With an academic career that started at the University of Saskatchewan, Sarah Powrie is no stranger to campus. What has changed however, is her newly appointed role as English department head for St. Thomas More College.
Powrie is an associate professor at STM and became department head in July 2015. Although she has eight years of experience within STM and the English department, Powrie recognizes the challenges that will accompany her new role.
“There’s more responsibilities and you don’t have as much time for your research, so it is a sacrifice, in a way. But it’s also an opportunity to help your colleagues, to serve your colleagues … I’m looking for opportunities to grow and develop the department,” Powrie said.
As a fully integrated program, STM English provides the same degree that students earn through the College of Arts and Science English department. Any U of S student is able to take classes through STM, even if they are not a self-declared STM student. According to Powrie, the STM English program offers students a unique experience including smaller class sizes, student mentorship and learning communities, which allow students to meet once a week, make connections with similar course material and build meaningful relationships.
“I think it’s really valuable to have; it sort of humanizes the whole experience… ultimately we teach in the humanities and that has to mean something,” Powrie said. “It means you’re engaging with the whole part of the person, not just their minds. So I think that’s what we’re really trying to do at STM, is to humanize education.”
Powrie began her academic journey as an undergraduate student at STM and went on to do a master’s at Queen’s University, followed by her PhD at the University of Toronto. While finishing her PhD, a job posting opened up at the U of S, and Powrie feels nostalgic about teaching where her academic journey began.
“It’s nice to be able to come back and be a faculty member [here], and engage in the same kind of mentorship and introduce students to the same ideas and see how the conversation goes with each generation. So that’s really energizing actually,” she said.
Claire Marsh, a fourth-year English major at the U of S, is one of those students. After taking two classes with Powrie over the 2014-15 academic year, she was excited to hear that Powrie had been named department head.
“I think she’s just extremely knowledgeable. She’s one of those professors who you can just tell is extremely passionate about her topic. You can ask her almost anything and there’s a 95 per cent chance she knows exactly what you’re talking about and if not, she will look it up immediately. She is just genuinely interested,” Marsh said.
Marsh also recognizes the value of her English degree and the skills she has developed while in the program.
“I think that my English degree is extremely useful in all areas. The communication skills you get give the ability to organize your thoughts, comprehend reading really easily — it’s come in handy in every class I’ve had,” Marsh said. “It has given me that edge over people who might not be that practised in writing.”
Powrie’s love of teaching English has also remained strong over her years as a professor, and she acknowledges that each year brings something new.
“It is interesting when you’ve been teaching the same courses for a number of years, and very often it’s the same texts, but it’s always a different conversation with different students in the room and they’re bringing their own experiences to those texts,” Powrie said.
As department head, Powrie is excited to bring new ideas and growth to the department. She also remains dedicated to the student experience and offers some words of advice for any student who may feel lost on their academic journey.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s so many people who have expertise at their fingertips and who have the capacity to help. Your professors, people at student services, your peers… there’s just tons of help. I think sometimes people feel that they’re alone and overwhelmed, but there’s tons of people who feel the same. So just find those resources and don’t be afraid to ask.”
Naomi Zurevinski / Editor-in-Chief
Photo: Caitlin Taylor / Photo Editor