Emily Sahakian, assistant professor of theatre and French at UGA, believes service-learning teaches students lifelong lessons about how to be conscientious citizens. In addition to teaching theatre history and French-language literature, she is currently teaching the first service-learning course UGA has offered in theatre.
Where did you earn your degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned a dual doctorate from Northwestern University and the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (in France). At UGA, I teach courses in Theatre and French and I do research in the field of Francophone Caribbean theatre.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2011 when I was hired for a joint appointment in the departments of Theatre & Film Studies and Romance Languages.
What is the best part about your job?
I enjoy the balance between teaching and research that my job entails, and I love that I can additionally engage in community problem solving.
Describe your current research or service projects.
I’m currently writing a book about the legacy of slavery in French Caribbean theatre, specifically as it relates to the historical experience of women. My major service project is my course in community-based theatre, the first service-learning course in theatre at UGA.
What does service mean to you?
To me, service means engaging in reciprocal exchanges with partners in the local community.
What do you feel is UGA’s role as a land- and sea-grant university?
As a land- and sea-grant university, part of UGA’s mission is “community-based,” to use a concept we study in my course. In other words, some of the research and teaching that we do at UGA is for—and based in—the local community.
Why is public service an important aspect of higher education?
Public service is important because it brings higher education to people who otherwise do not have access to it. It also helps to make university projects locally relevant.
What are some of the service-learning and public service opportunities for students that you are involved with?
In my community-based theatre course, students offer workshops in the techniques of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed to community partners. The goals of the workshops are to meet community needs, to foster understanding and dialogue, and to identify social problems facing the local community. By building upon those workshops and incorporating further library and field research, students then devise an original community-based performance.
This past summer I collaborated with Dr. Cahnmann-Taylor, a professor of Language and Literacy Education, to teach a similar course dealing specifically with public schooling.
What is the value or benefit of students engaging in service-learning and public service?
These experiences teach students lifelong lessons about how to be conscientious citizens. Additionally, students remember course content better when they use it in practice.