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Walden Magazine // Jul 01, 2015

How I Did It: Dr. Shawn Oubre '13

How and why one graduate’s city supported his PhD pursuit

Dr. Shawn Oubre
DEGREE EARNED: PhD in Public Policy and Administration

MY BIGGEST SUPPORTER: I met my wife in high school and knew she was a keeper—she has always supported my desire to further my education. I was working in law enforcement and going to night school when we had our first child. Between full workdays and night classes, my wife gave me the time I needed to study—and typed all my papers. We had two children by the time I pursued my master’s; I was police chief, but I knew that a graduate degree would lead me to greater opportunities. When the city manager decided to go back to law school, I applied for his job.

WHY I WANTED A PHD: As city manager, I’ve participated in many commencements—seeing those proud faces accept their degree is a gift. That’s why I started teaching at our local college. I see a lot of myself in my students. Many already have a family and are there to improve their quality of life. Education has always played that role for me, so I decided to pursue a PhD to hone my leadership and communication skills. My wife knew I was restless, so she encouraged me to go for a doctorate—but only if I typed my own papers.

WHY WALDEN: I’d never heard of Walden until I started researching possible programs. The man who answered my first call was so warm and welcoming—he set the tone for the entire experience that followed. My advisors were just as supportive and enthusiastic throughout.

CITY BACKING: I was halfway through telling the mayor, my boss, that I wanted to pursue a PhD and he said, ‘We fully support you.’ He never once questioned my decision—and knew my PhD was an investment for the city as well. Now he goes around boasting, ‘We have a doctor as city manager!’

DISSERTATION DECISION: When I started my program, our city had just been through two hurricanes; one left us underwater. My job is to get the city going after catastrophes. We had FEMA and federal assistance, and I wanted to know if they made a difference, so that became the focus of my dissertation. People lost everything—clothing, furniture, even baby photos. It was painful to discuss, so I’m thankful for those who agreed to talk to me, including a widow in her 80s. Her home was flooded waist-high, all her belongings destroyed, and she was now homeless. FEMA placed a temporary dwelling on her property, and she was satisfied, as were the others I interviewed. You hear all these stories about what the federal government didn’t do—it was nice to focus on what they did.

PROUDEST MOMENT: One of the women who lost her home in the flood stopped me coming out of church one day and said she wanted to be one of the first to call me ‘doctor.’ She said it with such pride; it made me proud, too. She still brings it up every time I see her.

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