Plattsburgh State senior expeditionary studies major Mary Kunze does not limit herself to anything. Her fascination with photography and traveling has motivated her to expand her horizons, learn about different cultures and raise awareness on key issues in other countries.
As a freshman, Kunze wanted to study photography, journalism, anthropology, marketing and business—all at once. However, she felt the workload would be too time consuming, so she decided to do her own research and learn the fundamentals of each field. She declared expeditionary studies as her major because it combined most of her interests.
“My major is amazing in the sense that it gets you started on the outdoors,” Kunze said. “It doesn’t limit you to a specific part of recreation.”
Within the last few years, Kunze visited several countries, including Switzerland, Iceland and Portugal. As part of her expeditionary studies, she also travelled to Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
She was inspired to practice photography during her freshman year after traveling to Cambodia with her class.
“We were paddling through the Mekong River, and it was bringing us to a rural village,” Kunze said. “This village never had people from the western world visit them. From that experience, I wanted to be able to document my travels and [show] different perspectives of poverty and issues going on in other countries because there needs to be attention brought to that.”
Kunze recalled experiencing culture shock when she visited Bangladesh last January in midst of the Rohingya Muslim crisis.
She said at the time there was a large community of Rohingya muslims living in Myanmar, which shares a border with India and Bangladesh. Most of the people living in Myanmar were Buddhist and didn’t get along with the Rohingya Muslims.
Myanmar’s military launched air strikes in hopes of wiping out all the Muslims in the area. As a result, thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh seeking refuge.
“I was on a bus where there was a huge language barrier,” Kunze said. “The military officer was concerned about my safety. They checked for anyone [who came from] Myanmar to send back home. The military officer recognized a couple who escaped, but he told them to stay because if he had sent them back they’d be killed.”
Kunze described the experience an eye-opener. It inspired her to shed light on issues people in the Plattsburgh community rarely speak or know about. Now she carries her Sony A600 camera almost everywhere she goes.
When she returned to Plattsburgh, she continued to practice her nature photography skills. Some of her landscape photos of the Adirondacks were featured in the winter/spring 2018 issue of PSUC’s magazine Do North.
Jerry Isaak, chair of the expeditionary studies department, believes Kunze’s curiosity, friendliness and leadership skills sets her apart from other students in the program.
“What makes Mary different is that she’s taken the initiative to pursue her interests in a variety of different ways,” Isaak said.
Last semester, Kunze searched for an independent study course that focused on the outdoors and working with animals. She contacted faculty members and asked them to help her find an internship. Eventually, she found her happy medium: Working as a dog sledding apprentice in Maine.
“She made those connections and worked over the break to learn how to dog sled and how to live in extremely cold environments,” Isaak said.
When she doesn’t have class, Kunze loves to ski at the Adirondack Mountains. For this, she usually wakes up as early as 5 a.m. to start her day off right. When she’s home, she likes to create jewelry—a hobby she’s practiced since she was in the second grade.
Tim Behuniak, PSUC senior magazine journalism major and Kunze’s boyfriend described Kunze as “an incredibly optimistic person and a go-getter.”
“When she finds something she’s passionate about, she goes all-in,” Behuniak said. “She’s a super talented and artistic person who exudes confidence and a fun attitude.”
Cali Timmins, PSUC senior public relations major and Kunze’s best friend describes their friendship as an inseparable bond, even when they’re physically apart.
“Mary is the kind of person who will always be thinking of ways to show you she cares,” Timmins said. “Every gift I’ve ever received from her has been thoughtful and special. I know she’ll be in my life for a very long time.”
Kunze is currently looking for places to visit for her senior expedition project. She also plans on dedicating her time to completing several projects related to photography, traveling and business after graduation.
She attributes her success to always staying positive no matter what.
“My dad always said ‘make sure you have a positive attitude in what you’re doing,’” Kunze said. “That’s definitely carried on through all my life.”
Email Jasely Molina at firstname.lastname@example.org