Each month, The Stone House Center for Public Humanities interviews a humanities scholar or community member and asks them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our new blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
This month's guest is Gisela Dieter, Associate Professor of Spanish at SRU since 2005. She received her PhD in Hispanic Languages and Literatures from the University of Pittsburgh, PA in 2008 where she also minored in Spanish Linguistics. Dieter has a Master of Arts in History from Youngstown State University and two Bachelor of Science Degrees from Clarion University of PA in Communications and Business. Born and raised in Panama, Dieter’s fields of expertise, interest and research are Panamanian and Cuban Literature, Women Writers, National Identity, African Diaspora, Second Language Acquisition and Pedagogy. A passion for learning and teaching drives Dieter’s dynamic classroom style where she strives to offer her students valuable information to help them improve their communicative and cultural competence in the Spanish Language aiming at helping students become effective professionals in our diverse and multicultural job market.
What inspires you in your current position/role?
In a word: Students. That is my personal reality: students inspire me. Teachers often speak of that moment, that almost sacred moment when the light goes on and there are visible sparks in the eyes of learners…well, that is the moment I seek. I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t happen every single time, but when it does happen…the daily struggles of the profession are suddenly totally worth it. I know it sounds cliché, but it is true in my experience. This past spring semester, in my Reading in Spanish, for instance, students demonstrated such a range and depth of analysis that, suddenly, a Monday evening class was something I looked forward to! And it was not just academic insight, I was able to witness personal growth as well. There was this moment, while I was walking around one of the small-reading/discussion groups, I overheard the students saying to one another: “I can’t believe this kind of stuff actually happened here in the States! Men, I have to read up on this. I don’t know &%$#@.” Seeing my students learning about their own reality and culture in a Spanish class, to me, carries immense weight and truly inspires me in my current position as a teacher.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
Working in the business world for years before becoming a college professor taught me how hard life truly is. I understand why people outside academia often look at universities as a bubble. This knowledge helps me guide my students more efficiently and with honesty. They see me as someone who “has been there,” and I value that tremendously. Working as a volunteer faculty member in the Humanities Ladder Program taught me that regardless of our circumstances, the thirst for learning is always there. The challenge is to find ways to help those unaware of such thirst to tune into their senses, experience some success, find their passion and ignite their engines to pursue it...to take a sip from that water of knowledge…in other words, finding ways to provide them with a little bit of that proverbial salt, so they realize they are thirsty!
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I have recently applied for a Grant that, if awarded, will allow the Modern Languages and Cultures Department to explore possibilities to establish working relationships abroad, in Panama, my country of origin in a variety of capacities such as service learning, study abroad, teaching English to speakers of other languages and student exchange programs. I am heading to Panama this summer to begin the legwork, hoping to make initial contacts and prepare the way if/when we can begin the actual project.
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
The humanities are the key to human development. In this era of communication, when we are all wirelessly connected, the greatest paradox is the reality that we are lonelier than ever before. This is a surprise to many. However, it is easily understood if we stop and see, our relationships are all mediated. They are not genuine or real. They are “phony,” pun intended. Therefore, they are not truly satisfying. The human experience is lost in cyberspace. I believe, the humanities are a venue to restore the “awe” factor and dissipate the sense of loss caused by the frantic chase for new tech.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you (hobby, skill,interesting story)?
Every time I get this question, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that, once, a million years ago, I won a beer-drinking-contest against a bunch of people, including several experienced-beer-drinking men. Not my proudest moment…but that has remained my go-to surprising fact about me to this day.
What shows are you currently binge-watching?
I don’t binge-watch shows, per se. I’m a HUGE movie fan, rather than a TV person. Also, I have two teenage sons, and our “thing” is to watch movies. So, now, we’ve been binge-watching the entire Marvel Universe, individual super-hero films as well as the Avengers Saga, while at the same time, finishing the Harry Potter series too.
What is your first thought in the morning and last thought at night?
I’m a spiritual person, so I try to turn my eyes towards heaven as the first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night.
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I finally got them all. And I have a challenge with my older son to read them this year…not sure if it will happen, but at least I’d like to get started.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
I ran into a glass door in front of my older son. We were staying at a friend’s condo in Florida and we were getting ready to have lunch at the balcony. The a/c was on, so my son closed the sliding door after him, just as he has been taught to do when the air is on, but I didn’t realize it…so…lunch plate in hand, I ran into the stupid door. It was not funny right away, believe me! But after I picked up my bruised ego, we had a good laugh at the whole thing.
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
I worked as a receptionist for an Accountants’ Firm in Panama, and the main part of my job was to guess…yes, guess, to have the super-power to be able to tell whether the owner and CEO of the firm was in the mood to take a phone call or not. I was not allowed to send any of his calls to voicemail. But I was not allowed to transfer any calls to him either, if he was not in the mood for it/them. And he was always in his office behind close doors. So, needless to say, I didn’t last at that job. I would tell the 21 year old me…”wait until you get married!”
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed our previous interview with Michael Dittman, click HERE.
Only 7 days left to donate to our NEH Humanities Ladder Access Challenge Grant! We only need $1,900 to unlock the full 100K grant.
The grant funds will be used to support our flagship program, The Humanities Ladder, which benefits low-income and underserved high school students.
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NEH Humanities Ladder Access Challenge Grant!
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We are looking for faculty to join our Humanities Ladder team for the fall 2018 semester. This is an excellent opportunity to bring humanities-based enrichment to underserved students.
Check out what Dr. Gisela Dieter had to say about her experience with the program below.
Learn more here: https://www.humanitiesladder.org/facultyopportunities.html
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“Students always have questions that I don’t expect,” said Professor Theresa Antonellis about the high school sophomores and juniors she teaches at Aliquippa High School. Since the beginning of last fall, Professor Antonellis has participated in the Humanities Ladder Program through the Stone House Center for Public Humanities. Once a week, Professor Antonellis brings college-level ideas to these high schoolers and introduces them to the humanities experience through art. With a foundation similar to the Overview of Western Art class that she teaches at SRU, Professor Antonellis is able to appreciate the similarities and differences among her students. She has found that at the university, her class of one hundred predominantly freshmen students has a very different capacity for engagement compared to the ten to twenty student classes she teaches at Aliquippa.
With the help of her student mentor, Tommy Thompson, a junior in Secondary Education and Social Studies, Professor Antonellis has been able to teach ancient art history and transition to more contemporary artworks this semester. After reviewing new art history terms that students could apply to these artworks, the students dove into the history of presidents, all the way back to George Washington. Professor Antonellis then introduced the portraits of the Obamas, which were unveiled on February 12th. These portraits, pictured above, made history for featuring the first African-American presidential couple. The Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery also made history for comissioning the first African-American painters to complete these presidential portraits. After seeing the portraits and learning that Kehinde Wiley painted Barack Obama and Amy Sherald painted Michelle Obama, the students’ first question shocked Professor Antonellis and Thompson: “Who paid for these portraits, and how much do they cost?” Though she didn’t know the answers at the time, Professor Antonellis returned the following week to share that private donors and philanthropists had sponsored these portraits.
A few classrooms down, Professor Sean Macmillian and his student mentor, Marie Ellis, a senior English Education major with a minor in Dance, are implementing an art appreciation class through the Humanities Ladder Program, as well. Professor Macmillan, who typically teaches metalsmithing and three-dimensional workshops at the university, is excited to be able to present art and artists that he typically doesn’t at the university. His goal is to introduce his two classes of fifteen students to art and artists that they are unfamiliar with. By taking familiar images like American Gothic and the Mona Lisa, the students were able to begin breaking down images into their fundamental designs and principles, opposed to just seeing the “pretty” aspects of the artworks. As their conversations steer towards context, students will soon be able to explore what the artists were trying to communicate in each piece.
One of the largest challenges Professor Macmillan has found is that these forty-three minute high school classes fly by significantly faster than his typical three-hour long workshops! With the time constraint, the students have been discussing artworks, and only recently began creating their own. Until recently, since metalsmithing is such a slow and deliberate process, Professor Macmillan had been taking more of a theoretical approach, using design elements and principles as a vehicle to talk about art beyond “I like it.” He began this semester by facilitating “creativity generation exercises” to challenge students who shy away from art by claiming not to be creative enough. “Creativity is a skill,” Professor Macmillan explained, “as such, it can be learned and amplified, not only for visual arts, but also for writing stories, musical compositions, or research projects in the science fields.” On March 23rd, Professor Macmillan demonstrated moving metal with hammers and little chisels, called Chasing and Repousee, and students were able to try it for themselves. Hmmm… wonder what they’ll create next week!
Learn more about the Humanities Ladder program here.
Don't forget to check out all of our Humanities Ladder videos too!
SRU's Giving Day starts now! Click here participate. There are so many academic areas and student organizations participating that need your help, including the Stone House Center for Public Humanities.
If you're looking to donate to a specific program, please consider donating to the Humanities Ladder. It's just $7,718 away from being able to claim our entire $100,000 Access Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is a fantastic opportunity to help us get there! Go to HumanitiesLadder.org for more information.
Once you click on the portal, write in either "HUMANITIES LADDER PROGRAM" or "STONE HOUSE CENTER FOR PUBLIC HUMANITIES" where it asks you to designate your gift to a particular area of the university.
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The River Tales is one of the projects the Humanities Ladder students completed this year! It is a compilation of stories each student created.
Interested in learning more about the Humanities Ladder?
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Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.