Alumni Spotlight: Caitlin McShea

The alums of St. John’s College can be found in just about any profession and across the world. Connecting current students and alums to this widespread network are people like Caitlin McShea, an alum as well, who exemplifies the full spirit of St. John’s pedagogy and the examined life.

After graduating from the MALA program at St. John’s College Santa Fe in 2011, Caitlin Lorraine McShea worked as a director for contemporary art galleries along Santa Fe’s prestigious Canyon Road before moving on to the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), a cutting-edge complexity science research facility.

“I manage our public programming, including our free community lecture series, and the InterPlanetary Festival. I also get to curate changing art exhibitions on campus, featuring local and national artists, which is super cool!”

There is often a stubborn rift that separates art from science, one refusing insight from the other. It may, therefore, seem strange for Ms. McShea to jump from gallery director to a position at a science research institute. For Johnnies, however, the two fields are eagerly bridged, as are many others. St. John’s College is founded upon the idea that the study of one subject will inform the study of another. Caitlin, herself, maintains a comparable passion for interdisciplinary study.

“It’s really nice to work in a science research setting where I can re-ignite the light of my background in biology that was semi-snuffed a while back when I dove headfirst into the humanities. Since SJC, I’ve become very interested in cooking, and I enrolled in the Culinary Academy at the Santa Fe Community College. I’m also dabbling in the visual arts now, painting and botanical illustration.”

This love of multi-disciplinary study is both the cause and result of a St. John’s College education. For the rest of their lives, the wisdom and courage our students gain in-class guides, supports, and challenges them throughout their lives. It leads them down myriad personal and professional paths. Yet, while our students find themselves in unique places and on unique paths, the origin-story for many St. John’s students is the same: they met an alum who saw in them a familiar love of learning. This was true for Ms. McShea.

“I went to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas for a degree in Biology and Philosophy, and my favorite professor there, Phil Hopkins, had done the GI program in Santa Fe himself, and highly recommended it to me. His endorsement was extremely meaningful, so I applied without even visiting and never looked back!

“I enjoyed the course work I was doing at Southwestern in Philosophy, but much of what we read was quite modern and/or mostly secondary materials. Having expressed my desire to gain an understanding of the foundations of the thought that authors like Foucault and Marx were reacting to, or engaging with, Phil Hopkins pointed me to SJC!”

Staying in Santa Fe has given her the opportunity to maintain several connections to the school. She regularly attends the Dean’s Lecture and Concert Series on Friday nights, she has kept in touch with and befriended some of her previous tutors, and she has become a director-at-large for the Alumni Association Board.

“I remain connected to St. John’s because I think the time I spent in the Liberal Arts Program truly made me a better person. I came to SJC straight out of college, when I was a firmly opinionated young woman who was more ready to challenge than truly participate. Now, in addition to really being able to read something carefully, thoughtfully, and I would say somewhat ‘mindedly,’ I’m also much more open to interpretations of those texts that aren’t/weren’t my own. And developing that skill has no doubt made me more capable of hearing others in every facet of my life today. Few institutions foster such honest engagement and communication, I think it’s especially important now, and I hope that by staying involved, I can point more people to the college.”

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