Focus on Sabbatical: Susan Leist
Susan Leist is living proof that the concept of an office as a stationary place is over. She brought her work on the road last fall during a cross-country trip and, surprisingly, felt incredibly productive.
Leist, a professor of English, embarked on the second sabbatical in her teaching career during fall 2008. With the help of a reliable RV and her husband’s ability to spend nights on military bases, Leist made her way from Buffalo to Beverly Hills to spend time with her children. Along the way, she visited the Grand Canyon, swam with porpoises in San Diego, and later boarded an Alaskan cruise from Seattle.
But Leist set a daily routine and found herself even more immersed in her work than in her surroundings. Equipped with a Blackberry and a computer desk with broadband access in the RV, she was determined to accomplish two major projects during her time away from campus.
Before leaving, Leist developed and distributed a survey for college writing programs within the SUNY and CUNY systems. She then traveled to various schools across the state to investigate each program’s successes and challenges, and later published the results from 15 schools for last year’s SUNY Council on Writing (SUNYCOW) Conference. Leist found that the programs universally reported challenges with delivering ESL services to the right students, making full use of a portfolio system for students, and keeping class sizes small.
Leist’s other major project had been started 20 years ago. Taking recent advice from her colleague Paul Theobald, interim dean of the Graduate School and Woods-Beals Endowed Chair of CEURE, Leist revised her dissertation on one-room schools in Virginia for publication. The work during the sabbatical paid off: the University Press of America will publish the work in April.
“I had been fascinated with studying different types of education and wondered how the experiences in one-room schools could inform modern education,” she said. “One-room schools fostered independent scholarship. There was no ‘failure,’ and no division of time periods during the day. Teachers had to instruct children of different ages, and the classroom focused more on speaking and listening.”
Looking back, Leist said the sabbatical not only added to Buffalo State’s body of knowledge about education but also helped her greatly improve her own technology skills. “We’re becoming an ‘office-less’ society,” she said. “This sabbatical was a completely new and meaningful experience of taking the workplace on the road.”
Read previous Focus on Sabbatical stories:
Michael De Marco
Musa Abdul Hakim
M. Stephen Pendleton