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Hutchins Graduates Speak

The Hutchins School of Liberal Studies prepares students to be leaders in their careers, teaching them highly sought-after skills as independent thinkers, thoughtful collaborators, effective speakers and writers, and creative problem-solvers. Hutchins graduates thrive in education, law, media, social services, counseling, journalism, diplomacy, and business. Hutchins alumni have gone on to Masters and PhD programs in fields as diverse as American Studies, Anthropology, Counseling, Education, English, History, Law, Library Science, Management, Physics, Religious Studies, Sociology, Theater Arts, and more.

Here is what some of our valued alumni have to say about their time at Hutchins, and how it fostered their career success after graduation.

Heidy Garibay

Track III graduate, 2016. Second grade teacher at Spanish dual immersion school; Guest Lecturer at Sonoma State. 

I knew I wanted to work with kids when I was a senior in high school, so I chose Track III to get my BA and teaching credential all in four years. That accelerated my career – I saved a year anda half. It kept me on track with accomplishing my goal. It was challenging, in a good way. Once I graduated, I was ready to be in the classroom as an elementary school teacher. I grew a lot at Hutchins: It took my writing to a new level; it made me a better, more open-minded listener. It helped me better articulate my thoughts. I had been a very quiet student who liked to listen, and the program helped me step out of my shell and speak up. I really liked how you study broad subject areas at Hutchins, from science to the humanities. You need that wide knowledge background as a teacher. In traditional lecture-based programs, you just learn from one person, but at Hutchins you learn from your classmates as well. Everyone has different viewpoints, and that’s very important in teaching: everyone brings different experiences into the classroom and it’s important to be able to respond to that. Hutchins also prepared me to work with parents, to have relationships with them and communicate about their student’s progress. Hutchins made me realize how important it is to ask questions. There are complex, inquiry-based questions that go beyond yes or no. I believe dialogue is key, and students need opportunities and safe spaces to share their thoughts. Hutchins is ideal for someone who is open-minded, who enjoys reading and writing, and who likes to participate in discussion and learn from other people.

Daniel Lanza Rivers 

Hutchins Track I graduate, 2007. Assistant Professor of American Studies and Literature, Director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, San Jose University.

One of the strengths of Track One is that you can hold the reins of your own intellectual development. There are guardrails and support, but if you’re interested and have questions that are already motivating you, it can help you ask those questions and give you the structure to do it. The faculty helped me as mentors, and now friends, to develop as an independent intellectual who could create work through different systems and pathways.

I do a lot of arts administration at the Cox Center, and I draw the line directly back to Hutchins. I was interested in literature and writing, but I found the disciplinary frameworks in English to be limiting. I see a real line of continuity between my work as an interdisciplinary educator and thinker and the kind of training that I had from the start with Hutchins.

Hutchins prepared me for the job market because I was an active player and a partner in my own intellectual and creative development. I took classes that helped me gain a round, complex picture of the world so that I was ready to work across different fields, as folks who are interested in humanities and culture are increasingly being asked to do.

Hutchins taught me how to be flexible and how to pivot. I went from Hutchins to a Masters program at NYU, and then I graduated into one of the worst recessions of my lifetime. But I could move on my own and think on my feet. It prepared me to keep looking for a job that was going be financially and intellectually fulfilling and not to settle for a job that wasn’t. I had the confidence and skills and background to try something new if I wasn’t where I wanted to be.

The faculty are incredibly generous and nurturing without being prescriptive. There’s a way in which there’s the freedom to explore. They want you to develop into your own kind of thinker, but you’re never really alone in that process. And the small class ratio helps thinking and development. There’s a way in which Hutchins feels like being part of a family because you’ve got this network of professors who are supporting you through the process.

If you want to be a spectator for four years, then Hutchins might not be for you. If you’re someone who brings their own questions to the table, who values curiosity, who is really nourished by asking questions that you’re not going to necessarily find easy answers to, then Hutchins is a great fit.

Davin Cardenas

 Director of Community Organizing, North Bay Jobs with Justice. 2004.

After I graduated Hutchins in 2004, my first job was organizing day laborers at the Graton Day Labor Center, and then I helped build the North Bay Organizing Project and was co-director there for seven years. I spent two years at a national tenants’ rights organization, then took a year off, and then came North Bay Jobs with Justice two years ago. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had as an organizer. We’re very place-based, organizing around the intersection of climate change and farmworker justice.

My time at Hutchins gave me an appreciation for opposing points of view, critical thinking skills to form opinions and test and shift them if necessary, and an appreciation for the listening skills and curiosity needed to develop myself and the humans around me. I liked having different world views put in front of me – we need diversity not only of people’s cultural identities but also world views if we’re going to have real change happen in our communities. Having my ideas challenged has served me to this day. I have a place in my political development for the ideas of others that I respect and I’m willing to engage with, and a lot of that came from Hutchins.

I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to have my time in an educational institution surrounded by critical thinkers and people who wanted to see me develop in terms of how I was going to impact the world around me. It set me up to be an active participant in my community and to be effective in how I take ideas and turn them into practices that are going to benefit others. I’d recommend Hutchins to anyone who is curious to learn about the world and hungry to learn about themselves, who is willing to engage in a dialectical process of knowing and not knowing and conversing and putting out ideas and having ideas challenged – having the desire to grow in the midst of other people.

Lena McQuade 

Track I graduate, 2000. Department Chair and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Sonoma State University.

I was one of those students who barely knew I wanted to go to college. I remember looking at a catalog for Sonoma State and trying to figure out what my major was going to be. Hutchins had an information session, and I went and heard teachers say that students would have the opportunity to read books and dig deep into them, so I signed up. I was so glad I did.

I think I was always interested in academics, but before Hutchins it wasn’t prioritized. Nobody put pressure on me to go to a fancy college. I was the only one of my friends who went to college. Finding Hutchins was a chance to make myself new and get on a more academic path. There was so much support and the classes are so small, it really helped with that transition. The first year my cohort had 12 students and we became very close. We spent a lot of time together, reading and figuring out how to read. It was a social environment that supported a deeper, slowed-down academic investing. Rather than cram for a test or memorize facts, we were learning how to underline, read, and understand. In seminars, we had to talk. Being an active creator of the knowledge motivated me to read and have things to say.

I learned how to express my ideas and ask questions that help move projects or ideas forward. I learned how to speak clearly, in depth, and with analysis, and I learned how to write. Those are skills in any workplace that are valued – the ability to speak clearly to customers or clients or your employees. The ability to ask questions and think more deeply and analytically about why things are the way they are.

These are skills I use on the job constantly. I’ve been on Zooms with 50 other people and led and followed those complex debates. I’ve co-authored open letters with 30 co-signers and had the ability to communicate an idea and work collaboratively to move a critical and controversial idea forward with other people.

Hutchins taught me to see issues very broadly, and that’s different than a degree that focuses on one area. It explores ideas on a macro and micro scale so I can think interdisciplinarily. Hutchins gave me a comfort with multiple disciplines. I can just as easily speak to chemists as historians. I realized I was very interested in race and ethnicity and identity. I took all the classes I could in those topics. So I have a broad background, but in upper division I started to focus on issues of interest to me and go more deeply into that.

What I discovered was that it was in me – it’s in everybody – but nothing in my experience had helped me bring that part of myself forward. Hutchins helped me bring the love of learning forward. Somebody might have looked at me and thought, “Hmm… this person might not be able to hack it at Hutchins.” But I found myself at Hutchins. Hutchins supported me, and I got so much out of it that I was motivated to put more into it. I was so excited by learning ideas and making connections.

You have to be somewhat self-motivated because there isn’t a series of tests. You have to be willing to take a little bit of a risk, but that risk will pay off, not just in terms of job placement, but also your experience in college and for the rest of your life. The skills of critical thinking will help you everywhere. It helps you have a self-actualized life.

Kaite Breen

Track I graduate, 2021. Admissions Counselor at Pitzer College, Claremont. 

I started out in Track III, then went to Track II, and then Track I with a Sociology minor. Now I work at a selective liberal arts school where I do recruitment, talk with students, read and evaluate applications, travel, host events and visits, oversee the guide program, and start again the next season. The bright side of Track I is that you get broad experience. I use it a lot. I’m Hutchins’ biggest fan. It comes back to the Hutchins model, which gives you the tools to be a global citizen and well-rounded person. A liberal arts education involves a lot of freedom, gaining experience through discussion and collaboration, as opposed to traditional textbook lecture-style learning. You learn from each other through dialogue. It broadens your horizons a lot.

Some people think that Hutchins is a teacher preparation program. That’s not untrue. But your core curriculum is not saying, “This is how you structure a classroom; this is how you make a lesson plan.” It’s a teacher prep program, but it’s more than that. My degree prepared me for any sort of humanities or social sciences field. The Track 1 program is ideal for people who have interests in a lot of different fields, who don’t necessarily thrive just sitting and taking notes. Curiosity is the biggest thing I’d say you need here. Curiosity is fostered. My favorite aspect at Hutchins was being able to explore as much as I wanted. At first it can freak students out, but you learn to trust yourself and believe that you’re capable of forming your own thoughts, and not having a teacher tell you what to think about and write about. It makes you feel like you are capable and self-sufficient. I never felt like I was drifting at the deep end. I had a lot of support. The professors are passionate about the style of learning. You don’t have teachers, you have mentors. When they say it’s an interdisciplinary program, they really mean it. They’re the coolest classes you’ll see at the university.

Kristine Stewart

Track I graduate, 2007. Family Law Attorney. 

Hutchins changed my life. I foolishly dropped out of college when I was 23 to move to LA with my boyfriend, thinking I’d go back to school, but that never happened. I got married, had kids, and found myself at 39 divorced with two kids, no college degree, and in a panic about how I was going to take care of myself and my children. I got my transfer requirements and entered Hutchins as a junior.

It was very daunting. I didn’t have confidence in my ability to write papers or take exams. But the support I found in that small program and small classes, and the combination of intellectual rigor and personal attention, made me feel that I am smart and I can do this. The writing and analytical skills I gained helped me decide to keep going and go to law school after I graduated. I don’t think I would have done that had I not been in the Hutchins program. Now I’ve been practicing family law for 11 years. Hutchins challenged me with its academic rigor, and the emphasis on culture prepared me to have a multiculturally sensitive practice and serve a more diverse community of clients. I came away more aware of implicit biases and paying more attention to them.

Hutchins was just super fun. The professors are clearly excited about what they’re teaching. Anybody who has a wide range of interests and a love of learning and wants to be a critical thinker will thrive there. It’s applicable across any profession.

I want to give a shout out to any returning non-traditional students. Don’t be intimidated. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’ll be great! Going in, you don’t realize how much control you have. You’ll have flexibility but also support and personal attention. Don’t let being a non-traditional student stop you from diving in and getting a great education and opening up opportunities.

Andrew Sloan

Track I graduate,  Renewable Energy Lead, Nike. 

After graduating from Hutchins, I’ve landed my dream job. I’m in charge of Nike meeting its renewable energy targets. I do contract execution and also a lot of policy advocacy work globally. I get to meet with government officials and NGOs and other companies who are also working on these kinds of targets to propel renewable energy markets.

Hutchins prepared me to be a question-asker. And it’s not just a top-down education. You really are in charge of your education, asking questions that others might not be, having a critical eye on things that society has accepted as status quo. I’ve appreciated the sense of ownership and leadership that Hutchins gives you in yourself and your education. If I had had a top-down education, I wouldn’t necessarily be where I am today because Hutchins allowed me to follow my passion in my studies. For one of my assignments, I chose to set up a compost program on campus and through that work I got close to the garbage company in town, and they offered me a job when I graduated. They saw that I was trying to do things differently and ask questions. This is the type of critical eye Hutchins gave me. 

Hutchins taught me how to listen well and be open to other ideas. There isn’t just a single right answer. Everyone has their perspective that they bring to the table. That’s really important in the working world. I work with stakeholders from many sides of the table, and I feel comfortable in that setting because of my experience at Hutchins.

I’m the perfect example of someone who didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got there. That’s why I was attracted to Hutchins. It gave me the chance to explore. The professors were encouraging facilitators, but the peer-to-peer education was also essential: holding each other responsible, connecting to folks who were aspirational, driven by purpose, and connected to social and environmental issues. It gave me a place to question where I came from and what I grew up with. Hutchins is a very special place.

Finn Menzies

Track I graduate, 2009. Kindergarten and pre-school teacher.

I started out in Track II and graduated in Track I with a minor in Gender Studies and English. Now I’m a pre-school teacher, and before that I was a kindergarten teacher. Concretely, Hutchins serves me in every class I teach. We hold class meetings and solve problems together as a class family. The kids work collaboratively and it’s their favorite time of the week. It’s a microcosm of the Hutchins seminar.

Hutchins helps orient you to look beyond the veil of systems. It made me bolder, more vocal, more articulate. It’s a place for students who are motivated by questions, who want to have real conversations about what’s happening in the world. Misfits, artists, writers, anyone who might feel a little bit lost – it’s a great place to be. I got to see how diverse and interesting and different and strange the global majority is, which was a huge change in my life. I’m trans, and I came out very late. I remember in one class reading that there is a spectrum of genders. That blew the cap off my mind. Who knows if I hadn’t dipped that toe in how long it would have taken me to realize who I was.

I think, out of all the adults I know, I’m the person who feels the most fundamentally changed by my schooling. Because it’s not about a checklist, it’s about understanding how we use lenses in the world. My professors have truly, deeply impacted my way of walking through the world. The professors are totally understated in how incredible they are. Not only are they seekers in the world, but they have all the accolades. I was truly inspired by my professors, and I trusted them. I wouldn’t change my time there for anything.

Lisa Bordessa

Track II graduate, 2022. Applying to graduate schools in Counseling.

I started out in Track 3 and changed to Track 2. Through this program you learn about so many different fields. I decided I didn’t want to teach but I wanted to stay in the school environment, so I went into school counseling. The good thing about Hutchins is that it lets you form your own opinions about what you want to do in the future. There isn’t one set trajectory. They were very supportive. The professors trust us to go through this process, knowing that it might be outside of what we’re used to. They give you freedom, and through that freedom I was able to explore other avenues and other fields. I’m the first person in my family ever to apply for grad school, and Hutchins pulled that out of me. I never thought a Liberal Studies degree could make you do that, but Hutchins is geared toward evolving us as students inside and outside the classroom. It was challenging, and I really enjoyed it. In seminar learning, we get in these circles and it gave us a sense of community during a time when we needed it most – coming back from being in isolation after Covid. It was so beneficial. We’d have to look at each other in a circle and each get our own opportunity to talk without being interrupted, to hear different perspectives and then come together and collaborate. It was a place to be free and express how you feel. Hutchins is a great place for someone who maybe is in their shell but wants to come out of it. Who doesn’t necessarily know what direction they want to take, but perhaps it’s in an educational field, or they are just looking to learn more about themselves. Hutchins made me think and dive deep into who I am and what I want. I almost wish I had this program in my younger years because of how it prepared me for later life. It has given me confidence. I’m a better writer and a better speaker. I enhanced my critical thinking and storytelling skills. I learned that through storytelling you can learn a lot about people. Though storytelling you can heal and find something beautiful.