From Janitor To Ph.D.: Two Lessons I Have Learned After Being Conferred

From Janitor To Ph.D.

It is finished! It is accomplished! Three of the most challenging years I have ever faced are over! I have reached the pinnacle of educational pursuits and as of May 15th, 2016, I have been officially awarded a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from West Virginia University. This is a tremendous accomplishment for several reasons:


First, I am the first in my family to be awarded a doctorate degree. Second, this is the culmination of my journey “From Janitor to Ph.D.” in which I paid my way through undergraduate school by working as a janitor full-time! Third, it embodies the epitome of overcoming obstacles because one year prior to pursuing my Ph.D., I was homeless living out of my car. Fourth, I eventually saved what little money I had left after my time of homelessness to purchase a greyhound bus ticket to travel from Arkansas to West Virginia not knowing how my goal of earning a Ph.D. would turn out. Sixth, I have recently accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Organizational Communication at Loyola Marymount University.


Still, I found myself at somewhat of an impasse a short time after my first semester in my doctoral program.


Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very happy with these accomplishments! But I found myself thinking, how can I best help society with this very fancy, very expensive doctoral degree? I have no satisfaction in publishing just for publishing’s sake. I want my scholar/activism to have meaning and to have purpose in benefitting our society.


My particular research and teaching focuses on sport and social change. I seek to understand how sport influences our society. Specifically, I examine why and to what extent do current athletes participate in activism, identity and life skills development of student-athletes, and the corporate social responsibility of sport organizations who work to positively impact their diversity communities through various outreach programs. An example of this work was with my partnership with Major League Baseball to examine how they can be more socially responsible in their efforts to increase the involvement of African-Americans (i.e., more black players, fans, executives) within the game of baseball. This partnership was the focus of my dissertation! Needless to say, the dissertation was a challenging, yet eye opening pursuit of knowledge that I felt compelled to embark on because of its impact on the black community.


The influence of sport within the black community is one that has been ashamedly disproportional. Sport analysts such Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon have been adamant about the fact that there are not enough black owners, executives, and head coaches in influential positions within the realm of sport. Considering that we have seen many instances of racial overtones within the realm of sport over recent years (i.e., The Imus scandal, The Donald Sterling fiasco), it was during this time that had my proverbial “Aha!” moment.

From Janitor To Ph.D.: Two Lessons I Have Learned After Being Conferred

Now that I have graduated and will be moving on to a university that has a profound interest in the areas of social justice (one of the many reasons as to why I chose this school), I have found it imperative to live by two specific lessons as I move forward that I think will work for you as well.


  1. It may not feel like it at first, but view your obstacles as training ground for your purpose – I did not know being homeless for over a year would be one of the best things that had ever happened to me! The don’t get me wrong, the struggle was really real! I remember at one point, I had to sneak into a motel bathroom just to take a wash up so I wouldn’t be smelly for a potential interview! Yeah, it was that deep! Still, it took me moving back to my mother’s home to gather my thoughts and figure out where my life was going. It was during this time that my mindset shifted! I wanted something more out of life. I didn’t want to just wake up and merely exist. I wanted to be a problem solver, a person that asked many questions and provided some sort of solution to those questions. I also had a love for mentoring youth and a passion for understanding the influence of sport in our society. I would have never found that purpose had I not been through the testing of life. Take some time to truly learn from your struggle. It won’t last and there is always a lesson that is learned from it!


  1. Pursue YOUR specific passion no matter the opposition – Initially, my academic and consulting endeavors in the areas of sport and social change were met with opposition from doubters and naysayers who considered what I wanted to do with my work as nonsense. Naturally, it made me upset. However, no one will understand YOUR specific vision and passion for your life. Every great invention, idea, business, strategy, etc. that is used throughout the world had to start from somewhere! Go for it and keep going until you make that dream happen!


In life you will face many obstacles, but it is how you learn from these obstacles that will determine your success moving forward! Now let’s make it happen!

Speak Your Mind


Dr. Shaun Marq Anderson
Dr. Shaun Marq Anderson is a scholar and public intellectual specializing in the areas of sport and social change, corporate social responsibility, and leadership communication. He is currently an Assistant Professor in Organizational Communication at Loyola Marymount University.