Shirley McClerklin-Motley has had a long, productive career helping others, something she showed an aptitude for at an early age.

“I was always the kind of person people come to for advice,” she says. She started out in human services and worked for the Department of Social Services in Columbia, South Carolina for 10 years before pursuing a master’s in social work, which she completed in one year.

But she also had another passion.


Springboard to Teaching

“I’ve always wanted to teach,” McClerklin-Motley says. “As a girl, I used to line my dolls up in front of me and teach them.” Once she had her master’s, she began to teach at Coker College in South Carolina at an adjunct level. She’d been teaching for five years when a colleague approached her about implementing a social work program into Coker’s curriculum.

McClerklin-Motley was instrumental in developing the college’s first Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program, and she began to consider pursuing a PhD in order to teach at a master’s or PhD level herself. She enrolled in Capella University’s PhD in Human Services program in 2010.


Winning Awards, Sharing Knowledge

McClerklin-Motley’s extensive field experience, something that gives her tremendous credibility for teaching, began to grab the attention of state leaders. She was a pioneer in studying domestic sex trafficking in South Carolina and helped organize the first prevention conference in that state. She also worked and researched in the areas of teen violence, domestic violence, and senior citizen issues.

Her hard work was recognized in multiple ways in 2015. She was awarded the FBI Director Community Leadership Award for her work in combating human trafficking, and she also received the Social Work Educator of the Year distinction from the South Carolina chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

“Both of these awards make me feel so humble,” she says. “I have colleagues who have done tremendous things. I respect them so much. I have to pinch myself—is this real?”


PhD for a National Approach

One thing McClerklin-Motley wants to do once she’s awarded her PhD is to start taking her research from the state level to the national level. “I love research,” she says. “But I did not really learn research until I came to Capella. My instructors have taught me so much. When I finish my dissertation, I’m going to dedicate it my professors.”

She’s well on her way, having submitted the third chapter of her five-chapter dissertation to her mentors and begun work on the final two chapters. In the past she has spoken at regional and national conferences, but getting her academic work completed is her priority right now. Then, national research, and back to her childhood dream of teaching.

“I want to teach online,” she says. “I love online learning. A lot of the adult students I know feel the same way. You can set your own pace and reach your goals.”



Learn more about Capella’s online social work degrees and online human services degrees.