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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.
Nonprofit work does have its rewards, but it also has its frustrations. Greg Pereira, a doctoral student in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, learned this after running a homeless shelter for several years.
“I could find people shelter or a bed, get them medical attention and help them land a minimum-wage job, but I didn’t have the power to really change their lives,” said Pereira, who will earn his doctoral degree in education in leadership and innovation in December. “When you work with the homeless, you eventually come to the realization: Without education there’s not much you can do to address the cycle of poverty.”
That realization also crystallized something in Pereira — he needed to be in the educational field, too. He switched careers seven years ago when he went to work for Rio Salado Community College as executive director of the college’s youth media center. He was later promoted to associate dean and dean, and he recently advanced to vice president of student affairs, which he partly attributes to his new degree.
“Having a doctorate made me competitive for that position in a way that I would not have been without it,” Pereira said. “I now have the opportunity to do some innovative and cutting-edge things to better serve working adults looking to enhance their careers and lives.”
Pereira calls his three-year doctoral program at ASU an “amazing experience.” He was part of the first online cohort for the EdD in Leadership and Innovation Program, which encompassed 25 people from around the world.
“What I liked about the program is that they wanted me to do action research within my profession, identifying problems in an area that you’re familiar with and then finding innovative ways to address them,” Pereira said. “It was much more rewarding than driving someplace to do research and go over data that’s already been done. That would be a waste of time to me.”
Pereira said he won’t be wasting time in his new job, where he plans to strengthen partnerships with the nonprofit community while creating new and more effective ways to serve his students at Rio Salado.
ASU Now caught up with Pereira a few weeks before he received his doctorate.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study education?
Answer: After I completed my bachelor's degree, I started working as a case manager at a homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles. My job was to work with homeless individuals to help them find work and secure housing so that they could transition from the streets to a better life. While it was possible to find low-paying jobs for the people that I was working with, it became clear that education was the key to earning a livable wage. I became fascinated by the power of education, and I wanted to learn more about innovative ways that education could change lives.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU?
A: I have learned so much during my time at ASU! I think that one of the key lessons that I will take away is the concept that social issues are rarely isolated or independent. We have a tendency to think of social issues as being simple while, in reality, they are incredibly complex and are often the culmination of multiple problems. When I first started my research I thought that I could find a "solution" to address the high number of GED students who stop attending classes where I worked. What I quickly learned was that there is not a "solution," because not going to class was often just a culmination of many different challenges such as not having transportation, needing child care, not being engaged in the materials, learning disabilities, etc. This was a really important lesson because if you want to make a difference in society, you first have to identity root causes by asking those involved and then make incremental changes to address the core issues.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU because it is an outstanding research institution that values innovation. I was interested in doing action research that would allow me to follow my passion and provide critical data on a student population that is rarely studied. ASU welcomed me with open arms and provided incredible resources and faculty members that encouraged me to take risks and be innovative.
ASU also provided me with the flexibility that I need as a working adult, husband and father. Unlike many other universities, ASU offered an online cohort that enabled me to work on my degree and interact with faculty at various time throughout the week, as opposed to a traditional class schedule that would have negatively impacted my family and career.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: First and foremost — keep going. School can be very overwhelming, and we have all thought about walking away from an assignment and saying, "That's it, I quit." Don't do it! The overwhelming moments will pass, you will get your assignments done, and one day you will wake up and realize that you have made it to graduation.
While you are still in school, challenge your thinking every day to develop a broad worldview. Find a topic that you feel strongly about and then try to argue the other side in your mind. Seek out people who think differently than you and become friends. Listen respectfully to the views of others. The world desperately needs constructive dialogue and independent thinkers who have empathy and a desire to understand different points of view.
Q: What was your favorite part about taking classes online?
A: My favorite part of taking classes online was interacting with other students and the faculty. Graduate school is wonderful because you get to meet so many interesting people who have had incredible professional and life experiences. In our cohort of 25 students, we had students from different states all across America, and three students who were teaching in different countries. The depth of conversation and different perspectives were incredible, and it was a privilege to learn from each of them. The faculty were also incredible and provided countless insights from their professional experiences and academic research.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I just accepted a new position as the vice president of student affairs at Rio Salado College. I am thrilled to be able to work at Rio and develop innovative ways to better support students in the community college system. My wife and I are also expecting our second child shortly after graduation, so my plans consist of building wonderful family memories, changing lots of diapers and not sleeping for the next three to five years.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would try to tackle some of the root causes that create a cycle of poverty. Many working adults are struggling to get by and need to further their education, but they have these “life barriers” that are preventing them from going back to school. Things like unreliable transportation, child care needs, cost of education, etc. I would set up free online college programs for adults that would be designed to lead directly to a career and then provide resources to help with daily needs like food and diapers. I think that we could make a huge impact on our society if we could provide access to education while also addressing the core issues that often prevent people from getting their education. $40 million would be a good start!
Top photo: Greg Pereira (photographed on the Tempe campus Nov. 20) will be receiving his docorate from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in leadership and innovation in December. The new vice president of student affairs for Rio Salado Community College worked through the online program in three years. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now