Klara Chomicka & Ryan Peters, Development & Communications
University of Chicago and SUNY Oswego graduates respectively, Ms. Chomicka and Mr. Peters support the Development & Communications office’s overarching fundraising, outreach and media initiatives.
What do you feel is your your role in the Development and Communications Office here at the Institute?
[KC]: A couple different things. My main day-to-day role is managing social media. I also do graphic design, update the donor database and website, help with event planning, and since Adair does the heavy lifting in our department – hopefully doing whatever I can to make her job easier.
[RP]: In short, I see my role as one part historian, one part coordinator. Celebrating 100 years is such a milestone for any organization, let alone one that has helped so many make new homes in Western New York. I don’t think many people understand the precedent the Institute established in 1918 when it first opened its doors. I feel as though my role is to really help bolster community support and awareness, in a variety of different ways, for the Institute as it celebrates its Centennial and moves into another successful 100 years.
What are your academic credentials? What experiences have made you a good fit for this position?
[KC]: I have a Master’s in Social Sciences – I wrote my thesis on immigration policies of the Estado Novo government in Brazil during WWII. The policies aimed to erase foreign influences from Brazil to construct a new vision of “Brazilianness,” putting non-Brazilians under national suspicion. My thesis explored how anti-immigrant laws and nationalist attitudes affected Polish immigrants living in Brazil at the time. I find a lot of these themes are being repeated in countries around the world today – which is why I felt compelled to work for an organization like the Institute, which directly helps refugees & immigrants and actively works with the community to expand knowledge and understanding about other nations and cultures.
[RP]: I graduated from SUNY Oswego with bachelor’s degrees in History and International Studies. Prior to the Institute, I interned in the White House and Congressional Affairs office at the National Endowment for Humanities working on communications and outreach projects on Capitol Hill and later, sort of fell into working on local and state political campaigns upon returning to NY. I spent the better part of two years as an editor for the Journal of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania where I helped publish 22 articles.
What would you say is the most rewarding thing about working at an organization like IIB?
[KC]: Seeing how many people want to help and how quick and generous they are to offer anything that’s needed. For instance, after publishing Rebecca’s story yesterday, our reception was fielding call after call offering to drop off Mountain Dew for her. People really go out of their way to help make others feel welcome and at home here.
[RP]: My colleagues. I have not been in the workforce long, but I have met few that are as tenacious as the staff here. I am fortunate to work, learn and collaborate with people that embody the Institute’s mission every day.
What is one accomplishment that you are most proud of? Why?
[KC]: Getting my Master’s degree from the University of Chicago. It was an expedited program where you get a Master’s in less than a year. It was a very intensive program, but I worked with some incredible faculty and learned a lot. Actually finishing writing my thesis is probably what I’m most proud of – working on immigration history meant I was using sources from Poland, Brazil and the US – so there was a lot of material to go through. Totally worth the stress though!
[RP]: In truth, I am the product of good parenting. I like to think that I get some of my best qualities from my parents—strong-minded, sarcastic and disciplined. Personally-speaking, paying off my student loans six months sooner than I initially anticipated is something I am very proud of. Without the values that my parents instilled in me at a young age, I’m not sure that would have happened.
Since the Institute works with diverse people from all over the world, can you share with us your own heritage? First generation? Second? Third?
[KC]: My parents are both from Poland. My dad came from Poland to the U.S. to pursue his PhD at Rutgers (and partially to escape the communist regime). My mom and my oldest brother, a baby at the time, joined him shortly after. They are the only ones from their families to emigrate to the U.S. (except for my mom’s cousin who lives in Connecticut).
[RP]: Predominately, my family hails from England, Ireland and Italy, but I was recently surprised to find out that I have quite a bit of Eastern European heritage as well. Also, I would like to note that while I was born and raised in Syracuse, my family’s roots are pretty deeply tied to Western NY—I live two street down from where my Grandfather lived almost 50 years ago.
Given the international nature of the Institute, have you traveled abroad? Any places on your bucket list?
[KC]: As I mentioned, almost all of my extended family still lives in Poland. So I’ve been to Poland every year or two since I was little. When we travel to Poland, my family generally tries to stop by other countries as well – so I’ve been all around Europe. I also went to Nicaragua on a mission trip in high school. I would LOVE to go to Brazil, which was the subject of all of my research, and dig around the archives there a bit (and see Iguaçu Falls!).
[RP]: Of course! I have traveled pretty extensively throughout Europe, with a recent trek to Eastern Europe in March. I would really like to take more time to explore some of our great cities here in the U.S.
If you could sit down with any historical figure, who would you choose? What is one question you would ask them?
[KC]: Pope John Paul II. JPII was such an important figure for Poland and I am inspired by his role in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He brought inspiration and hope to Poles under an oppressive regime which affected many of my family members. I have a lot I’d like to ask him, but my first one would just be, “what’s it like to be pope?”
[RP]: I feel as though the histories of the poor, disenfranchised and nonconformists are the most fascinating. To me, sitting down and having a conversation with someone that has been on the fringes of history is just as important to those on the front page.
Favorite international food?
[KC]: Is it a cop out if I say Polish? [laughs] My favorite dish of all time is chłodnik, which is a chilled beet soup that has a vibrant pink color. I also love Thai and Vietnamese food and I don’t know what I’d do without falafel and hummus.
[RP]: Thai food.
[KC]: I love anything written by P.G. Wodehouse, especially the Jeeves series. All of his books leave you feeling happier and lighter and more carefree.
[RP]: Choosing a favorite book is hard for me, so I am actually going to pick a short story—Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.” It is one of those stories you can read at different stages of your life and take away something different each time. It’s short, poignant and perfectly imperfect.
What can you tell me about your life away from the Institute?
[KC]: I work two other jobs that, luckily for me, tie into two of my other passions in life, faith & art – I work for my parish and at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. When I’m not working, you can find me seeking out beautiful sunsets, taking photos of interesting sights & cute dogs, eating far too many avocados, and exploring Buffalo with the people I love.
[RP]: I spend my time away from the Institute volunteering on political campaigns and reading: I switch on and off between reading popular fiction and something expository. Also, I am almost always planning a trip somewhere; whether it be a trip to visit friends and family or somewhere outside the U.S.
What three traits would you say define you?
[KC]: Curious, compassionate, and, even though I would love to go for alliteration here, thoughtful.
[RP]: Competitive, reflective and loyal.