Astronaut to College Leader

Courtney N. Haun, Ph.D., M.P.H., Samford University / / June 15, 2021

When I was a child, I remember frequently being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I recall responding with zeal, “I want to be an astronaut!”

This yearning was so strong that my parents branded my room in a space theme, bought any children’s book that mentioned planets, and even found a space suit costume for me to wear. As I got older, I realized that hurdling off into the galaxy was not as appealing as I first thought. Instead, what I began to realize during my educational journey was that what I really wanted was to become a leader–in higher education, specifically.

Growing up in Greene County, Tennessee, the percent of residents earning a bachelor’s degree or higher was only around 10% - 15%. As such, going to college was not the norm, something that seemed “light years away” and difficult to do.

I grew up in a low-income household, was a first-generation college student, and knew that the responsibility of paying for college would rest on my shoulders. I worked tirelessly to apply for as many scholarships as possible and had a part-time job from the time I could drive a vehicle onward. I ended up becoming my high school’s class valedictorian, something I am still proud of today. The outcome from these endeavors allowed me to cover my education expenses for college, plus some.

Through my college journey, I earned a Bachelor’s of Science (2014) in two degrees, one in healthcare administration and one in community health with a minor in marketing and a Master’s of Public Health (2016) degree with a concentration in healthcare administration from East Tennessee State University. I then went on to receive a Ph.D. in public administration and public policy (2019) from Auburn University.

There are a million reasons that you can quit, give up, or settle. I want to encourage and remind you that you are called to so much more.

I now serve as an assistant professor and the director of the healthcare administration undergraduate program at Samford University. My goal is to eventually become a leader in higher education as a university president or another executive-level position where I can impact the lives of students.

I hope that I can make a positive impact on our youth and encourage them to seek a college education, especially first-generation students. I want to be a role model for others who may not have the support or resources to attend college. If you are truly willing to put in the effort, the possibilities are limitless. I am driven to help our youth by teaching them as a professor, mentoring them as a coach, and encouraging them as a friend.

Whatever your dream is, whether it is to become an astronaut, college leader, or something completely different–you can accomplish it. There are a million reasons that you can quit, give up, or settle. I want to encourage and remind you that you are called to so much more.

My best piece of advice–if you want to become an astronaut, become one.

For more information on the author, please visit their website here.