Carnegie Mellon University
April 06, 2016

MA in Rhetoric Alumna Impacts Communities Through Arts Initiatives

Sarah RubinSarah Rubin

Sarah York Rubin (DC'07) has major plans for the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission. As the organization's new executive director, she hopes to work with other members of the commission to make art increasingly accessible to diverse residents across Santa Barbara County.

Even while she was studying in Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Arts in Rhetoric program, Rubin demonstrated leadership potential—one of the characteristics that helped her earn a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in 2007. Rubin studied in Hong Kong for her fellowship, focusing her research on the role of the city’s public radio network in establishing a deliberative democracy that encourages citizen participation in civic affairs.

In the English Department, she explored her interests in public radio and disaster relief—specifically, the communications surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Rubin's graduate thesis analyzes the former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's speeches while drawing upon her personal experiences volunteering during the aftermath of the natural disaster. She also examined the large amount of Pittsburgh churches that had been converted to businesses and even bars, and what allowed people to communicate that change.

“Rhetoric enabled me to apply language to real time, real life situations, to be engaged in my surroundings while at the same time having that strong academic discourse,” said Rubin. “It was a fantastic outlet for me to continue in academia and be present in my community.”

As someone who is an intellectual, yet immerses herself in the arts—she founded the Washington D.C. Indie Music Festival and used to be a voice artist for MTV and Comedy Central cartoons—Carnegie Mellon’s rhetoric program was a perfect fit.

What initially drew her to the program were the friendly and accessible professors whose work often crosses disciplines.

“They were candid, welcoming and real,” she said. “They treated me with a great deal of respect. The thing that really struck me though was how they were engaged with the Pittsburgh community, with each other and cross-departmentally.”

She saw English Professor Linda Flower applying well-grounded applications of rhetoric to the Carnegie Mellon Community Think Tank, Chris Neuwirth working in both the English Department and Human-Computer Interaction Institute and Suguru Ishizaki’s research at the intersection of communication and design.

Rubin said classes, such as ‘Contemporary Rhetorical Theory’ with Andreea Deciu Ritivoi, professor and head of the English Department, and ‘Theories of Language’ with Paul Hopper, the Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Humanities, taught her how to synthesize information into constructive ideas, which is something she said she does on a daily basis.

“Andreea Ritivoi and Paul Hopper did such an excellent job of grounding what seemed to be this high-level analytical work into real conversations about values and applications in my classes with them,” she said. “I am a more capable human on the planet because of the conversations we had in those classes and the ways they taught us to deconstruct the information we receive and make working models moving forward.”

Hopper remembers classes that Rubin was in as having an “unmistakable buzz.”

“Rubin had a sparkling personality combined with faultless insight who thought things through at several levels,” he said. “Her new position in Santa Barbara is a major coup for the English Department and for CMU.”

Rubin is still a familiar face around the English department and keeps in touch with former professors, such as Ritivoi, because of the close relationships she developed with them while studying in Carnegie Mellon’s rhetoric program.

“Sarah was one of the most creative students I've worked with at Carnegie Mellon. This became clear to me very early in her MA study,” said Ritivoi.

Ritivoi recalls Rubin asking her for a recommendation letter for her Fulbright application.

“She was concerned I wouldn't feel comfortable writing it because it was early on her stay at CMU,” said Ritivoi. “I told her I had seen enough already to support her application. She quickly made a deep and lasting impression on me, as I know she makes on others.”

Before Rubin’s move to California, she served as the executive director of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy for eight years. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and earned her bachelor of arts in creative writing and English from the University of Michigan. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Rubin went on to earn an executive certificate in nonprofit management from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.

Learn more about the Master of Arts in Rhetoric program.

Related Links:

Carnegie Mellon Student, Alumnus Receive Fulbright Scholarships to Hong Kong, India

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By Amanda King

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