Robert Morris University

Graduate Honored for Persevering Through Double Amputation

Shannon Davis receives university’s highest award and graduates summa cum laude.

Shannon Davis

Dealing with all the changes, interruptions, and inconveniences of college during Covid came more naturally to Shannon Davis than to most students.

The actuarial science major from West Hartford, Conn., had already put her college education on hold for eight years of medical leave to treat a rare condition that eventually cost Davis both of her legs. When she returned to class in the fall of 2020, it was after two years of extensive rehabilitation that included learning to walk again.

“I was definitely used to plans being altered due to things that are out of your control, and not being able to do what you wanted to do,” says Davis. “You have to be able to adapt and move forward, making the best of those situations, focusing on what you can control.”

In recognition of her determination and drive to succeed despite formidable obstacles, Davis is the recipient of the 2022 Presidential Transformational Award, RMU’s most prestigious undergraduate honor. 

Coming from an area where many large insurance companies are based, Davis became interested in the field of actuarial science and its promising career opportunities as a high school student. She chose RMU for its reputation as one of only 19 universities in the country named a Center of Actuarial Excellence by the Society of Actuaries, and enrolled in 2011.

The former field hockey and soccer athlete was bothered by continually worsening leg pains throughout her first year in college. Diagnosed with chronic exertional compartment syndrome, Davis took a medical leave after that year, hoping that corrective surgery would fix the problem. She eventually had more than a dozen surgeries and experimental procedures until finally she had to have both legs amputated above the knee.

“I told myself I will never complain about finals week when I go back, because I see what a privilege it is to be in school,” she says. “I am grateful for the opportunity and the ability to be here, because a lot of people would love to be but they can’t.”

With AP classes and other credits, Davis managed to finish her bachelor’s degree in only three years and graduate summa cum laude. She volunteered as a math tutor, participated in the actuarial science club, and advocated for students with disabilities to improve accessibility on campus. She already has passed five of her actuarial exams, and last summer she had an internship with Cigna back home. The health insurer offered Davis a position in their actuarial executive development program, and after graduation she will work in their headquarters in Bloomfield, Conn.

While living in her apartment in Moon Township, Davis enjoyed reconnecting with her freshman year friends who still live in the area. Seeing how their lives changed after graduation, Davis is excited now that it is finally her turn.