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From Potter to Mickey: Professor’s love of theme parks made her courses popular at Seminole State

Seminole State Professor Dr. Carissa Baker engages students in her Harry Potter as Culture and Literature class. The honors course, which Baker will teach again this fall, focuses on Harry Potter as a subject in arts and humanities.

She’s the type of professor most students dream about learning from. Her English and humanities classes use the subjects of Harry Potter, Disney World and even Hamilton as the basis from which to learn about the fundamentals of literature and societal influence on the arts. And having recently been a student herself, her empathy toward the often busy, multi-tasking Seminole State College of Florida student is alive, well and much-appreciated.

Dr. Carissa Baker, 38, has taught as a professor of English at Seminole State for eight years. Concurrently, she’s been pursuing her own doctorate from the University of Central Florida in the school's Texts and Technology Doctoral Program. Having moved to Central Florida from California, Baker has a keen understanding of the role that theme parks play in society. Combining her love for theme parks and teaching, Baker has developed courses for Seminole State students that teach them to approach their studies through the lens of how arts influence society and vice versa.

Her work as a preeminent scholar on the topic of global storytelling in the theme park setting has earned her invitations to contribute to books (such as the recently released Harry Potter and Convergence Culture: Essays on Fandom and the Expanding Potterverse), to consult for other theme parks (she has spent time engaging with designers and future designers at the Efteling theme park in the Netherlands), and as an esteemed member of UCF’s Order of Pegasus. The Order of Pegasus is the most prestigious and significant award a student can attain at the university, recognizing exemplary performance by students in the areas of academic achievement, outstanding university involvement, leadership and community service. This year, Baker is one of only 22 recipients, and only six of those students were in graduate programs.

Dr. Carissa Baker

As a member of the Order of Pegasus, Baker had the distinct privilege of sitting on the platform during graduation in early May, and she’s now cemented among an elite club of students who will forever be remembered for their achievements in UCF’s Pegasus Lounge.

When asked what inspired her to choose this path, she remembers the impact that Dr. Duncan Dickson, an associate professor at UCF, had on her when she was pursuing her doctoral research. He suggested she complete an independent study on the topic of theme park storytelling, a combination of her passions, and a fire was lit within her to make this her life’s work. This independent study led her to start to ask questions such as “how are theme parks and their storytelling expressed throughout the decades?”, “are there differences between theme park stories in Europe versus Asia?”, and “are there unique ways of telling similar stories across various cultures and mediums?”.

A teacher by nature (Baker has taught at several institutions beyond Seminole State, including UCF, Riverside City College and the University of California at Riverside), she took the opportunity to translate some of what she was working on into engaging coursework for her students at Seminole State. The result: of the six classes she teaches each term, Dr. Baker’s are some of the most sought-after in the College’s Grindle Honors Institute.

And her courses are popular beyond the borders of the United States, too. This summer, Dr. Baker will travel to Shanghai with several other Seminole State professors to teach English to college students in China. It’s part of an international partner relationship, in which Seminole State has launched two new learning centers in China (Beijing and Shanghai), where students can take a selection of summer courses and earn credit toward their degrees.

She laughs a little when asked how she managed to teach so many courses – many for which she developed the curriculum – while also being a doctoral student. She attributes her ability to juggle all the responsibilities to the constant support of her husband, Joshua, who is a middle school history teacher. The two reside in Sanford, and he’s “come along for the ride” (pun intended) on her theme park research expeditions.

Baker is appreciative that she’s been able to land at an institution where she can teach courses that also stroke her creative side, and she’s equally appreciative for the opportunity to learn at a university that allowed her to pursue such an out-of-the-box doctoral study. She hopes that her work teaches students to look at the world a little differently; to see and understand the stories that unfold among the fun of theme parks and beyond.

Dr. Carissa Baker (center with UCF President Dr. John Hitt), who recently completed her doctoral degree at UCF, receives the Order of Pegasus, the most prestigious and significant award a student can attain at the university. (photo courtesy of Dr. Carissa Baker)


About Seminole State College of Florida: Seminole State College of Florida, established in 1965, serves nearly 30,000 students across six sites in Central Florida. A comprehensive college, Seminole State has awarded more than 100,000 credentials, from bachelor's degrees to high school diplomas, and offers more than 200 degrees, certificates and programs designed for success. For more about the college, visit seminolestate.edu, like us on Facebook at facebook.com/seminolestate and follow us on Twitter: @seminolestate.

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