December 15, 2022

Barb Hickey

Barb Hickey (TSOA ’15) (she/her/hers) is one of NYU’s inaugural Regional Ambassadors, alumni who cultivate and strengthen the ties of alumni to New York University by representing the NYU Office of Alumni Relations and NYU Alumni Association in communities around the world where regional alumni clubs have not yet been established. Barb is the Ambassador for Portland, OR, where she has led events for her local community including the End of Summer Picnic and recent Fall Day of Service.

“I’m very proud of the time I spent at NYU and very grateful to the school for the ways it pieced together my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual life,” says Barb. “But if I’m not doing the hard work of creating community and investing in relationships that connect me back to those truths, I become a bit untethered from myself. Participating in alumni life is a way of staying connected to who I am and what my values are. That’s a huge gift.”

Read more about how and why Barb became involved with the NYU Alumni Association, the NYU classes and instructors that inspired her, and the New Year’s resolution she’s making as we look forward to 2023.

Meet Barb:

Tell us about your role as a Regional Ambassador for alumni in Portland, OR.

NYU Alumni Portland is a very new chapter, so my main priority at the moment is building a community of alumni that know we’re here and want to get involved. While that newness is a bit daunting (who will show up?!), it’s also very exciting. There’s an opportunity to shape the chapter in ways that make sense to the members. To that end, it’s my belief that our chapter should be a service oriented organization, finding ways to give back to the communities that have sustained us and our endeavors (in this case Portland) since leaving NYU. 

For our event in December we partnered with the Portland Food Project, a local non-profit that combats food insecurity in the Portland area, assisting them to sort and package donated food to be distributed for those experiencing food insecurity over the holiday period. 

As our membership grows, my hope is that the service areas we target will be driven by the interests and affinities of our members. For instance, as a trans person I have a duty and desire to serve the Trans and broader LGBTQIA2+ community. Currently, I am working on putting together an event with Beyond These Walls, an organization that corresponds with and provides reintegration support to LGBTQIA2+ inmates in Washington and Oregon, to be our next alumni event. 

Ultimately my goal is to establish NYU Alumni Portland as a mission driven group that provides a meaningful platform for service in the local community. If you’re looking to join us, I want to know what you care about, what energizes you, and how we can, as an organization, make a positive contribution around those issues. 

How did you first become involved as an NYU alumni volunteer? 

It took a few years living on the West Coast before I realized just how much I missed people with an East Coast demeanor! After living in New York, it is a bit shocking to find out the rest of the world actually isn’t that way. I thought getting involved with the NYU Alumni Association would be an easy way to grow my community in Portland and meet people with whom I had some shared background. When I reached out to the Alumni Office, I was surprised to find out that there was not an active NYU Alumni chapter—well, and so, here we are!

Why do you stay involved with NYU? Why would you encourage other alumni to get involved?

As a kid, I moved around a lot. It wasn’t until years after leaving NYU—and New York altogether—that I spent some time back in my native New Mexico and realized I’m actually from a place. That there was an enduring history of identification there proved itself to be very grounding for me at a tumultuous time in my life. I think my desire to stay involved with NYU alumni comes from a similar impulse. It’s important for me to remember that I was formed somewhere, that my life has a traceable continuity to it, and that that continuity is expressed in the relationships that populate my life. I’m very proud of the time I spent at NYU and very grateful to the school for the ways it pieced together my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual life. But if I’m not doing the hard work of creating community and investing in relationships that connect me back to those truths, I become a bit untethered from myself. Participating in alumni life is a way of staying connected to who I am and what my values are. That’s a huge gift. 

What’s your proudest (or most fun) moment as an alumni volunteer?

Most fun: the summer picnic we put on this past August and getting to learn about the lives of my fellow Portland alumni! 

Did you have any NYU classes or instructors who inspired or impacted you?

Do I! While I was a Tisch Film Kid, I was also secretly a double major in English Literature. I am so grateful to NYU for the flexibility in being able to accomplish both courses of work in my time as an undergrad.

Barb Hickey at NYU Picnic

Barb at the Summer Picnic

John Freccero - Dante’s Divine Comedy

This was the very first elective I took as a wide-eyed, baby faced freshman and boy did it deliver. Professor Freccero is one of the leading Dante scholars in the world. To listen to him lecture was to experience art itself. The Comedy is, for me, the most intimidating and gracious piece of art I know of. I constantly refer back to it when I need examples of how formal and thematic structures create emotional responses in readers.  

Julia Jarcho - Modern Theater Graduate Seminar

This class kicked my butt in the best way possible. I was completely overmatched by the intellectual rigor of Professor Jarcho and the lit grad students. That old truism about being the dumbest person in the room meaning you are in the right place fits perfectly here. I learned so much from my peers, their curiosity and level of intellectual inquiry, and from Professor Jarcho. I’ve never been in a learning environment where the professor is as willing to say, “I don’t know,” as the students! It created a sense of communal endeavor to understand and create meaning from big difficult ideas. Professor Jarcho was not only a model of humility, but also showed that you can be an academic and an artist and a mother and a partner and a friend. I still look up to her example today. 

Phil Harper - Marxist Literary Theory

Professor Harper kicked out the stops and gave his students Marxist theory on full blast from all angles. This class investigated Marxism as a critical lens in social, political, artistic, and economic contexts. I felt a gratifying sense of real world understanding about seemingly intractable problems coalescing into a political identity in this seminar. Professor Harper’s real stroke of genius was constantly recycling everything we learned through Marilyn Robinson’s Pulizter Prize-winning novel Gilead. It was almost like a thought challenge: how can we apply marxist theory to a novel that is almost an overtly spiritual text? It was a great pedagogical trick for, in the end, the economic became spiritual, the political became spiritual, the social became spiritual, and vice versa. That really peeled back the curtain on how human values (some great and some not so great!) invest every aspect of our lives. 

Nick Tanis - Film Analysis

Professor Tanis’ Film Analysis was the place to go to find out about the story of film form and the way it can be manipulated for unexpected outcomes. I left this class with a much fuller sense of what films can be, but more importantly what they can really do in the world. Professor Tanis routinely made himself available to his students for outside discussion and mentorship.

What is your favorite NYU memory?

Hurricane Sandy. Some of my best friends I still talk to today came out of that very terrifying experience.


  • Favorite Food? Beef Stroganoff

  • Favorite Book? Cool for You by Eileen Myles

  • Favorite TV Show and/or Movie? Nashville, directed by Robert Altman

  • Favorite Song and/or Musical Artist? Destroyer

  • Favorite place on NYU’s campus? The Digital Media Library in Tisch

  • Favorite holiday tradition? Making Biscochitos and watching The Muppet Christmas Carol with my mom

  • New Year’s Resolution? Be more gentle with myself and everyone in my life.