Director of International Programs Lara Atkins grew up in Homer, N.Y., a Cortland County village with more cows than people.
Her bucolic upbringing included doing 4-H Club agricultural projects, tending to her horse and a clan of gerbils, and spending plenty of time picking and eating apples (Cortlands, naturally).
But her village’s name also evoked a more global existence.
“I was surrounded by other classically named cities like Cicero, Ithaca and Syracuse, which inspired me to study Latin in high school,” Atkins said. “Then, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I spent a year abroad in Florence.”
In this birthplace of the Renaissance, she immediately fell in love – with Italian culture, art and cuisine.
After completing her bachelor’s degree in political science and history, Atkins felt the pull of Italy once again and enrolled in a postgraduate year at the University of Florence.
“One of the best parts of that year was going on a class archeological dig in Atella, in the southern province of Basilicata. This experience further fueled my interest in the study of the classics.”
And Atkins fell in love again, this time with Pasquale Marchese, an Italian architect. They married and lived in Florence for two years while he continued his architectural studies and she taught English as a second language.
Back in the U.S., Atkins earned advanced degrees in museum studies (NYU) and classical archeology (Florida State University). She began her career in international studies at the state university in her home territory in Cortland.
“By day, I helped students map out their study abroad plans. I loved helping them discover other cultures, languages and lands beyond what they knew,” she said. “By night, I zoomed over to Aurora – another of those classically named upstate villages – and taught Italian language at Wells College, which I enjoyed immensely.”
Atkins stayed at SUNY Cortland for seven years before joining Union in 2009. She, her husband and their 10-year-old daughter, Giovanna (Gia), live in Guilderland with their Australian Labradoodle, Buddy, minutes away from Atkins’ parents. Once a year, they fly to Italy to visit Pasquale’s relatives and savor once again the country where he grew up and they met, and which they both embrace with much amore.
FIRST APP YOU LOOK AT IN THE MORNING:
WhatsApp, News, email in quick succession. I want to make sure that while I've slept, an international incident hasn't occurred somewhere our students are living and studying. Then I check the Guilderland school bus app to make sure the bus is on time and there are no cancellations or delays for Gia. It’s all about reducing morning drama!
ONE BOOK YOU HAVE READ MULTIPLE TIMES:
I generally don’t read anything more than once – unless you count “Pinkalicious,” which I have read to Gia about four quadrillion times, and “The Nutcracker,” which we read as a family every Christmas. We are big library people. I check out books in hard copy and on my tablet. Right now we are reading the Harry Potter books aloud. Now that I think about it, I read those when they came out, and I am really enjoying reading them again with her.
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED:
Participate in study abroad, of course. In all seriousness, I found myself by leaving the United States. I made some of my best friends, went on terrific adventures and discovered personal resilience I didn’t know I had. And eventually, when I moved back to Europe after college, I met my husband. All of this is why I love my job; I know how transformative study abroad can be.
FAVORITE SPOT ON CAMPUS:
My office has the best view on campus. I can see the Nott full-on from one window and Memorial Chapel from another. It’s one of the best-kept secrets (or it was).
My husband makes us all real deal cappuccinos in the morning, and I also always have yogurt.
I don’t really do podcasts, but I love listening to talk radio. I’m a big fan of NPR, shows like “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” and “All things Considered.”
ONE SKILL YOU WISH YOU HAD:
I wish I could cook with real skill and creativity, rather than perfunctorily throwing things together for a meal.
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT ABOUT YOU:
I play the violin. I started when I was four on the Suzuki method, where you learn to play everything by ear. I played all the way through high school, including being in the school orchestra. I set it down for a long time, and came back to it here and there. But now Gia’s learning the violin so I’ve picked it up again. I find it incredibly relaxing and enjoyable.
3 DINNER PARTY GUESTS YOU'D LIKE TO HAVE (living or deceased):
I would absolutely love to eat dinner with Leonardo da Vinci because he was brilliant and fascinating. I also would love the company of three remarkably courageous women who’ve made history: Susan B. Anthony, Maria Montessori and Malala. Anthony never saw the 19th Amendment, but she made it possible. Montessori used science and experimental psychology to create a new paradigm for teaching in Rome that was so successful, it became the foundation for the system we have today. I went to a Montessori school and loved it. Malala, a young Pakistani, began speaking out for her rights at 11-years-old and continues to do so despite death threats. Unfortunately, I’d have to boot Leonardo to keep to my theme of women’s education and empowerment.
I saw pop artist Bryan Adams at the New York State Fair way before boy bands were popular. We lived 30 minutes away from the fairgrounds and went every summer. I was there with my girlfriends; we were probably 15 or some geeky age like that. The second concert I went to was Madonna at Radio City Music Hall. My sister used to work there, and she got these amazing tickets. I was mesmerized by Madonna and that incredible concert hall – a world away from the fairgrounds!