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Phoenix Forward magazine

6 inspiring black alumni

Single parenthood and job rejection. Racial prejudice and self-doubt. Those are the kinds of challenges some of these University of Phoenix graduates overcame to earn their degrees. In recognition of Black History Month, they share their personal experiences as well as their inspiring success stories:

Scott Glenn

Scott Glenn

A two-time All-American college football player and a former Marine of the Year, Glenn played on gridirons in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and completed active-duty tours in Cuba and Haiti. Now a freelance motivational speaker, Glenn stresses to crowds the importance of being ready for any situation. “If you prepare,” he says, “it doesn’t matter what comes your way.”

For him, that preparation meant going to college. He holds a bachelor’s in history and government from West Virginia University Institute of Technology, as well as an MBA and a doctorate in educational leadership from University of Phoenix. As a professor and advisor at Camden County College in Blackwood, New Jersey, Glenn says he lives by a simple motto: “Always seek opportunities to excel.”


Curtis Sampson

Curtis Sampson

Ever since taking his first political science course and becoming intrigued by how the U.S. government works, Sampson wanted a career in public service. “I felt that I wanted to do something to help my fellow citizens,” he says. And he is: As a resource management officer and captain at the U.S. Army Reserve 85th Support Command in Arlington Heights, Illinois, he’s responsible for the welfare of 144 soldiers.

There have been times, he says, when he felt “burned out and uninspired.” But he handled those feelings by writing to-do lists of short- and long-term goals. Checking off his goals as he met them helped him earn his Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership degree.

Sampson works as a budget analyst for the Federal Protective Service, which secures government buildings. He hopes to become part of the Senior Executive Service, civil service executives known for their leadership. “[Senior Executive Service members] usually head a government agency or department,” Sampson explains, “and my ultimate goal is to do that at the Department of Defense.”


Evelyn “Vonn” Banks

Evelyn “Vonn” Banks

Banks found that she couldn’t get the position she wanted in the U.S. Navy without a college degree. After enrolling at the University, she earned an associate degree and then a bachelor’s in business management.

Lack of education is no longer an issue for her. The first woman to hold a number of high-level Navy positions, Banks is now command master chief for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, D.C., which maintains ships, submarines and combat systems. While she was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, she was part of an aircraft carrier team that earned a Ramage Award for best performance as a unit.

Banks’ career philosophy is simple: “If there is no challenge,” she says, “there is no growth.”


Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas

Thomas experienced racial prejudice as a teenager but found equality and a career in the U.S. Marine Corps. “The Marines stressed one color — green — and one team. No one was greater than the team,” he says. While serving his country, Thomas became “hooked” on programming computer databases, ultimately earning a bachelor’s in information systems and technology.

After more than 21 years in the U.S. Armed Forces, divided between the Army and the Marines, Thomas found another way to serve his country: He’s a city councilman in Yuma, Arizona. But he says he has higher political aspirations: “I’m hoping to become a U.S. senator for Arizona.”


Gail Marquis

Gail Marquis

When opportunity didn’t come knocking, Marquis created her own. A high school basketball star, she put her college education on hold to play for the first U.S. women’s basketball team in the 1976 Olympics, where the team earned a silver medal.

She then headed to Europe because there were no professional women’s basketball teams in the United States. Planning to teach, she returned home and earned her education degree from Queens College in 1980. But a hiring freeze on teachers in New York City forced a career switch, and she became a broker on Wall Street, where she’s worked for more than 20 years.

Given her drive and accomplishments, it’s hard to believe Marquis once lacked self-confidence in her job. “I doubted myself,” she says, “because I hadn’t majored in business or accounting. But after I completed my MBA [at the University], I realized that the people I was working with did not know more than me.”


Sandra Johnson

Sandra Johnson

As a single mother in her 20s, Johnson often struggled to make ends meet. “Many times, my girls and I had to sit down to determine spending priorities,” she says. After her oldest daughter was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, Johnson was inspired to become a licensed practical nurse. When she couldn’t find a job, she returned to school, ultimately earning a master’s in nursing education from the University.

Now a research scientist, Johnson says meeting the challenges at home and in her career helped build her confidence. She takes particular pride in a guide about hospital visitations she wrote for her nursing practicum, noting that it improved her written and oral communication skills, and got her noticed.

“After preparing the booklet for self-publishing, and contracting with local bookstores,” she says, “I was contacted by a national publisher.” Talk about happy endings: “The Hospital Visitation Guide” was released by Legacy Book Publishing in March 2011.

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