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Tennessee Tech alumnus honors mother’s commitment to education with Sonja Robinson Scholarship 

Sonja RobinsonShane Dixon, `00 sociology, says he established the Sonja Robinson Scholarship Endowment at Tennessee Tech in honor of the most wonderful person who has ever lived: his mom.

“My mom is, no joke, the greatest person on earth,” Dixon said. “I know everyone thinks that their mom is the greatest, and that’s fine, and I’m sure they love their moms, but I am lucky enough to have the greatest mom on earth.”

Dixon grew up in Gladeville, Tenn., and says his mom worked three jobs to ensure that he and his brother had food to eat and a roof over their heads.

“Let’s call it what it was – we were poor growing up,” Dixon said. “My mom did not grow up with money and sadly, that lack of money followed her into early adulthood. However, even without money, she instilled a work ethic and moral compass in my brother and me that made us who we are today. We owe everything to her. She taught us to be better each day than we were the day before. And she always made sure that we did well in school. She was adamant that, no matter what, we would get an education. She wanted us to see that there was a better life out there than what we were living. I always knew that if I ever became successful enough to do something like this, I was going to name it after my mom.”

The Sonja Robinson Scholarship will be awarded to Tennessee Tech sociology majors who demonstrate financial need. Dixon says he wanted to help future students pursuing the same degree he received because he had such a great experience at Tech.

Dixon admits he was not the typical college student; he was 23 years old and had just come out of the Marine Corps when he enrolled at Tech. He says his military experience and position as a deputy sheriff inspired him to pursue a degree in sociology and criminal justice.

“I loved Tennessee Tech,” he said. “I had a great experience, and I made some great friends. I still speak to some of them to this day, even though we live all over the world.”  

Dixon is the Chargé d’Affaires to the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. (The term Chargé d’Affaires comes from the French language and means “one in charge of affairs.”) Dixon joined the Foreign Service in 2006 and most recently served as the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. He is a Supervisory Special Agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and previously served in Bucharest, Romania; Karachi, Pakistan; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Lusaka, Zambia and Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. He also worked in Diplomatic Security’s International Programs Office in Washington, D.C. and the Los Angeles Field Office. In addition to a sociology degree from Tech, he also holds a Master of Science and Technology Intelligence degree from the National Intelligence University.

“I think Tech definitely played a role in my career path,” Dixon said. “A lot of my roommates were in the foreign language program. Two of them double majored in engineering and German. That was an interesting experience – being in a house with German majors! And many of the students were from a variety of countries. It’s interesting that, for a fairly small school at the time, Tech had such a vibrant, diverse culture. I’d been overseas multiple times in the Marine Corps, and my Tech experience reinvigorated a desire to be overseas. It reminded me how much I enjoyed it. So, I parlayed that into a position with the Department of State. Seventy-five countries later, here I am.”  

While joining the military allowed Dixon to pay for college, he acknowledges that the military isn’t for everyone. Dixon says the idea for a scholarship is based on his mom’s belief in education – and not just for her sons, but for countless other students as well. Once Dixon and his brother were grown, his mother served on the Wilson County Board of Education and began stressing the importance of education to others.

Dixon recalls that his mom cried when he told her about the scholarship.  

“I am so thankful that it’s not the Sonja Robinson Memorial Scholarship,” he said. “I wanted her to see it. I’ve been fortunate to be successful young enough where she gets to see this scholarship named for her.”

Dixon says he wants future recipients of the Sonja Robinson Scholarship to know that this scholarship is the result of a mother’s hard work and belief in education.

“She would want students to do two things,” Dixon said. “Be kind, and never forget where you come from, even as you further your education. And maybe one day you, too, will help the next person in line.”

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