A Well-Fed Life
Tracie Shelton ’91 turns her passion for lifelong learning into lifelong success.
February 28, 2022
February 28, 2022
Tracie Shelton ’91 wasn’t sold on Southwestern University when she agreed to tour the campus with her mother during her senior year of high school. In fact, she was pretty sure she was going to go to Mount Holyoke College halfway across the country in Massachusetts. She could tell her mom was impressed with everything the admissions counselor, Monty Curtis, was telling them about how Southwestern would take care of her and help her succeed, which was important but not particularly inspiring to the 17-year-old. But then the counselor said something that made her take notice.
“As we were walking around this beautiful campus, he suddenly said, ‘We are going to give Tracie something that no one can take away from her: We’re going to make her a lifelong learner,’” Shelton remembers. “I was intrigued by this idea of learning for the rest of my life.”
Southwestern jumped to the top of her college wish list, and Shelton never looked back.
“Southwestern is a great pond where you can dive in and get involved with lots of things. You fail and learn and discover and rediscover,” she says. “It allows you to be bold, and it offers forgiveness and grace. I learned to negotiate what life is at Southwestern.”
Learning and growing
Shelton originally wanted to major in theatre—“I have a flair for the dramatic, and I wanted to sing and dance and be on stage,” she notes—but reality had other plans.
“My mom said, ‘I’m not paying for that. You need to major in something where you can get a job and take care of yourself,’” Shelton says with a laugh. “I was decent with numbers, so I thought, ‘You know what, I’ll be an accountant.’”
After deciding to major in accounting and minor in theatre, Shelton settled into campus life. She joined a number of student organizations, including Student Foundation, Empowering Blacks and Others to Never Yield (EBONY), Mask & Wig, and Cardinal Key. She also was a cheerleader and won the Miss Georgetown competition in 1991. “I originally entered for the scholarship money, but I really enjoyed serving the greater Georgetown community,” she notes.
During her junior year, Shelton completed an internship in the accounts receivable department at Chevron. The opportunity gave her valuable work experience, but more importantly, it set her on a new path.
“I hated it. I asked myself, ‘Is this what I have to do for the rest of my life?’” she says. “I knew then I didn’t want to be an accountant.”
Nonetheless, Shelton knew that an accounting degree would open up a lot of doors for her professionally. There was just one obstacle standing in her way: the course Money and Banking, taught by the late Professor of Economics Leonard Giesecke.
“It was the class most people failed,” she explains. “I waited until my senior year to take it—in my brilliance, I thought putting it off would make it easier.”
Despite her trepidation, Shelton was determined to pass the difficult class. She immersed herself in the material and spent hours upon hours studying. Her efforts paid off, and she ended up earning the best grade of her four years at Southwestern.
“I learned so much about myself in that class. I learned that you have to believe and you have to put in the work,” she says. “That class made me realize that I had what it took to be successful in anything.”
A new passion
Following graduation, Shelton earned her M.B.A. in marketing and management from the University of Texas at Austin. She worked briefly as a marketing manager for grocery chain HEB before being recruited to Pepsi, where she served in a variety of roles for nine years. She later taught at the college level and served as a business coach.
But it was in her role as mom that Shelton discovered her true calling. Her youngest son, Theodore, had been experiencing a number of health challenges since birth, and traditional medications weren’t providing lasting relief. Through trial and error, she discovered that some foods were the culprit—and other foods were the cure.
“You can take the medicine, but you also need to change the diet. He’s now healed from the inside,” she says.
Shelton began exploring ways she could teach others about the concept of food as medicine. In 2018, she founded Alamo Kitchens, a culinary co-working space in San Antonio. The business provides fully equipped, licensed commercial kitchen space to aspiring chefs and other food entrepreneurs. It also serves as an incubator, connecting its clients to resources that can help them grow their business. Ultimately, Shelton wants Alamo Kitchens to provide education and programming on healthy food choices.
“Through Alamo Kitchens, I can kill two birds with one stone: one, provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to cook and sell their wares, and two, partner with them to teach children about nutrition,” she says.
Alamo Kitchens was an immediate success, with more than 40 clients using the space. Shelton felt an immense sense of pride whenever one of their businesses grew enough to move into its own kitchen.
Then the pandemic hit.
“We lost almost all of our clients,” Shelton says. “We had enough money in the reserves to pay our bills, and we received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. We definitely learned about the need to have multiple sources of revenue.”
Turning obstacles into opportunities
Today, Alamo Kitchens is building its clientele back up while growing in new, exciting ways. The business recently was awarded a contract to provide meals to after-school programs at two schools in the area. Shelton hopes to expand this work and find opportunities to teach students about gardening, the science of baking, and the importance of healthy ingredients. She also created a kitchen studio where chefs can create how-to videos, host virtual cooking classes, and more. This spring, Shelton is launching a new podcast called The Kitchen Table that will focus on starting and maintaining a successful business.
Shelton is proud of her many accomplishments, but nothing brings her more joy than her three children: her daughter, Kenzie, a sophomore at Louisiana State University; her older son, William, a senior in high school; and her younger son, Theodore, a freshman in high school.
“They’re the best thing I’ve done,” she says.
Southwestern remains an important part of Shelton’s life. She still goes back for Homecoming when she can. Last November, she was a guest speaker in the Curious Conversations series hosted by the Center for Career & Professional Development, which was designed to help students connect with alumni and learn about potential career paths, and in April, she’s returning to campus to advise students during the Career Connections BBQ. She also recently established an endowed scholarship with Cassandra Moore McZeal ’92.
“The Moore–Shelton Endowed Scholarship will support African-American girls interested in studying STEAM [science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics] fields,” she says. “I want to give girls an opportunity to be lifelong learners like someone else gave me.”