Zion and Waukegan prepare for college.

 “I can understand where the students are coming from,” Sanders-Funnye said. “When you grow up with fewer financial resources, it’s important to have people who have achieved some success to look up to—especially people who look like you.”

Sanders-Funnye tries to teach students the value of persistence. At Savannah State University, she found that getting financial aid didn’t eliminate all the barriers to earning a degree. She soon discovered that her high school chemistry and algebra coursework were not adequate preparation for the rigors of a college biology program.

Sanders-Funnye didn’t give up. She asked her biology professors for support and “lived” in the library. She also created a peer study group that met four evenings a week.

An African American woman who was chair of the biology department served as a role model. “There was something about way she carried herself,” Sanders-Funnye recalled. “She always had things under control, demonstrated leadership of a diverse department and managed well.”

With hard work, Pell grant funding and part-time jobs, Sanders-Funnye earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, graduating debt-free. She then earned a fellowship which allowed her to achieve a master’s degree in food science from Alabama A & M University. After graduate school, she was hired as a food scientist in the product development division of General Foods (later became Kraft Foods).

While working as a scientist, Sanders-Funnye volunteered in the Lawndale community of Chicago and discovered that she loved tutoring and working with students. She decided to make a career change and worked in an after school program in the Waukegan School District. Later, she became director of operations at the Boys and Girls Club of Lake County, prior to joining  CLC as director of TRiO Educational Talent Search Scholars Program.

At the college, she has helped thousands of students and returned to the classroom herself, completing a doctor of education degree from National Louis University.

Sanders-Funnye is inspired by seeing her students achieve educational and career success. “Many say, ‘Mrs. Funnye, you were there for me,’” she said. “That means a lot to me.”