5 Things: Dr. Sarah Lazzari

It’s been quite a transition from sunny southern California to snow-in-November Tiffin, Ohio, but one that Dr. Sarah Lazzari is happy to have made. At least when Sarah and her son, Donovan, moved to Tiffin last summer, they got to experience a typical Midwest season. She is settling in beautifully to her new role as assistant professor of criminology and Donovan is settling in equally as well. “When I was interviewing, the biggest difference was that Heidelberg had me sit down and talk with students, and that said a lot. That’s why I got into teaching,” she says.

It all began with the Girl Scouts

“I had never known incarceration, never been inside a prison or jail. It was a foreign world to me.” That was until Sarah undertook a project called Girl Scouts Beyond Bars with a group of girls living in a housing project on the east side of Tacoma, Washington. The girls were the daughters of moms who were incarcerated or recently released from incarceration. Sarah took them to a prison for a meeting, and was intent on observing their interactions. “The pivotal moment came when we had to leave. There was devastation from the moms but such a range of emotions from the girls, who did not know how to react.” She knew at that defining moment that she was about to embark on a path that would shape her research interests and teaching, but also make a change for kids. “That set me on a path to studying corrections and I’ve never looked back.”

Researching the impact of incarceration

In addition to teaching courses in criminology and sociology, Sarah plans to continue her research, studying issues related to how families are impacted during periods of incarceration – and hopefully involving ‘Berg students in her work in the future. During her graduate work, she got connected with the Oregon Department of Corrections and completed an internship at a male prison. “I soon realized that the adults who were incarcerated were the kids we failed along the way,” she says. With her breadth of experience within the prison system, Sarah has come to enjoy both the applied work – behind prison walls – and working toward prison reform through research.

'Incredible mentors'

Throughout her higher education journey – including ultimately receiving her Ph.D. recently from Portland State – Sarah had incredible mentors who uplifted her. “My mentors have made all the difference in helping me find my passion and finding my niche in college,” she says. “My plan, my goal is to be that kind of mentor to my students.” It’s all part of a collaborative process and a great way to learn, Sarah believes. “Working alongside each other makes us stronger, rather than working in silos.” She already has irons in the fire about continuing her research with ‘Berg students.

Single parenting a 4-year-old

It's Monday night and Sarah and her adorable almost-4-year-old son, Donovan have just finished swim class at the YMCA, so it's off to Hoernemann Refectory to have dinner with 'Berg students. “Donovan loves meeting students in the dining hall,” she says. He also loves music and the Tiffin-Seneca Day Center, where he feels protected – a big relief to his momma. “It’s so amazing. At his school, he sees more diversity in the classroom and his teachers than in the community,” Sarah says. His exposure to Heidelberg is enhanced by current ‘Berg students who are student teaching at the center. In all, Sarah has found that opportunities in Tiffin and Heidelberg have been a great fit for her and her “munchkin.”

College ultimately clicks

As a child, there was a family expectation that Sarah would attend college, but she did not share that expectation. “Not in a million years” would she have thought she’d elevate to receiving her doctorate. “I just never envisioned myself going to college,” she says. “In fact, I dropped out of the first college I attended.” It took about three years until she was back in the fold, and even then, she wasn’t ready. But her experience with the Girl Scouts pushed and motivated her. “Once I was ready, at the right place and the right time, it really clicked for me.” And now – despite the struggles of completing her Ph.D. as a single mom and relocating 2,000 miles across the country – she’s happy to have arrived at Heidelberg.​

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