May 3, 2011
An NCAA Champion and Olympian, Najuma Fletcher Shields is part of an elite group of former Pitt student-athletes who will be forever remembered for her dominance in sport. She was so accomplished, in fact, that entering her senior year Fletcher Shields had already been a 12-time Big East Champion and 11-time All-American.
The first-ever Pitt female athlete to win an NCAA Track and Field individual championship, her list of accomplishments at Pitt also include earning Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1996. A standout in the classroom as well, Fletcher Shields is an accomplished musician who toured internationally before her time with the Panthers. She graduated from Pitt with a degree in mechanical engineering and currently lives in Florida with her husband and two children, Mikayla (12) and Alexander (9).
Your career at Pitt is one that will be remembered and talked about forever. When you look back on it now, what do you recall most?
I remember being very, very busy and going to practice every day. Our coach was always sure we were doing well in all of our classes. I was studying mechanical engineering, which required a fairly intense number of credits. So there wasn’t much free time, but that was fine for me. I was used to that from before Pitt, when I made my own practice and work schedule.
Still, I remember during my freshman year I was loaded up with classes. Mixing everything was a big learning experience. I learned how much I could take and what I had to do to do well.
Is there one thing you are most proud of from your time as a student-athlete at Pitt?
I think everyone would say graduating is their proudest moment. So, for me, graduating with my engineering degree was my biggest accomplishment, and then my national championship. I was really happy when I was able to say I was a national champion for Pittsburgh.
As a team, we also won the Big East championship, so that was really nice. I am very proud of that. Through my years at Pitt the team was quite successful. I had a lot of company in having major accomplishments. I was fortunate to be a part of the team.
From talking to people around the program, it seems like you were one of the most competitive people on the track. Do you ever miss the thrill of competition at this level?
I do miss it in a way. I am married with two kids now, and they’re both athletically inclined. There’s a lot of excitement with that and watching them. My daughter is into volleyball and we’re seeing my son develop. Both will be around track, but we’re going to make sure they are exposed to a lot of different sports and also doing well in their classes.
My husband and I are both very involved in track. We have a club team we’re involved with. Considering how much I did with the sport, I can’t just leave it behind.
You had a lot of success in the classroom. How important is that to you, and what did you do after graduation?
It’s very, very important. After I graduated I went onto the Katz Graduate School at Pitt and did the MBA program. I’ve been in marketing since I left Pitt and I now work for a private college doing marketing for its technology and design program.
What are your thoughts on the Century of Change event?
I think the event is awesome. I think Herb Douglas is doing a great job of getting people together who have dispersed into various parts of the world. It’s certainly wonderful to be recognized with the group of people that has come through Pitt and gone on to such great accomplishments in their own careers. This is something good to celebrate and keep the connection with Pittsburgh going, especially with all that my fellow African-American athletes and I have gone through.