USC News

Menu Search
Student Life

From master sergeant to master’s degree and doctorate, Shawna Hudson finds her place

Overcoming a learning disability, this South L.A. native and Air Force veteran fulfilled her dream of graduating from USC and now teaches corporate America a lesson in racial bias.

Shawna Hudson
Shawna Hudson earned her doctorate from the USC Rossier School of Education in 2020. (Photo/Courtesy of Shawna Hudson)

Long before Shawna Hudson earned her doctorate from the USC Rossier School of Education, she was a little girl living close to the University Park Campus but feeling worlds away.

“Growing up as a kid in South Central, USC was right there,” Hudson said. “It’s the school you want to go to. It’s the dream school, but it felt out of reach.”

During her childhood, Hudson said, higher education role models were hard to come by, so she didn’t think college was an option.

And there was something else.

“I had a learning disability,” Hudson said. “I struggled with reading comprehension and writing.”

Believing college wasn’t possible, Hudson joined the U.S. Air Force, setting herself on a path that would ultimately bring her back home to Los Angeles — and to USC.

Shawna Hudson uses military experience to fuel her educational ambition

In the Air Force, Hudson gained experience in the global supply chain and worked her way up to the rank of E-7 master sergeant.

“The military gave me a space to be myself and find my strength,” she said — strength and newfound confidence to reconsider college.

Shawna Hudson in the Air Force

In the Air Force, Shawna Hudson worked her way up to the rank of E-7 master sergeant. (Photo/U.S. Air Force)

“I took a few classes and had a teacher who I admired pull me aside and say, ‘You’re not dumb. You are just as good as everyone in these classes. Stop being afraid and believe in yourself,’” Hudson said. “That changed my life. I realized that everyone has the ability to learn; I just needed to figure out what worked for me.”

Hudson enrolled at Park University in Missouri, where she received her bachelor’s degree in social psychology, and quickly discovered that she wanted to continue learning. She soon enrolled at nearby Webster University, where she received two master’s degrees: an MA in counseling and an MBA with an interest in human resources development.

“I stopped focusing on my deficiencies and what I could not do, concerning my learning disability,” Hudson said. “I just padded myself where my weaknesses were. For instance, I found that my reading comprehension was strongest in the morning, so I’d get up extra early and read.”

Next, after eight years of active duty in the Air Force, Hudson set her sights on a doctorate and a university closer to home — the dream school of her childhood. She felt the USC Rossier program would enhance her skills at her job at the time with Northrop Grumman.

“I applied and didn’t tell anyone because I was so nervous,” Hudson said. “I chose Rossier because I consider myself an educator. My expertise is in organizational change management, talent development, and diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.”

She soon learned she’d been accepted.

“It was utter disbelief followed by fear,” she said. “At first, I struggled with imposter syndrome, that I didn’t belong and that all these people are so much better than me.”

Battling bias and exposing racism in society and the workplace

Fortunately, Hudson said her feelings of insecurity quickly faded after meeting her USC Rossier cohort and new Trojan Family.

“It was a journey with these people, and there was self-discovery and connection,” she said.

She received her doctorate last summer and was soon hired by the Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based investment firm.

We need to expose the mold at the core of our society that needs to be dug out.

Shawna Hudson

“I work in talent development specifically focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. I am currently tasked with training 8,000 associates on understanding racial bias,” Hudson said. “It’s great to see organizations and businesses stand up and rise up and say enough is enough.”

Hudson said her role at Capital Group — and her new skillset — comes at just the right time.

“Currently, we have multiple pandemics — the pandemic of COVID and the pandemic of racism,” she said. “My job is to bring awareness; we need to expose the mold at the core of our society that needs to be dug out.”

Though American institutions and businesses still have a lot of work to be done, Hudson is hopeful for the future.

“There will always be those people who dig in their heels when it comes to change,” she said. “But we never used to talk about race in the workplace before and now people are actually talking about it — to make a difference, it starts with one person.”

More stories about: , , ,

From master sergeant to master’s degree and doctorate, Shawna Hudson finds her place

Top stories on USC News