To recognize the achievement of our first EdD graduate, Michael Yurchak, we invited him to reflect on his experience in the program and to articulate his future plans. Congratulations, Michael!
What were your expectations when you entered the EdD program?
My expectations were that I would continue my own learning and understanding of educational theater and applied theater praxis. Since I live in Los Angeles, I worried that my geographic challenges would hamper my experience or become an issue for my professors and classmates. I assumed I would have a hard time connecting with the community due to my location, but that was not at all how things went. Because of the intensive semesters offered over the summer and January terms, as well as weekend intensives during the fall and spring, I was able to attend most of my classes in person in an immersive curriculum that allowed a deeper personal connection than I would have thought possible. As a graduate assistant in London and Puerto Rico, I felt very connected to the student community, and I absolutely loved being involved as much as I was. I did have a few classes during my time in the program where I had to attend class meetings via Skype. Every one of my professors and fellow students were supportive and open to making the best of that challenge when it came up. What might have been a distraction was actually kind of fun, because of the novelty it presented!
What aspects of the program were helpful in your academic and professional development?
The collaborative nature of crafting a program that fit my needs and interests was incredibly useful in my development as a professional in the field. My advisor (Jonathan Jones) and mentor (David Montgomery) as well as my dissertation committee members and readers (Philip Taylor, Nisha Sajnani, Amy Cordileone, and Nan Smither) were all extremely approachable and helpful in charting my course through the program. There was a collegial nature to the discussions we had from the very beginning. The sense that I had agency and choice within the context of the requirements was empowering. Finding the intensive courses and study-abroad programs that allowed me to fully participate was really important to me. Also, designing and applying my own practicum and independent study projects was enlightening. That independent work served as a barometer of my own understanding and illustrated some ways in which I might incorporate my coursework into real world application. An unanticipated outcome has been an increased confidence in my writing and how I might contribute to the academy in that way, which is not something I had thought about before finishing the program.
How will you apply what you learned in the program out in the field?
I will be teaching voice in the MFA program at Cal State University Los Angeles and will remain on the faculty at the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio where I teach voice and acting. Independent projects in the applied theater space also pop up throughout the year, and I look forward to participating there as well. Since defending my dissertation, I have been asked to adapt a portion of it for the publication associated with the Voice and Speech Trainers Association (VASTA), and I’m looking forward to that too. I had not anticipated going into academia after graduating because, ultimately, I would like to lead an education department for an arts organization. Still, at the risk of being a bit sappy, I guess I see everything I do academically and professionally as part of the journey of a life-long learner. That is exciting to me, and I look forward to seeing how the future unfolds.
My advice would be to enter the program with a clear sense of why you think you need to be there. It’s a big commitment, and it can feel overwhelming at times. For me, a strong understanding of why I felt I had to make it happen kept me going when things got tough. I also think it’s important to stay open to the possibility that new discoveries may change where you thought you’d end up. I found it incredibly useful to stay flexible!