June 23, 2015

Student Showcase: Joel Peterson

Joel Peterson
Joel Peterson discussing his book, Dreams of my Mothers, in March 2015 at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in La Cañada Flintridge, California. (Photo courtesy of Joel Peterson)

Seven-year Navy veteran, acclaimed novelist, education professional, and PhD student in education Joel Peterson sat down with the Flame to discuss his life, his work, and the importance of leveraging education to do what it was designed to do.

You’re pursuing a PhD in policy, education, and reform. What brought you back to higher education after several years out of school?
After serving eight years on the school board of one of the top ranked school districts in California, I came to see that schools are not necessarily “broken” but are being expected to do things they were never designed nor equipped (or funded) for. So I founded and am the CEO of an education support services company that uses partnerships with companies to bring these services affordably to a wide population group through employee benefits programs.

Is that what your research is focusing on?
Yes, I’m looking at factors outside of school that impact, enhance, or impede education outcomes and attainment, and what intervention options appear effective and beneficial.

As a society, we have increasingly invested more funding into schools, but have not seen an improvement in student learning outcomes. This may be because “education” is a broader endeavor than just schools and teachers—which are indispensable and crucial, but cannot contain nor carry the complete efforts and resources to successfully educate all children.

My hope is that, if all parents and students—regardless of income or status—can receive needed support outside of school, they and society may benefit from true improvements in learning outcomes and education attainment.

You seem to have established yourself professionally before coming here. How has CGU contributed to your already-solid knowledge base?

Scott Thomas, dean of the School of Educational Studies, has been a highly supportive advisor and academic mentor. He, along with many other faculty, has helped refine and approach options for my research, as well as broaden my exposure and understanding of the important topics and trends in the field of education and policy.

Cover of Dreams of My Mothers

You have some experience with being a child for whom traditional education can’t provide everything, and you wrote about it in your critically acclaimed novel, Dreams of My Mothers: A Story of Love Transcendent.
I wrote my novel because I was born a biracial, impoverished boy to a destitute prostitute and was placed for adoption at age 6. I was adopted and raised by a Swedish-American family in Minnesota and rose to become a top global executive at AT&T. I have been privileged to bear witness to some very unique circumstances and experiences, at extreme ends of the human condition and at the margins of the American saga.

I wrote the book because it may touch readers and offer new insight, adding to current social discourse through a topic—transnational and transracial adoption—that rarely gets any attention because it represents such a tiny, niche slice of human experience, yet contains within it all the most relevant, timeless, and deeply felt—and held—human themes, passions, values, insecurities, tragedies, and judgments. And loves.

American Dream
Joel Petersen’s Dreams of my Mothers (described by the author as a “vivid and gripping story of a biracial, impoverished boy who, through the transcendent love of his mothers, rises above questions of identity, race, physical limitations, and prejudice to become a unique American success story”) has garnered some significant attention since it was published in March 2015. Some of the awards and recognition it has received include:

• Recognized on NPR, The Washington Post, and the Tribune Corporation, among other media outlets and publications

• Reviewer’s Choice Book, Midwest Book Review

• Top Recommended Book, California Bookwatch

Publishers Weekly Select Book, April 2015

• Finalist, 2015 First Horizon Awards (for best debut book by a first-time author)

• Finalist, 2015 Beverly Hills Book Awards, Regional Fiction

• Finalist, 2015 National Indie Excellence Awards, Faction

• Honorable Mention, 2015 Eric Hoffer Book Award

• Presented to the J. Luce Foundation’s 2015 leadership reception at the Sri Lankan Mission to the United Nations


To view a video of Perterson discussing why he wrote Dreams of my Mothers, click on the link below: