Liberal Arts in Action

Photo of Connor ORiordanConor O'Riordan ‘19 (History, Mathematics) ’20g (Computer Science)

z/OS Security Technical Support at IBM

As a support software engineer at IBM, I interact with clients every day. Though computer literacy is a necessity, I find that I use my writing skills on a daily basis. Each support case presents a new challenge, and I must tackle each case from a different perspective. Due to the highly technical jargon as well as the potential severity of problems, communication is critical to success in this position. Being able to concisely explain the root cause of the problem and describe the necessary steps to reach the solution has been my greatest asset in this role at IBM. I appreciate all of the professors in the STEM departments, but I must admit that my analytical approach to research and my writing style come from the courses I took toward my degree in history.

I would never abandon the liberal arts to pursue a STEM education alone; on the contrary, I view my studies in mathematics and computer science as natural extensions of the humanities. The liberal arts provide a wellspring of knowledge that never ceases to pique my curiosity. To devote myself exclusively to the humanities or to STEM would have been to deprive myself of so many opportunities and encounters with interesting people on both sides of the spectrum.

The ability to explore my wide variety of interests was only possible because of the amazing faculty spanning several departments. I am thankful to Professor Andrea Gatzke of the History Department and Professor Vanessa Plumly of the German Language Department who always pushed me to engage critically with the source materials. I am indebted to Professor Natalie Cartwright of the Mathematics Department who fostered my love for calculus and encouraged me to continue my studies in history. Likewise, my computer science professors always appreciated my history-themed projects. Finally, my life at New Paltz would have been completely different without the Honors Program. I made many fast friends through the program, without which I would not be the person I am today.

February 2021

Miriam Ward '15 (History, Digital Media Production)

Miriam WardSegment Producer, The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC 

My liberal arts education thoroughly prepared me for my position as a segment producer on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” At New Paltz, I double majored in history and digital media production and graduated from the school’s Honors Program. By studying history, I learned how to be an analytical thinker, how to conduct research, and how to be an effective writer. At my job, our show does a lot of historical parallels to modern day politics. In addition to having the technical skills that I learned from my digital media production major, in my job at Maddow I'm required to think analytically, conduct research, and synthesize facts throughout history. I would have been widely unprepared for working on a show like this if it were not for my wonderful history degree from New Paltz. My history degree gave me the tools to be a critical thinker and to analyze news through an interdisciplinary lens. I rely on the research and writing skills I gained from my history major every day at my job in cable news. 

My liberal arts education prepared me to become a global thinker and a global citizen in our ever-changing world. Before studying at New Paltz, I thought I would spend my college years studying strictly technical television production skills. I was terribly wrong. Studying the liberal arts and history in particular has made me a better producer and a better creative by having the tools to write and think critically. My liberal arts education prepared me to be a global citizen in a world that is extremely connected and diverse. The tools I learned through my liberal arts education are applicable in every aspect of my career.

One of the best aspects of SUNY New Paltz is the incredibly talented and generous faculty members. In my history major, Professor Michael Vargas provided invaluable advice and pushed me throughout my studies to become a more critical thinker and a better historian. I was so nervous about declaring a history major because I only saw myself as a TV producer, but Professor Vargas inspired me and donated so much time and effort to helping me succeed. Throughout my time in New Paltz, Professor Patricia Sullivan, the Director of the Honors Program, helped me to grow as an individual and as a person. Professor Sullivan guided me through my four years at New Paltz and helped me synthesize and connect my history and digital media production studies. I cannot understate the profound impact Professor Sullivan has had on my life and education. The Honors Program helped me to become an interdisciplinary individual and to think of my liberal arts education in a global context. I’m so grateful to have worked with amazing professors like Professor Vargas and Professor Sullivan.  

June 2019

Gabrielle Segal '14 (History)

Gabrielle SegalTraining Associate, Waterkeeper Alliance

After graduating, I went through a series of positions, from waitressing to editorial manager, to my current position as the training associate at an environmental non-profit known as Waterkeeper Alliance. Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement that unites grassroots environmental organizers protecting the world's waters from the ravages of pollution, climate change, and inefficient policies. I started as the office manager and then applied to join the training team. As the training associate, I assist in training our Waterkeepers to be the most efficient protectors of water. Besides getting me to read a number of incredibly important works, New Paltz prepared me for this job by teaching me how to research, think critically, and write, some of the most important and coveted skills in the professional world. I learned how to be precise and diligent in my work.

Professor Andrew Evans truly inspired me to research as much as I could, to dig as deep as possible to find information, and to produce the best work. It can be easy to get by without doing your putting your best foot forward, but it's not as rewarding, and people (employers) really notice how much effort you put in. I'd also like to shout out to professors Susan Lewis, Reynolds Scott-Childress and Hamilton Stapell, who all have so much knowledge and care for their work. I learned a lot from them, both educationally and in terms of life-lessons, and I use what they taught me on a weekly, if not daily basis.  

Something that may be overlooked in regards to one's education is the importance of a wide range of knowledge. I may have walked away with a degree in history, but I learned so much more, from Spanish to geography to biological anthropology. You really never know when and where that tidbit of information you learned from a random class will help you. A liberal arts education gives you a broad prospective and provides you with a well-rounded understanding of the world. I've used my education to provide depth and sensitivity to my work--something I would not be able to do without a liberal arts degree.

June 2019

Trenton Hanifin '11 (History)

Trenton HanifinU.S. Army Officer

As a history major stationed in Europe who frequently works with our NATO allies and other partners, I find that my education at New Paltz gave me the context to understand my work's significance. By understanding where I stand in the grand forces of history, I am able to produce insights that can have significant impacts on my work.

My liberal arts education is the foundation from which I am able to perform my profession. My understanding and passion for language, culture, reason, and ethics have helped me in many professional situations and enriched my life as I travel through Europe. A liberal arts education has helped me live a more aware life where I understand the world and can enjoy its cultural riches.

June 2016


Ayoub Aouad ’13 (History)

Ayoub AouadDistribution Analyst at The Children’s Place

My current position at the Children’s Place has continued to prove to me that past experience is not the most important criteria in determining future success. Rather, it is the skills one gains and strengthens that determines this. I truly believe that the most important skills I have are a direct reflection of my history degree from SUNY New Paltz.

As a history major, you develop skills in written communication, verbal communication, presentation, research and analysis. Shortly before graduating, I realized how these skills would positively impact my life. I found a great opportunity for a law internship and, although I had zero experience, I decided to apply. After the initial application, I was sent a current case with sparse details and was told to come up with a defense strategy. At first I was overwhelmed. What did I know about New York State law? It was a fight or flight moment, but then it hit me. This was no different than any of the research projects or presentations I was asked to do; all I had to do was apply the skills I gained studying history. This not only helped me get the internship, but also as I began to work on active cases. When it was time to move on from this position, I was very confident that my skills would transition into any industry.

Going into my interview at the Children’s Place, I knew I would be asked about not having any experience in a business role that analyzes large data. As a distribution analyst, you are given a division. Within that division, you have to analyze the inventory at the category and style level for over 800 individual stores. That’s hundreds of thousands of pieces of data that lead to thousands of individual decisions every week. From my perspective, this is no different than what I did in the history program. You sift through dozens of resources, which contain thousands of pieces of information, in order to come to one singular conclusion. Being able to convey this at the interview landed me the position even without any experience.

The History Department helped me develop the foundation to succeed. Don’t let experience stop you from chasing your dreams. Instead focus on the skills you are developing that will be an asset to any company.

April 2016

 Jonathan T. Engel, Esq. ’06 (History)

Jonathan Engel

Trial Attorney at Finkelstein & Partners, LLP

I am thankful to SUNY New Paltz, and its History Department, for being part of my journey to becoming a trial attorney.  I have the honor of deterring major corporations from neglecting safety rules through holding them accountable for injuring people as part of the Finkelstein & Partners, LLP team, which is led by Mr. Andrew Finkelstein, Esq.  

The History Department at SUNY New Paltz provided me with the necessary foundation to pursue law school and become a trial attorney.  Part of that foundation included developing my critical thinking and analytical skills through researching and interpreting primary source documents.  The other part of that foundation required me to present my research and interpretations in a clear and persuasive manner.  As a trial attorney, I use this foundation every day at Finkelstein & Partners, LLP by analyzing primary source documents (such as accident reports, medical records, and court papers), and presenting my analysis to Finkelstein & Partners, LLP’s clients, the court, and/or the opposing side (insurance companies).

The above-mentioned foundation would not have been developed without the faculty.  I was very fortunate to be mentored by both Dr. Laurence Hauptman and Dr. Susan Lewis.  Both faculty members, like the entire History Department faculty, were always available and more than willing to invest time in their students.  In fact, I am still in contact with both Dr. Hauptman and Dr. Lewis.

As a result, I entered New Paltz as an eager student who aspired to be an attorney, and left with the mentorship and skills necessary to succeed in law school and as a trial attorney.

April 2019