Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Erin Cassar

Name: Erin Cassar
Age: 30
Occupation: Doctoral student
Education (UR and additional): B.A. in English, University of Rochester, 2003; MA, Teachers College, Columbia University
Current city/state of residence: Philadelphia, PA
Family: Husband – Daniel, son – Benjamin (9 months)
Community activities: church, farmer’s market


When I was a student at UR, I was a resident assistant, which took up much of my time, and I was involved with the Protestant chapel. One year I was also involved with Amnesty International, which was working on a campaign against sweatshops at the time. This really opened my eyes to issues around globalization, poverty, the consumer economy, and human rights — all issues that I am still thinking about now. I graduated with a degree in English, and completed a Take Five in women and religion. I went on to earn a master’s in education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and began teaching in the New York City public schools as an English teacher, in Manhattan at an all-girls school, and then in the South Bronx.

After I got married, my husband and I saved up, quit our jobs, and took a “gap year.” We backpacked around Asia, Australia/New Zealand, India, and Egypt. We also taught in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal for a month. When we returned to the US, we resettled in the Philadelphia area near my in-laws, and I entered a doctoral program in Urban Education at Temple University. I also taught English 101 at a community college for a few semesters.

UR definitely prepared me to do research, especially the honors English program. My involvement with Amnesty and a religion course I took with Curt Cadorette awakened a passion for social justice. I am still wrestling with the intersection between education (particularly in cities) and “globalization” (a term that means many different things) in my doctoral studies. I was not as prepared to teach in an inner city, but the disconnect between the academy and the “real” world is perhaps what has led me to where I am now. Balancing parenthood with doctoral studies is definitely challenging, but I get a lot of support from my husband and family. I’m home with my nine-month old most of the day, and attend school part time — not much time left for anything else these days!