Celebrities with advanced college degrees

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By Kristina Bostley

Campus News

We become acquainted with celebrities by the roles they play in the media – whether it’s on television, in movies, or on the radio. Thus, it’s often hard to discern who they are behind the media makeup and the public personas they create for themselves. There are a number of celebrities who have earned degrees in higher education, and a surprising number of them who have continued their education to receive advanced degrees.

Mayim Bialik rose to fame playing Blossom in the self-titled 1990s sitcom, but she was far from the eccentric teenager she portrayed. In fact, it is her character on the current hit comedy “The Big Bang Theory” that she is more similar to. Both Amy Farrah Fowler and Mayim hold advanced degrees, only Mayim’s is physically real. After several stints in acting in the 1990s, Mayim attended UCLA and received a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. She went on to complete her doctorate degree in 2007, earning her Ph.D. from her alma mater. Two years later, she coincidentally landed the role of a socially awkward neuroscientist who began dating a fellow scientist on “The Big Bang Theory.”

Dolph Lundgren may be known as an international action star, appearing in roles including “Rocky IV,” “Universal Soldier,” and recently, the “Expendables” franchise, but his acting career actually started after he completed his education. The Stockholm-born actor and director attended the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, where he earned his undergraduate chemical engineering degree. Dolph also studied chemistry at Washington State University and Clemson University, and went on to receive his master’s degree as an exchange student in the University of Sydney in Australia. In 1983, Dolph was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to MIT in Boston. It was around the same time that his interest in acting took over, and he moved to New York to pursue his career in the entertainment industry.

Between her work as an award-winning actress and compassionate humanitarian, it may be easy to overlook the fact that Ashley Judd completed both undergraduate and graduate programs. She graduated from the Honor’s Program at the University of Kentucky, her home state, where she majored in French and minored in anthropology, art history, theater, and women’s studies. As if that wasn’t enough to complete her academic resume, Ashley returned to school in 2009 to earn her MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business, notably winning a Dean’s Scholar Award. In between degrees, Ashley starred in blockbuster movies including “Heat,” “Kiss the Girls,” “A Time to Kill,” and “Double Jeopardy.”

New York native David Duchovny rose to fame starring as FBI agent Fox Mulder in the sci-fi television drama series “The X-Files.” But before Duchovny was digging into paranormal case files, he hit the books – quite literally. The valedictorian of his high school class went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature from Princetown University. After that, he went to Yale to pursue his master’s degree in English literature. It was while he was writing his dissertation that Duchovny became interested in acting, traveling from the Connecticut-based school to New York City to act in Broadway plays. He landed a few small commercials and television roles, but moved to Hollywood to pursue his acting career, eventually ending up on “The X-Files” before moving on to “Californiacation” – both of which earned him Golden Globe awards.

Long before James Franco was starring in the cult TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” before he was starring as Spiderman’s best friend in the recent action trilogy, and before he appeared in “Pineapple Express” as a stoner, he had an aspiration to learn. After graduating and pursuing an acting career, James returned to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from UCLA; he maintained and graduated with a grade point average of 3.5/4. But he wasn’t satisfied with just a bachelor’s degree: soon after his graduation, he enrolled in different programs in Columbia University (M.F.A. writing program), Brooklyn College (creative writing), NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (directing), and Warren Wilson College (poetry). His master’s degree in fine arts came from Columbia University in 2010, and his master’s degree in filmmaking from NYU in 2011. Soon after, James decided to pursue a doctorate in English from Yale University, in addition to keeping his acting commitments.

New Jersey-native Meryl Streep has been appearing on stage and on screen for decades, earning numerous prestigious nominations and awards for her outstanding work as an actress. But it was her educational background that provided the platform on which she would stand for years to come. After graduating from Vassar College in 1971, Meryl enrolled in Yale School of Drama, where she earned her master’s degree. After that, Meryl began appearing in big-name silver screen hits, such as “Julia” in 1977, “Out of Africa” in 1985, and “The Bridges of Madison County” in 1995. She won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979, and another two Oscars both for Best Actress in a Leading Role for “Sophie’s Choice” in 1983 and “The Iron Lady” in 2011. Meryl will continue to grace the screens and stages for years to come, thanks to the education she earned when she was younger.

Shaquille O’Neal is a name that needs no introduction. The 7-foot New Jersey athlete enrolled at Louisiana State University, where he earned the title of “College Player of the Year” in 1991 and was named “All-American” consecutively in 1991 and 1992. He went on to play for 19 seasons in the NBA, for teams including the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Boston Celtics. During his athletic career, he was named Most Valuable Player, helped the USA basketball team win a gold medal at the Olympics, and assisted his team in winning several championships. In 2011, Shaq retired, but has stayed in the limelight in several different ways. He became an NBA analyst, recorded and released five musical albums, one of which even went platinum, and has starred in movies such as “Blue Chips” and “Steel.” It’s a wonder, then, that such a successful athlete, musician, and actor found the time to earn not one but two graduate degrees. In 2005, Shaq graduated from Barry University in Florida, where he earned his Master of Business Administration. Seven years later, he graduated from Barry University with his doctorate degree. In a world where it’s commonplace for athletes to forgo higher education in favor of their athletic careers, it’s commendable that Shaq took the time to earn his education in addition to pursuing such a successful career.

Like her character Winnie Cooper, Danica McKellar spent a lot of time in school. When “The Wonder Years” ended in 1993, she enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles. Though Winnie Cooper went to Paris to study art history, Danica took on a different subject: mathematics. During her time at UCLA, Danica, another student, and their mentor developed a new mathematical proof, which was named for the trio. After she graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in 1998, she returned to acting, starring in television series such as “Babylon 5,” “NCIS,” “NYPD Blue,” and “The West Wing.” However, it wasn’t long before she returned to her education. Danica graduated from the University of Chicago with her Ph.D. in mathematics in 2005. It was her reentry into the world of mathematics that incited her next endeavor: becoming an author. Danica wrote a series of books aimed at teen girls, giving advice and tips in math. “Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail” became an instant hit, and she followed the success with “Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, “Hot X: Algebra Exposed!” and Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.” In addition to her acting career and the success of her books, Danica recently competed on “Dancing with the Stars” in the spring of 2014.

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