Six years into teaching in a public school in South Carolina, second year PhD student Laura-Ann Jacobs was looking for a change, but wasn’t sure she was ready to give up teaching for graduate work. After exploring programs at the University of Michigan School of Education on the recommendation of a friend, she found an exciting fit in the Educational Studies Program in Literacy, Language and Culture, where she could continue to explore questions of youth identity in the classroom, and to build a foundation for future teaching, learning and leadership in youth development and education for high school students. As a proactive grad student, Jacobs took some time to peruse the additional Certificates offered through Rackham Graduate School, and found the Certificate in World Performance Studies to be an intriguing option. Laura-Ann participated in improvised and devised theater throughout her undergraduate and previous graduate work, and saw an opportunity to look at identity from a performative framework that could augment her research in Educational Studies

Expecting a room full of anthropologists and social scientists, she was admittedly a little surprised to realize during the first class session that many of her colleagues in this year’s Grad Cohort are in performance programs in music and dance. Ultimately, the opportunity to explore issues in Performance Studies with a diverse mix of researchers and practitioners proved to be one of the greatest assets of the program for her; Jacobs says, “I have had to practice articulating myself across unfamiliar communities, which has helped me find the right words to be very specific about what I mean and what I’m doing.” This holds equally true for explaining Performance Studies to School of Ed peers and explaining education concepts to her cohort in World Performance Studies. She has found many strong connections between the two disciplines, noting that issues addressed in performance theory are in some ways the most relevant to her research, particularly because there is so much research about performance of identity. She has also found a strong parallel in looking at literacy in everyday life and making meaning from symbols, particularly citing the work of Dwight Conquergood. While Jacobs thought the Certificate would just be a “peripheral add on”, it has become deeply intertwined in her work, and the Performance Studies literature makes up a conceptual framework for her research within the School of Ed.

During her summer research, Laura-Ann traveled to Hawaii, where she originally planned to observe how Hawaiian identity, both local and native, is performed by youth. When the arts-based youth program she was hoping to work with did not get their grant funding, she changed course and immersed herself in researching the transmission of local knowledge, histories and traditions. This included taking native knowledge classes, where a community of local women meet weekly to make leis and tell stories. Her in-field experience also led her to work more in autoethnography, stirring comparisons between her experience being adopted by a local Hawaiian family with her experience growing up adopted into a white family.  She emphasized the importance of this experience in helping her to think about her identity in her research-- what she brings, and how we perform as researchers.

Ultimately, Laura-Ann envisions a return to working with teens, doing arts-based programming outside of school, and continuing to work with performance of identity. You can see her Capstone Presentation on Tuesday, November 28 at the School of Education (SOE), Room 2202 (Prechter Lab), at 6pm.