By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 12, 2016 at 3:05 PM Photography: Royal Brevvaxling

Shawna Nicols – aka DJ Shawna – started her music career after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005.

"I’ve always been fascinated by hip-hop and the hip-hop culture, so naturally, turntables caught my eye as soon as I saw them," says Nicols.

Nicols’ first gig – and only gig for the first two years of her DJing career – was at Walker’s Pint every Saturday night.

"I’m extremely lucky to have worked with and learned from one of Milwaukee’s best DJs for two years, the late, great DJ Rock Dee," says Nicols. "Rock Dee was the resident DJ on Saturday nights, and he would let me open for him before the crowds started flooding in. Being new to the industry, it was an excellent opportunity for me to experiment, fail and build upon my craft before starting to book larger gigs."

DJ Rock Dee, a legendary turntablist and 88Nine Radio Milwaukee DJ, passed away in 2008.

"To this day, I still find myself shaking my head and smiling when I think back at how much he taught me," says Nicols. "Those two years were some of the best of my life, and it was an opportunity I will never forget."

Nicols still serves as the house DJ at The Pint today and has worked at just about every major club/bar in Milwaukee. She is also the official DJ of Marquette Women’s basketball.

Recently, she signed on with a talent management company, Karben Studios in Chicago.

"I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds, and hope to add more cities and countries to my resume," she says.

Nicols describes herself as "an open format DJ with a knack for being able to read a crowd." Nicols has DJ’d all over the Midwest, including Madison, Chicago, Minneapolis and Iowa. She also held residencies in Tennessee and Kentucky and DJ'd in The Netherlands.

"My heart loves hip-hop; however, I have no shame dropping my favorite boy-band song at peak hour and hearing everyone sing along," she says.

Nicols has always played basketball and is now an elite basketball trainer who has also played professional basketball overseas. She recently launched a clothing line/brand that was a desire of hers for many years. The brand’s logo, a stick figure and heart, has deep meaning to Nicols.

"I have always felt I was supposed to be doing something to make people smile, to help make this world a little better than before I was here," she says. "Music is such an incredible medium that has no boundaries or rules, and I would love an opportunity to share and spread the love. My manager and myself have been working on spreading that love through music and DJing events."

For years, Nicols encouraged her fans to "Dare to Be Great" and, in conjunction with her clothing, launched a movement #DareToBe to challenge people to share their stories of what they "Dare to Be" in life.

"I want to inspire people to step out of their comfort zones and #DareToBe whatever has been burning in them for years," she says.

Nicols grew up in Milwaukee and today lives and works in Downtown Milwaukee. She sports a "414" tattoo on her body.

"I am so proud to be from Milwaukee and love showing our city off, especially given how proud I am of my mom, Beth Weirick, (who is the executive director of Milwaukee Downtown B.I.D. #21) and her contribution to the growth and development of this great city," she says. "With that, I hope to do my small part as a DJ and with #DareToBe to continue moving forward with Milwaukee and would love to help continue to ‘put it on the map’ when it comes to drawing positive attention to the 414."

To find out more about #DareToBe follow DJ Shawna on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – all @djShawna.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.