Alumna Michelle Samura (Ph.D., Education, ’10) is the Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Santiago Canyon College. She previously served as an Associate Dean and Associate Professor at Chapman University.
GGSE: I understand that your mother was a teacher. In what ways did she inspire you to become an educator?
Michelle Samura: My mom fostered a sense of curiosity and creativity in me. She would encourage me to think and do things differently and consider multiple perspectives. My mom and dad also exposed me to a broad range of fields and experiences throughout my childhood. This included dance, art, music, and language classes, service opportunities, all types of sports, science camps, and book clubs. Even as a little kid, my dad would take me to concerts at the Music Center and Ambassador Auditorium. In this way, they supported my inquisitiveness and love for learning. These experiences inspired me to become an educator.
GGSE: After receiving your teaching credential from Cal Poly Pomona, what motivated you to earn your master’s and doctorate from UCSB?
Samura: After receiving my teaching credential from Cal Poly Pomona, I taught history, government, and economics at a public high school. As a high school teacher, I experienced many things about education and schooling, especially about inequities and injustices. I had more questions than answers and decided to return to school to understand the issues better. I applied to graduate programs with the hope that I could conduct research to make positive changes. To search for solutions for ways to do things differently. To do things better.
GGSE: In what ways did your time at UCSB prepare you for your career?
Samura: Similar to my childhood when I wasn’t limited by disciplinary boundaries as I hopped from a summer science session to my jazz dance lesson offered at our local parks and recreation, my time at UCSB provided opportunities to take classes across campus. Of course, I had my core curriculum in the Gevirtz School of Education, but I also took classes in sociology, philosophy, religious studies, and ethnic studies. This multidisciplinary training prepared me well for my career as an interdisciplinary scholar studying the relationship between space and belonging using theories and approaches from design, architecture, geography, sociology, and education. My multidisciplinary training at UCSB also prepared me well for my current position as dean of arts, humanities, and social sciences.
In addition to the coursework and research opportunities, I also relished opportunities to hone my organizing, leadership, teaching, and networking skills. Working closely with sociologist Howard Winant, I organized and participated in campus and UC-wide symposia, public lectures, and events. And for my entire graduate school experience, the Department of Asian American Studies offered space for me to develop and refine my higher education teaching. I even created a new course for the department on Asian Americans in education. I have drawn upon, and continue to draw upon, all of these experiences in the various iterations of my career.
GGSE: Are there any mentors or colleagues from your time at UCSB that have helped you grow as an educator?
Samura: UCSB has awesome faculty. Truly. I’m especially grateful for the mentorship and friendship of Jason Duque, Diane Fujino, Hsiu-Zu Ho, Jin Sook Lee, George Lipsitz, Patricia Marin, John Park, Celine Parrenas-Shimizu, Howie Winant, John Yun, and Xiaojian Zhao. Dane Venaas, UCSB ceramics instructor, provided me precious access to the West Campus pottery studio, which was essential for my well-being. And my colleague, co-author, and dear friend, Brooke Neely, was and continues to be a key source of support as we both navigate our careers as educators. When we had difficulty finding articles on the connections between race and space early on in grad school, we decided to write the conceptual piece we wished existed. It’s this type of collaboration and if-it-doesn’t-exist-we’ll-create-it approach that I have with Brooke that I would wish for any grad student.
GGSE: What was the biggest takeaway from your training at UCSB?
Samura: There are two big takeaways from my training at UCSB. First, I was reminded that content and knowledge are important, but just as important are the skills and insights gained through the process. This includes learning how to engage in thoughtful inquiry, clearly translate insights for different audiences, and communicate and collaborate with people with very different views than me. And second, I emerged from UCSB realizing that I still have so much to learn. The learning will go on for my lifetime.
GGSE: As an educator, what are your primary research interests?
Samura: My primary research interest is the relationship among space, belonging, and community. I’m principal investigator of the Architecture of Belonging project. My current research integrates insights from design and architecture to identify key design principles and elements of built environments that promote belonging in educational, workplace, healthcare, hospitality, and community settings. I recently wrote the article “3 Ways to make ‘belonging more than a buzzword in Higher Ed” summarizing some of my research and articulating my current thinking on belonging.
GGSE: What’s your favorite part about being the Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Santiago Canyon College?
Samura: From my perspective, community colleges are well-positioned to be highly responsive to our communities and serve as an important bridge for individuals in transition – transitions from high school to college, transitions into a job, transitions into a new phase of one’s career, and even transitions to post-career. So, one of my favorite parts of being a dean at Santiago Canyon College is the opportunity to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team to support students wherever they are in their educational journey. I also love connecting our college with industry, community organizations, philanthropists, and local neighbors in an effort to be the community’s college.
Another favorite part of my current position is the opportunity to connect research with practice. When I was faculty, I sought to bring about positive change through research, teaching, and community partnerships. Now, as an administrator, I am developing structures and processes that further increase awareness, access, and opportunity for all students, particularly those typically underserved and overlooked by educational institutions. I’m putting the theory in which I’ve been so immersed as a researcher into conversation with practice. And I’m trying to make sense of and bridge the disconnects.
GGSE: What excites you most about the future of education?
Samura: What excites me the most about the future of education is the opportunity to do education better. There’s the possibility for change. For greater inclusion.
GGSE: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Samura: I just published a children’s book entitled Tumtum’s Yellow Surf Helmet!