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5 Minutes with LaVahn Hoh, Fall 2012's Academic Dean

Academic Dean LaVahn Hoh and members of the administration team discuss the day’s events.


LaVahn Hoh is a circus historian and the Academic Dean on the Fall 2012 voyage of Semester at Sea.  His time with SAS began in the summer of 2008, when he sailed as a faculty member, returning in the summer of 2012 as the academic dean.

A knowledgeable circus historian with multiple articles and television appearances (and a book) about the circus under his belt, we were itching for the chance to sit down with Dr. Hoh to ask him about his life in the circus and his career with Semester at Sea.

Read on to see how these two seemingly different careers blend perfectly in the academic realm.

Q: You worked as an archivist for the Ringling Bros. and Barnun & Bailey Clown College. Were you ever a clown yourself?

“Only once. A bearded clown doesn’t quite work. The Ringling show was in Charlottesville. My character was a prince looking for a princess who could fit into the shoe. I had a pillow with this giant shoe on it and I walked around before the show started trying to find someone who fit into the shoe. So, I found this lady who was probably about 6’2” and she said, ‘put it down; let me see if the shoe fits!’ It fit like a glove. The husband said, ‘oh, you’re gonna run away with a clown now?’”

Q: Who influenced you the most to become a circus historian?

“My mom took me to the circus when I was four years old and, as they say in the circus business, I got sawdust in my veins. She had a great love for the circus. She would wake my brother and I up early in the morning for circus training. And even up until months before she passed away, she found a circus post and mailed it to me; she still always had a great interest in it.”

Q: How did your time with Semester at Sea begin?

“Well, I came on Semester at Sea in 2008, shortly after the University of Virginia took over the program, and the academic dean for that voyage asked me if I would like to sail. She told me that we would be sailing to St. Petersburg, Russia and asked me if I would teach my course on the circus; there’s a great circus in St. Petersburg, so it all worked together. I was very excited about being a part of that voyage and seeing a circus that I had read about, but never seen before. ”

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your time as Academic Dean?

“Listening to the students and faculty in global studies. It’s very rewarding to hear the faculty and students work together for various lectures, as well as in cultural pre-ports and post-ports. I sit there in awe sometimes listening to what is being said and the knowledge of what we are learning, what we are seeing, and what we are experiencing. You can’t get a lot of that on your home campus!”

Q: What surprises do you have in store for us for the rest of the semester?

I can’t tell you! They wouldn’t be surprises!

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