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#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘My Personal and Professional Mission is To Expand and Improve the Socioeconomic Mobility of Traditionally Underrepresented Communities,’ Says Marshall Anthony Jr. ’16MED

Marshall Anthony

This is part of a monthly “Why I Chose Education” series in which NC State College of Education alumni, students, faculty and staff share why they chose education. 

As a Greensboro, North Carolina, native, Marshall Anthony Jr. ’16MED is familiar with the historic date of Feb. 1, 1960. And that historic event propels him to want to make a difference in educational policy and serve as an activist for underrepresented communities. 

Feb. 1, 1960, is the date of the Greensboro Sit-In, a civil rights protest when four Black male freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University staged a sit-in at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter and refused to leave after being denied service, sparking a sit-in movement among college towns throughout the south.

“They made a stance by sitting down and literally birthed a movement. College students changed the world and they have always been either directly or very close to most of the contemporary changes to society that I have benefitted from,” Anthony said. “I’m passionate about preserving that tradition and advancing it because we still have a range of issues that still need to be addressed within the education system and at large. Education is a microcosm of the larger society and I always feel if you can change it with education, doing it at a more macro-social level is right there behind, too.”

Anthony serves as a senior policy analyst for higher education at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and says he was raised around a culture of activism. In his role at the Center of American Progress, he helps “advance the think tank policy priorities on higher education, specifically as it relates to equity, accountability and attainment.”

He earned his undergraduate degree from NC State’s Poole College of Management, where he studied business and human resources. In 2016, he received his Master of Education in higher education administration from the NC State College of Education. 

As a higher education researcher, Anthony was asked to serve as a witness for the United States Congress’ Subcommittee Hearing on “Expanding Access to Higher Education and The Promise It Holds,” on Tuesday, June 29. 

“I am a researcher in higher education and I’ve spent a lot of years studying it and applying the techniques to address everyday solutions. My personal and professional mission is to expand and improve the socioeconomic mobility of traditionally underrepresented communities,” Anthony said. “I’m also passionate about higher education because I have the lived experiences of the successes as well as, unfortunately, the failures, of not just the education system at large, but definitely as it relates to higher education.”

Anthony shares what he enjoyed most about being part of the NC State College of Education, an experience within the college that impacted him, how education has shaped him, what others should know about the College of Education and a recent experience that has inspired him.

What I Enjoyed Most About Being Part of the College of Education: Coming from the business school, it was a completely different environment. The pedagogy was different and the cohort model was different as well. That was one of the positive things I liked. I started with a group of about 16 full-time students (we did have a couple of part-time classmates); we called ourselves the Sweet 16. We were able to go through each assignment together. We laughed, sometimes we cried and being able to see our growth for two years was a great asset as well.

And also seeing my alma mater from a different perspective. The master’s program allowed me to look behind the curtain, per se, of how the largest institution in North Carolina functions. Being able to look behind the scenes and see how student affairs works with academic affairs, which works in tandem with advancement and all of the aspects of higher education, really was a playground of learning in my opinion, and I was fortunate enough to be able to work with great practitioners and faculty, and students and friends who I still talk to to this day. 

How Education Has Shaped Me: I went to elementary and middle school at Title 1 schools, which are typically comprised of students such as myself, from low-income backgrounds with limited resources. But then I went to high school and did all of my collegiate education at well-resourced, predominantly white institutions. Going from a completely diverse environment with limited resources to one that is much more homogenized with a lot of resources was an eye-opening experience. And even reflecting on the schools I went to for elementary and middle school, seeing how stratification and tracking of students worked, I look now and see how that played a role in my classmates’ lives and a lot of their decisions as well, whether good or bad. 

And also being able to then enter college and seeing how we have institutions that are not representative of the state population. I always say I have a love for NC State but I critique her very similarly to a James Baldwin quote about the country because I want the whole education system, including my alma mater, to truly be a vehicle for equitable mobility for all people from all backgrounds to succeed. 

An NC State College of Education Experience That Impacted Me: NC State is a research one institution and while the Master of Education is more practitioner based, we still tapped into research areas and how to think about solutions from an analytical approach. I also had the benefit of taking a couple of doctoral classes while I was a master’s student and it really sparked my interest in wanting to learn more about policy but also research; two areas that I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about prior to my time in the program.

I always say if I didn’t go to NC State for undergrad, I probably would have stayed for the doctorate, but it was a great opportunity, it really provided me the building blocks to be able to advance what I had learned in the classroom and apply it to everyday experiences being in higher education and as a researcher to think about these things from a theory to practice, practice to theory type of model.

What it provided to me was foundational skills about the landscape of higher education and some great foundational tools in my toolbox as I later pursued my Ph.D. in terms of different types of epistemologies and research design. It really was a great introduction that I think springboarded my interest and career into what I do today. 

What Others Should Know About the NC State College of Education: The College of Education really ignited and catapulted my experience and career within the larger education landscape. My mom was a recruiter for many years at the local hospital and she was also a very active parent throughout my educational experiences, whether that was on the PTA and even being involved outside of the PTA. I witnessed, when I was in high school, her transition from the corporate world to becoming a school teacher and even then my view of education was still limited outside of the people who are educators and who teach in the classroom. I didn’t know about this whole other aspect of college campuses and definitely within the policy space.

What Makes the College of Education Different: I think that the College of Education gives a unique experience with the various programs and the plethora of faculty that have a wide range of experiences to really find your fit within the field of education and to carve out an area for yourself. I always say I got into education from an unconventional route and I think my journey up to this point is still very unconventional and I’ve learned to embrace that. A big part of that has been because of the College of Education and specifically the higher education program, which was written in a way to allow for students to do a set curriculum, but be flexible enough to be able to explore your own type of interests and your own type of areas. 

I still have the minutes from a meeting with different alumni from the College of Education, including one time with now Chancellor Karrie Dixon, a three-time NC State alum who was at the UNC System at the time and now is the chancellor at Elizabeth City State University. It was because of my experience at NC State that I was able to have a one-on-one conversation with her and just a wide range of alumni in the program. And so it’s always been my goal to give back just like they have and still do. It’s important to me as a professional and any way that I can to help students and incoming students find their way and find their fit within any aspect of the educational landscape, I hope to do that as well.

The Last Thing I Experienced That Inspired Me: Just the other day, the most recent thing that has inspired me was hearing Zailia Avante-garde, the first Black person to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I remember when I was trying to do the spelling bee and I didn’t even make it past my school’s criteria. I’m being inspired by seeing that Black students, Black adults are still being the first spelling bee champion, being the first Black, Indian-American woman in the White House as the vice president. That’s inspiring, but it’s also sad at the same time. The education system, as we know it today, has been around for centuries and we are still peeling back the onion of injustices where we are still first in many ways in society.

On one hand, I’m so inspired but I also hope that, as Vice President Kamala Harris said, that she’s not the only one that will do it, but that someone will do the same thing or do something even better. That story has inspired me even as a higher education person.  

Read Marshall Anthony Jr.’s Testimony to Congress