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What Can We Learn From Smart Celebrities With a Love of Learning?

Abigail Green

July 10, 2023

Like it or not, we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture. Whether it’s singer Taylor Swift, athlete Cristiano Ronaldo, media mogul Oprah Winfrey or any number of influencers on screen, stage, or social media, people want to know everything about them. We thought, why not use our natural curiosity about famous folks for good?

We’re turning the spotlight on celebrities who have demonstrated a lifelong love of learning.

Whether they are taking science classes for fun between acting gigs or teaching the general public how to code or how to cook like an award-winning chef, these high-profile people show us that education is for everyone, at any time of life. 

As an education technology company, we at CourseStorm know that lifelong learning has enormous benefits. Whether you’re earning a college degree to pursue a specific career, taking evening improv classes for fun, or watching YouTube videos to learn how to produce music, it all enriches your life and even your health.  

Read on to find out how some of the most famous people we know have embraced education, and get some ideas for what you might like to learn next!

Famous Alumni of Performing Arts Programs

It should come as no surprise that actors and performers are some of the most famous names and faces in the world. We recognize them from TV, movies, and musicals. Many stars of the performing arts got their start at a young age, learning their craft at after-school programs, community theaters, and summer camps. 

Performing Arts Summer Camp Cultivates Young Talent  

Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp has been a launchpad for numerous budding performers. Founded in 1913 in the picturesque wilderness of Steamboat Springs, CO, it is the oldest continuously operating dance and theater school in America. And an esteemed CourseStorm customer!

Perry-Mansfield has cultivated the talents of such acting greats as Dustin Hoffman, Oscar-winning star of films including “Tootsie” and “Rain Man.”

A young Dustin Hoffman at Perry Mansfield Performing Arts camp

Other notable alumni of Perry-Mansfield include stars of the theater and dance world, including the late Emmy- and Tony Award-winner Julie Harris and beloved Golden Girl Rue McClanahan, who trained at Perry-Mansfield as a dancer. 

More recently, popular TV dance shows including “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars” have featured Perry-Mansfield alumni as choreographers, panelists, and performers. 

Many community theatres offer summer camps and programs, as well as educational opportunities throughout the year. If your organization is one of them, check out our informative article on how to improve your summer camp registration process.

Educators Inspire and Encourage Students 

Anyone who’s had the experience of learning from a great teacher knows the power of educators to inspire and influence their students. Before he founded CourseStorm, our CEO Brian Rahill was a research scientist. He credits his biology teacher with setting him on his early career path.

“One of the things that was formative for me in high school is that I had this AP Bio teacher, Mr. Holmquist,” said Rahill. “He was so dedicated and he taught us so many things about biology. He really brought the subject to life.” Rahill went on to dual major in microbiology and biochemistry in college and later ran a research lab at a university.

“The empowerment that comes from student-run theater was life-changing for me,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Broadway hit Hamilton.

Celebrities are no different. Some of the most famous people in their fields credit teachers as the ones who most influenced their careers. On the podcast Arts Educators Save the World, Lin-Manuel Mirandathe award-winning creator of the Broadway musicals “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” — sat down with his elementary school music teacher, Barbara Ames. “The direct education we got from Barbara [letting us] go headlong into creating our own show and the empowerment that comes from student-run theater was life-changing for me,” he said.

Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role of his musical "Hamilton", April 20, 2016

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another episode of the podcast features Cecily Strong, an actress and producer known for appearing on 200+ episodes of “Saturday Night Live.” In an interview with her CalArts acting teacher, Mary Lou Rosato, Strong said, “All the things that I always loved about acting and why I ever wanted to do it were all the things in [Mary Lou’s] classroom, as opposed to the business … All the surprises and discoveries, those are more exciting than anything else.”

If you’re an instructor in an arts program, we have some suggestions about how to balance teaching and finding time for your own creative work as well as professional development opportunities for arts educators.

Celebrities Who Study STEM

Even if they work in the performing arts, celebrities don’t just study acting, singing, and dance. “Ant-Man” star Kathryn Newton told Variety magazine that she loves science. “I recently took a physics class just for fun at UCLA Extension.”

Sometimes, actors’ real lives and work overlap. Actress Mayim Bialik is perhaps best known for playing neurobiologist Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on the popular sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” In fact, Bialik has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. Further demonstrating her love of learning, Bialik has hosted the game show “Jeopardy!” since July 2022.

Mayim Bialik, host of Jeopardy

Just like us, famous people’s career and education paths don’t always follow a straight line. Dexter Holland, lead singer of the ’90s alt-rock band The Offspring, started a Ph.D. program in molecular biology at the University of Southern California. But when their album, Smash, began climbing the charts in 1994, Holland was faced with a tough decision. He left the program and didn’t return till two decades later, when he published his thesis on HIV research. 

“There is a kind of a spatial association between music and math,” Holland said in an interview in Vice magazine, speaking about the intersection of science and art. “Medicine is an art and research is an art. You have to be creative in the way you design experiments.”

Coding With Celebrities

Karlie Kloss started her modeling career at age 15. Years later, she decided to take a coding class learning Ruby, HTML, and CSS. “That coding class changed the trajectory of my career and sparked a lifelong passion for how technology can be used creatively to solve real problems, transform lives, and address our world’s biggest challenges,” she wrote in an article for CNN.com. 

Model Karlie Kloss started Kode With Klossy, which runs free summer camp sessions that teach young women the fundamentals of coding.

Kloss noticed that the people creating technology were mostly men. This led her to found Kode With Klossy in 2015, which runs free summer camp sessions that teach young women and nonbinary youth the fundamentals of coding. As of September 2022, the organization had educated over 12,000 scholars, encouraging them to pursue careers in tech. 

A coding class changed the trajectory of model Karlie Kloss’ career and sparked a lifelong passion.

CourseStorm shares the goal of empowering young girls to embrace their potential and to support diversity, inclusion, and gender equality in the tech industry. We are proud to sponsor Girls Who Code summer programs in Maine.

Other famous folks who have learned to code include former NBA player Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat. In high school he joined a computer graphics club called Wizkids as well as the Association of Minority Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers. 

The Grammy Award-winning frontman of The Black Eyed Peas known as Will.i.am has reinvented himself as a coding teacher. He launched the i.am/Angel Foundation in 2009, which among other initiatives, provides opportunities in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) such as robotics and coding to underserved communities. 

Smartest Celebrities of the Humanities

Lots of learners, celebrities included, are drawn to the humanities, which encompass law, languages, philosophy, religion, international relations, gender and women’s studies. Some of the best known stars in acting, music, and sports have surprising educational paths. 

Australian actress Rebel Wilson, known for her comedic roles in the movies “Pitch Perfect” and “Bridesmaids,” earned a law degree but ultimately decided to pursue a career in acting after an unusual experience during a gap-year trip to Africa.

Country music star Kenny Chesney studied advertising in college, while Coldplay’s Chris Martin majored in Ancient World Studies, according to US Weekly’s roundup of Celebrities’ Most Interesting College Majors.

Gen Z actress Yara Shahidi starred in the TV series “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” before graduating from Harvard University, where she studied social studies and African American history, writing her thesis on “Black political thought under a neocolonial landscape.”

Yara Shahidi graduates from Harvard

Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most successful basketball players in history. He retired from the NBA in 2011, and in 2012 graduated from Barry University in Miami with a Ph.D. in education. “This is for my mother, who always stressed the importance of education,” O’Neal said. “I’m smart enough to know that, even at my tender age, my pursuit of education is never finished.”

Some 45% of Americans plan to learn a new language, joining the ranks of many actors who have learned new languages for a role.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to enroll in a formal degree program to learn something new. Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for lead actress for her role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” learned Mandarin for her earlier role in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” She joins the ranks of many other actors, including Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, who learned a new language for a role

If you’re one of the 45% of Americans who intend to learn a new language in preparation for travel, know that you’re following in the footsteps of some of your favorite celebrities. 

Learn From the Best: Celebrities Who Teach

If you’re interested in learning from people who are famous in their fields, you’re in luck. MasterClass is a subscription-based library of on-demand tutorials and lectures by experts in various subjects. You can learn filmmaking from Martin Scorcese, screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin, photography from Annie Leibovitz, cooking from Wolfgang Puck, activism with Malala, and much more.

Aaron Sorkin teaches screenwriting for MasterClass

This MasterClass review by Business Insider gives you the full run-down on how much it costs, how it works, and some of the best classes to take. Here’s an excerpt: “Unlike most online learning platforms that focus on hard skills like programming or UX design, MasterClass targets a different audience: Lifelong learners and fans of edutainment.”

Another resource for self-guided learners is Curiosity Stream, a streaming service that specializes in documentaries. Many of them star or are narrated by famous names, such as anthropologist Jane Goodall and actor and DIY-er Nick Offerman

A popular free resource for learners is TED talks. The online library of 4,200+ talks include Emmy-winning “Abbott Elementary” actress Sheryl Lee Ralph’s 3-step guide to believing in yourself, as well as YouTuber turned late-night talk show host, Lilly Singh, on a solution to gender equity.

Educators Are the True Influencers 

For most of us, the most influential people in our lives are not celebrities, but the educators in our own communities and schools who teach and inspire every day with no fanfare or red carpets. If you are one of them, CourseStorm celebrates you! 

For many of us, the most influential people in our lives are not celebrities, but the educators in our own communities.

It is our mission to streamline student registration to simplify the process for education programs and connect more learners to life-changing classes. To find out how we can help you, get in touch with us today! 

And for a closer look at the different kinds of educational offerings and where yours fits in, check out our free resource, A Complete Guide to Different Types of Learning and Why We Need Them All

Abigail Green

Abby has overseen content development for higher education degree programs related to education, technology, business, and healthcare. One of her first jobs after college was working with children’s programs for the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She is an experienced and versatile writer and editor whose work has been published by Johns Hopkins, the University of Baltimore Alumni Magazine, and The Chicago Tribune.

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