Dr. Marijuana Pepsi's work speaks for itself

'My name does not make me, and I did not make it'

By Scottie Andrew and Brian Ries, CNN
Courtesy Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck

Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck (right) with her mother, Maggie Johnson, at her graduation in May. Vandyck received her doctorate in educational leadership.

(CNN) - Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck knows what you probably think of her before you read another word.

She knows, too, the value of letting her work do the talking.

Yes, Marijuana Pepsi is the name she was given at birth. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, her mother thought the name would take her around the world.

She's made just two changes -- taking her husband's surname and adding three more letters to the end: Ph.D.

In May, Vandyck, 46, earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Her story went somewhat viral this week when Twitter users picked up on her unusual name.

The topic of her dissertation? "Black Names in White Classrooms."

But rather than draw on her own experiences as a student, she said she was driven by the prejudice she witnessed as a teacher in Georgia, when a co-worker complained that her class grades would suffer that year based on nothing more than a list of her students' names.

The students' names sounded black, other teachers told Vandyk.

"I knew what I'd gone through, but it wasn't until then that I thought, 'I'm probably not the only one,'" she told CNN.

She interviewed black students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she earned her bachelor's degree, about the impact their names had on their treatment by professors and how their treatment affected their academic achievement.

Soon, she'll convert her findings into journal articles—that is, when she finds the time in her jam-packed schedule.

In addition to recently earning her doctoral degree, she's the director of a program for first-generation college students at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

Oh, and she lives on a 3-acre farm in Illinois with her husband, where she raises 15 ducks, some chickens and two pigs ironically named Sausage and Link.

She's the mother of a 16-year-old son and is a motorcycle enthusiast, real estate agent and business owner.

Now, she's a doctor, too.

"What they think about my name has no impact on me whatsoever," she said. "My name does not make me, and I did not make it."

She's never considered her name an impediment, but she "cringes" at the prospect of meeting people and the inevitable questioning that follows, she said.

The self-proclaimed introvert prefers to stay under the radar and let her work leave a legacy.

"They have a preconceived notion of who I was before even meeting me. It caused me to already be prepared for that and be one step faster, three steps better and really put my best foot forward."

When she's not helping first-generation and low-income college students navigate higher education, or showing houses or performance coaching, she's making her own yogurt or finishing the last of her home-tapped maple syrup. She might talk her husband into getting his own motorcycle one of these days, too, she said.

Balance is key, she said. She doesn't stress herself out, and she definitely doesn't smoke marijuana.

She doesn't drink Pepsi -- or alcohol either. In fact, her first sip of alcohol happened by accident during Communion. She choked when she realized the church used wine instead of grape juice, she said.

Next up, work on her book proposal that centers on how students overcome implicit bias and stereotyping—a subject she knows well.

Are all of her accomplishments enough to silence critics who make snap judgments?

Maybe not, but she's done just fine.

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