by Mark Inman, '08
State Senator Catharine M. Young is all about serving others. She has been a New York State Senator since 2005 with six years in the New York State Assembly prior to that.
The second oldest of six children, she grew up on a dairy farm in Avon in Livingston County. Her grandfather was her best friend growing up and she attributes much of her appreciation for the agricultural industry to time spent with him on the family farm.
In fact, Senator Young is now chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee.
“Few people know that agriculture is New York state’s No. 1 industry,” she says. Her time on the committee has seen her focus on such issues as growing biomass for energy production, using alternative fuels for bio-energy, and increasing the output of the state’s maple industry.
She and her staff handle thousands of cases brought to her through e-mail, letters, phone calls and drop-ins to her Olean and Jamestown offices in the course of a year.
“In this job,” she says, “you can do a lot of great things for your community and help a lot of people. That’s the most rewarding part.”
Though she enjoys her job immensely, Senator Young is concerned about the knowledge of the impact that state government has.
“When I go into classrooms to talk, I ask the students: ‘how many of you thought about state government and how it is going to affect you today?’ Nobody raises their hand. But it really does; whether you drive on a road or a bridge, have a grandparent in a nursing home, a child in school — all of those things affect your life, so state government is really far reaching,” she said.
The most challenging aspect of the job, Senator Young says, is the size and location of her district.
“I represent a very large district. It often takes three hours or more to drive across it, and since Albany and New York City are so far away and the centers of power in the state, it is easy for us to be forgotten,” she says. “It is my personal mission that we get the resources and attention that we need here.”
Senator Young currently focuses on solving rural poverty, creating jobs, and cutting taxes and wasteful government spending.
After attending SUNY Fredonia for two years, Senator Young transferred to St. Bonaventure University. When deciding on whether to attend St. Bonaventure or Syracuse University, she ultimately chose Bonaventure because of the personal attention she would receive.
When she arrived on campus, she says “almost everyone knew everyone else and that was great for a transfer student. When you don’t know anyone, it was really special to be in that environment.”
As a mass communication major, she says she was very lucky to learn from the professors in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“Russell Jandoli, in particular, was a phenomenal teacher. He instilled in you the mission that in journalism you should report all the facts to let the public know what’s going on and not inject your personal opinions into the story. It was wonderful to have his guidance.”
While a student at Bonaventure, Senator Young worked in public relations at Zippo and edited a medical monthly magazine. “Those types of things really help shape your career because of the practical experience.”
She adds that “one of the great things about Bonaventure was that not only did you learn in the classroom but that you learned by doing. And as a newly graduated person, when you start a job that makes all the difference in the world.”
Upon graduating, Senator Young used her communication skills to land a job as a reporter for a small newspaper outside of Rochester. Covering many local board meetings, she realized she had a great interest in politics. “Communication skills are important in politics because you have to communicate one-on-one with constituents but then also be able to make speeches and debate bills on the floor,” she says. “My education and experience was invaluable to what I do now because I was able to understand the whole political process.”
Senator Young also worked at St. Bonaventure in the late 1980s as assistant director of the Annual Fund. “It was beneficial because I got to know alumni from all over the country. SBU is like a family tradition because it’s such a terrific experience. All the time people say to me, ‘Oh, you went to SBU? So did I,’ and it’s beneficial to be a part of that network.”
Referring to the network of Bonaventure alumni, Senator Young says “It is a great resource to reach out with internships and career opportunities and I would encourage use of it because I remember what it was like when I was first starting out. We need to help the next generation in the workforce and encourage them to stay in New York state,” she says.
As an elected official, Senator Young has observed the migration of young workers from the state and the importance of retaining workers for the state economy.
“It’s been institutionalized that young people think they have to leave the state to get a job and that’s really not the case. We have to encourage young people to stay here because there are many opportunities,” she says.
“One of the things I’m working on is integrating the public school curriculum with workforce needs. We can do a better job than we are now. I have several companies in my district who are experiencing workforce shortages and can’t find the skilled people that they need.”
In regards to young people interested in her profession, she encourages anyone interested to “get active in their communities: volunteer for nonprofits, run for a school board, a town board, or simply help your neighbors out.” Working in politics, she says, is “all about helping others and serving your communities — and that’s something that’s very gratifying.”
(Mark Inman earned a master of arts degree in English this past May from St. Bonaventure University.)