Dr. Susan Corbesero, History Department Chair

As History Department Chair and Global Initiatives Coordinator, Susan Corbesero, Ph.D. is committed to cultivating global competency and awareness in her students as they navigate today’s increasingly interconnected world. Through a wide range of digital and innovative pedagogies, such as digital storytelling, gamification, and history crowdsourcing, Dr. Corbesero teaches students to value, respect, and empathize with the diverse perspectives of people and communities across the globe. A researcher, historian, and self-proclaimed digital humanist, Dr. Corbesero developed Ellis’ International Exchange Program and leads and facilitates the annual Marcie WATERMAN Love ’56 International Travel Grant for the Global Empowerment of Women and Girls. A fierce advocate for her students and girls across the globe, Dr. Corbesero is shaping and inspiring the next generation of changemakers at Ellis.
Years at Ellis:10
Title:History Department Chair, Global Initiatives Coordinator
Education:B.A. International Affairs, Penn State University; M.A. Russian Language, Middlebury College; Ph.D. Soviet and European History, University of Pittsburgh

Tell me about how you became a teacher at Ellis.
While I was completing my Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, I taught upper-level undergraduate courses on dictators, politics, film, and art. After I completed my Ph.D., I was a student advisor and a professor there when Patrick Dowd (Former Ellis History Department Chair) reached out to me about a position available at Ellis. He called me and said I had to come to Ellis because the students are even more engaged and curious than the freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. So I interviewed for the position and here I am ten years later!

In addition to teaching history classes, you are the Global Initiatives Coordinator. Why do you think it’s important for students to be global citizens?
I believe that global education is an absolutely critical part of education in today’s world. Students have to develop global competencies—they’re in an interconnected world and they must learn about multicultural perspectives in order to get outside of themselves and build empathy. As Global Initiatives Coordinator, my goal is for Ellis students to get out into the world and for the world to come to Ellis students. Whether that’s through international exchanges, the Marcie WATERMAN Love ’56 International Travel Grant for the Global Empowerment of Women and Girls, or projects like Operation War Diary, I work with my colleagues to develop these initiatives so the girls can identify as global citizens.

What have you learned about female leadership from your time at Ellis?
I didn't come from an all-girls environment, so when I started at Ellis, I was curious to see how it would actually play out. I have found that Ellis does an amazing job activating the voices of all of our students. I see it in the classroom and I see it when we leave the classroom—Ellis girls are fearless and fiercely independent. They’re not constrained, they’re confident. They don’t have doubts that stop them in the tracks, they’re constantly moving forward. It is really unbelievable to watch. Every one of my students in some way or another will be a changemaker when they leave. They embrace change and they are forces to be reckoned with. That’s what leadership means to me at Ellis.

You’re also focused on the empowerment and advancement of girls. Tell me about how this fuels your classes, projects, and lectures at Ellis?
In World History in ninth grade, the very first thing I show students is a wonderful talk by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who talks about the danger of only knowing one side of a story, and how that disempowers people. I’m a social historian because I want to tell everyone’s story and weave women’s history into everything I do. History has very much been a male-driven endeavor, and at Ellis, I’ve made it a priority to teach students the stories of women as well. I also teach Gender and Power, which focuses on the empowerment of women through definitions of masculinity and femininity through a historical perspective. We look at how women like Queen Elizabeth I of England came into and used power, and we use many different sources to understand the relationship between gender and power over time.

What do you love most about your job?
Igniting students’ curiosity and hopefully inspiring a real appreciation for history, from the past into the present.

How do you spend your free time?
I have been a board member at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) for a couple of years now. I really believe in their message to advocate, educate, and end sexual violence. Given my work in gender history and women’s rights, this is a way I can help and empower women outside of the classroom. I also have a 14-year-old son named Spencer who keeps me busy—he’s currently teaching me all about the NBA. In the summers, I head to my beach cottage in Rhode Island, which is where I’m originally from. It’s so wonderful to head up there and relax. The coast is in my blood, I have to hear the sound of the ocean!  

What woman inspires you and why?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I use her work in my class because she talks a lot about the marginalization of people. She’s also a global feminist. Also, Linda Sarsour who has been integral in the Women’s March movement, which I was proud to be a part of. These women inspire me to take it beyond the walls of the classroom and put my money where my mouth is.

If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Queen Elizabeth I of England or Catherine the Great, but this is a really hard question for a historian! I’d choose them because they were women who built empires and were incredibly powerful at a time when women were not considered worthy of the throne. I’d love to engage with them and hear about their rise, it would be very interesting.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Intrepid. Curious. Mischievous.

What is the last book you read?
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

You were in this year’s musical faculty number, were you musically-inclined when you were in high school?
I was in a lot of plays in high school and even took a few acting classes at Penn State. I’ve done quite a few acting workshops and have always enjoyed theater, but I’m much more of a dramatic actor!