He came to Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences for an education; he left with a Ph.D., lifelong friends, and the love of his life. And today, Michael Dwyer G’10, assistant professor of media and communication at Arcadia University is celebrating another significant milestone: the publication of his first book.
Dwyer, who earned a Ph.D. in English, is the author of Back to the Fifties: Nostalgia, Hollywood Film and Popular Music of the Seventies and Eighties (Oxford University Press, 2015), a book he says was conceptualized while a graduate student in Syracuse’s Department of English.
The A&S News Team caught up with Michael recently and asked him to reflect on his experience at Syracuse University, five years after graduating.
How did Syracuse University help you get to where you are today?
It was enormously influential. I applied to Syracuse’s Department of English because of its history of integrating critical theory, cultural studies, and a wide variety of texts, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with that. But what I didn’t know when I began the program was how much I’d be inspired by my fellow graduate students, challenged and supported by the faculty (particularly my advisor, Professor Emeritus Steven Cohan), and delighted by the undergraduate students I’d encounter in the classroom. As a scholar, as a teacher, as a person—I’m better because of my time at Syracuse.
How did the College of Arts and Science positively impact your life’s trajectory?
There are so many ways to answer that question. I met my wife at Syracuse, and had the pleasure of making many dear friends in departments across the College (English, Religion, Philosophy, Linguistics, Geography, Geology, and more). Beyond that, I got the chance in graduate school to get real training in what the life of an academic actually entails. I didn’t just sit in a library cubby and write for five years. I taught classes of my own design, I sat on committees, I worked in my department to update curricula, I worked with administrators to fund a lecture series, and got insights into hiring and admissions. I think all of that gave me a better sense of how a university works, and it made me a much better candidate when I went out on the job market.
What role do you think a liberal arts education plays in achieving career success?
Do you remember the movie, The Karate Kid? Daniel LaRusso moves to a new town, gets bullied, and decides he needs to learn to fight. But when he shows up to karate lessons with Mr. Miyagi, all he’s doing is working around Mr. Miyagi’s house. He’s washing cars, sanding the deck, painting a fence, etc. And he gets fed up and says “Hey, what’s the deal, I’m supposed to be learning karate and I’m doing all these stupid chores!”
It turns out that the form and technique that he’s developed doing chores that he thinks are useless have actually laid a foundation for him to develop his skills further. And on top of all that—he didn’t learn karate because he wanted to join the professional karate circuit--the benefit of learning karate was helping him learn patience, discipline, confidence - all things that he can apply to the rest of his life, for the rest of his life.
I think a liberal arts education is similar to that. You do a lot of exercises that feel disconnected from “the real world,” but actually are sharpening skills that can be applied across contexts (whether that’s professional, personal, spiritual, or what have you). And the process of developing those skills has profound influence on your own development, in all kinds of areas.
So—and perhaps this is predictable, given that I am now a professor at a liberal arts university—I think liberal arts institutions sell themselves short when they frame their value only in terms of “career success.”
Outside of academics, what was your favorite way to spend free time on campus?
Building a intramural soccer minidynasty with Red Star Syracuse, riding my bike home after late nights at the library, conversations with colleagues in grad student offices, starting a lecture series with some friends and watching it succeed. Also: if they ever build an Inn Complete Trivia Night Hall of Fame, I’m a lock for a first-ballot induction!