Meet Shelley Wagers (CCS Literature '73)

November 7, 2018

Editor’s note: We are featuring stories from members of the CCS community. Some stories will be personal and others will be written in the third person. Check them out here and make sure to submit your own story here.

Shelley Wagers, CCS Literature '73, recalls her time at CCS during its first years

Shelley Wagers
Shelley Wagers

As she puts it, Shelley Wagers (Literature ‘73) has spent her life “pushing around words.” She considers words her natural element. “Numbers are arbitrary, but words are not. They carry meaning and purpose. They come easy.”

Shelley enjoyed the start-up years when she and other students could wander the CCS building and studios, and she appreciated the flexibility and scope it gave faculty and students for creativity in sciences and the arts. She also loved that CCS was housed in an old Marine barracks, which reflected the College’s under-the-radar profile. “Bottom line, CCS was a wonderful experience,” recalls Shelley.

“Bottom line, CCS was a wonderful experience,” recalls Shelley.

She was introduced to CCS during her first year at UCSB. CCS Provost Marvin Mudrick offered her the chance to come to the CCS Literature program, which she found challenging and stimulating. “My high school experience in Los Angeles was intense and rigorous, and CCS was a logical extension of that,” Shelley remembers.

She took many classes with Dr. Mudrick and recalls, “What was absolutely unique was the immediacy, the sense of thoughts unfolding in the moment.” She also relished courses with celebrated Santa Barbara poet Alan Stephens. Shelley recently came across some papers from her CCS days, a reminder of the rigorous, demanding criticism she came to value highly. “I would have it no other way,” she comments with a smile.

After she graduated from CCS, Shelley undertook graduate work in critical studies at the University of Iowa, where she enjoyed her job as English tutor for the Athletic Department more than the academic work (something Dr. Mudrick predicted when he agreed to write her letter of recommendation).

Shelley has made her living with ‘words,’ and believes that her schooling trained her to use words with ‘force and clarity.’ She began her professional life in Los Angeles at the legendary William Morris Agency as the first female in the entertainment agency’s storied training program, a distinction which gained her a place in David Rensin’s book The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up.

In later years as head of corporate communications and investor relations for a technology firm listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Shelley worked on equity and debt offerings that raised more than a billion dollars of capital. As a sideline, she wrote dance criticism and features for The Los Angeles Times for about five years.

She describes herself as an underachiever, in part because she was slow to learn the value of diligence. The demands of dealing with Wall Street and financial media forced her to operate with greater discipline and rigor, qualities she wishes in retrospect she had applied to her work at CCS.

Shelley recalled with delight the time when Dr. Mudrick brought Jacques D’Amboise, New York City Ballet principal (and later a leader in dance education) to CCS for a weeklong residency. “D’Amboise brought with him a few New York City ballet dancers and ended the week with a performance. Having trained in classical ballet myself, I was absolutely thrilled. The D’Amboise residency was a great CCS fringe benefit,” she said. Another fringe benefit: Being captured in paint by CCS’s own Hank Pitcher, then a promising young CCS art student.

Her advice for current and future students? “Soak it up!”

Her advice for current and future students? “Soak it up!” Shelley regrets not taking the fullest possible advantage of CCS resources and opportunities but still treasures her years at CCS as a fabulous experience. Her other advice? “Do something simple very well.” These days she applies that principle in the kitchen, where simple dishes increasingly take pride of place.

She is now retired and has served as “Minister of Information” for a successful campaign to preserve neighborhood scale and character – pushing around more words to raise awareness among constituents and persuade decisionmakers at City Hall.