Meet Liberal Studies alumna Kathy Carden
Individualized Major: Advocacy in African Communities
Minor in African Studies, Concentrations in Psychology and Anthropology
Graduation year: 2019
Next Steps: Executive Administrative Associate, University of Louisville
How did your Individualized Major through the Liberal Studies Program prepare you for your next steps after graduation?
Given my interests and age (a non-traditional student), the best fit for me clearly was an Individualized Major. The Liberal Studies Program offered flexibility in designing a unique “interdisciplinary” curriculum to better equip me for advocacy work on behalf of impoverished women and children. My African Studies Minor and carefully selected Liberal Studies concentrations (PAS, Anthropology, and Psychology), all helped prepare me for the next season of my life beyond cultural and geographic borders. Given my desire to return to Kenya longer term, following my first life-changing visit in 2005, chosen research topics encompassed a number of studies focused on aspects of Kenyan culture. The scope of my studies allowed me to explore intertwining historical, anthropological, cultural, racial, religious, political, economic, social and gender contexts, not just in the U.S. but specific to the diverse regions of Africa. For example, learning about the place of women in various African cultures expanded my understanding about common struggles for equality, as well as the agentive power of women in key realms of influence.
Most memorable class you took as an undergrad? Why?
This is a toss-up, but I would have to say that my “Cultures of Africa” class (ANTH 323) is most memorable for several significant reasons. First, early in the class, students were given a map quiz to identify all of the countries and capital cities of the vast continent of Africa. In subsequent PAS classes, I understood the value of familiarity with geographic locations. When reading about a place, I could envision it in my mind and associate it with historical contexts. Secondly, having visited Rwanda, I was aware of the atrocities of the 1994 genocide and the traumatic aftermath. At a peace and reconciliation seminar with Rwandan village women, I had met a compassionate woman who was ministering to orphans and victimized women. Amazingly, several years later in Kentucky, when a guest speaker walked into our classroom, I immediately recognized him as the husband of the Rwandan woman. It goes to show how small our world really is and how we can join hands and hearts across the world as united agents of peace, healing, and change in hopes of preventing repeated acts of violence and injustice. Finally, beyond this class, Professor Burnet gave me an opportunity to complete an independent study in Kenya where people whom I love have their own history of ethnic violence.
What is the most thrilling or adventurous thing you've ever done?
One of the most thrilling adventures of my life was my first safari in the Maasai Mara. It was so exciting to see the animals migrate from Tanzania to Kenya, witnessing the beauty of zebras and giraffes, magnificent elephants, the nature of predatory lions, unique-looking wildebeests, and other savanna wildlife. My oldest son and I shared a tent and were startled when hyenas surrounded it in the middle of the night. He recognized their sound and reminded me that hyenas roam in packs. Instinctively entering a protective mode, I put on my boots, ready to kick defensively if they tried to enter, prayed Psalms 23, and finally was relieved when the low growling sound of a lion scared them away.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you're committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.
My spiritual mentor, fondly called “Earth Mother,” is the first person who comes to mind. She strengthened my faith through hard times and taught me how to pray, love, and forgive (forgiveness for myself and toward others). This faith foundation has influenced every realm of my life and work. I have been impacted by a number of resilient women who, like me, overcame the challenges of becoming a suddenly single parent, reliant on God for provision when living at the poverty line. I think these struggles have made me sensitive toward others who need hope and encouragement in their time of need. There are a couple of key Biblical scriptures about “giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty” and “remembering the orphan and widow in their distress” that have compelled me in advocacy work. Consequently, I am passionate about empowering women and sponsoring the poorest of children so that they can go to school. Another factor that sometimes is linked closely to poverty is alcoholism, a problem that affects families worldwide. A dear friend has guided me through the process of Al-Anon recovery, giving me the courage and tools to free myself from unhealthy relationships and get my life back. I would not have earned my degree if it had not been for her support and the constant support of two wonderful supervisors (Drs. Billingsley and Shanahan) who allowed flexible work hours for class attendance. It has taken a “village of supporters” to cheer me across the graduation finish line and to encourage me to go where I am called.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I take pleasure in a diverse range of tasty ethnic foods, especially Mediterranean and Persian cuisine. On the dessert menu, although my Lebanese grandmother made delicious baklava during the holidays, my favorite sweet indulgence is ice cream (in an array of flavors).
Advice for current Individualized Majors?
I have three top tips: #1 Follow your passions and use your natural talents, developed skills, and acquired knowledge to make a positive difference in the world, working collaboratively and respectfully within the context of culture. #2 Stay focused on your studies but also volunteer in the community and outside of the states for a richer learning experience. Volunteerism is rewarding to both the giver and recipient. For example, one of my most meaningful experiences locally was prompted by my Anthropology of Refugees class. Working with individuals in refugee status has led to ongoing relationships with some wonderful students and their families. It has been a joy to see friends from various countries (Burma, Iraq, Bhutan, Cuba, Kenya, Ukraine) become naturalized. Each individual worked so hard to overcome language and other barriers. A warm welcome and caring support connects us. #3 Take advantage of free REACH tutoring services and Writing Center resources. Tutoring and class attendance is important. I never wasted an hour engaged in these valuable learning endeavors.