Susana Sosa’s journey to finding her passion

Story By: Carissa Garcia

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With hundreds of students transferring from Fresno City College to four-year colleges each year, advice is important. Yet, few students look to those who are with them on a daily basis and share their same struggles: professors.

Susana Sosa, an Art History professor at FCC, is full of information, not just in the subject she teaches, but also on college life in general. After all, she has walked the college path and stuck with it longer than most to achieve her degrees.

“I had very positive experiences and really positive role models, which made all the difference in college,” said Sosa. She spoke freely of her college life, playfully leaning over the back of a chair, engulfed by a desk, her studious glasses framing her face and a wispy blue scarf tied gently around her neck.

Sosa received her Bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fresno in both English and History, with Honors. She received her Master’s from Stanford University where she is currently a doctoral student working on her dissertation.

Although her achievements tell one story, Sosa shared another, revealing that college life had its share of bumps in the road. Her most significant supporters were undeniably her parents.

“I was lucky because my parents were really supportive. I got to live at home, and that was really helpful. At the time, Fresno State was really affordable. I never owned a car and I worked part-time,” Sosa said.

School was important. Her father is a Sociologist, with degrees from Florida State and UC Berkeley, and her mother was a nurse. A Bachelor’s degree wasn’t going to be the end of the road. The ante was up, way up.

“My parents not only encouraged, but basically expected for me to go to graduate school,” she exclaimed. But even with all the preparations and support, Sosa still had “a moment of crisis.”

“My first attempt at graduate school was in Latin American History because I was a history major. I went to UCSD for a year. It was there that I found myself not quite enamored with my subject matter.”

It is not unusual for students at FCC to feel a similar plight. “Students change their major fairly often,” said Carolyn Watson, a counselor at FCC. “It’s important that they know their career path before going further with their education, otherwise they’re wasting money.”

For Sosa, it wasn’t a waste of money. She knew the moment would come. It took one more attempt before she saw the light at the end of the tunnel, in a career path that came as a surprise.

“I came back to Fresno State and decided, I want to be a Journalism major. So I started taking all of these Journalism classes. I found them really interesting but found out I’m a slow writer, and I didn’t do well under pressure.”

The defining moment came during a semester in London as an undergraduate attending CSU Fresno. “The semester I spent studying in London as an undergraduate introduced me to art on a global scale and propelled me towards my present career.” When she returned, one Art History class turned into several. “I realized after my second semester back, that hmm, I’m taking more Art History classes than Journalism classes,” Sosa confessed.

Again, her parents were supportive. “Whenever I wanted to try something new, they didn’t judge, really, both of them. My father would always tell us, ‘Follow your bliss.’ I feel incredibly lucky,” she said, then paused for a moment, reflecting.

Sosa was one of a select few given a Fellowship to complete graduate studies at Stanford University. She described life at Stanford as a time of focused study. “Every night you’re in the library; all the time you’re reading. That’s your job, your job is to be in graduate school,” she said.

All of her years of studying paid off when she returned to Fresno to teach at Fresno State for one year. But that year grew when she was offered a summer position at Fresno City College. As luck would have it, before the new semester began, the previous Art History professor left, and Sosa filled the shoes.

“Every semester what I like about teaching here at Fresno City College is if I were teaching at a four year college, I would be specializing in my field, but here, since I do everything from cave painting to contemporary art; every semester I find that I have a new favorite era or subject,” she said, her eyes twinkling in delight.

Teaching at FCC has afforded her many luxuries, among them travel, one of her many passions in life. “We have the summer months free, and I’m just incredibly lucky to be able to travel and do these trips with students.”

She spent last summer in Florence with a group of 21 students from FCC and CSU Fresno. “We spent a month living in Florence, breathing the air of the Renaissance, just seeing art up close,” she said, true to the eyes of an Art Historian. This summer, she’s going to Egypt and is currently recruiting students for a summer 2010 semester in Florence. Summers abroad, however, do not mean slacking time. She is still working on her Doctoral dissertation discussing the visual culture of early French cinema, which required living in Paris for five months strictly for research. “She comes into class sometimes saying she hasn’t slept a wink. I don’t know how she does it,” said Jacquline Runyon, one of Sosa’s current students.

“I really believe it is important to be involved in the community, and so sometimes, honestly, I tend to over commit myself,” Sosa said. “Now, I’m going to really try to focus more on my own research and just the basics of being in the classroom. It’s always tricky to balance things.”

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