First-Generation Success Story: Dr. Kesha Moore

Dr. Kesha Moore, Associate Professor of Sociology at Drew University

  • Be Passionate about what you do.
  • Invest in People.
  • Be Open to Asking for Help.
  • Go through those open doors.

“Developing a clear vision of your desired future with a practical step by step plan to get there is essential to cultivating a life of meaning, purpose, and power.”
~ Dr. Kesha Moore

I sat down with Dr. Moore to discuss her life and learn how her journey to success was informed by being the first in her family to pursue higher education.  She is a dedicated professor who believes in paying it forward. She is passionate about her work and devoted to helping her students thrive. Her greatest joy is watching students develop their own voice as they create change in the world. She believes all students, including those who are first generation, should not be afraid to ask for help.  They should be open to learn, discover, and grow. Dr. Moore also believes that when you are passionate and excited about your work, you are more likely to find success because you are invested in what you do.  Find a mentor, fight against injustice and racism, and try to help others. In doing so, you create a better you and a better world.

Where were you born and raised?

Philadelphia, PA

Where were your parents born and raised?  If they were not born here, when and where did they emigrate to the U.S.?

My parents were also born and raised Philadelphia.

 Do you have siblings?  What are they doing today?

I have three siblings.  My oldest brother Andre is the manager of a window cleaning company, my sister Latanya, works in medical / home care, and my youngest brother works as a pharmacy tech for children’s hospital.  I was the only one to graduate college.

 Did your parents encourage you to go to college?  If so, how did they encourage you?

Yes, they encouraged and expected me to go to college because I did well in school and was always on the honor roll.

Were you a good student?

Yes, I was an obedient child, and a good student. In third grade the results of an IQ test put me in a special class and I was tracked early. This made quite a difference in my trajectory. This set me up for college and beyond.  I believe that because of my good behavior and how well I did on that test, I was given opportunities some of my friends and siblings never had. This is why I am against tracking. People expected great things from me.  High expectations are so important and without them, it is harder to succeed. Too often teachers have low expectations of certain students and those students internalize that lack of faith in them.  In my case, teachers listened to me, and allowed me to engage in interesting conversations.  I had fabulous teachers my whole life from pre-school on, with the exception of grad school. College became a natural extension of high school.

Where did you go to high school?

I went to Julia Reynolds Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration school in Philadelphia.  I was in the 11th class.  My graduating class had only 29 people. This school was created in the 1970’s as a middle school from two high schools as part of Philadelphia’s integration plan.  They had originally set up different magnate schools, some on art, some on science, some on college prep.  I went to the college prep school from 5th to 9th grade and it became a high school in 1978.  I wanted to go to Central High School that was once an all-boys school but now allowed girls.  My mom wanted me to stay at Masterman so I stayed.  In the end it was a good decision because it was too small of a school to have cliques.  You were friends with everyone and it was okay to be friends with people who were very different from you. One of my friends was a laissez-faire Capitalist.  I was voted, “Most likely to poke someone’s eye out when talking about a movie you saw last night.”

Where did you go to college? When did you graduate?

I went to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When considering colleges, I was more interested in Penn State University and Bucknell. The only reason Franklin and Marshall was on my list was because a friend had attended that university.  That’s when fate stepped in. I had a bunch of college applications in my book bag but my book bag was stolen. Later I received a call to say my book bag was found on their front lawn. Most of the college applications were spread across the lawn but Franklin and Marshall’s application was the only application in good condition, so I sent that application out and got accepted. I graduated in 1989.

Did you know what you wanted to major in during your first year?

I thought I wanted to be a psychologist because I was always interested in human behavior but I found that psychology was limiting because it focused more on the individual.  I was more interested in the hierarchy of groups.  I did a lot of research, learned how to engage in an academic argument, and how to challenge opinions in college. I was allowed to design my own major so I created a major that included   sociology, psychology and anthropology.  I graduated with a B.A. in Cross-cultural Psychology.

Did you know what you intended to do with your major?

I always intended to go on to pursue my Ph.D.

What were your greatest challenges as an undergrad?

It was an adjustment because college was not racially integrated like high school. I had to deal with racism in a new way. There were a whole new range of experiences.  It was a trial through fire but I emerged from college with communication, oral, analytical, and advocacy skills.  I became an activist through leadership in the black student’s union.  I was instrumental in organizing students and helped add African American Studies as a minor (eventually it became a major.) I learned how to be an advocate.

What surprised you the most about college?

The rampant racism surprised me the most.  Growing up I felt people had high expectations for me.  My parents, teachers, and friends made me feel valued and smart.  In college, it seemed many of my peers thought I was “less than” and that I did not deserve to be there.  They suggested I was only there because of affirmative action.  This was a first for me.

Were you conscious that you were a First Gen student?

I was more conscious of being African American but among the black students at Franklin and Marshall, 50% were First Generation students and a lot of those students did not graduate.

Were your parents able to pay for your college or did you depend on scholarships, grants and student loans?

All of the above.  I was aware that my family did not go to Disneyworld three years in a row to help pay for my college tuition.  Of course, I felt guilty that every extra dime they had went towards helping to pay for my education.

Did you have a mentor(s) as an undergrad?

Yes, Professor Michael Penn, from the Psychology Department.  I loved his classes on psychopathology and personality and I learned so much from him.  He was the only black professor in the Psychology Department.  Even when I switched majors, he remained my advisor, and supervised my honor’s thesis.   I wrote about education and mentacide and what it means to be a black student on a white campus.  I explored the types of trauma black students go through.  When I was defending my thesis I was asked inappropriate questions, like, “you don’t really feel like this, do you?”  There was a non-typical long deliberation of 30 minutes.  I was grateful that Prof. Penn advocated for me.  He is a gentle soul who promoted peace and cross cultural understanding.  Because of his mentorship I created groups and lead groups across race and    he opened me up through a series of conversations.  We are still friends.  He played the drums at my wedding.  I love him very much.   This is one of the reasons I came to Drew University.  I wanted to belong to an institution where I could foster those types of relationships with my students.  He once told my parents that it was an honor to teach me.

What could have made your experience as an undergrad better?

If I had not encountered all the racial bias, it would have made college easier, but in the end it helped make me a stronger person and advocate.

Where did you go to grad school and how was your experience?

I went to the University of Michigan for my MSW in Community Organizing and went on to the University of Pennsylvania for my M.A. and PH.D. in Sociology.  There were many acolytes at the University of Pennsylvania and I found the faculty snobbish.  Fortunately, my parents gave me confidence and kept me grounded but they did not understand the process of working on a dissertation.  I wrote about the black American dream, race, class and gentrification.  There were three articles published from my dissertation. I graduated in 2001.

When did you know you wanted teach at a college level?

While working on my dissertation, I worked on affordable housing for people across the country at the McAuley Institute in Washington, DC.  We helped these people testify in front of congress.  This was important work and I loved it. After 2 years, I finally finished my dissertation and though I loved this job, I thought I would like to teach.

What was your first teaching job?

I taught sociology at the business school in Bryant College in Rhode Island.  These students were corrupt from the belly of capitalism but I turned them on to sociology even though it was not a major.  I wanted to do service learning.   They finally added a sociology as a major.

What is your area of research?

Race, class, equality, urban and community development, and urban gentrification.

 What do you believe is the secret or recipe for your success?

I invest in people, ask questions, ask for help, and follow directions.  This has helped me greatly.   I like structure. I still believe that because I was an obedient child people opened doors and opportunities for me.

How did you learn resiliency?

Resiliency is in my family blood.  This is how we have endured, survived, and thrived.  There are great stories of family members who have had hard times but they rose above it and went on to do great things.  I may be the first person to go to college but not the first person to be successful.  My family thrives on grit and grind.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of a successful person?

Passion.  I am successful because I am passionate about what I do. I love the research, the learning, and I care about what I teach.  I show up in a way that helps me to excel because I’m that committed to it.

 What advise could you give a First Generation students who are just starting college?

Be open to asking for help.

 Some fun questions:

Do you have any hobbies or special interests you would like to share?

Dancing, yoga, traveling and reading.

 What do you like the most about teaching?

The best thing about teaching is to see how your students take what you’ve given them and then expand, build on it, and go on to do great things. I am honored to have played a role in the development of their own voice with a focus on justice.   I listen to them say things that I said to them that was impactful.  When they come back and tell me what they are doing, and who they are and what they are doing in the world, I am so proud.  Through teaching you get to develop relationships with students and help them develop into themselves and make their own impact on the world.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

Research at a research institute.  I’d love to shape policy.

If you could travel to anywhere in the world tomorrow where would it be?


 Favorite time of year and why?

Summer, everything is fun outside.


Kesha Moore, Associate Professor of Sociology, received her P.h.D and M.A. degrees in Sociology with a Certificate in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, a M.S.W. in Community Organizing from the University of Michigan, and her B.A. degree in Cross-cultural Psychology from Franklin and Marshall College. Her areas of interest include race and class stratification, urban neighborhoods and the symbolic construction of identity. She has conducted research on community development in urban neighborhoods, inter-class relations within the Black community, the role of churches in community development and the impact of welfare reform.

Currently, she is working on an analysis of African-American women and the hair care industry. Partnering with Citizen Schools in Newark, NJ to engage middle school students in a youth participatory action research project called “Discovering Newark”.  She is Associate Director of the College Bound Consortium, which provides college degrees for incarcerated people at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.


Yasmin Acosta coordinates the Arts, Communications, & Languages Career Community and the First Generation Identity/Affinity Community. She also manages the Peer Career Coaching Program, counsels and advises students on career, job, and internship plans, critiques resumes, cover letters, CVs, and personal statements, and presents career development workshops. She also assists with the Student Employment program.  Prior to this position Yasmin was the Program Coordinator for Drew University’s Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology from Rutgers University, a Master’s degree in Arts & Letters (Literary Studies) from Drew University, and is pursuing a Master of Education also at Drew.





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