Hard work and history

History class and hardscrabble finish to high school leads to big career with the U.S. Navy for alum attorney. 

When 2002 Notre Dame alum Candace (Kanka) Shields got to her senior year in high school, her grandfather, who was paying her tuition, unfortunately became unable to continue that support. Unwilling to leave a school she dearly loved, she promptly got a job working 30 hours a week to pay for her final year at NDP.

That hard work and dedication along with a love of history inspired by taking classes from one particular Notre Dame teacher led Shields to pursue an academic and career path that ultimately led to a key position with the U.S. Navy.

"Had I not taken Mr. [David] Osiecki's history classes, I would have never developed such a keen interest in history," said Shields, who now works as an assistant counsel with the U.S. Department of the Navy, Office of General Counsel, Naval Sea Systems Command, Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, Calif. “That interest led me to major in history at the University of Michigan and ultimately to a law degree. Mr. Osiecki knows how to make history fun and entertaining. I still remember the project he gave us in U.S. History to develop a board game that highlighted what we had learned throughout the semester."

On Tuesday, Osiecki's current class of history students got a chance to hear directly from Shields about how her high school and her high school history teacher made such an important impact on her life and how she ended up with the Navy.

"My interest in pursuing a career with the Navy's Office of General Counsel arose during my time attending the University of Michigan," said Shields, who was back in the Detroit area for the Thanksgiving holiday. "Specifically, I took a class called 'The History of Ships,' and participated in a program called 'Michigan in Washington' where I also interned for a federal government agency, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Those two events led me to pursue a juris doctorate degree and gave me the goal of working for the Navy on federal government contracts."

It took Shields about eight more years after finishing up at the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, to reach that goal. She spent her first year out of law school practicing tort litigation for law firms in Kansas and Maryland and the next six years or so working for the U.S. Social Security Administration in Arlington, Va. 

"My initial exposure to federal government contracts came when I accepted a position with Koprince Law, which was in Lawrence, Kansas," she said. "I finally ended up working for the Navy's Office of General Counsel in February of this year when I joined the Naval Sea Systems Command located in San Diego."

In this role, Shields primarily focuses on federal acquisitions and fiscal law, but she has collateral duties that include working on government ethics, civilian personnel law, admiralty law, and the Freedom of Information Act. She said working for the government seems like a natural fit for someone who, besides history, grew up with an intense love of political science.

"Mr. [Gregory] Simon, who taught U.S. Government at NDP when I was a student, inspired me to also study political science when I got to U-M,” she said. "His class introduced me to the workings of the federal government, including among other things its election process through mock campaigns. 

"All in all," Shields added, "I have to say that Notre Dame was an amazing environment that prepared me not only academically for college, but for the all-important 'soft skills' of life, including developing friendships, learning teamwork, practicing communication, etc. These have all proved essential for me along the way."

While still relatively early in that "way," Shields nonetheless believes that her future will include still more of what she loves to do.

"In the next few years, I see myself continuing to work for the Navy's Office of General Counsel," said Shields, who lives in the San Diego area with her husband, Scott, who works with his wife as a contract specialist at the Navy's Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, and their 5-year-old daughter, Sydney, and 3-year-old son, Kai. "Perhaps in the next 10 to 20 years, I could pursue a position with the government abroad or look more closely at the Senior Executive Service, which is part of the civil service serving the federal government. Also, while many other positions with the Navy and government are located in Washington, DC, it really will be difficult to say goodbye to San Diego's sunny and 70-degree days."

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org