Bard senior Matt Sprague is the first to admit that he did not have a plan when he came to Bard. "I knew I wanted a small school, but I didn't know what I wanted to major in, or what I was passionate about," he remembers. "What's really helpful here is that you can explore your own path. You get exposed to a lot."
Matt was taken by the beauty of Bard's campus and the opportunities to study outdoors. He began to explore the Environmental and Urban Studies Program, and decided to major in EUS with a focus in Global Perspectives on Environment, Society, and Culture. "I’m surprised that I got interested in what I did because, I mean, you’re in this really beautiful, green place—I’m from New York City, so I never expected to like that. Now I feel like—I feel a lot different when I go back home and I’m not surrounded by nature like this."
He had participated in a youth-led program at an urban farm in New Orleans as a high school student, and was introduced to the intersections of food security, institutional racism, and events like Hurricane Katrina. This interest in food systems led him to get involved with the Bard Farm. “You feel like you actually did a lot when you farm and feel accomplished by all the physical activity and being outside.”
"I don’t know what I would have been like if I hadn't come to Bard," he muses. "Learning about things in a way that considers all sides of the story—the interdisciplinary approach in EUS—is extremely helpful. Having exposure to a lot of different fields helps you orient yourself better and understand the world a little more. Sometimes you can’t think of things in really concrete, nice little boxes."
Matt's Senior Project looks at food, how people identify with it, and gentrification. His analysis will take a sociological approach to studying chopped cheese, a sandwich in New York City one usually gets in delis, corner stores, and bodegas. Matt became interested in how this sandwich has only recently appeared in places like Whole Foods and other upscale markets and restaurants. The project explores what it means when other people eat food that’s not from their own culture.
Matt received a grant through Bard to study and work on a rural farm in Japan for a month through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). He calls the experience “eye-opening. . . . They had 400 chickens. This woman had moved out there by herself and run this farm for like 30 years or 40 years, and she taught all these people—they used to be children in the neighborhood—how to farm, and now all of them have grown up and run their own farms, and it was super. She was just doing it because she loved it and she wanted to teach people how to farm sustainably."
In 2017, Matt received the Alice P. Doyle Award in Environmental Studies. The College gives the award every year to a student who shows outstanding potential in the field of environmental studies, particularly in exploring the social dimensions of environmental issues.
Matt is thinking of taking up Spanish again and doing more "WWOOFing" after graduation. He wants to explore South America and Latin America to learn the language, experience other food cultures, and connect his work in EUS and on the Bard Farm to the real world.