Joan Sakalas, PhD

adjunct faculty, the donald everett axinn division of social sciences

Sometimes, when I use an example of my experience to illustrate a point with students, I realize that they must think I’ve lived several lives. The road from serving as a community librarian in West Stockbridge, MA, to serving as a high school history teacher in Camden, ME, to Educational Director of Waldo County Head Start in Maine to facilitator of abuse and incest survivor groups for women in MCI-Framingham to my work with pregnant, homeless, abused, crack addicts at Bellevue Hospital Center in NYC has taught me lessons that no book and no graduate seminar could have offered. But it doesn’t end there. In the 1990s and early 2000s, I administered an array of social service and educational programs. While working on my Ph.D. as Founder and Executive Director of Mothers Together, Inc., in New York City, I worked collaboratively with my board and staff to develop our vision, our strategic plan, to build an employment training program for women living in poverty. This, too, was a rich learning experience that exposed me to the complexities of urban poverty.. 

When I made the transition to work with women in distress on the boundaries of our society, I saw the same thing. As I worked with women in prison and homeless shelters, with pregnant crack addicts, and survivors of abuse and incest, I learned that no matter where they lived, no matter what they had done, they all had something to offer. Finding that seed of pride and talent, that experiential knowledge and encouraging it to grow was the same task I encounter as a teacher. 

Over my years as an educator, I have seen that meaningful learning begins with the learner’s experience. When we are able to see the relationship of a lesson to our own experience of the world, there is a chance that our learning will become a resource for understanding and an important source of our own creativity.

At SVC, I love that my class will always be filled with students from an array of racial, ethnic and class backgrounds. We have such a rich opportunity to learn to listen to each other as we describe and share our understanding of the world from many points of view. This is an exciting and challenging stage for all of us to learn from each other. Always, my hope is that students will leave a class knowing that they have engaged issues and have added to what they have to offer to any task they confront. That is exciting!


  • PhD, Christian Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY, 1999 
  • MA, Feminist Liberation Theology, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, 1992
  • Curriculum Development, N.E.H. Summer Studies, U.S.S.R., 1984
  • Russian/Soviet History, N.E.H. Summer Studies, Yale University, CT, 1983
  • Social History, N.E.H. Summer Studies, Pittsburgh, PA, 1982
  • MA, Social Studies Education, University of Maine, Orono, ME, 1988 
  • BA, English Literature, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, 1966 

Courses taught

  • U.S. History from 1865 to 1945
  • Race, Ethnicity Class and Gender
  • U.S. History from 1945 to Present
  • Social Problems
  • Family Violence
  • Punishment in America
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Social Ethics

academic Research/interests

Oral History, Development effective programs for batterers

areas of expertise

Russian/Soviet History, U.S. History, Social Policy and Issues and Family Violence Issues.


2008 - Vermont Professionals in Adult Learning Conference, "Communication and Sociology in the Adult Classroom"

Why I teach

It gives me hope for the future.

Favorite Book

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dosteyevsky

Favorite film

Local Hero

Best part of being at SVC

The opportunity to work with students and faculty ready to face challenges.


April 2014 - Wrote a paper on "Open Journal of Political Science" in Scientific Research. Read more.