American Studies - Student Spotlight

Name:  Ben Gott '13
Graduate Degree in: American Studies
Career: Sixth-grade English teacher and Middle School Grade Dean at Greens Farms Academy, an independent K-12 school in Westport, Conn. 

Why did you choose to attend a graduate program at Fairfield University?
I chose Fairfield University because its program met my needs. I needed a program that would fit my schedule, offering courses in the evenings and during the summer months.  I needed a program that was close by; our school day ends at 4:00, and I did not relish a long commute in rush-hour traffic.  I needed a program that would challenge me intellectually while at the same time providing small class sizes, close-knit relationships with professors, and interactions with a diverse array of students from many different backgrounds.  Most importantly, however, I needed a graduate program that would allow me to implement what I was learning as a graduate student into my own curriculum at GFA.  I was not interested in spending my time learning pedagogy and discussing abstract concepts; I had done enough of that as an undergraduate.  Rather, I wanted the chance to explore concepts that would enhance both my own educational experience and that of my students. I would recommend Fairfield University’s American Studies degree to any teacher who is looking for a flexible, supportive program that will take your teaching to a different level. 

What were the best academic aspects of the program?
As a candidate for a Masters of Arts degree in American Studies, I have taken an incredible array of classes including "American Historiography;" "Women in Work, Women in Sport;" "The Frontier in American Culture;" "Crises and Turning Points in Foreign Relations;" "Politics in Film;" and "Arts and Entertainment in America: 1950 to the Present."  I have written papers about the celebration of Columbus Day, the impact of the synthesizer on rock and roll, biases in American history textbooks, and gendered assumptions about cheerleading. I presented a paper I wrote on the cultural impact of the Beach Boys at Fairfield’s first annual American Studies conference in the spring of 2013, and a paper that I wrote for Dr. Peter Bayers on the all-black “singing Westerns” of Herb Jeffries was chosen for inclusion at the Western Literature Association’s 2013 conference, held in Berkeley, California. My experience at Fairfield University has enriched my life as a teacher and as an American citizen, allowing me to look more deeply at the ways in which our nation has come to be defined by its arts, culture, politics, and people.

What attributes regarding the faculty did you find particularly helpful/encouraging?
I have had an incredible experience with the Fairfield faculty. All of my professors have been supportive and encouraging, but Dr. Peter Bayers, Dr. Marti LoMonaco (my thesis advisor), and Dr. David McFadden have been especially influential. They have pushed me to think more critically, to write more clearly, and to approach a variety of topics from a broad, multi-dimensional perspective.

What were some of the challenges in going back to school as an adult student?  
The university made an incredible effort to accommodate those of us with full-time jobs, families, and other outside commitments. Every professor I have had, from my first class to my last, has been understanding when I have had to miss a class for an Open House here at GFA or for parent/teacher conferences. As a teacher, I was also pleasantly surprised at the willingness of the faculty in American Studies to allow teachers the flexibility to complete final projects that could be transferred directly into their classrooms. At the end of a class on American historiography, for example, Dr. McFadden allowed me to write a 15-page “unit plan” about a book I was due to teach on the Civil Rights movement that spring. I found this exercise invaluable, and the ability to approach this assignment in such a way benefited both me and my students.

Describe the ways that the university’s Jesuit mission and identity had a positive influence in your academic and personal experience while at Fairfield?
I was honored this fall to be induced into Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit Honor Society who describes its mission as encouraging “a lifetime pursuit of intellectual development…[and] deepening Ignatian spirituality, service to others, and a commitment to the core principles of Jesuit education.” The Jesuit mission of the university has a far-reaching impact on the way in which its students and faculty interact with both local and global communities; this commitment to the well-being of others is clearly reflected in the ways in which the university encourages students to think of the needs of others.