Putting policies into practice
This month's amazing student is Mel Kutner, who turned their time in academia into a passion for philosophy and theoretical practice.
Major: Doctoral degree in educational theory and practice (critical studies)
Certificates: Graduate certificates in women and gender studies and the interdisciplinary qualitative studies program
Graduation: May 2021
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia
Why did you choose to attend UGA?
I came to UGA to study with my major advisor who is doing some really interesting philosophical work that is changing the field of educational research. Also, when I visited, I connected easily with all the professors and students in the program. It is a place where collaboration and scholarship are valued. I feel like everybody in this program is interested in their work and in making sure everybody else feels good about their work too.
What inspired you to major in your field?
I have a master's degree in conflict in analysis and resolution and an undergraduate degree in classical studies … My academic path zig-zags a lot. Through my master's work in conflict and systems, I realized how complicated things are and that I needed to gain some more knowledge in philosophy and theory to bridge together political ideals and practices. I continued this theoretical work of putting policies into practice while also having a deep love and appreciation for philosophy. Seeing what got missed and what was happening on the ground made me want to go back to school and delve into this question of where theory meets actuality.
What do you do when you have free time?
I have gotten really into baking sourdough bread lately… it's easy. You just need to make some sourdough starter with flour and water. It just sits for a few days and ferments, and then you can mix it into bread. I also like hiking with my dogs at Sandy Creek or Lake Herrick and taking pottery classes at Good Dirt Clay Studio. It's a lot of fun, and it helps me get out of my head.
If money was not an issue, what would you do?
I like to invent lots of little things. I just had this idea the other day to do something similar to escape the room, but instead of escaping a room, it would be an art thief experience. So, everyone would attempt to break into a room to steal a painting, and ahead of time, people would get a knapsack of tools to find out where the security guard has been. I have a lot of ideas—another one is a French fry vending machine. I think I would be some sort of inventor, explorer, or a big idea person. I'm not as good with all the details of engineering this stuff, but I'm there if you need an idea.
What are your plans after graduation?
I would like to find a teaching job as a professor either at a college of education or another liberal arts program, or I'd like to research methodology. I've worked some non-academic jobs and that has value too, but I like working in academia.
What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
I'm a part of the Mary Frances Early College of Education's trans-affirming practices committee in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As a member of the committee, I help educators and those in the helping professions participate in trainings focused on trans-affirming practices. I've done some similar work in Athens and North Georgia and am involved in some outreach nationally. I was also a member of the Graduate Student Organization's executive committee last year.
If you knew you could not fail at something, what would you do?
I would jump off a building and fly—that's at the top of my list. I just bought a banjo too, so I might teach myself how to play the instrument. But, I think in my heart, it's the flying thing.
What is one UGA experience you will always remember?
My most memorable Athens experience is Wild Rumpus. When I try to explain to people what Athens is like, I feel like I always talk about this festival experience to explain. A memorable UGA experience is driving up to several conferences with other Ph.D. students. It's nice to have that social time where you can completely nerd out with probably two of the only other people within a 300-mile radius that care about what you care about. It's kind of a mix of personal connections and intellectual stimulation—that is my favorite part of being a Ph.D. student.