Gatepost Interview: Sarah Mulhall Adelman History Professor

(Allie Gath)

By Molly Dubrowski

Staff Writer

What is your educational
background? 

I got a bachelor’s degree in history and minors in economics and gender diversities studies from Xavier University and a masters and Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins.

Where did you work before FSU?

Immediately before coming to Framingham State University, I worked at the University of Maryland. Before graduate school, I worked at the Center of Holocaust and Humanity Education, which is a small museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. It tells the story of the Holocaust from the local perspective … of Holocaust survivors who later moved to Cincinnati or people who lived in Cincinnati who had relatives who died in the Holocaust or lived in Cincinnati and served in the United States Army and witnessed some of the horrors of the concentrations camps when they liberated them. … That was my first job out of college.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I enjoy watching students discover their own ability and their potential and what they are capable of accomplishing, particularly if there is a project or a paper that seems quite intimidating initially. Watching students work on it throughout an extended period of time in a semester and discovering at the end they have created something that they are proud of and they may have thought they were not capable of doing. It’s great to participate in that journey. At the end, everyone is so proud of what they accomplished over a semester.

Why did you decide to go into
education?

I knew I wanted to pursue history and continue researching and uncovering stories of the past, and initially, I was much more interested in working in museums than in teaching. But then in graduate school, I served as a teaching assistant where I would teach small discussion sections that were attached to larger lecture classes. Much to my own surprise, I found out I loved teaching – which is good, but it was not something I planned out all along. It was something initially that terrified me, because I was super shy, so the idea of talking in front of a group of people was terrifying. But as you practice, just like with anything, and you get more comfortable and confident in what you are doing, I was able to discover the things I really enjoyed in teaching.

What can you do post-graduation with a history degree?

[When] people think about history degrees they think about teaching, museums. They think about the archives, and historical sites, all of them are definitely possibly. But one of the things with a history major is you learn the historical content, but you also really work on the skills of being a close critical reader – the research skill, the writing skills, communication skills and these are things you can apply to just about any job. … These are skills you can use in about any job or field.

What do you do in your free time?

I have little kids, and between them and work, I don’t have any free time. So, really, kids’ activities. If I am really lucky, I will squeeze in a novel every now and then. But other than that, I don’t have much free time.

What is something your
students would be surprised to know about you?

My students would probably be surprised to find out I grew up in Southern California, because I don’t fit the stereotypes that are promoted on TV of Southern California. … But also, the area I grew up in was nothing like what you see on television. “Do you surf?” No, I grew up in an area of drive-by shooting, gangs. I didn’t grow up on the beach like that surfer girl. This would be something my students would be shocked about.      

Who is your greatest influence?

There are a few women who really inspired me. My grandmother was someone who always, no matter what, believed in me. But as I got older, and I began to recognize both my grandmothers and everything they did and how hard it must have been raising their kids. … One had six kids and one had 10 kids with no car, and two stations on the television and very few of the conveniences we take for granted and how hard it must have been and admiring how much of a good job they did. … And admiring how they did it all, and how they did it all with such grace.  

What advice would you give
to students?

Study abroad. That one is an easy one. I spent a semester in Ireland when I was in college. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I remember being very worried about going. It’s scary. You don’t know anybody. You don’t know anything going on, but you are taking this big leap of faith. And it was scary at times, but that is also the part that made it so rewarding. There is really no other time for most people in life than to spend four months living in another country, and immersing yourself in that culture, in that world. … When also in my life am I going to have the possibility to just travel around Europe. But everywhere you go, where you chose to go to study abroad there are a lot of other places to see.

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