The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences flagship speaker series “Without Limits” kicked off its 2016-17 season on Nov. 17 with “Classroom to the Farm,” a panel conversation with three SUNY New Paltz alumnae who have found fulfilling careers in food production and distribution.
Panelists Jamie Levato ’03 (Elementary Education – Psychology), ‘06g (Literacy Education), Katy Kondrat ’11 (Adolescence Education – Social Studies) and Stiles Najac ’03 (Sociology) addressed an audience of more than 50 students, faculty and staff about the work each does in the food industry, and how their liberal arts education prepared them for these careers, sometimes in unexpected ways.
While the three panelists represent three distinct areas of the regional food industry (Levato as Education Director at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Kondrat as manager of the Kingston Farmers Market and Najac as Food Security Coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County), they all shared similar narratives about the connection between their classroom experiences and their passion for working toward the physical, moral and intellectual nourishment of their communities.
One comment from Kondrat, discussing her experience as co-founder and president of Students for Sustainable Agriculture at New Paltz, was representative of the broader themes of the program.
“It’s so hard for me to divorce the work I was doing in food and social justice from my coursework,” she said. “What’s important about the liberal arts is that they give a holistic vision of the world. Everything I learned in class deepened my curiosity, and I just can’t say how inspiring and important those courses were to me, how critical they were to my understanding of how the world works.”
Panel moderator Brian Obach addressed the liberal arts’ unique ability to fuel this kind of passion in students and graduates, and prepare them to work in a variety of disciplines and occupations.
“In my mind the greatest value of the liberal arts education is that it makes good citizens: well-rounded, critically thinking people capable of effective, informed contributions in a democratic society,” Obach said. “But it’s of obvious importance to employers as well. Most are not looking for narrow specialists. They are looking for employees who can bring a range of skills to the table, who have experience working with others, who are capable of problem solving and have knowledge of the world and its people.”
Illuminating the versatility of the liberal arts and sciences education is the core goal of the “Without Limits” speaker series. As it continues into the spring 2017 semester, organizers will invite students and community members to find new ways of observing that versatility through the lens of food creation and consumption.
“What makes this theme particularly intriguing is its seeming disconnection with the liberal arts,” said Laura Barrett, dean of the College Liberal Arts & Sciences. “But what we continue to discover is that our faculty’s and students’ disciplines are only the beginning of their work, the springboards from which they approach and create solutions for our current questions, issues and crises. That tonight’s panelists, having majored in the social sciences, have shaped careers in the Hudson Valley’s vibrant agricultural community speaks to the scope of our influence in society.”
The “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts” series is coordinated by Associate Professor of English Cyrus Mulready and Associate Professor of Anthropology Kenneth Nystrom, with support from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.