“I was a non-traditional student,” Dr. Sara Sutler-Cohen says, describing the road that led to her current role as Program Chair of the Behavioral Sciences and Sociology Department at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC). Though Dr. Sutler-Cohen’s path was neither an easy nor a typical one, it is what shaped her into the person she is today, and the asset she is to the university.

It is no surprise that Dr. Sutler-Cohen’s calling in life is a career that supports and shapes the lives of other people. Sitting down with her even for a brief conversation, she exudes a sense of camaraderie and warmth. In spite of choosing to leave high school for the route less taken, Dr. Sutler-Cohen was confident she wanted to go to college.

“I knew it from a young age,” she says. Though neither of her parents earned a degree, she went on to attend community college.

During her second year, Dr. Sutler-Cohen became pregnant. She gave birth to her child Devin, who became the most important thing in the world to her. Even more so, she was unflagging in her determination for a college diploma. She went right back and earned her degree in English and writing, passions Dr. Sutler-Cohen still holds on to today. In so doing, she became the first in her immediate family to graduate from college.

She went to Mills College, a private women’s college. This too, for her, was not the traditional learning experience.

“It was interesting being one of the few parents on campus. At the time, I didn’t think of myself as ‘older,’ but I bonded with a group of friends that I’m still close with today.”

Intending to further her existing course of study as an English and creative writing major, Dr. Sutler-Cohen was in line for admissions when she noticed a sociology class. “I was standing there flipping through the course catalog and it was all dudes. I wasn’t interested in Chaucer or Saul Bellow. I scratched everything out because, you know, it was the 90s and we used pen,” she said, laughing.

She went on to complete her master’s degree in Applied Sociology from Humboldt University. From there, she earned her doctorate from the University of California Santa Cruz. Through it all, her child remained a major driving factor in her decision to pursue a career in academia. The rest is history.

Dr. Sara Sutler-Cohen picture collage

The Reason for it All

Devin, now 29, is what Dr. Sutler-Cohen considers to be her greatest accomplishment. “The reason I’m sitting here is because of my kid,” she says. “That’s the only thing I’ve ever done that matters.”

Students and colleagues alike might beg to differ on that detail. She still holds on to her core as a non-traditional learner in her teaching style.

“We teach how we learn. I can recognize when a student’s struggles are rooted in a lack of preparation, which is often, itself, rooted in trauma. As a result, I get a lot of non-traditional students. They just kind of know that I’m somebody that didn’t arrive in this space the traditional way.”

Her job also involves an immense amount of work supporting the staff of the sociology department. She loves to learn from and help others and enjoys the professional comradery. “Of all the places I’ve taught, UAGC is the most collaborative institution I’ve ever worked for and I really love that.” While higher education can often involve working in a silo — and Dr. Sutler-Cohen admits to enjoying that — she has found a lot of joy in getting to work with people who are truly invested in the students and serve them well.

Making a Difference

She still has huge goals for the department yet to be realized. Teaching is an extremely challenging profession, she says, and many educators say they feel under-appreciated both monetarily and emotionally. Dr. Sutler-Cohen aims to ensure this is not the case at UAGC.

“I want to see UAGC walk the talk,” she says of the work she’s doing.

One way she’s done this already is by creating a Canvas class full of resources designed to lighten the workload for educators. The course provides content for many of the sociology classes, including announcements, discussion prompts, and grading feedback other professors can use to instruct. Dr. Sutler-Cohen understands how much work faculty have on their plate, and she says she truly sees them.

This is only a small part of what she aims to do, though. You have to “go become a piece of the power and then start to make changes,” she said of her position. She wants to serve her students with the best faculty and the path to doing this is, quite simply, appreciating and supporting them.  

“That’s all we can really hope to do,” Dr. Sutler-Cohen says of her work, “make a difference in a small way.”

Beyond the Desk

While Dr. Sutler-Cohen’s accomplishments as a mother and a professor are extremely important to her, they are only a piece of the picture. She is still a passionate writer and is working on a dystopian science-fiction novel. She has also published poetry and numerous short stories, including being published in Black- and woman-owned “Memoir Magazine.”

Pop culture is a love of hers as well. “I have a passion for heavy metal and punk rock and do a podcast every Friday.” Most surprising of all, she formerly was a birth doula and today is training to be a death doula. Though she claims to be hard-pressed when asked to come up with 10 fun facts to get to know her a little bit better, or perhaps give one a reason to sit down and have a conversation with her, Dr. Sutler-Cohen shared these about herself:

  1. Her dad was in the 60s rock band Country Joe & The Fish.
  2. She has 25 tattoos.
  3. She won a Halloween costume contest dressed as Lydia and her husband was Beetlejuice.
  4. She played banked track roller derby in Seattle, and her handle was Bomb Scott #R.I.P. 219.
  5. She has been a heavy metal deejay for almost five years.
  6. She sings and dreams of starting a doom country band but her dad wants her to sing the blues.
  7. She performed two songs at her dad’s jam session in the Spring of 2023 in New York City. 
  8. When she was 5 years old, she sang “A -Tisket, A-Tasket” on a record of her dad’s.
  9. She is a practicing Stoic.
  10. She is a Trekkie and went to see the San Francisco Symphony perform on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek with her child.


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