Student Spotlight: Melissa Beard Defends her Dissertation

Student Spotlight: Melissa Beard Defends her Dissertation

Melissa Beard defended her dissertation entitled "Reclaiming My Family’s Story: Cultural Trauma and Indigenous Ways of Knowing." She has worked with Dr. Eric Gary AndersonDr. Debra Lattanzi Shutika, and Dr. Mark Jacobs. Here is a brief interview with Melissa conducted by Severin Mueller in which she reflects on her time at Mason.


How have your research interests changed from the time you began the PhD program to now, and in which direction do you envision your work moving upon graduating?

I entered the CS PhD program with the intent to continue my master’s thesis research on Indigenous Female Filmmakers, but decided to pursue a more personal project after the discovery of a family photograph. It was a photo of my grandmother that no one in my family had ever seen before and we learned that it was taken while she had attended Holy Childhood School of Jesus, which was a Native American boarding school in Michigan. After learning that my grandmother had attended a Native American boarding school, I was curious to explore how her experience had influenced my family’s own sense of identity as Anishinaabe people. Now after graduating, I’m interested in formatting my dissertation into a book. I also hope to create a stand alone course that focuses on Native American boarding school history. 

What kinds of professional development did you pursue while a student and which do you think will best position you to get the job you want: publishing, presenting, teaching, service in the department, engagement in non-university service projects, acquiring particular research skills?

While I was a CS student, I worked as a graduate assistant in the Office of International Programs and Services. After I finished coursework, I obtained a position as an Intercultural Specialist for Native American Student Services at The Ohio State University, which is were I currently work. I would love to continue my work supporting Native students while also expanding my opportunities to teach Native studies courses at the university. I have pursued a number of professional development opportunities while finishing my degree which have included numerous conference presentations at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, the Native American Literature Symposium, the American Historical Association and the American Society for Ethnohistory. I also served as the first Indigenous Special Adviser for the Convention Planning Team from 2016-2018. 

What is one of your best memories from your time in the PhD program in Cultural Studies?

One of my best memories from my time in the CS PhD program was participating in the Field School for Cultural Documentation with Dr. Shutika. It was such a fun experience and I gained a number of skills that were beneficial to completing the fieldwork and interviews for my dissertation.