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Meet the Liberal Studies Faculty

Dr. Erik Hage

Erik Hage
Department Chair
Professor - Communication



Professor Erik Hage has taught journalism, mass media, English, and technical communication at the college since arriving in 2001. Currently a book critic for Harvard Review, he has also been a columnist, feature writer, and critic for Metroland newspaper (Albany, NY) and a news editor at Premiere Networks (New York City). He earned a New York Press Association Award for business and economic journalism in 2006. In addition, he is the author of the books The Melville-Hawthorne Connection (2014), Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion (2010), and The Words and Music of Van Morrison (2009) -- and has contributed to seven other books. Having written for several newspapers, magazines, and journals, his most cherished experience as a journalist came when he interviewed the late blues legend B.B. King. Professor Hage’s research interests include biography, cultural criticism, wilderness writing, and sports journalism, and he and his family live in the Capital Region. Educated at Binghamton University (SUNY) and New York University, Professor Hage was raised in Upstate New York and Boston. When he is not writing, his main pastimes are trail running and training for marathons.


Matthew Burns

Matthew Burns, PhD
Associate Professor - Humanities


Matthew Burns, an Associate Professor, teaches a variety of writing and literature courses. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous national and international journals, and his poem “Rhubarb” was the winner of the James Hearst prize from North American Review; others have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards.  His poetry collection, Imagine the Glacier (Finishing Line Press) was released in March of 2021. 

Beyond creative work, Dr. Burns has served as editor of Harpur Palate and a special graffiti-themed issue of Rhizomes: Culture Studies in Emerging Knowledge. His scholarly work often focuses on the less-than-common and has included papers and courses on subjects as varied as Graffiti Linguistics, 20th-Century Music Subcultures, Hobos and Contemporary Transience, and Working Class Literature. He also serves as a co-advisor for the Cobleskill Writers Group. 

  • PhD, Creative Writing, Binghamton University 2011
  • MA, American Studies, Lehigh University 2005
  • BA, English, University of Rochester 2001 


To learn more about his work, visit www.MatthewBurnsPoetry.com 

Dr. Leigh-Ann Christain

Leigh Ann Christain, PhD
Assistant Professor - Humanities


Dr. Leigh Ann Christain is an Associate Professor of Composition and ESOL in the Liberal Studies Department, and her responsibilities include teaching a wide variety of English courses. An English BA and Philosophy & Religion BA graduate of Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, Dr. Christain earned an MA and PhD in English (with a Creative Writing concentration) from the University of South Dakota. She is a Pushcart nominee and an Arctic Circle Art and Science resident who has had poems published in such journals as Seneca Review, Oxford Poetry, and The Lifted Brow, among others, and her full-length poetry collection, Tall As You Are Tall Between Them, was published by C&R Press in 2016. Her recent poetry awards include the Green Mountains Review Neil Shepard Prize, Phoebe’s Greg Grummer Poetry Award, the Oakland School for the Arts Enizagam Poetry Award, and ICON’s Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest Grand Prize. Dr. Christain’s writing and teaching is informed by her international teaching experience in China and South Korea, and as co-advisor of the International Club, she creates opportunities for students to share cultural knowledge. 

Adam Daily

Adam Daily
Associate Professor - Graphic Design


Adam Daily is an Assistant Professor and the graphic design program coordinator. He teaches a variety of courses including Digital Media, Computer Graphics, Digital Prepress and Senior Seminar. Daily is a graduate of Skidmore College and The University at Albany. He is a painter and designer whose practice is characterized by experimentation and innovation in production methods and materials. His work often combines digital and handmade processes. In 2011, he was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship in Digital/ Electronic Arts. His work has been widely exhibited in both solo and group exhibitions. His solo exhibitions include shows at Salem Art Works, The Foundry for Art and Design, Schaefer Landing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and a large-scale mural commissioned by the City of New Rochelle, N.Y. 

■ MFA, Painting, University at Albany 2008
■ BS, Studio Art , Skidmore College 2003

To see Adam’s work please visit www.adam-daily.com 

Rene M. Descartes, PhD
Professor - Social Science


Professor Rene M. Descartes teaches a range of courses in Anthropology, as well as the History of Western Civilization. His research and teaching interests include archaeological theory; the origin of the proto-state; pre-industrial agricultural systems, particularly with hydraulic applications; and early civilizations in Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia. His publications include Karl Wittfogel and the Nomothetic Revival in Anthropology; “Animal Husbandry in Ancient Greece,” in Ancient Greece; and “England’s Agricultural Revolution,” in The Seventeenth Century. Professor Descartes has a long-term interest in agriculture, and since 1977 he and his wife Marsha have been the owners and operators of Beaver Dam Farms, a 150-acre, registered Polled Hereford operation, raising forages and grain corn. He has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Buffalo, an MA in Anthropology from the University at Albany, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the New School for Social Research. He also holds a Master’s of Library Science (archives) and an MA in History from the University at Albany.


Doug Flanagan

Doug Flanagan
Assistant Professor - Communication


Douglas Flanagan has been involved with the media industry since the late 1980s. He began his career at WUTR in Utica, New York, working his way up through the ranks over 11 years.  He eventually held the position of Program/Operations Manager and was responsible for hiring and training all production personnel at the station. He was involved in several award-winning productions, from thirty-second promotional TV spots to live semi-scripted coverage of news and community events such as the Boilermaker road race. Doug took his love for media production into the classroom in 2001, transitioning to a faculty position at Herkimer College. He has taught introductory audio and video classes, intermediate video classes, advanced video, mass communication, and sales/promotion classes. He also served as the Executive Producer of HCTV News, a student-produced newscast that won two Associated Press awards in the college category. At SUNY Cobleskill, he can often be found in the TV studio on the second floor of the library, working on modifications and updates and getting ready for the next student production. 

Dr. Sinikka Grant

Sinikka Grant, PhD
Associate Professor - Humanities


A native of Finland, Dr. Sinikka Grant joined the Liberal Studies department in 2014. Her areas of specialization are American literature, African American literature, and drama. She teaches a variety of classes in Humanities, such as Introduction to Literature, Introduction to Drama, Multicultural Literature, African American Literature, Stagecraft, and the Humanities Capstone Seminar. Dr. Grant’s research interests are the intersections of history, memory, and violence in African American literature and culture, and notions of community in American literature and culture. Dr. Grant has presented her research in many national conferences, such as American Literature Association and College English Association. Her article, “'Their baggage a long line of separation and dispersement’: Haunting and Trans-generational Trauma in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” was published in College Literature. To further her education in theatre arts, Dr. Grant recently attended an intensive workshop on directing at Yale School of Drama. She also advises the college drama club, The Dramatic Tigerians. Dr. Grant has a Ph.D. in English from University at Buffalo and an M.A and B.A. in English from Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland.


Tom Hickey, PhD
Professor - Social Science


Professor Tom Hickey received his Ph.D. From Sam Houston State University and his J.D. From the University of Oregon School of Law. He is a nationally recognized authority on issues pertaining to the U.S. justice system and has authored five books and numerous articles in respected academic journals. He has also served on the faculties of the Pennsylvania State University and the University of Oregon.



Kathy Johnson

Kathy Johnson
Associate Professor - Humanities


Associate Professor Kathy J. Johnson earned both a MA and a BA from Michigan State University and has worked for SUNY Cobleskill since 1987. Prof. Johnson’s first twenty years on campus were supporting students as director of the tutoring center, but since 2007 she has been in the classroom teaching composition and literature. She believes the real purpose of education is to mentor students and to help them discover what is important to them to become the engaged, thoughtful, self-aware citizens of tomorrow. In class, Prof. Johnson stresses the importance of effective communication because this may be the determining factor in a hiring or promotional situation for students; employers are looking for strong skills in writing and presenting. Prof. Johnson also holds permanent NYS teaching certifications and can teach not only what to learn but also how to learn. Her favorite class to teach is Women’s Literature, and she enjoys traveling to warm climates to study literature and culture during cold months. Prof. Johnson was born and raised in agricultural West Michigan and feels right at home in this region. She lives on the Helderberg Escarpment with breathtaking views of the Hudson Valley with her family including two dachshunds. When not grading papers or preparing for class, she enjoys sewing for charity auctions, gardening, baking, and reading. In 2017, she was the recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Faculty Service.


Kristina Johnson

Kristina Johnson
Associate Professor- Music/Humanities


Kristina Johnson has been directing the music performance groups and teaching music history at SUNY Cobleskill since 2001. The college offers a Jazz Band and Choir which perform for various events such as Homecoming Weekend, Commencement and Showcase Concerts. On the professional side, Professor Johnson has been playing saxophone for a few decades. She started performing during high school in Los Angeles, mainly in jazz quartets and big bands. Her love for jazz and dance bands has continued through the years. For the last 17 years, she has been the lead alto saxophonist for the Joey Thomas Big Band. The swinging Albany-based, Grammy-nominated ensemble performs Sinatra and World War II music. The group has also backed up the legendary Temptations.

She also performs in various groups such as The Sam Whedon Band, Brass'O'Mania, The Blues Maneuver that play funky dance grooves while the whole room is dancing, and the walls are vibrating.

Academically, she holds a BA - Music from UC Santa Cruz, BS - Education from SUNY Oneonta and a Master's Degree in Music Education from The College of Saint Rose.

Margrethe Lauber

Margrethe Lauber
Professor - Graphic Design


Margrethe Lauber, professor and author of the 4-year program, teaches across the curriculum, specializing in typography and the history of art/design. Lauber is a design graduate of Pratt Institute and the University of Cincinnati, did additional graduate work in history at the New School for Social Research, and studied abroad as a research fellow in Germany and Ireland. Prior to full-time teaching at SUNY, she taught as an adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design and had a career as a graphic designer spanning more than two decades working for numerous agencies in the fields of advertising, publishing, corporate, display, and direct mail.

Off the job, Lauber dedicates her time to travel, museums, books, motorcycling, and archery.

■ MA, Historical Studies, New School for Social Research, 1997
■ MDes, Graphic Design, University of Cincinnati, 1990
■ BFA, Communications Design, Pratt Institute, 1984

Doug MacLeod

Douglas C MacLeod, Jr.
Associate Professor - Communication


Assistant Professor Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr., who earned a Doctorate of Arts in the Humanities from SUNY Albany in 2008, worked as an instructor and tutor at various institutions prior to coming to SUNY Cobleskill in 2013. He teaches intercultural communication, script writing, visual media, cinema, mass media, and composition and literature courses. An inter-disciplinarian, Dr. MacLeod stresses to his students the importance of both having a specialty and being well-rounded. He has presented on various subjects at conferences, including The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, Marathon Man, empathy in the Digital Age, stand-up comedy as a tool for composition writers, and Oliver Stone. He is also widely published, having produced book chapters (on such topics as religion and cinema and Bonnie and Clyde); encyclopedia entries; and book reviews for various print and online academic journals, including Film and History, Scope, Warscapes, and The Journal of American Studies of Turkey (among many others). Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, he lives in Cobleskill with his wife of 14 years, Patricia, and his two beautiful furry children, Daisy and Layla. His outside interests include reading, watching movies and television programs, reading, long car rides with his wife, reading, going to concerts and comedy shows, and reading

Greg Miller

Greg Miller
Visiting Instructor - Graphic Design


Greg Miller has 35 years of experience in every aspect of graphic design and visual communications, from running printing presses and managing production to the creative direction of brand identity, corporate communications, advertising campaigns, global marketing strategies, and the development of web-based design. 

He has studied how the migration of visual design to the online environment has changed the basic structure of the communications industry and the potential success, or failure, of its professionals.

To see Greg's work please visit:  www.millergregory.com 

■ AS, Graphic Communications, Greater New Haven State Technical College, 1992
■ Certification in Computer Programming Technology, Computer Processing Institute, 1989

Dr. Salvador Rivera

Salvador Rivera, PhD
Professor - Social Sciences

Professor Salvador Rivera teaches History and Sociology. Born in Los Angeles, Professor Rivera received his Ph.D. in history from the State University of New York at Albany, where he specialized in diplomatic history with an emphasis on the post-1945 world and Latin America. His primary research interests are in the Economic Integration of Europe, Latin America, and the Cold War. He is the author of Latin American Unification: A History of Political and Economic Integration Efforts. Dr. Rivera also published the article “Jacob K. Javits and Latin American Economic Integration” in 2007.  He is currently writing a text on Latin American History entitled The Fragmented Nation. Professor Rivera has conducted research on these topics utilizing documents from the CIA, the State Department, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Javits Special Collections at SUNY Stony Brook, the Frei Archives, books, articles, and oral interviews. Professor Rivera has also given numerous public talks on Latin American Economic Integration and has written numerous book reviews dealing with Latin American History. He has also written several articles on the immigration issue in the United States. In the field of Sociology Dr. Rivera’s main interest is in the urban social environment.



Christina Trees

Christina Trees
Associate Professor - Social Science


Associate Professor Christina Trees has been a member of the social science faculty, specializing in economics, for nearly 25 years.  Educated at Drew University (in her native New Jersey) and at the University of Notre Dame, she brings a strong liberal-arts emphasis to the study of economics.  Among the courses she teaches are Intro to Micro- and Macroeconomics, Comparative Economics, and the Economic History of U.S.  Agriculture.  She is particularly interested in labor economics and the political economy of race, class, and gender.  Professor Trees places primary importance on building community in and out of the classroom, and as a Master Faculty Advisor, she has advised students in majors across the campus.  She also advises the Otaku Nation Anime Club and has taught in Shanghai, China, with Landscape Design and Management faculty. Her off-campus life revolves around her family, including her three children.  She is an avid runner and has completed both the New York City and Boston Marathons. She takes any opportunity to travel and currently dabbles in a variety of fiber arts.  She also has been known to wax lyrical on the subject of tea.

Kayla Cady Vaughn

Kayla Vaughn
Associate Professor - Graphic Design

Kayla Cady Vaughn is an internationally recognized multi-disciplinary artist and designer whose artwork has been exhibited throughout the Northeast and in Canada. A graduate of Cazenovia College, Kayla began her career as a graphic designer and marketing associate in the Central New York area. She left the private sector to pursue her postgraduate degree and received a Master of Fine Art degree from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Prior to teaching at SUNY Cobleskill, she worked as the Preparator at the Fenimore Art Museum and taught courses at Herkimer County Community College and Cazenovia College. She currently teaches a variety of Fine Arts course and serves as Director of the Grosvenor Art Gallery.

To see Kayla’s work please visit: www.KaylaCady.com 

■ MFA, Visual Arts: Specialization in Painting, Marywood University, 2011
■ BFA, Specialization in Painting and Sculpture, Cazenovia College, 2005