ASU theater alumna tells stories of military children

Sarah Dolens-Moon wants more people to understand children of veterans and in military families

November 18, 2020

Sarah Dolens-Moon, who recently graduated from Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, completed her MFA with a project that focused on drama engagement with military families.

She examined how storytelling and applied drama methods can be utilized as tools for building community and promoting self-expression in the children of military members and veterans. As part of her research, she worked with a couple of different populations of military children in Arizona and New Mexico, exploring these storytelling and drama methods through a residency program she developed called “We Serve Too!”   Sarah Dolens-Moon works with children of military members as part of her “We Serve Too!” project. Photo by Arianna Grainey Download Full Image

One of her research sites was in Tempe at Valor on 8th, a veteran and military family housing community. Over several months, Dolens-Moon worked with youth residents as well as children she recruited from the greater Phoenix military family community to participate in a weekly drama workshop. These students explored their identity as military kids through the lens of storytelling and drama. 

A performance originally scheduled for March 2020 was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dolens-Moon is still moving forward with her work. 

I'm in the process of refining my program to be included in a residency program module for veterans and military families with the nonprofit Warrior Songs,” she said. “This program will be offered to VA and military organizations interested in providing arts-based programming as part of their services for veterans and military families.”

As the wife of a combat veteran of the Iraq War, Dolens-Moon said the work is personal to her. 

“This experience changed him, and he developed PTSD due to his combat experience,” she said. “Our military family learned to navigate PTSD together, but it was particularly difficult for my stepson who was 4 at the time of my husband's deployment.”

Dolens-Moon said her family has worked together to heal, but that they have all been impacted by the trauma of PTSD, including her daughter who was born years after her husband's military experience. 

“The impetus for this project came from reading a bedtime story to her about helping military kids to understand PTSD. As I read that book to her, I wondered why the military children characters in the book were portrayed as sad, helpless individuals without thoughts and feelings ancillary to their military parents. I recalled other military kids stories which reflected this same narrative. I began thinking about what it would be like for them to tell their stories the way they wanted to tell them. Good and bad, but mostly from their honest perspective. Getting my MFA allowed me the time to delve into the many layers of and iterations of this project.”

Through the project, Dolens-Moon affirmed what she sensed in her initial musings on the project. 

“Military kids are dynamic and incredibly resilient due to their military family lifestyle. They are incredibly proud of their parents while understanding the tremendous sacrifice and risk in military life because they live it.” 

She also discovered just how little programming there is just for military children and in particular avenues to share their experience with other military children. 

“Something I'll never forget from one of our residency sessions was when one of the military kids said to the group, ‘It's not like we're aliens or something!’ In that moment she repeated the phrase and as she did I witnessed a collective recognition among the other military children in the room. Each of the children in that room had felt different at some point in their lives due to their military family, but in that moment they shared solidarity and also expressed that they wanted to be seen for who they really were, not some idea of who others think they should be.”

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre


ASU Graduate College announces 2020–21 fellows

The new fellows will build platforms to enable inclusive practices and transdisciplinary solutions for urgent social challenges

November 18, 2020

Each year, the Graduate College solicits individuals and teams of faculty to help the Graduate College advance key initiatives that improve graduate curricula across the university through the Graduate College Fellows initiative.

Last year’s Graduate College Fellows — Sally Kitch, an ASU Regents Professor, University Professor and President's Professor, and W. P. Carey Clinical Assistant Professor John Wisneski — collaborated to create the first comprehensive model for a new cross-campus experience: Interdisciplinary Solutions for Social Impact (ISSI). 2020-21 Graduate College Fellows 2020–21 Graduate College Fellows Liz Lerman, Beckett Sterner, Delia Saenz and Kristy Holtfreter. Download Full Image

Rooted in team-taught, project-based learning, ISSI will support interdisciplinary laboratories that bring together faculty and graduate students exploring complex social problems. The first ISSI labs are available in spring 2021 and focus on the theme “Impacting Inequality.” A number of ASU faculty members are participating in the 2020–21 lab. 

The 2020–21 Graduate College Fellows

This year’s fellows include professors Liz Lerman, Beckett Sterner, Delia Saenz and Kristy Holtfreter. Over the next year, they will be working in three key areas: interdisciplinary collaboration in graduate education, inclusive practices across the graduate curricula, and academic and research integrity. 

“The depth and variety of proposals we received from ASU graduate faculty for this year’s Graduate College Fellows competition were truly impressive,” said Vice Provost and Graduate College Dean Elizabeth Wentz. “This reflects the breadth of intellectual resources available within the graduate faculty at ASU .” 

Interdisciplinary collaboration 

Lerman, from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and Sterner, from the School of Life Sciences, will provide creative and constructive resources for students to explore transdisciplinary solutions to urgent societal problems.

As a transdisciplinary artist in the field of dance performance, Lerman is an exemplar of what innovation looks like at ASU. A recipient of a 2002 MacArthur Genius Grant and the first Institute Professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Lerman’s work explores questions such as, “Can I make data personal?;" "Is audience in art the same as audience in science?;" and "How can artists contribute to the world?” Her “Atlas of Creativity Tools” and “Critical Response Process” has been utilized by artists and educators both nationally and internationally to enhance learning and deepen dialogue between artists and their communities. 

A philosopher interested in the life sciences, Sterner focuses on “pluralism in the information age through an emphasis on the social dimension of mathematical formalization.” This focus has brought him unique teaching and research opportunities that bridge history, the philosophy of science and the natural sciences together while integrating ethics and societal context into the curriculum. 

Inclusive practices

Social psychologist Saenz, from the Department of Psychology, has long been a force for nurturing intergroup alliance and understanding in her research, teaching and administrative roles at ASU. Her research has looked at tokenism, faculty women of color in the academy, and ethnic identity development and acculturation for Latino youth. Her teaching has focused on stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, gender disparities, group dynamics, diversity in contemporary society, and the social dynamics of inclusion. 

Saenz’s inclusive practices fellowship project will be to design an evidence-based, integrated platform, using both face-to-face and online modalities for training graduate students across disciplines to understand the value to their field of engaging inclusive practice; learn capacity-building skills related to inclusive practice that can be applied during their graduate training and well into their future careers; and begin to develop diversity, equity and inclusion resources that they can benefit from directly and that can also benefit their specific disciplinary program and their field. Once in place, the new platform will be flexible to accommodate evolving understandings, technologies and approaches. 

Academic and research integrity

Holtfreter, from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, will tackle the challenge of academic and research integrity for all graduate students by helping to scale up the resources currently available.  

To deepen the experience, Holtfreter is piloting a three-credit graduate seminar covering topics like best practices in research collaborations, financial responsibility in grants, presentation of research findings and public communication. The seminar will form the basis of a multifaceted academic integrity curriculum for which the Graduate College will seek support in developing.

The Graduate College plans to share contributions made by the fellows with the ASU community each year.

Tracy Viselli

Director of Communications and Marketing, Graduate College