Nancy and James George, Mother and Son, Don Caps and Gowns Today

Issue Date: 
May 2, 2010
James T. George and Nancy S. GeorgeJames T. George and Nancy S. George

Graduating Pitt senior James T. George will receive his bachelor’s degree in information science today alongside his mother, Nancy S. George, who will receive a master’s degree in library and information science.

The timing of receiving the dual diplomas is more coincidence than the result of long-term planning, said James George, explaining that he and his mother realized only last fall that they were on course to graduate together. “We never had any grand plan to finish [school] with each other; all of the pieces just fell into place for us in September, and we couldn’t be more thrilled,” he added.

For both graduates, Commencement marks not only the culmination of their academic careers but also a step in a long journey of personal growth that the two have undertaken together—with Pitt playing an important role throughout.

For Nancy George, earning a second master’s degree fulfills a personal dream and reflects a strong family value passed down from her mother, Alice Shimrak, a homemaker, and her father, Steve Shimrak, a railroad worker. Nancy grew up in the small railroad town of Conway, Pa., an area where many immigrants and first-generation Americans settled. Looking back, the can-do attitude of both her parents and many in the community greatly influenced her, she said.

“Both of my parents grew up during the Depression, so education was seen as important in the sense that they themselves were never able to attain a formal one. They wanted their children to at least have access to educational opportunities.”

Nancy first entered the University of Pittsburgh in the fall of 1974. She said Pitt was the ideal place because “all the elements of an outstanding education were there, and I had a very fine college experience.” She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in language communication from Pitt in 1978 and a Master’s degree equivalency in education, awarded by the state Secretary of Education, in 1985.

From there, Nancy sought to impart the importance of education to her students: She has taught 7th-grade language arts in the Ambridge Area School District for more than 30 years. Along the way, she met and married James H. George Jr., a principal in the South Butler County School District.

Nancy said she chose to earn a master’s degree in library and information science, because the curriculum is “directly related to what I already do: making information available so students have what they need to learn.”

“Teachers have always been managers of information, but over the years, student learning styles and techniques have changed considerably because of rapid changes in technology. To be successful in the classroom, it is essential that these technologies become integrated into my teaching methods, especially with research and writing. … I believe that library and information science is generating the classroom of the future, and I am excited to be part of it,” she explained.

Of her many achievements, Nancy said instilling the same fundamental values within her three children has been her greatest accomplishment. All three children are attending Pennsylvania colleges. James, her eldest and fellow Pitt graduate, attests that education played a major role in his upbringing.

“From an early age, my parents emphasized the importance of an education in securing a successful future,” James said. “I think that is the natural order of things when you grow up with two parents who are educators. My parents emphasized that education was a lot more than books and tests, and they presented a picture that made us want to be a part of an educational environment.”

While James credits his mother with making him the man he is today, Nancy credits him with providing the inspiration to continue with her own educational career. Her decision to return to college after more than a 20-year hiatus came shortly after James’ high school graduation.

“I had taken some classes over the years, but with the kids starting to leave home, it felt like the right time to devote myself fully to finishing what I had started years ago,” said Nancy, acknowledging that she felt a tad overwhelmed during her first year of as a high-tech major. “I could almost identify with people who move to a foreign country and cannot speak the language because I didn’t grow up with this level of technology.”

Fortunately, she said, James was able to assuage her initial concerns. James, however, attributes his mother’s success to her sheer determination.

Nancy said that while some have questioned why she earned another master’s degree at this point in her career, she has always felt that education was the best investment in herself, her family, and her community. Comparing an education to a luxury car, “monetarily, my education cost less [than the car], but in value, it was significantly more. When a car leaves a dealer’s lot, its value decreases then and each time it is driven. Each time I drove to Pitt and walked into a classroom, my investment increased, and it will continue to increase with time. Obtaining this degree may not make me wealthy by way of a salary increase, but it has made me richer at what I do.”

“Clearly, education is the best investment one can make, and one can always benefit from being in a community of life-long learners,” she added.