Daniel Sarefield

Winner of the 2023 Contributions to the Graduate Program Award
Portrait of Professor Daniel Sarefield

Graduate students are excited about history and self-motivated in a way that makes them a pleasure to work with.

Professor Daniel Sarefield teaching in Percival Hall

Professor Daniel Sarefield of the Economics, History and Political Science Department has been teaching graduate students since arriving at Fitchburg State for the 2007-08 academic year.

That first course, a Roman history class called “The Age of the Caesars,” was the start of a long and fruitful connection with the university’s graduate history program. During his tenure, Sarefield has taught more than 17 sections of 11 different courses since 2008, covering topics including ancient and medieval history and the Latin language.

“Working with the graduate students is really gratifying,” he said. “They’re excited about history and self-motivated in a way that makes them a pleasure to work with. They bring a lot to the table and ask questions, and they also have answers that are unexpected.”

Sarefield said graduate students bring a different focus to their work from their undergraduate counterparts, which requires faculty members to raise their own games.

“They’re more willing to question what we’re saying to them,” he said. “It enables us to do those things that were exciting when we were graduate students ourselves.”

Beyond teaching sections of graduate courses, Sarefield has overseen the transformation of the graduate history offerings during his service as program chair. When he was elected chair, he recalled, the program was in a cycle of declining enrollments. 

He devised an action plan to turn the program around, ultimately spearheading its relaunch as an entirely online course of study. Sarefield has also played a key role in marketing the revised program, participating at in-person and virtual open houses and information sessions, and writing blog posts to help spread the word to prospective students.

“We get to cast a much wider net because of it,” Sarefield said of the online modality, with students this year studying from as far as Louisiana, Michigan and California. “We’ve found a recipe that allows us to be successful as students’ needs change.”

That recipe includes continually rethinking his own approach, Sarefield continued.

“It’s being an administrator on top of being a teacher,” he said. “It’s forced me to develop new skills, and that’s part of what’s been exciting for me.”

While the modalities of his courses have been varied, what has been constant is the favorable evaluations from his students, who cite his intellectually stimulating courses and effective teaching practices. As a mentor and advisor, Sarefield has served on numerous thesis committees, and worked to foster a sense of community between students and faculty members.

“Professor Sarefield forever changed the way I examine history and the means by which I confront complex issues,” said State Rep. Michael Kushmerek ‘08, ‘13, who studied history with Sarefield as both an undergraduate and graduate student. “Whether through exploring trends of book burning through the millennia or delving into Eastern Eurasian nomadic steppe peoples’ westward migrations, Professor Sarefield often engaged his students over his own historical curiosities. In turn, it encouraged his students to want to know more and to explore the under or untold history beyond the same tired lens through which history is normally taught.”