Over the course of a semester, Professor Robert Sirabian said his 19th century literature students will discover that issues and debates our communities wrestle with today—related to, for example, housing, pollution, labor, gender, and education—have parallels to the passionate debates about these topics during the 19th century. He became enthralled with the vibrant Victorian period in graduate school, reading and studying British novels and works of British poetry.
Sirabian teaches composition and literature courses at UW-Stevens Point. As his students study the texts of authors such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens, they begin to grasp the artistic visions and the issues that these writers addressed concerning their societies.
“It gives students the larger perspective as they come up with their own views as individuals in society,” he said.
Sirabian is a strong defender of the broad understanding that courses included in the university’s General Education Program provide. He has worked extensively on the General Education Committee to ensure that UWSP courses meet general education learning objectives and enhance the curriculum overall, complementing major courses.
“I believe general education is essential for students, making them intellectually curious about an array of subjects and offering the perspective and knowledge they need,” Sirabian said.
The 18-year faculty member said he relocated, after teaching English at both Mississippi Valley State University and UW-Stout, specifically for the type of in-depth literature courses he is able to teach at UWSP with a liberal arts focus. He said the best classes he leads with students have a healthy amount of give and take.
Sirabian said he was gratified and humbled to receive the 2022 University Service Award after a demanding year working through a host of adjustments related to the pandemic. Despite that, he said his students overall accomplished course goals. He said he is also blessed with wonderful colleagues in the English Department.
Another of his achievements this past academic year was the vote by Faculty Council and Common Council to reinstate faculty sabbaticals, following the moratorium at UWSP. With Sirabian as chair, the Sabbatical Review Subcommittee (SRS) canvassed other universities and former faculty who received sabbaticals, reviewed and updated guidelines, and advocated for a path forward with college-based faculty sabbaticals. Committee members, some who had taken designated time for research themselves, were unified in their belief that sabbaticals improve faculty development, and in turn benefit the university.
“Everyone understands we are disseminating knowledge, but we also create knowledge through research,” said Sirabian. “In the sciences, but even in the humanities, it’s important to create new teaching methodologies and discipline-based knowledge.”
Professor Tom Reich, collection development coordinator for UW-Stevens Point Libraries, has worked closely with Sirabian for the past two terms on the SRS. With the first hurdle cleared, he said Sirabian remains committed to handling all the nuances as they work to resume sabbaticals.
“Robert is thoughtful of all the faculty in university, not his own interests alone,” Reich said. “The group felt comfortable and reliant on him.”
Outside of his own course load, Sirabian coordinates and promotes his peers by curating the Letters and Science Faculty Forum. Launched in 2006, it showcases faculty across the College of Letters and Science disciplines. The series of presentations, open to the campus and the public, allows faculty within the College to highlight their research but also increases the visibility and community awareness of their significant work, beyond the university.
Sirabian has dedicated his time and talents in these areas for a simple reason.
“I believed in the research faculty in the college are conducting,” he said.
Sirabian just returned from an intensive study abroad trip with fellow English Professor Dejan Kuzmanovic in the city of London, England. They led a group of UWSP students to England for the summer abroad course, English 395 – London High and Low: Literature, Theatre, and Popular Culture. The experience gave students the unique chance to explore locales the 19th century authors wrote about. Students learned how the city of London shaped the period’s literature. For three weeks, Sirabian said, students were gathered in classrooms, and informal settings across the city to take in the history and to understand how the literature can shed light on the modern-day society and culture.
Another valuable investment of time in others that energizes Sirabian’s service-minded character.