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Foundational learning

Alumna Tjuan Dogan helps people around the world access online education

a woman leans down and points to bricks on a walkway

When Tjuan Dogan came to the University of South Carolina to study advertising and public relations, she had visions of becoming an international business executive and carrying a briefcase to work.

Thanks to an internship while still an undergraduate at USC, her first job as a pharmaceutical sales rep gave her a very large briefcase — filled with prescription drug samples.

“I remember a professor saying, ‘If you're offered a job in sales, take it. Because if you can sell, you can do anything,’ ” Dogan says.

From that beginning, Dogan, who has a bachelor’s in advertising, a master’s and a Ph.D. in education all from USC, crafted a career path that now has her helping nontraditional students find new career options through education as global director of social impact at Coursera, a global platform for online learning and career development. Coursera works with universities and companies to offer online classes, certificates and degree programs.

“Through sales, I really learned about communities,” she says. “When I was working with Merck, I focused a lot on educating communities about health care issues related to the pharmaceuticals I was promoting.”

She took that knowledge with her when she decided to return to Columbia to help build the City Year program, which exposes young people to community service, primarily in education. And that led her back to USC for her master’s in education, focused on higher education and student affairs.


“I've used my influence to provide more opportunities for learners to have access to education with a focus on issues of equity. A lot of that stemmed from things I did at USC.”

Tjuan Dogan

Working as a graduate assistant for Aretha Pigford, who was developing the African American Professors Program at USC, Dogan decided to pursue her Ph.D. — a decision championed by her mother, who also has a graduate degree in education from USC and worked as a senior school district administrator in South Carolina.

Dogan’s interest in global societies was magnified while presenting student experience research in the United Kingdom with the late Paul Fidler, her dissertation advisor and pioneer in student success research.

“My graduate studies and experiences are really what started to move my career trajectory more toward what I'm doing now,” Dogan says, crediting Pigford, Fidler and USC education professor Johnnie McFadden as mentors.

After completing her Ph.D., Dogan completed a fellowship at Harvard Business School.

“My plan was to focus on education systems and design and ultimately impact large communities of learners in a higher ed setting,” Dogan says. “But while at Harvard, I was recruited for and accepted a job in educational philanthropy and I have been on this path for two decades.”

Dogan moved to Atlanta and joined the Southern Education Foundation, then later the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, the IBM Foundation, Emory University and now Coursera. Through her work and various fellowships, she has traveled and worked with educators, community leaders, and government officials throughout Europe, China and Israel, and she completed a residential assignment in South Africa. At Coursera, she partners with organizations globally to provide better access to education — often at no charge to the learner.

My focus is making sure that underserved communities have access,” she says.

Some of those communities include military veterans and refugees who are looking for  educational opportunities to help restart their lives or redirect their careers. 

We work with organizations that support those communities to provide access to our platform,” Dogan says. “Those organizations, in turn, provide additional wraparound supports to help those learners.”

A committed lifelong learner herself, Dogan recently completed a master’s degree in religion and public life at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. Her research focused on faith, philanthropy and social justice.

All her jobs, research and travel in the education, philanthropy and social responsibility sectors have a common thread around educational access and equity. 

“I've used my influence to provide more opportunities for learners to have access to education with a focus on issues of equity,” she says. “A lot of that stemmed from things I did at USC.”

Among her activities at USC, Dogan was a member of the public service sorority Delta Sigma Theta, served in student government, the Association of African American Students and as a residence hall advisor. She also was a presidential intern and her name appears in the Hall of Leaders as a recipient of the prestigious Caroliniana Award.

“Those experiences gave me leadership focus, and a focus on community building — connecting people — making sure people had access and making an impact. So I think a lot of those experiences still drive what I do today.”