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By Richard Burnett

Shanie Healy At the Santa Barbara Dojo — a center for martial arts instruction — they know Shanie Healy for her dedication and inspirational expertise in teaching karate to people of all ages with special needs.

She’s come a long way since her Beacon College days more than two decades ago when she was still searching for her place in the world. Affable, outgoing, and inquisitive, the California native had come across the country to get a fresh start and overcome her learning challenges.

“I had also been accepted at the University of Arizona, but I had a gut feeling that if I went to Beacon, I would get to reinvent myself,” she said. “I wanted to challenge myself, be on my own, and find my own way. I was not disappointed.”

After some tough years as a child and teen, Healy found her footing at Beacon, with the help of supportive administrators, professors, her boyfriend — now husband — Ian Healy and a community of students who shared the common ground of learning differences. In January 2000, she graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in human services.

Today, Healy, 46, is a martial arts entrepreneur with multiple black belts. She recruits students, sets up individualized programs, and teaches karate classes year-round. She also works on the dining logistics staff of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s University Center (its student union).

Healy recalls a much smaller, closer-knit Beacon student body of about 40 students during her time at the college in the late ‘90s.

“Everybody knew everybody else, whether they wanted to or not,” she said, laughing. “I pretty much felt accepted right away by the other students. There were two main groups that hung out on campus, but I was friends with everybody. You learn a lot about tolerance at Beacon. Everybody’s got something they’re trying to overcome.”

Blossoming despite obstacles

As a child, Healy faced more than her share of things to overcome. When she was five she was diagnosed with a metabolic condition that affected her brain and nervous system. After lengthy treatment and medical care, she learned to walk and talk. Later, she was diagnosed with a perceptual learning disorder affecting her math skills — a problem that led to an anxiety disorder requiring years of help from tutors and specialists.

Despite those obstacles, Healy blossomed in high school. She played softball and other sports, landed a spot on the swim team, took karate classes, sang in chorus and took up theater, performing in numerous plays. Meanwhile, her grades were good — in everything but math, where she struggled.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school,” she said. “I didn’t conform and didn’t join all the groups and cliques. In fact, they tried to bully me a lot, but I didn’t care. I kinda went my own way and was my own person.”

The right fit in college, career, life

At Beacon, however, Healy found the right fit. She made friends easily, went on school trips, joined the student government, and continued her involvement in theater and sports. Her biggest influence was then-president Deborah Brodbeck, now Beacon’s president emeritus.

For Brodbeck, Healy made a memorable impression with her energy, intelligence, perseverance and sense of humor — something she shares with her husband Ian in their relationship. Brodbeck recalled Healy working through her anxiety about graduating and finding the right career.

“We talked about her strengths and what would be a good fit for her,” she said. “Obviously, karate has been a big inspiration in her life, and she has pursued that for the past 20 years. Her success at it shows her grit, perseverance and commitment to be the best she can be. She’s one who never looks back, always forward to how she can be even better in what she does next.”

Healy is already eyeing her next act by shoring up her business expertise and computer skills. She’s taking classes in English composition, computer information and office management at Santa Barbara City College.

“If I have any advice for graduates at Beacon today, it would be to keep thinking positive — nothing is impossible if you keep believing in your dream,” she said. “Dedication is everything.”