MALS Graduate Students Present at Regional Conference

By Kristina Kwacz, graduate student, SUNY Empire State College

August 6, 2015

Students, Chris Gioia and Kristina Kwacz present at East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies SymposiumThree graduate students in Empire State College’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program gained valuable experience in conference presentation with the selection of their scholarly work for the East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium. Chris Gioia, at far left, Kristina Kwacz, at left, and Mark Ruhala were among 14 students or alumni representing seven institutions—including Georgetown University, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland­—at the June 13 symposium hosted by Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey.

Papers were required to be a cross-disciplinary examination of a fundamental human question, carried out in the liberal arts tradition. Panel topics such as “Thinkers as Leaders,” “Social Aspects of Art,” “Women’s Voices During Crises,” and “What Constitutes Narrative?” ensured the sharing of diverse research, which yielded engaging scholarly discussions.

Chris Gioia’s presentation, “Fuhre Mich (Lead Me): Epic Theater in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomanic” considers director von Trier’s commitment to epic theater as subjective representation of reality, which highlights the film’s underlying theme of exploring human expression, whether through sex, language, art or film

Gioia is a MALS graduate student focusing on Public History with an aim toward museum exhibitions and programming. He studied fine art and art history at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked for museums such as Museum of the Moving Image and Museum of the City of New York.

Born to parents whose lives were altered markedly by the Second World War, Kristina Kwacz’s MALS program considers her Polish heritage through the lens of Marianne Hirsch’s theory of postmemory. For the symposium, Kwacz presented her paper, “Pilgrimage, Partitions and Patriarchy: Polish Women and the Virgin Mary,” which considers Poles’ reverence of the Virgin Mary and Mary’s presentation by the Catholic hierarchy as a feminine role model for Polish women to emulate. Kwacz’s MALS studies will culminate in an exhibition that combines memoir, photography and narrative in an exploration of her identity within and beyond her family history.

In his paper, “The Ontological Desire for Growth in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening,” Mark Ruhala considers Chopin’s character study of Edna Pontellier, a woman in the dynamic 1890s who is possessed by her husband and pushed to conform to societal norms and the status quo. A crisis of conscience ultimately allows her to travel a path that transcends her captivity. Ruhala is artistic director of Ruhala Performing Arts Center in East Lansing, Michigan. He currently is working on a thesis regarding performing as a path to self-actualization using Maslow’s humanistic psychology, epigenic biology of environmental interactions and quantum theory of entanglement and interconnectedness.

In past years, the Annual East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium has been held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. This was Stockton University’s first year to host the symposium. Richard Trama, assistant director of Academic Advising and faculty member of Stockton University’s School of General Studies organized the event.

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Article Contributors

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Shelley Dixon

Anthony Doran

Helen Edelman

Kristina Kwacz

Nick Muscavage

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