Interview With CUNY BA Alumnus Robert Cleary (American Studies and Critical Studies, Hunter College, ‘20)

April 2022 Newsletter: Featured Interview w/ Alumnus Robert Cleary (American Studies and Critical Studies, Hunter College, ‘20)

Interview by: Brandon Greyson Kim (Moral Philosophy and Axiological Futurism, Hunter College, ‘23)

Robert Cleary (American Studies and Critical Studies, Hunter College) is a graduate of the CUNY BA-MALS (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) Pipeline Program and a current Ph.D. student in History at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is also a former Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellow and a Mellon Public Humanities Scholar.


I spent my first two years of undergraduate study at LaGuardia Community College (“LaGuardia”). I was a nontraditional student, so LaGuardia was a perfect fit. The courses were smaller and the faculty and students were generally quite motivated. I was also able to take courses in the honors program, which I enjoyed and, ultimately, led me to staying within the CUNY system for my bachelor’s degree. It was around this time that I heard about the CUNY BA program, and it seemed like something that would be a great fit for me. The people who have gone through the program spoke so highly of it, so I took a sort of leap of faith, and luckily, it worked out. Actually, it worked out very well for me! I’m a big fan of the program.

Although the CUNY BA program isn’t for everybody, I think it attracts a certain type of person; usually, someone who isn’t entirely satisfied with the standard curriculum prevalent in most colleges and instead, wants to really forge their own intellectual path. The students in the program are extremely motivated. You have to be. So, I think that a deep intellectual curiosity is perhaps a characteristic of all students in the CUNY BA program.

Tell me about your areas of concentration (“AOCs”).

My areas of concentration (“AOCs”) are (i) American Studies and (ii) Critical Studies. I chose American Studies since it is not offered as an undergraduate major at any of the CUNY colleges; but, as you might know, it is a very well-defined field. Additionally, an aspect of American Studies is critical approaches, so I wanted to combine American and Critical Studies to form my program. I satisfied most of my requirements in American Studies by taking courses in history, and for Critical Studies by taking courses in philosophy.

How did you go about finding a faculty mentor, and in what ways did you work with them?

One of the things I learned early on in my college career was that it really benefits you to take classes with full-time professors in the department or disciplines that you’re interested in. I met a history professor at LaGuardia who also happened to teach in the MALS program, and she became my faculty mentor. I think, especially if you plan on going to graduate school, it’s also really important to form relationships with faculty that are active in their field and engaged in scholarship. Building strong relationships with full-time faculty members makes all the difference in the world.

How did the CUNY BA program influence your decision to pursue graduate school?

While in the program, I took advantage of the ability to take classes at other campuses, one of those being the Graduate Center (“GC”). Taking courses at the GC was actually how I learned of the CUNY BA-MALS Pipeline Program.

How has the program prepared you for graduate study?

You have to be quite independent to succeed in the CUNY BA program, as you do in graduate school. You also have to be able to go after what you want; reach out to specific professors you want to work with or learn from; and really, make the most of your learning. And so, I think that the practice of doing that in the CUNY BA program, where you have the freedom and resources to do so, is great preparation for graduate school.

What is one piece of advice that you would like to share with current and future CUNY BA students?

If any current students are interested in pursuing graduate study, just know: follow your heart. Whatever it is you want to study, go for it. Obviously, you’ll need to be strategic in terms of deciding where to apply and what that’s going to involve. And, of course, applying to graduate school is a lot of work! So it’s important to start the process early by reaching out to people who can support you; and most importantly, apply to whatever it is you want to do.