Good Apple: Graduate finds meaning in career path and volunteering 

Every day, Savannah Schwab Self uses what she learned at Pittsburg State University. It’s making a difference — from helping children and mothers process loss and trauma as Afghan evacuees, to helping children in a pediatric intermediate care unit, to helping children of military personnel. 

On March 7, Self was recognized for what she has achieved in the four short years since she graduated with a degree in child development through the Department of Family & Consumer Sciences: She was chosen as one of two recipients of this year’s Good Apple Award. 

The award is given annually during the Apple Day ceremony to recent graduates who embody what it means to be a Gorilla. 

“I was very surprised in a lovely way – I didn’t expect to get an email about being nominated,” she said. “It felt validating, encouraging, and so kind.” 

One of her nominators, Shawnee Hendershot, said Self was one of the best students she’d ever seen. 

She completed her degree in just six semesters, was inducted into three honor societies, and graduated Summa Cum Laude, having also racked up 640 hours in a Child Life clinical internship at Children’s Mercy Hospital and 250 clinical hours at two other hospitals as a student. 

“After graduating, she hit a lot of roadblocks in achieving her goals, but she never let them get her down,” Hendershot said. 

She earned her Master of Science in Child Life from Azusa Pacific University in 2020, followed by a graduate certificate in play therapy from the University of California San Diego Extension in 2022. Today she is a certified child life specialist in the Pediatric Intermediate Care unit at Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, Illinois. 

“She continued to seek opportunities for growth and recently, she was able to gain her ideal job,” Hendershot said. “I am in awe of all that she has been able to accomplish since her graduation a few short years ago.” 

Self, whose spouse serves in the military, is the founder of the Military Child Life Collective, leading a professional network and online community of more than 95 military-connected Child Life professionals to advocate for increased child life support in military community- and hospital-based programs. 

Self also delivered the first child life programming for a medical camp in California; was the lead facilitator and child life virtual crisis responder for disaster relief; has provided teacher training to more than 700 volunteers with the Child Evangelism Fellowship; has provided services to children with special needs and Down Syndrome in military clients’ homes. 

She volunteers as a lead facilitator for Women’s & Young Children’s Centers with Catholic Charities at Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin, and is the Toys for Tots Assistant Coordinator at the Marine Corps Reserve in Peoria, Illinois. 

“Savannah exemplifies a Gorilla by her desire to always help others no matter her situation,” Hendershot said. “She and her husband have sought ways to serve in the military and in other organizations. She is always positive and looks for avenues to better herself through education.” 

Self, who is from Fort Scott, Kansas, said she chose Pittsburg State because she wanted to be close to home in an affordable program, and as soon as she arrived, she knew it was a great decision. 

“I got to work in the Little Gorilla Preschool gaining valuable hands-on experience with children as a student, I had faculty who were willing to stretch with me and gave me special projects, and it was all invaluable,” she said. “I see that now, now that I’m in the career I’m in.” 

In the past year, she has utilized her degree supporting Afghan resettlement support in Indiana and Wisconsin. Self was a strike team leader for Team Rubicon, a play center lead with Catholic Charities, and the deployment lead with Child Life Disaster Relief during Operation Allies Welcome. 

“I facilitate and support play, essential needs, help coordinate a play center working with women, teens, and children in a play-based manner, and overall help provide a sense of respite and normalcy by delivering therapeutic activities,” she said. “When you leave your country, and you leave so much behind, and there is the added trauma of war, that’s a lot to work through.” 

She and her spouse have moved six times in five years of marriage, but volunteering helped her connect with communities, and she encourages students and graduates alike to get involved. 

“I didn’t anticipate I would have so many periods of unemployment – and I know that’s been a struggle, especially with recent grads, because they might not be able to immediately find a position they feel really called to, but don’t give up. I found value in my own passions by volunteering, because it’s a way to stay connected, to work on who I was as person. I’m still learning and growing.”