LACIS Alum Jacob Wolbert Dishes on LACIS and his PhD Pursuit

by Eli Weiner (LACIS Social Media/Outreach Intern, BBA – Marketing, BA – LACIS, ’16)

Recent LACIS alum Jacob Wolbert is currently pursuing his PhD in ethnomusicology at the University of Cal-Berkeley. I reached out to him to hear about his current pursuit of his doctorate, to see how LACIS has helped him along the way, and to find out just what ethnomusicology means. Here’s what he had to say.

What is ethnomusicology exactly? Why are you passionate about it?Jacob_Surdo_Action

Ethnomusicology is a multi-faceted discipline that studies diverse fields such as anthropology, sociology, and history, through the comparative lens of music. It generally focuses on the music of non-Western cultures (ie. not European classical music). As a scholar who has always made sense of the world through music, and someone who remains infinitely interested in Latin America, ethnomusicology has been an obvious choice for me, pretty much since I found out that it existed.

How did you get involved with LACIS?

My mother, who used to work for the UW System, and therefore knew about many amazing opportunities at UW-Madison, recommended that I look into LACIS when I was an incoming sophomore. After speaking with Sarah Ripp, I determined that this degree would be the perfect complement to the music performance degree I was already pursuing. Since UW-Madison has no ethnomusicology undergraduate degree, I consider the work I did between the two degrees to come close to what such a degree would look like.

What was your experience with LACIS? Favorite LACIS classes?

Throughout the entire time I was a LACIS student, I felt cared for, I felt challenged, I felt free to seek the opportunities that interested me the most, and I felt like it was the right place for me. Having sought out advising from at least four different departments on campus, I can unequivocally say that the advising I received from LACIS was by far the most beneficial.

I enjoyed every class I took through LACIS, but a couple that come to mind would be Luís Madureira’s LACIS 260 (Survey of Latin American Political History) and Alberto Vargas’ LACIS 603 (the capstone seminar, in which we looked at current affairs in Latin American countries).

How has LACIS helped you on your career path?

Jacob overlooking zona sul
Jacob overlooking Zona Sul in Brazil

Through the wonderful courses and seminars, the weekly emails (full of career and academic opportunities), and the outstanding staff and faculty affiliated with the program, I now feel very confident in my ability to weave through interconnected disciplines and parse out the knowledge most interesting and most important to me, employing it to help create new knowledge and better the lives of others. I have chosen to continue that with a graduate degree, but LACIS makes sure that students are aware of all the different ways to do that.Most importantly to me, LACIS helped add a new dimension to my lifelong love of music and gave it a sense of purpose that I would not have been able to find on my own.

What advice can you offer to students (especially those studying LACIS-related topics)?

Don’t hesitate to take advantage of all the resources LACIS and the UW have to offer. In the same way this is true of the whole university, LACIS exemplifies how much success is possible if you are willing to harness your passion(s) and work hard to produce new knowledge. The opportunities are out there, and LACIS does an exemplary job of raising awareness of them.
Also, try to spend some time (even if only half a summer) abroad. Look into the funding that LACIS offers too, like FLAS fellowships. If you want to truly be able to speak a foreign language, being in an originating country for an extended period of time is, in my opinion, the only way to fully learn.
What are your plans after you get your PhD?
Upon completion of my doctorate, I want to gain a position teaching and researching music full-time at an institution of higher education.
Jacob remains active as a musician and percussionist, and not just in the academic areas that he studies. Everyone at LACIS is proud of his pursuit of this PhD and wishes him the best of luck moving forward!