A Dance Through SFU: Tessa Perkins Deneault's Journey from Undergrad to Iris Garland's Thesis

December 19, 2023

The Graduate Liberal Studies program is one of the most practical for anyone who is working full time and doesn’t want to, or can’t afford to, put their career on hold to complete a master’s degree. The ability to take courses in other departments, and the interdisciplinary nature of the courses within GLS, also set it apart.

Tessa Perkins Deneault, a graduate student in Liberal Arts, plays diverse roles within the SFU community. She serves as the Manager of Communications & Strategy for the Faculty of Communication, Art, and Technology. Furthermore, she holds the distinction of being an alumnus with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and French Literature, a Certificate of Liberal Arts, and a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Communication, all earned from SFU.

Can you tell us about your experience in the Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) program at SFU? What initially drew you to this program?

I initially chose the GLS program due to its interdisciplinary nature and part-time structure. I also liked the idea of having a cohort that you stay with during the first year and then go different ways and choose electives. My undergraduate degree is in English and French literatures and Publishing, and while I was doing that I also, sort of accidentally, took enough of a variety of electives to complete a Certificate of Liberal Arts. I also have a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Communication. I’ve always been interested in taking courses from various departments across the university.

My experience in the program overall was fantastic. The faculty members are so supportive and encouraging, and my cohort is a great group of people with different backgrounds and experiences, so that made for great discussions during our seminars. I started the program in September 2020; my cohort was the first one to be taking classes online, and we missed out on the GLS tradition of weekly meals before seminar, but despite that we were still able to get to know each other. We met up a few times in person, and I created a Slack workspace for our cohort to chat in between classes.

In 2021, GLS celebrated its 30th anniversary, and I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant, assisting with planning and promoting the anniversary seminar series. I decided to complete the program with a thesis project, which would allow me to pursue further graduate studies. At first, I planned on doing a project about the intersection of Marxism and veganism, but during my 6th and final course I changed my mind. I took a course with Sasha Colby, “Writing the Modern Self,” about different forms of life writing, and for my assignment I started a biography of Iris Garland. Part way through the course, I realized I wanted to continue that work. My thesis, Iris Garland: Modern Movement, is a biography of Garland who joined SFU as a charter faculty member in 1965 and started the dance program here. I’m planning to continue this work for a book length biography. My thesis is dedicated to my daughter who was born just after I completed my 5th course.

How did the interdisciplinary aspect of the program enhance your learning experience?

This is one of the best aspects of the GLS program. I really valued the opportunity to take classes in other departments and follow what I was interested in. Both of my electives outside the program were courses in Marxist theory, but from two different disciplinary perspectives — I took a contemporary Arts course with Chris Pavsek and an English course with Carolyn Lesjak. I think this made my experience much richer to be able to explore things from a variety of perspectives. I think disciplinary boundaries can sometimes be quite arbitrary and I like not having those limitations.

Did you find a sense of community among fellow students and faculty members, and how did it impact your graduate experience?

This was a bit of a challenge due to everything moving online, but my cohort was able to meet up in person a few times, and we were in touch very frequently on Slack. We also had very lively discussions during class and got to know each other that way. We’re actually having a brunch reunion this weekend since many of my cohort mates have already graduated or will be soon.

The faculty members also help to create a sense of community within GLS, especially Stephen Duguid and Sasha Colby who I had my GLS courses with. They are so encouraging and dedicated to ensuring their students have a great learning experience.

How do you believe this program sets itself apart and prepares graduates for their future careers or further studies?

I think this program is one of the most practical for anyone who is working full time and doesn’t want to, or can’t afford to, put their career on hold to complete a master’s degree. The ability to take courses in other departments, and the interdisciplinary nature of the courses within GLS, also set it apart. The first two courses really provide a strong foundation in classic literature and philosophy that can be applied to all further courses and inform work in a variety of disciplines. The options for completing the program are also flexible with options for courses, extended essays, or a thesis project.

Finally, what advice would you give to prospective students considering the GLS program at SFU? What can they expect and how can they make the most of their time in the program?

For anyone considering the GLS program, I would say that if you love reading and discussing big ideas this is a great program for you. The interdisciplinary nature of the course content provides a great deal of flexibility in the direction you take your assignments and ultimately the degree overall. To make the most of your time, get to know your cohort and take advantage of all the GLS lectures and events, and consider taking courses outside of GLS or even outside of the university to take your degree in the direction you want.

The Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) program explores significant tensions within our intellectual culture that have historical origins and practical consequences in our present world. 

We are currently accepting applications for the Fall 2024 Cohort. The deadline is April 29, 2024. Please contact for more information.