Shauna Bigby Details Journey from Jamaica to NSA
As a “triple minority,” Shauna-Gaye Bigby, the co-chair of the NSA’s African American Employee Resource Group, said she has pulled on the strength instilled by her mother to reach success.
“As an immigrant, African American woman navigating the world around me, hard work trumped anything else,” said Ms. Bigby. “When I give something my all, I am at peace with the results. … Hard work is the ultimate equalizer in my family.”
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Ms. Bigby is the youngest of three. When she was 2 years old, her mother emigrated to the U.S. with the hopes of making a better life for her children. While her mother was preparing for the family, Ms. Bigby and her siblings lived with her grandmother in Kingston.
She has memories of going to church; visiting Devon House, a national landmark that was home to the country’s first black millionaire and also known worldwide for its exotic ice cream flavors and fresh pastries; and visiting Hellshire Beach where she would eat freshly caught fish and festival, a slightly sweet, deep-fried bread.
Ms. Bigby eventually reunited with her mother in Brooklyn, New York when she was 5. Living in one of the biggest cities in a new country, Ms. Bigby grew up fast, she said.
Becoming a U.S. citizen was Ms. Bigby’s mother’s goal for all her children. The significance of this, however, wasn’t something she understood until she was older.
“[My mother] worked way too hard for way too long for me to throw away her dream,” Ms. Bigby said. “As I got older, it became a gradual appreciation for the struggles my mother, grandmother, and aunts made to ensure my personal successes, and it became a way to tell them it wasn’t in vain.”
Ms. Bigby became a U.S. citizen when she was 24. At the time, she remembers thinking about the Jamaican proverb, “We Likkle, but, we tallawah,” which means “we are small, but we are strong.”
Hard work is the bedrock of Ms. Bigby’s values, she said. While she admitted she struggles with instant gratification, she is no stranger to doing what it takes.
“My mother gave me the middle name Athena and regularly explained to me the power a woman like her must have to… become the goddess of war,” Ms. Bigby said. “She explained to me, names are not to be given lightly. She gave me that middle name because she knew I would be a fighter.”
Ms. Bigby earned her associate’s degree from Miami International University of Art & Design and her bachelor’s in communication from City University of New York. While working in higher education and earning a master’s in business administration from Stratford University, a classmate told her about job opportunities at NSA. She applied and soon after, received the call that would change the course of her career.
Ms. Bigby started at the agency as a staff officer where she oversaw onboarding new employees, handled human resource issues, among other tasks. She now serves as a training coordinator.
“I love the fact that NSA encourages you to move around,” she said. “I love to ask questions, informally interview people, shadow people, and take a class to learn a new skill. My mother always said, ‘No one can take from you what you know. You know what you know.’ That stuck with me.”
Ms. Bigby is currently pursuing her doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology. She hopes to become a leadership development consultant to develop those who exhibit great leadership potential.
“My goal is to promote great leaders,” she said.