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Sara Baraldi: A Showstopping Mom with a PhD in Theater Education

I sat down with PhD holder Sara Baraldi to learn more about her academic and professional journey.  Read on to see how she went from a 17-year old living in Puerto Rico to an active mother with a doctorate in Theater for Youth.

Where did you attend college? Which specific degree do you hold?   How long did it take you?

In 1996, I was seventeen years old when I entered college.  My mom worked at the University of Puerto Rico as a chemistry professor and it seemed natural to attend the same university.  I began my coursework in the Education Department in order to attain a bachelor degree in Science Education.  After a year of classes, I realized my passion was somewhere else.  I petitioned for a transfer within the Education Department for a degree in Secondary Theatre Education.  From that moment on, I went back and forth, taking classes in both the Education and Drama department.  After 5 years I completed my degree and graduated.  I decided that I wanted to continue my journey as a teacher because I felt I possessed a natural ability to transmit information to children in a fun and interactive way.  I knew I wanted to help more students in their journey.

I applied to the best graduate programs in Theatre Education in the United States.  I was accepted to the M.A. program in Educational Theatre at New Your University.  I packed my bags and left the little island alone for the first time in my life.  After a year of coursework and an intense summer abroad program, I completed my degree in 2002.  I began to realize I was not done with my education.  I felt I could reach more students by helping their future teachers.  After some research, I realized I would not be able to teach in a university with solely a master's degree.    

Since the master's degree was not a terminal degree, I began applying to several Ph.D. programs across the country.  I was finally accepted to Arizona State University's Theatre for Youth Ph.D. program.  I was not expecting this process to be so intense.  I was 24 years old when I entered the program.  I was the youngest and at a disadvantage because English was my second language.  Not only did I have to perform at the level every other student was performing, but I had to do it in another language.  I kept telling myself that if I wanted to succeed in the program I was going to have to do it like everyone else--no special treatment.  Six years later, married with a baby, I completed my degree in 2009.                 

Can you name some of the classes you took that you really enjoyed?

During my studies, I took both practical and theoretical classes.  Some classes were "on your feet" like acting, pantomime, and dramatic activities, while others were "in your head" like theatre history, theory, and research methods.  In all the programs, there was a good balance between both.  Your brain and body were being exercised equally.  Of all the classes I have taken, my favorite classes are the "on your feet" classes.  I like being engaged in different ways and I believe one can learn a lot through the use of their body.  This is probably one of the reasons I decided to become a teacher.  I know I can engage students in multiple ways including the use of their body.  I get bored quickly, so anything that actively engages me is a plus.  

Can you describe your career path since graduating from your degree program? 

Once I knew I was going to graduate, I began looking for jobs.  This part was difficult because I was unsure about what I wanted to do exactly.  I also did not know if I wanted to move from where I was currently living.  My husband had a steady, well-paying job, so my choices had to take his career into consideration.  The job I did get had to be "a sure thing", especially if we were going to move.  My husband would not have a difficult time finding another job, so we wanted to make sure the trip was worth while.  We eventually decided that one of us was going to stay home with the baby.  So my job had to be good enough to sustain us so he could quit his job and stay home with the baby.  After 30 job applications, they came back with either "the position has been filled" or "we have closed the position for financial issues."  Either way, the job scene did not look promising.  Furthermore, it was not just me, but my other colleagues who graduated with me, who found themselves in the same situation.  It just was not a good year.  Since then, I have focused on submitting papers for publication and attending conferences to help put myself out there.  In the mean time, I am still writing and applying to several jobs across the country.

Can you give us a "day in the life" of your job? What do you like about it?  What is difficult about it?

Since I am currently a "stay at home mom," my day consists of making breakfast for myself and for my toddler, doing house chores like cleaning, doing the laundry, and cooking.  I arrange time for my child to have play dates with other children her age, so she can socialize and get some physical activity, but also so I can talk with other moms that are going through the same things I am going through.  We also go to the zoo, the museum, and the park, as well as take music, reading, and swimming classes.  While she takes her daily nap, I try to catch up on writing articles, looking for jobs, and keeping up to date with the current literature in theatre and theatre for youth.  Then, I cook dinner and begin the night time routine which consists of bathing my toddler, changing her, and giving her the last bottle.  After she goes down for the night, I like to watch television or play video games with my husband. 

How has what you learned in college been applied to your life in the working world? Has the recession affected your industry?

What I learned in college has been extremely helpful.  Especially the classes that specifically address teaching, how to teach, classroom management, etc.  You might know the content and how to transmit the information to your students in an effective way, but if you do not have good classroom management, it all goes down the tubes.  As part of my undergraduate coursework, I had to complete my practicum in a school.  I was teaching seventh and eight grade.  I entered the room with confidence knowing what to expect, but it is very different standing on the other side of the room.  I had to engage the students and do so for the whole period.  It was impossible.  I felt like a puppet dancing around trying to keep their attention.  I asked my professor if he had any suggestions and he mainly expressed that I do not have to be the "teacher" for the whole period of the class.  I had to be a facilitator and make sure the students were getting all they needed to in different ways throughout the class period.  This was very helpful.  I realized early on that a good teacher is a good facilitator, not a good entertainer.  In my master's and doctoral degree classes, I learned many techniques to help transmit information to the students in both active and passive ways.       

Have you ever taken an online class? If not, would you consider taking an online class if you knew it would raise your salary? 

I have never taken an online class.  As part of my Teaching Assistantship at ASU, I helped teach the online Theatre History class.  The feedback I received from the students participating in this class was broad.  Some students loved being able to have the flexibility to access the information at their leisure, while other students found the innate loose structure difficult to keep up with because getting the work done was in their hands.  The online format can be good for some students while it can hinder other's ability to learn.

I would like to take an online class if I knew it would help raise my salary.  I love learning so almost any subject interests me, and knowing this information could further my career or increase my salary would only be beneficial.  

What advice do you have for anyone who is considering earning their PhD?

After completing my doctoral degree, there are several recommendations I would give to anyone considering a Ph.D. 

  • Pick a subject you are passionate about.  There is a lot of reading and researching involved, therefore make sure it is something you are interested in so you do not get bored in the middle of the program and not want to finish. 
  • Pick a program that you feel will meet your needs and help in finishing your degree.
  • Understand the amount of work that is required.  If the subject is something you enjoy, the material itself will not be difficult; what makes the program difficult is the amount of time that is required of you.  There is a lot of reading and researching and your time is limited. 
  • Once you finish your coursework and pick your dissertation committee, pick a chair who is interested in your topic and is someone with whom you feel comfortable working.  This relationship can make a world of a difference. 
  • Make deadlines for yourself and keep them.  Staying on a consistent writing schedule is easier than trying to get back to it from a hiatus. 
  • Keep writing.  Do not think about if what you are writing is good enough or if it makes sense.  Let your chair be the one who helps you with this.  Keep writing and sooner than you think, you will be done.