Spotlight On Humanities Alumni: Maura Rapkin

AP Maura RapkinName: Maura Rapkin

Education: BA (Environmental Studies & Film and Media Studies), University of Rochester, 2011

Current city/state of residence: New York, NY

Job Title: Cook

Employer: Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

As an 18 year old, I was aware that I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. UR’s freedom to experiment with classes and majors was the biggest draw for me, and ended up allowing me to study two subjects which I love (FMS and Environmental Science).

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

Throughout my four years I spent most time involved with building the Undergraduate Film Council.  I found it lovely to connect with other students purely based on our common interest in film.  Spending time trying to unite the rest of the student body through film, whether or not we were successful, was a good way to connect with the campus and bring FMS to the forefront.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

The week or two leading up to graduation, I began to really feel the freedom that was quickly approaching.  I took a step back and looked at all the work I had done to assess my career options relating to my majors.  I did not feel that any of those paths were quite right for me, so I decided to try out an old passion, cooking.  Without really telling anyone, I applied to a bunch of restaurants around Rochester and eventually got accepted as a cook at a small Asian restaurant in Corn Hill.   I also spent some time continuing my film work with Professor Bernardi, helping her archive some of her vast collection of Japanese paraphernalia.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am now a professional cook and aspiring chef, as well as a Freelance food photographer.  Both paths are actually extremely lucrative for me.  I took the pictures for a healthy recipe cookbook (now on sale) and am currently creating a photo archive for an organic farm delivery service website, brochure, and catalogue.  As my steady income I cook at a prominent catering company in the tri-state area.  I have really found cooking to be an excellent creative outlet and my passion grows for it daily.   The photography helps me stay connected to my film roots, but cooking is how I enjoy spending most of my time.

How do you stay connected with the University?

I still keep in touch with most of my friends from my graduating class.  A lot of people moved to NY where I live now, so it’s been pretty easy to maintain my “Rochester connections.”

What advice do you have for current students?

This is the corniest advice, but I would not be where I am right now if I hadn’t listened to and followed my heart.  I am one year out of college, not where I thought I would be at all, and exactly in the right place.  I couldn’t be happier with where all of my decisions have landed me, and all I did was, very simply, follow my own heart.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Allison Sribarra

Name:Allison Sribarra
Age: 32
Education (UR and additional): B.A. in Environmental Studies, University of Rochester, 2002; M.A. in Public Policy, University of Maryland, 2011.
Current city/state of residence: Silver Spring, MD
Job Title: Conservation Policy Coordinator
Employer: Defenders of Wildlife
Family: husband, Kartik and 3-month old son, Khai
Community activities: participant in the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders program, class of 2011-2012

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I loved Rochester’s campus and since I thought I was going to be a biology major, I wanted a school with a  strong science program.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Immediately after graduation, I traveled to India and Germany before moving to Portland, Oregon. It took me a little while to find a permanent job in Portland but I took the opportunity to try a few different things, including a job with AmeriCorps. I used the skills I honed during my term of service to land a permanent job at a non-profit land trust in Portland.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I currently work at Defenders of Wildlife, a national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting biodiversity. I work on a team of people who advocate for policies that help to conserve wildlife habitat on public and private lands. I chose this career because I believe that protecting biodiversity is a fundamental part of ensuring a healthy environment for us all.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Science literacy is huge when working for an environmental non-profit. Although I’m not a scientist, I often find myself reading scientific journal articles to prepare for writing an advocacy piece, a policy memo or preparing for meetings with Congressional staff. The solid grounding I have in the natural sciences because of the classes required for my major at U of R.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

Long hours are going to be a given at some point if you work for a non-profit organization. In order to make sure that working long hours doesn’t become a norm for me, I prioritize and make lots of lists to keep myself organized. Unless there is something urgent, I try to leave the office by 5:30 every day and remind myself that it will all be there tomorrow. This gives me time in the evening to spend with my family.

What advice do you have for current students?

Recognize that you may not know what it is that you want to do right away. Give yourself opportunities that challenge you to learn new skills and put you outside of your comfort zone.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Allison Voetsch Pinto

Name:  Allison Voetsch Pinto
Age: 32
Education (UR and additional): B.A. in Environmental Studies, University of Rochester, 2001. J.D. – Brooklyn Law School
Current city/state of residence: Staten Isand, New York
Job Title:  Attorney
Employer:  The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I chose to attend UR because of its excellent reputation, its size (the perfect number of students, I think!), the girls lacrosse program, and I must admit, the beautiful campus, where I could imagine myself playing Frisbee and reading a book outside (when it wasn’t snowing, that is.)   The diversity of the curriculum also excited me – so many interesting classes, and a true liberal arts school.

When and how did you choose your major?

I chose a major in environmental studies during my first year because of my interest in science and the environment – not necessarily because I was seeking a career in that field, but because I truly enjoyed learning the subject matter and was enthusiastic about the classes.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I played varsity lacrosse for a few years and also joined a sorority.  Although they sound like very different activities, both provided great friendships and lasting memories, and both fostered a great sense of team, and school, spirit.   I learned a lot from the experiences of all the people I was able to meet through a wider variety of activities.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am currently an attorney working for a governmental agency in New York City, in its finance division.  I realize this sounds very different from my chosen major! I had not considered attending law school until after I graduated college and worked as a paralegal for a law firm.  I realized that I could marry my interests in law and science by studying environmental law. Law school broadened my interests even further, and led me to a position at a diverse transportation-focused agency where I am involved involved in many types of legal work, including environmental law.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

This is always a tricky one.  I try to keep in mind that it is not about balance on a daily or weekly basis, but in a “bigger picture” way.  There will always be times when work overshadows everything, or family matters take precedence, but as long as over time, things are balancing out in a way that matters to you (and each person is different), then you’re on track.  I have to remind myself constantly that my work will always be there, and sometimes I just have to leave it for the next morning and get home.  Periodically checking in with your priorities also helps!

What advice do you have for current students?

Take advantage of everything UR has to offer, because once you have graduated, you will really miss it!  Take a variety of classes – even if it has nothing to do with your major (especially if it doesn’t have anything to do with your major!) You might discover a new hobby, interest, or even career path! Definitely study abroad – it is an amazing opportunity that is difficult to recreate when you are no longer in school.

Students Research Tobacco Use, Putting Theory into Practice

Univ. Communications – According to a 2011 World Health Organization report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, India is poised to lose more lives to smoking in the next generation than any other country. This startling statistic has inspired three UR students—Karishma Dara, Emma Caldwell, and Anupa Gewali—to travel to a Ladakh, a remote region in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, to research patterns of tobacco use among youth. The goal of their research has been to provide the community in Ladakh with data about its tobacco use in order to help design intervention strategies and quitting resources.

Dara ’12, an anthropology major, Caldwell ’13, an environmental studies and public health major, and Gewali ’12, also a public health major, all took a seminar with Professor Nancy Chin last year, exploring the landscape of tobacco use in countries such as the Dominican Republic. Chin had previously done research in Ladakh and wanted to go back; this past August, Chin brought the three undergraduates and a graduate student to the region, and they set out to explore the community’s relationship to tobacco.

“We had an idea of what our skills were and what our interests were but we kind of left it to the community to tell us what they needed from us,” said Gewali. Their starting point was the health department in Leh, the largest city and capital of Ladakh. The students offered their knowledge and qualitative research skills and since the health department was very concerned about tobacco use by school children, they were asked to focus their research energies on that topic.

“We specifically looked at gender roles and how they impact youth tobacco use,” said Caldwell. Traditionally, in this isolated, mountainous, desert region of India smoking was designated as a male-only activity. The majority of the population is either Buddhist or Muslim and in the contexts of both religious communities smoking is viewed negatively, especially for women. However, the onset of globalization and the explosion of tourism in Ladakh since the 1970’s have made smoking a sudden and ubiquitous presence in the public sphere.

At the center of the students’ project were interviews with adolescent smokers themselves as well as communication with organizations who are concerned by the rise of smoking and its glamorization. They focused on the effect of tobacco use on adolescent girls who often perceive smoking as “a symbol of freedom,” Dara explained.

Though there are laws against smoking in public, they are not enforced and many people do not know about them. Since Ladakh has thrived from the influx of European tourism, and since many tourists smoke themselves, the locals shy away from imposing regulations that could negatively impact a major source of revenue. This further exacerbates the problem of smoking among young people.

The students found that if Ladakh continues on the same trend, in the next ten years the amount of females smoking is going to rapidly increase. They were alarmed to interview children as young as eleven and twelve years of age who had “no idea how to quit,” Cladwell said.

Though smoking is on the rise throughout India, in bigger cities and more populous regions there are more prevention and quitting resources to counteract the proliferation of smoking.  But, in Ladakh, as Gewali explained, “There were so many times when we would be interviewing ten, thirteen-year-old boys and they’d be like ‘wait, there’s a way to quit smoking?’  It’s literally a new concept.”

The students hope that the data they collected and presented back to community organization will be a vital tool to devise intervention strategies and establish quitting resources.  However, this project is just getting started and though it will eventually become a self-sustaining community health program coordinated independently by Ladakhis, in the next few years the students hope to continue assisting this community and bring more UR students to participate in the effort.

After all, the experience was not only important in helping a community struggling with a public health crisis, but it also provided an invaluable opportunity for the students themselves to grow as researchers. Dara, Caldwell, and Gewali are now working on submitting their findings for publication and applying to participate in conferences.

“We’re really eager to talk to people about this because it’s such an important opportunity. It’s really important that it keeps going not just because this community has been started on this track of intervention, but we’ve identified a really big need and we found that it can really benefit students here to have this experience,” Gewali said.

Dara stressed the importance of the application of the theories and methods social science students learn in Rochester classrooms.  Merely learning these approaches is not enough to create a realistic idea about field work and data collection. The students practiced interview skills for months with one another and in the city of Rochester, but nothing could adequately prepare them for their encounters with the community in Ladakh. “When you’re just having a conversation with a kid about why he started smoking it’s so different and it’s so much more powerful,” said Dara.

The University of Rochester name was connected with all of the students’ activities and the community in Ladakh now sees that the University is devoted to this project. The students are hoping that these sorts of engagements between the University and the world will continue and multiply.

“Hopefully the school will see that we benefited so much from this, we’re so passionate about it, that they will make more of an effort to give these opportunities to the undergraduate population,” Cladwell concluded.

Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia ( and the other to photography (

Photo courtesy of Anupa Gewali ’12.