Catchin' Up with a Cookie: Jonathan Finnerty
Note: This story was originally posted on the Cooke Scholar Alumni page as part of the Alumni Buzz.
A Q&A with Jonathan Finnerty
2015 Undergraduate Transfer Scholar, Rutgers University; 2017 Graduate Scholar, University of Tennessee
Hey Cookie Cousins! My academic journey began at Middlesex County College, a small two-year college in New Jersey. From the start, I’ve always been fascinated with philosophy and classics. After receiving the Undergraduate Transfer scholarship in 2015, I transferred and attended Rutgers University’s world-renowned philosophy program. Being motivated to bring critical thinking skills and philosophy to the public, I got involved in various clubs and organizations with this similar focus. Attending graduate school at the University of Tennessee with the Graduate Scholarship in 2017, I continued to study philosophy and worked for a premier scholars program, teaching and advising undergraduate students. I graduated in the Fall of 2020 with my MA in philosophy, and I now work full-time at Rutgers University, running the undergraduate program for the Sociology Department. I also teach philosophy and history at local community colleges and plan to finish out my PhD soon. I love museums, fly fishing, and talking philosophy with anyone that’ll listen. I love to eat pizza, and luckily, I live in the best state (New Jersey) for it – sorry, New York!
WHAT DOES BEING A COOKE SCHOLAR MEAN TO YOU?
Being selected as a Cooke Scholar meant that someone, for once, believed in my ability to do big things. Many of us, I’m sure, worked unbelievably hard, and often alone, to succeed in college. Further, we did this with no promise of reward or gravitas. The Foundation made the difference between succeeding and thriving. Anyone can be successful in what they do, but in order to thrive, it takes a community. When the Foundation selected me, it made me realize that there was a community that felt the same way, saw the bigger picture, and truly wanted to see me thrive and do my best. Perhaps this is to say that to be a Cooke Scholar, it means to me that there is an entire community that sees virtue not in what I do, but why I do it; that’s everything to me.
TELL US ABOUT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN UNDERGRAD OR GRADUATE SCHOOL.
The most memorable moment in my academic career is not a particular event, but rather a long-term relationship with my very first class that I taught. This group of students were part of a scholarship program at the University of Tennessee and were in their first-year of college when we first met. I was to teach them about the philosophy of science and the intellectual legacy of Charles Darwin (recall that we were a mere 30 minutes from where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place). That semester ended up being a Herculean task that pushed me and my syllabus to the brink. Nonetheless, my students truly appreciated my dedication to their education and my dry, esoteric humor. I ended up teaching them the next few semesters and then advised them all the way up until I graduated. To this day, I still advise them on graduate school matters, share publications, and write semi-inflated recommendation letters. They have a group chat titled “Jonathan’s Philosophy Children” which serves as a tepid reminder of why I began this academic journey.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU DID TO HELP YOU TRANSITION TO YOUR FIRST YEAR OUT OF COLLEGE?
The one thing that helped me transition out of college was to stay in college. My endgame has always been to work with students and the public, and it seems the best conduit for that is the college and university. That aside, and this is more practical for me, I also take, or audit, college courses. Now, if you aren’t one that enjoyed the rigors of the classroom, this strategy might not be for you, but I find nothing more mentally stimulating than watching lectures and writing papers. When I talk with my friends in the non-academic world, it all sounds insipid at best. So, my advice, without telling someone to stay in academia, is stay active in mentally stimulating activities.
WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ OR MOVIE/SHOW YOU WATCHED THAT YOU REALLY ENJOYED AND HIGHLY RECOMMEND.
Now we’re getting personal! My favorite show to watch in the background is Bob’s Burgers. What’s not to like? It’s brilliantly scripted, set in New Jersey, and focuses on burgers. Besides that, I have enjoyed Netflix’s “The Witcher” as I think Henry Cavill is perfect for his role and I enjoy the fantasy theme. As for books, I recently reread Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” and I recommend it highly. Inspired by the horrors of the English Civil War, Hobbes sets out to describe how society ought to be. This is surely a philosophical masterpiece of that period and in general. Also, Robert Fagles and Bernard Knox’s translation of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” is wonderful, and I think everyone should revisit this classic, even if just for the translation.
IF YOU WERE TO CREATE YOUR OWN COOKIE, WHAT WOULD IT CONSIST OF AND WHAT NAME WOULD YOU GIVE IT?
I enjoy cranberries and crisp textures, so it would probably be a crisp, thin cookie with chocolate and cranberries. In recognition of the Irish band The Cranberries, I’d probably call this cookie the Zombie. I think walnuts would round this cookie out too. I find that thin, crisp cookies melt in a fascinating way, whereby the buttery texture separates from the sugary crust, revisiting its primordial batter-like state. For me, cookies are just as much about texture as they are with sweetness and tart.