Interview Scotty Rushing: From homelessness to success thanks to Coursera


Founder at MoocLab
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Scotty Rushing is a writer and currently a full-time student at Arizona State University where he is pursuing a BA in English with minors in Film and Media Studies and Psychology. This may not seem like anything to shout about, but Scotty’s story is not mainstream by any means. He has gone through some dramatic events in the last few years, overcoming numerous challenges from homelessness to being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Despite these difficulties, in 2013 Scotty Rushing became the first person in his family to go to college when he entered the Florida Institute of Technology as a 45-year-old freshman, receiving an AA in Applied Psychology in 2014, as well as being recognised as Outstanding Sophomore of the Year. A key factor that helped Scotty turn his life around was MOOC platform, Coursera, which he says gave him the tools to develop his writing business.

In fact Scotty has just launched his autobiography, My Conscious Endeavor which details his amazing journey from homelessness to academic recognition and writing success. It is an affirmation of how online education can change lives for the better and discusses his experiences with Coursera and the Florida Institute of Technology.

Scotty now lives in Louisiana on a 60-acre thoroughbred farm with his partner, Sharon. They share their home with a variety of animal companions including horses, dogs, and cats.

These words from Henry David Thoreau express one of Scotty’s fundamental beliefs:

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”

Scotty Rushing.jpg

Scotty Rushing


Carolyn: Scotty, your life journey certainly hasn’t been a conventional one. Can you tell us a little about your background?

Scotty: While my journey has certainly been unconventional, insofar as unconventional means having its share of challenges, my upbringing was not that different from the status quo for many people. I was the only child of a single mother. We didn’t see ourselves this way but we were very poor. My mother worked menial jobs to make ends meet and my grandmother helped us as much as she could. There was some dysfunction in my family—my mother struggled with alcoholism—but I think many people come from dysfunctional environments. From the time I was very young I showed a fondness for writing. I could read at a very young age, younger than most, but despite this advantage I was not a stellar student because I did not push myself to excel. One subject that I did show a passion for was music and I was an All-American in my high school band. When I graduated from high school I was offered a full scholarship to a great school but turned it down. That is one of the biggest regrets of my life.

Carolyn: No one in your family had ever been to college. What lead you to go?

In 2005 I lost a job that I had held for several years without any warning. I literally was working one day and unemployed the next. Within a short period of time I was homeless and living in my car, trying to raise my 13 year-old daughter by myself. It occurred to me that one way I could insure this would never happen again would be to get a college degree. In my mind a degree stood for the desire to do better than just getting by. My family were all common laborers. They grew up in the cotton farms of Texas and some of them couldn’t even read. They got by with the strength of their backs but I wanted a better future than that.

Carolyn: What was your first experience of Higher Education like?

My first real taste of higher education was Coursera, this wonderful platform that provides free college-level classes to anyone that wants to take them. I basically was searching the Internet for “free college credit” and Coursera popped up first in the search results. At that time it was still a new platform and I was one of the first students to take a class called Internet History, Technology, and Security taught by Dr. Charles Severance of the University of Michigan. Taking that class exposed me to real college lectures and assignments. It was a little overwhelming, to be honest, but the great thing about Coursera was that no one was judging me on the basis of what I did or didn’t know. I was simply a part of this wonderful global community of people that wanted to learn and better themselves.

Carolyn: You say that Coursera and MOOCs gave you a second chance. Can you tell us about the MOOCs you took and how they helped you turn your life around?

I truly believe that everything I have accomplished in the past few years would not have happened without Coursera and MOOCs. They planted the seed that I tended and watered until it grew into something beautiful. I took courses on Internet history and also fantasy/sci-fi literature. What I learned more than anything else in these classes was that I had the inner resources to learn and grow. My writing improved, my work ethic as a student improved, and my commitment to educating myself grew. MOOCs gave me the confidence that I could sit in any college classroom and succeed. All of this was gained, mind you, with no risk. I didn’t have to spend my money to find out whether going back to school was a good track for me. MOOCs really allowed me to sandbox my future, to see just what I was capable of if I applied myself.

Carolyn: What advice would you give to someone who is considering pursuing an education online?

Scotty: I would certainly tell them to begin with a MOOC. Forget about the credits and what have you and just dive in with a willingness to learn. At the end of the day education isn’t about hanging paper on the wall, it’s about evolving and growing as a person. MOOCs give you the opportunity to learn many new skills, practicable skills that will benefit you in the real world right away. There really is no limit to what you can learn. If you are interested in it there is probably a MOOC offering for it. Beyond that I would say that you must be willing to bet on yourself and embrace your potential. You’re stronger and smarter than you think and online education will reveal that to you in a powerful way.

Carolyn: Your book My Conscious Endeavor is available from November, 2015. Can you summarise what it’s about and why you wrote it?

Scotty: The book details my own journey from homelessness to a college education and also touches on the challenges I face as someone that has multiple sclerosis. I wrote it for the purpose of inspiring others to make their own conscious endeavour to elevate themselves. Hopefully they can read it and say, “If he could do that, so can I!” That would be the ideal outcome for me. I never conceived anything I was doing as being heroic. I simply wanted to make myself better, and if my journey can inspire someone else that is struggling then the book will have achieved its purpose.

Carolyn: What has been your inspiration to elevate your life and reach success despite adversity?

I took a lot of inspiration from Henry David Thoreau, especially his book Walden. A copy of that book was one of the few possessions I retained when I became homeless. Thoreau believed it was possible for everyone to achieve great things and elevate themselves if they were willing to make a conscious endeavour to better themselves. I also take inspiration from stories of amazing people who overcome their own challenges, people like Amy Purdy who lost both of her feet to meningitis yet became a professional snowboarder and won a medal in the Paralympics. The world is an amazing well of inspiration if only we are willing to drink.

Carolyn: You are currently pursuing a BA in English at Arizona State University. Why did you choose to carry on with your education?

I am actually on a break at the moment. I stepped away to assist my partner Sharon with her horses but I have plans to return to ASU in the fall of 2016 to complete my BA. For me, earning my AA in Applied Psychology was just a beginning. I really want to see this through and see just how far I can go. And why not? The education is there for me to receive and I am willing to receive it. I think one of Thoreau’s principles was that a fulfilling life is not static. It’s dynamic. We need to find ways to continually challenge ourselves in order to grow. Evolution is nature’s way. You either evolve or you become extinct.

Carolyn: Are you currently taking or planning on taking any more MOOCs? If so, what are they and what do you hope they will add to your learning?

Coursera has some great offerings right now from the Berklee College of Music and I would love to take some of those because something I want to do is revisit my musical roots and record my own CD. I’m also interested in learning how to program in Python, so I am definitely going to take more MOOCs!

Carolyn: Finally, what is your next conscious endeavor?

I think I would like to stay involved in educating people about the importance of MOOCs and online education. That would be fulfilling for me. I am also working on numerous creative projects with my writing and music. At some point I want that to become successful enough that I can provide some kind of scholarship to people that are in circumstances similar to what mine were. If I can be a mentor to other older adults taking MOOCs or going to college online then I want to do that.

Find out more about Scotty on his website: Scotty Rushing

Scotty's book, My Conscious Endeavor, is available for purchase on Amazon.

Click here to discover other life-changing experiences of learning with MOOCs