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Being Bold and Building Bridges

Nancy Siegel is one of those fantastic, magnetic individuals who just invigorates you to go out and change the world. Her dynamic set of skills and interests, combined with her devotion to learning and to community, make her a model professional.

Nancy weaves together art, with food, with a commitment to Baltimore in way we haven't seen before. Enjoy reading Nancy's rapid-fire Q+A, as you learn more about what makes her work so important. Also, be sure to check out her spotlight feature in this month's En Root!

Happy reading.

Tell us about your professional journey to date. What has inspired you to stay connected to community initiatives?

I am a professor at Towson University in the department of Art + Design, Art History, and Art Education. As an art historian, I specialize in American landscape studies, print culture, and culinary history of the 18th and 19th centuries. I am currently completing the manuscript Political Appetites: Revolution, Taste, and Culinary Activism in the Early Republic, in addition to curating numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally. I provide historical cooking demonstrations and lecture widely on culinary history in addition to serving as a culinary consultant for museums and non-profit institutions. My practice of linking scholarship with student engagement has coalesced in a plan to create a minor in Food Studies at Towson University. This curriculum is intended also to function as a liaison between the academic community and the greater Baltimore area. The establishment of this interdisciplinary Food Studies program has the potential for positive student outcomes, impactful partnering with community organizations, a broader place for Towson University within the greater Baltimore metro area, and meaningful advancements toward issues surrounding food security and sustainability.

At OutGrowth, we are committed to giving access. Talk to us about your take on the importance of building bridges between industries, institutions and communities. How do you think your approach fosters growth and success?

As a professor at Towson University, finding meaningful opportunities for students to learn and work outside of the classroom and make connections across disciplines is exciting for me. Helping others to find and begin to craft their passions, and take that motivation into their communities, is key to my teaching. Then, speaking up and speaking out. Lastly, putting those words into action—this is the path to building bridges.

Tell us about a pinnacle point or moment when your engagement with a community had an impact on your personal or professional life.

When I was a graduate student, I spent a few years designing and implementing museum education programming at the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ. I worked with four-year-old children. I didn’t anticipate making much of an impact with children that young rather, my goal was to engage and entertain them on Saturday mornings. But their parents, hard-working moms and dads (some of whom took multiple buses or walked long distances, stopping to pay the electric bill along the way), committed to bringing their children to the museum each week to supplement their education, to give them exposure to art, to instill in them the value of learning—this made an enormous impact on me.

How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?

I’ve never forgotten those parents, and I never forget the importance of perseverance. I think of them often so many years later with deep gratitude. This continues to instill in me an appreciation for and desire to help those seeking knowledge, guidance, or assistance.

What are your top pieces of advice for students and professionals who are looking to find ways to get involved in their communities? How can they approach engagement thoughtfully?

1. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Engagement isn’t always easy.

2. Be a good listener. Be mindful of the needs of the community in which you are working.

3. Define your objective. Why do you want to be involved? Do you want to create change? Do you want to further your base of knowledge? Do you want to engage with people directly or stay behind the scenes?

4. Be realistic about your time—don’t over-commit, which can prevent you from truly being engaged.

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Be bold. Allow yourself to fail and celebrate the bounce back.

What is your favorite quote?

“I did lie down in the stream of life and let it flow over me.” William James, 1902

Based on your professional experience, what are the top three career competencies that you believe can be gained/developed from more fully engaging with one's community?

1. Listen more than you speak.

2. Ask questions.

3. Work with kindness and authenticity, without expectation of gratitude or thanks.

What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2020?

In the coming year, I plan to establish the coursework for a Food Studies minor at Towson University. I will continue making connections with leaders working in the food justice and sustainability arenas, and hope to organize a Food Summit in the coming years. Of course, I am always seeking opportunities for more personal engagement in my community.

Nancy Siegel is a Professor of Art History and Culinary History at Towson University, and specializes in American landscape studies, print culture, and culinary history of the 18th and 19th centuries. Currently, she is creating a Food Studies program for TU and completing the manuscript 'Political Appetites: Revolution, Taste, and Culinary Activism in the Early Republic.'


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