Joanne Dittes Yepsen ’80

How One Hartwick Graduate Uses Her Degree in Psychology

September 27, 2018

By Monica Calzolari

“I use my psychology degree from Hartwick every single day. You cannot survive in the political world without understanding the psychology of politics,” said the former Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Joanne Dittes Yepsen ’80. Yepsen visited campus as a guest speaker on September 25, 2018 to share her wealth of knowledge with current students from two majors: Psychology and Environment, Sustainability & Society.

Yepsen parlayed her Hartwick degree in Psychology into a fascinating and varied career as a public affairs expert, a politician, a fundraiser and a consultant. Savannah Haley ’18, a Hartwick psychology major graduating in December 2018, asked Yepsen how she figured out which direction to take her career. Yepsen replied, “My senior thesis was on consumer behavior. I did informational interviews with whomever would take me and I decided that public relations was the way I wanted to apply my degree with my portfolio in photography and my study abroad in Italy.”

Haley is also from Saratoga Springs and she and Yepsen shared a knowledge of the city which boasts two race tracks, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, mineral springs, in addition to many quaint shops and fine restaurants. Yepsen generously offered to introduce Haley to people in Albany and Washington D.C. including United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for internships or informational interviews.

Mark Davies is Hartwick’s Professor of Education and Coordinator of Environment, Sustainability, and Society Major. Professor Davies asked Yepsen about her successes in environmental projects. During her twelve-year tenure of elected public service, Yepsen co-founded Sustainable Saratoga, “now a fully independent 501c3 organization” dedicated to “deploying education and advocacy initiatives to take action on natural resources protection and the establishment of sustainable practice.” Yepsen also spoke proudly about her administration securing “$3.5M in federal and state grants toward creating the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail, a 24-mile recreational trail network, which is contributing to making the city more pedestrian and bike friendly.”

Rebecca Nathan ’19, a double major in Geology and Environment, Sustainability and Society, is working on her senior project in sustainable agriculture and is active in Oneonta’s weekly Farmer’s Market. Nathan asked Yepsen how to educate people about why organic produce costs more and why it is worth the added price. Yepsen suggested that “you must start educating people at a young age like Pitney Farms does in Saratoga Springs.” The Pitney Farm was the last working farm in Saratoga Springs when Yepsen was Mayor. She applied over $1M in city bond money to help Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. purchase the 166-acre property in December, 2016 and preserve the property in perpetuity for agricultural use. The farm offers programs that “teach young people to grow their own food, pick their own food, and enjoy cooking and eating fresh vegetables.”

Yepsen was also a guest speaker for Professor of Psychology Lisa Onorato’s Psychology Senior Capstone Seminar where students apply and integrate psychological concepts, theories and principles to their internship experience, as well as develop skills necessary to transition from graduation to career. Students Savannah Haley ’18, Abby Cerne ’18, Joseph Ziegler ’18, and Kelsey Prest ’18 were able to gather valuable advice from our distinguished alumna.