Alumna votes Georgia College as valuable educational experience
Since grade school, Maria Sheffield, ’95, ’97, has been intrigued by the U.S. political system.
“While most children were interested in cartoons, I liked watching the news,” said Sheffield, an attorney who focuses on public policy, government relations and regulatory and corporate insurance law. “I can’t explain it. I’ve just always been fascinated by our political system and economics.”
When the time came to develop her passion for politics and economics, Georgia College afforded her the opportunity to receive a quality education and still stay close to home in Ivey, Ga.
“Actually George Washington University in D.C. was the first to accept me as a student,” Sheffield said, “but I didn’t want to stray too far from my father who was disabled. Besides, I am a small-town girl, so Georgia College felt like a natural fit for me at the time.”
Sheffield earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in criminal justice.
“Georgia College is truly a community environment—one where professors remember your name and are committed to seeing you succeed,” she said. “I have such fond memories of my time at the university.”
Sheffield participated in and held various roles with student organizations on campus: Society of Politics and Law president, College Republicans public relations officer, Alpha Delta Pi sorority member and Gamma Beta Phi honor society member, to name a few.
“These organizations allowed me to hold leadership positions, hone my public speaking skills, participate in project management and meet new people,” said Sheffield.
Sheffield’s interest in politics and higher education led to both a master’s degree in business administration and a juris doctor degree from Georgia State University.
By age 25, she had earned four degrees.
“I was fortunate to have some of my Georgia College classes from the MPA program transfer to the MBA program, which helped reduce the number of hours I needed to obtain my MBA,” she said. “At the time, I also worked full time for the Georgia Department of Insurance, so I had to take all of my classes at night.”
The lessons Sheffield learned from discussing topics in the classroom and participating in student and professional organizations throughout her college career prepared her well for what was to come.
During 2010, she ran for state insurance commissioner in the Republican primary.
A former attorney of Burr, Forman LLP in Atlanta, Sheffield’s decision to seek such a powerful position was simple: “I had the skill set and knowledge specializing in issues such as health care and felt I could truly make a difference,” she said.
“The election process was an adventure that put nearly 50,000 miles on our family truck as I traveled across the state to gain support,” said Sheffield, “but the experience was well worth it.”
Although her challenger, newly elected Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, outpaced her at the polls, Sheffield is the first female to run for this state office as a Republican. She ran against eight men in the Republican primary and finished second by 1 percent.
“I went in fully believing I could win,” she said. “I left with a greater appreciation for people who run for office because it’s a tough process. The experience also gave me the chance to listen to citizens’ concerns. Everyone had such interesting stories to tell, stories that needed to be heard.”
Like the months leading up to the primary, Sheffield continues to build relationships in the community and with her clients.
"I thank Georgia College for providing a valuable education,” Sheffield said. “College is the time of your life, and Georgia College is the right place to explore what really interests you.”