BU alumni discuss public service career options for liberal arts students

A panel of Binghamton University alumni shared their stories of how they used their liberal arts degrees to make a career public service.

Wednesday’s event featured Sean Cummings, a BU alumnus from the class of 2007 who graduated with a doctorate in philosophy; Diane Brown, an alumna from the class of 2002 who graduated with a master’s in social science; Danielle Britton, an alumna from the class of 2008 who graduated with a master’s in teaching; and Chelsea Robertson, an alumna from the class of 2009 who graduated with a master’s in public administration.

According to Cummings, most people don’t consider social problems on a local scale.

“There are injustices materializing in the city of Binghamton right now, and we don’t need to think about the Third World or impoverished countries necessarily to find these social problems, which a lot of public service jobs are trying to deal with,” Cummings said.

Titled “Pathways to Public Service: Liberal Arts to Public Service,” the event focused on showing undergraduate students ways to transfer their skills into the public service field.

Cummings, urban farm manager at Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments (VINES), originally planned to teach philosophy before joining the group.

“If you want to know how to throw your parents a curve ball, do something like that,” he said. “‘What do you mean farming?’”

However, Cummings said his degree helped with thinking broadly, which indirectly helped with his work in VINES.

“Life can get very strange, and the better you are able to adapt to the circumstances which you find yourself in, the better off you’ll be,” Cummings said.

Brown, the executive director at the Community Foundation for South Central New York, said she started early in public service. While she didn’t plan on going into the field, she said the right opportunities presented themselves.

“I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right job,” Brown said, “and it turned out that I loved it and that I was good at it.”

Attendees voted on a topic for the panelists to discuss. Options included their start in the field, the rewards and challenges of the job, the money, the necessity of a graduate degree and how to know if someone is suited for public service.

Money won the poll with 45 percent of the vote from the audience of about 20 people. All four panelists agreed that money wasn’t a major factor for them, and that they do it because of their passion for the work.

“What’s going to make you happier about your life?” Cummings asked. “A large bank account, or the confidence in knowing that what you’ve done the last two, 10, 30, 40 years has actually made a difference in your community?”

Kaitlin Voellinger, faculty student scholar with the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) and a senior in the individualized major program, said the event was a call to action for students.

“We at the CCE hold these public issue forums to get students interested in current issues, in the hopes they take away something from them and apply it to their lives,” she said.