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Kate-Nicole Hoffman ’17

Kate-Nicole Hoffman ’17, a SUNY Potsdam Presidential Scholar and recent recipient of the Chancellor’s Award, is one of the most accomplished students walking in SUNY Potsdam’s Commencement ceremony this week. She will be graduating summa cum laude, with a double major in music and philosophy. In the fall, she is headed to York University in Toronto to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy with a focus on animal cognition and ethics.

Hoffman started her undergraduate career focused on music, and although her love for vocal performance, opera and musical theatre continues, her educational objectives shifted toward the study of philosophy. Dr. David C.K. Curry, chair of philosophy at SUNY Potsdam, has been instrumental in her interest and development in the field. Hoffman said that Curry has been very supportive. “He was teaching the first philosophy class that I took, so he’s pretty much responsible for bringing me into philosophy in the first place,” she said.

Curry went on to be her mentor in the Presidential Scholars Program, where she combined her love of animals and interest in philosophy to examine animal cognition. After reading the work of French philosopher René Descartes, she set out to deconstruct and present an opposing argument about animal cognition.

“I had read this brief passage in Descartes’ work that animals are nothing more than machines, like plants that bend toward the light. He thought that animals are just a complicated natural occurrence and that their reactions are based on stimulus…I think his philosophy is reflective in things that we see today, and I wanted to find some evidence that perhaps would counter this way of thinking—I found that in looking at evidence of animal PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” she said.

As an animal lover, Hoffman sees Descartes’ philosophy as counterintuitive, but she admits he offers some strong arguments that have filtered into science today. Some people think that animals don’t suffer or feel pain the same way humans do. As part of her Presidential Scholar research, she found that animals react to traumatic situations with a distinct psychological and minded reaction, much like humans. She examined new scientific research to construct her philosophical argument, which she recently presented to a colloquium at SUNY Potsdam.

“Kate-Nicole is a model of student excellence in all imaginable senses of the phrase. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a student who has taken better advantage of the opportunities SUNY Potsdam offers,” said Curry.

In addition to her work as a Presidential Scholar and finishing her double major in music and philosophy, Hoffman still finds time to be a frequent volunteer at the Potsdam Humane Society. She has also served as a student representative on the Honors Advisory Council, and as vice president of both the Writer's Café and the Philosophy Forum. She has also worked as a resident assistant during her sophomore and junior years, and she interned in the president’s office during her junior and senior years.

Although she has embraced her pursuit of philosophy at SUNY Potsdam, music has remained an integral part of her undergraduate experience. “I’ve really grown as a musician. A lot of that is due to all of the professors at Crane, but especially my voice professor Jonathan Stinson, who has been really incredible…he’s supportive, not just of my music career, but also of pretty much everything I do,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman is a member of the Crane Choir and Crane Chorus, and she recently played the role of Goldilocks in the children’s opera, “The Three Bears.” Her biggest stage was Carnegie Hall last year in New York City, where Hoffman was a soloist in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music” during a special concert with the Crane Symphony Orchestra and Crane Chorus.

Hoffman admits she was nervous to stand on the grand stage of Carnegie Hall. “I always get a little bit emotional during big concerts like this. Singing those incredible pieces, there’s just nothing like it,” Hoffman recalls.

As she closes this chapter of her life and heads to Canada for her graduate work, she encourages incoming freshman and current students to make connections and reach out to people on campus.

“The faculty are just so concerned about your growth as a student, as an individual, not just in my majors. Almost every faculty member I’ve encountered would drop anything if I have a question—it’s really just incredible,” Hoffman said.

Kate-Nicole Hoffman