Academic Survival
March 6, 2023

5. Shandra McDonald: From Struggles with Reading to Supporting College Students

5. Shandra McDonald: From Struggles with Reading to Supporting College Students

Dr. Shandra L. McDonald, a college graduate with a lifelong battle with reading, set out on a quest to prove her doubters wrong, but discovered her own inner strength and resilience to academically survive college and beyond.

"Don't let other people's expectations hinder your journey - make your own goals and make decisions that are consistent with achieving them!"

Shandra is a podcaster, guest lecturer, speaker, coach, and author.  She is passionate about helping college freshmen succeed in their academic journey and shares her story of overcoming her own struggles with reading.

After successfully graduating from high school, Shandra McDonald faced a new challenge in college: the overwhelming pace and volume of work. Despite her struggles with reading, she persevered and developed strategies to survive and even excel in college. Through hard work, determination, and a challenge to herself to get straight A's, she was able to get an offer from the FAA and begin federal service through the Outstanding Scholars Program. 

In this episode, you will learn the following:
1. Overcoming Academic Struggles: Follow the journey of Shandra McDonald, who struggled with reading and received a D in reading in 4th grade, but eventually earned her Doctorate degree.
2. Finding Your Passion and Setting Goals: Learn how she was able to make the decision to pursue a different career path, and discover how setting goals can help you reach success.
3. Navigating College Life: Hear from Shandra and her plans to have guests on her podcast who will share stories of challenges facing freshmen, as well as provide advice on how to stay motivated and make it through college.

 US Office of Personnel Management - Students and Recent Graduates

Vertical Phoria Explained (not an endorsement)

Ritchie Thomas (The guy who nudged me to start podcasting.)

He's a great resource if you know anyone who is exiting the military.

The Beached White Male Podcast

Other episodes you'll enjoy:
4. Velmar Amador-Lankster: Balancing Emotions & Academics for College Success

3. Nico Morales: From Addict to Author - Substance Abuse and Transformation

2. Balancing Preferences & Priorities: Darrell Horn's College Journey

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Chapter Summaries:

Season four and episode two of The Beached White Male Podcast. Today I've got Dr. Shandra McDonald, and we're going to talk about academic survival. Shandra wants others to find those aha moments, where the light turns on.

Dr. Shandra McDonald is the author of Academic Survival: Simple Strategies for Improving Your Grades. We'll talk about the challenges facing students with academic ambitions. And we'll explore her powerful personal story.

Every one of the six Truth Quest episodes starts with the voice of Shandra McDonald. When did you discover that you had a voice for quality audio? Years ago, I'd always wanted to do a podcast, but I didn't have a subject. Now I have something to say.

Shandra L. McDonald: Academic Survival is me interviewing freshmen, college freshmen, also interviewing college students and former college students. The whole purpose of it is to really help the college freshman who is perhaps feeling like they're in over their head. Just stick it out. It will get easier.

Shandra: I want to bring stories that will talk college life, challenges students will face. My first episode was Ahmara Watson, a double major. Next week, I'm interviewing someone who got pregnant in college. I want students to hear from people who have successfully completed that journey.

Shandra: I struggled a lot academically particularly with reading. In the fourth grade, I got a D in reading. It wasn't until I was in my doctoral program that I learned why.

For me, because it's slight, I slightly see double. They'll give you glasses with a prism in it that will force your eyes to level out. My whole life I've been dealing with this issue. When I finally saw the doctor, it was a breakthrough moment.

When you went to college, you wanted to be a probation officer. How did you develop the disciplines that enabled you to go from a rough freshman year to almost straight A's? Having a goal says a lot for your journey.

Your major was criminal justice. But because of your grades, some doors opened for you that caused you to move on to something other than becoming a probation officer. You got a job with the FAA through their Outstanding Scholars Program. You had to have a minimum GPA of 3.5.

I realized that there was a lot that I learned along the way that allowed me to improve my grades. So, I was like, I'm going to write a book. Simple strategies for improving your grades. That's where the book came from. How did you end up getting your doctorate?

The author wanted to get a doctorate in biblical scholar theology. She found a doctoral program in public administration at the University of La Verne. It would be fun to explore all the particulars of what you had to do to land that doctorate.

The difference between a high school senior and a college freshman is three months. How prepared are they? Given their high school experience, have they been given the tools to be able to achieve? The quality of the high school education that you have in many cases is based upon the neighborhood.

Shandra, one of the key ideas in your book is the Academic Self-Discipline system. The first one is you got to learn to speak up. What's the difference between speaking up and talking back?

The “S” in self [stands for] . . . speak up. E is endurance. L is let go. F stands for focus. Letting go of this struggling freshman image that I had that was real. There are expectations that we have that are really standing in the way of us accomplishing [our goals].

Shandra: How can people get a hold of you and learn more about what you do and about the podcast. On, there is a little microphone on the website, and people can actually send me a voice message. Give me some ideas on what you might want to hear . . . [on] Academic Survival.


Transcript Coming Soon

Shandra L McDonaldProfile Photo

Shandra L McDonald

Podcaster | Student Success Strategist | Entrepreneur | Intrapreneur

Shandra L. McDonald, DPA, is a student success strategist. She's an Upward Bound Alumni and a former Educational Opportunity Program student. She’s passionate about helping college freshman survive and thrive during their first year of college so that they can graduate within 5 years. She knows first-hand what it is like to struggle academically as a college freshman. Completely overwhelmed her first year of college, she often felt like giving up. She had a difficult time adjusting to the fast pace and the workload. She eventually developed strategies to improve her grades because she knew that a college education was her ticket to a better life. She’s on a mission to teach self-awareness and her SELF-Discipline System to college freshmen.

Dr. McDonald's strategy took her from clueless to Cum Laude. She's earned three college degrees (Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Master of Public Administration, and Doctor of Public Administration), entered Federal service under the Outstanding Scholars Program, served as an adjunct professor, and appears as a guest lecturer. She is the author of Academic Survival: Simple Strategies for Improving Your Grades, contributing author of the textbook Government at Work: Policy Making in the Twenty-First-Century Congress, and host of the Academic Survival Podcast.