In this second installment of AMS : ATX’s 2016 “5 Questions with First-Years” series, doctoral student Gaila Sims answers five variations on the same confounding, existential question: why are you doing this?
Sims, a graduate of Oberlin College who has worked as an educator in Austin for the past five years, discusses her time working at Austin’s George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, her academic and professional goals, and her interests in African American history, black feminism, museums, and California, among other subjects.
What is your background, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?
I went to Oberlin College for Undergraduate, where I studied History and African American Studies. After graduating, I moved to Austin, where I did an AmeriCorps program for two years, tutoring kids in low-income elementary schools. For the last three years, I worked at the Carver Museum, the black history museum and cultural center here in Austin, on the education staff.
Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work?
I have loved living in Austin for the last five years, and so I wanted to see if UT might be the best place for my graduate work. I visited the campus and the American Studies Department and was really impressed by the students and faculty I met.
What projects or people have inspired your work?
I am currently obsessed with Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. He has had such an amazing career and since I would love to continue working at black history museums during and after graduate school, I definitely look to him as inspiration.
What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?
I am interested in mixed race identity, black feminism, and African American history, specifically in California. I would like to learn more about Afro-pessimism, black women’s contributions to community building during slavery, and black women’s conceptions of enslavement in contemporary fiction.
What are your goals for graduate school? What do you see yourself doing after you graduate?
I just want to learn a lot and figure out how I can contribute to American Studies and discussions of African American history. I would like to continue working in museums in the Austin area, and gain experience in a variety of spaces dedicated to American and African American history and culture.
We asked Gaila to define the field of American Studies. Quite wisely, she decided to ignore that question. Stay tuned for the next installment of “5 Questions with First-Years,” coming at you in the coming weeks!