From the Projects to the Ph.D.

Dr Marquisha Frost, Assistant Dean, Academic Resources and Services, Scripps College

April 22, 2019

As a child, my father had me research famous African Americans and then quiz me, asking, “Who was the first to go to college? Who was the first Black woman to get a degree? Who invented the lawn mower?” and so on. He taught me to hope to one day be the first to do something too. On April 5, 2018 I was. I became the first in my family to obtain a doctorate degree.

After years and years and years of being in school (24 years, to be exact), I successfully defended my dissertation. As a first generation, low-income, college student, I do not think my parents or grandparents understand the undergraduate or graduate doctoral process, but that is okay. They are just proud. They do know the odds I have defeated, the road I have traveled, and where I started.

On average, it takes a person 8-10 years to complete a doctoral program. The average graduate is 33 years-old at the time of doctoral degree completion. Each time I read or hear that statement, I think about how far from average God made me. Nothing about me, my educational trajectory, or my life for that matter, has been average. A phone conversation with my mother the other day reminded me that I’ve been in school consecutively, hardly taking summers off, from Pre-K through Ph.D. I know that I was never supposed to be here. Me, a teen mom raised by a teen mom in the projects, and in a ghetto swarming with gang-violence, low-income families, drugs and infrequent opportunities.

Growing up in the South Omaha Projects, my days were spent playing inside because of the gang violence outside. We then moved to the North Omaha Projects, where I walked to my pre-school and sometimes the school bus. My family’s house was robbed. Gunshots filled the air daily, and college seemed far in the distance. Nevertheless, I made it to high school. I managed good grades, extra-curricular academic and athletic involvement and worked at a local McDonalds. I was voted Senior Class President. Then I found out I was pregnant on April 1, 2008, six weeks before graduation and six months before I was to start my first year of college.

With the odds seemingly stacked against me, I found myself at my lowest point. What I did not know then is that the very moment that pregnancy test revealed its positive self to me was the very moment my life began to change for the better. I now meet daily with students who are working to navigate one challenge or another. They are doing everything they can to overcome their lowest points, whether it be pregnancy, mental health struggles, loss of a loved one, a failed chemistry exam, or something else. The work I do is informed by the road that I have traveled. It not only makes me a more empathetic dean, it makes me an empowered one. It makes me dedicated, nurturing, and stern when I need to be. I know what it is like to feel like the world is crashing down on you. I know what it is like to have a dream deferred. And as a first-generation, low income, black, female student, I know what it’s like to occupy spaces that you don’t think you belong in, spaces you don’t feel safe in, and spaces that reinforce the very things you’re working so hard defy.

I am often asked, “What’s the secret?” and “How did you get here?” My answer has always been the same, by God’s grace. Statistically speaking, I was never supposed to be who and where I am. Only 2% of teen-moms have a degree by the time they are 30 years old. I am not 30 years old yet, and I have four! The long nights, the missed holidays home, the sacrifices, the pain, the tears, the loneliness, and all the other emotions associated with being a black, first-generation, low-income, teen mother, and doctoral student are real. Even with the non-stop grind, the dedication, the fatigue, the uncertainty, the lack of support, the lack of resources, I stayed the course and all that comes with it. It is worth it.

After more than 24 years of formal education, I am PhinisheD. I have waited a while to say that, in that way. My journey from the projects to pre-kindergarten to Ph.D. has taught me so much more about myself than it has about anything else.

I graduated high school, accomplished, and (not but) pregnant.  The naysayers said, “She won’t make it to college.” I did. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and the naysayers said, “Well, she’s still a statistic.” I was. I finished a master’s degree in 18 months, and the naysayers got quiet. When I was admitted to doctorate programs, the naysayers started apologizing for their earlier remarks and dismissive devices, though they could not warn me that a doctorate degree was going to be tough! They did not say that the doctorate degree would take me a lot longer than the others. I said I would finish in three and they laughed. They told me that if I also worked full-time to support my child and myself, it would be nearly impossible. They called me VERY ambitious, and they were right. I am.

Dr. Marquisha Frost is an ambitious and creative woman, wife to husband Dell, a veteran of the United States Army, and mother to their son Kye. She is originally from Omaha, Nebraska, but currently serves as the Assistant Dean of Academic Resources and Services at Scripps College in Claremont, California. When she’s not working, she enjoys serving as an educational advocate and mentor to young people. She also spends much of her free time publishing on her self-administered blog,, a blog dedicated to inspire and empower others.


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