First-Generation Online Student Looks to ‘Push Envelope’ for Representation in Higher Ed

“If I can [help others] be in these platforms that, historically, were never meant for us, then I'm going to do that,” says Geni Cobb, a college counselor and recent graduate of the online EdD in Educational Leadership program.

For Geni Cobb, attending USC was a dream from an early age, but it was one that seemed impossible to her.

Now, however, Cobb, a proud mom of three and devoted high school counselor, has earned her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EDL) online from USC Rossier School of Education and made that childhood fantasy a reality.

“Here I am, graduating as a Trojan, and just so proud to do it,” Cobb told USC Online.

Cobb, a California native, grew up not far from the University Park campus, and her aunt would take her on regular trips to the nearby Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

“We would take the bus, and I’d always see USC … [But] I never saw students of color like me. I’m half-Mexican, half-Black, and so I thought, ‘This college must not be for me.’ This was in the ‘80s,” she explained.

Still, Cobb continued to daydream about joining the Trojan Family, especially as her time to attend college grew closer. Cobb’s parents had never gone to university, but her mother in particular pushed her to pursue higher education.

While one college counselor helped Cobb navigate the often-challenging process of applying to schools, an incident with another member of the high school staff illuminated how stacked the system was against her.

“One of my teachers came into the office as I was filling out my application, and he asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I responded, ‘Completing my college application,’ and he asked, ‘Why? You’re not going to amount to anything,’” she recalled.

Ultimately, Cobb proved him wrong, becoming a first-generation college graduate.

Impacting Communities Throughout Los Angeles

Cobb attended California State University, Northridge, where she doubled majored in Chicano studies and Deaf studies. Cobb remained at Cal State Northridge to pursue her master’s degree in educational psychology with a pupil services credential, and she later received a postgraduate certificate in college counseling and student services.

She accomplished it all as a new mom, having her first of three children at the age of 22, and was able to successfully juggle her family responsibilities, work obligations and school demands.

Clearly, Cobb is a tenacious student with a passion for education, but she’s also an empathetic, self-described “people helper,” which is why she was drawn to the field of college counseling. Throughout her career, Cobb has supported students at middle schools, high schools and nonprofits, intent on assisting students such as herself obtain higher education. Today, she works with freshmen and sophomores at Cleveland Charter High School in Los Angeles.

“I enjoy serving students in all capacities, but I really love serving students who have no role models or whose parents don’t really understand educational systems because that’s what I needed when I was younger,” she explained.

Geni Cobb Usc Edl Online Student Rossier
To continue creating change and uplifting students in need, high school counselor Geni Cobb knew she needed to advance her knowledge in educational leadership. (Photo: Courtesy of Geni Cobb)

Now, Cobb has earned yet another degree — her doctorate. She is a recent graduate of the online EdD program at USC Rossier, and her motivation to earn the advanced degree was twofold: to fulfill a long-held personal goal and to uplift marginalized communities by increasing representation in academia.

“I grew up in not the greatest neighborhood, and my family was on government assistance. It’s a big accomplishment for me, as a woman of color and first-generation college graduate … And if I can push those numbers, make a difference, give back to our community and [help others] be in these platforms that, historically, were never meant for us, then I’m going to do that,” she said.

Finding Balance with USC Rossier’s Online EDL Program

Once Cobb knew she was ready to get her doctorate and become a leader in the education field, she had to decide where to apply. The choice was obvious: USC has always been her “number one.”

While Cobb still lives in California, she opted for the online track of the EDL program to cut down on commuting time and maximize her free moments with family and friends. Cobb emphasized, however, that USC ensures online students feel fully integrated into the Trojan community. She even participates as a USC Rossier student ambassador, assisting potential applicants as they navigate the admissions process.

In addition to the “giving and nurturing” faculty and staff, Cobb underscored that the coursework plays a crucial role in her overall satisfaction with the program.

“If I had one phrase to describe a lot of these classes that I’m taking, it’s how to create change, how to create a different narrative for inclusivity,” she said.

Cementing a Future in Higher Education

While Cobb does not have a firm plan for her future, she intends to keep helping other students on their educational journeys.

“I want to continue to be student-centered and push the envelope to ensure that students have what they need — whether it’s getting into a doctorate program, master’s or even into college in general. However I can help students get to their place, that’s what I want,” she explained.

Besides, after accomplishing so many goals with the odds stacked against her, Cobb is confident she will achieve whatever she sets her mind to.

“Because of the rich experiences that I’ve had throughout my years, the sky’s the limit on what can happen … Right now, I’m just focusing on school and graduating, and then we’ll see what the universe has in store for me,” she said. “I definitely have options.”

Learn more about the EdD in Educational Leadership online (EDL online) program today.