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Alumna Sarah Adler Hartman Shares the Value of Learning

Sarah Adler Hartman feels like she’s always learning new things. Though her interests vary from coding to astrophysics to meditation to cooking, Hartman finds ways to maximize all her passions.

“One of the things that I think I've always thought would help me build a satisfying life was figuring out how to explore all the things that I'm passionate about,” Hartman said.

Hartman learned much when she studied at Northwestern nine years ago, especially through starting a business with her classmate Mackenzie Barth, a magazine called Spoon. The publication has now grown into Spoon University, a chain of food magazines based at colleges across the country. Spoon is still what Hartman considers the biggest success in her career.

“I'm really proud of the fact that two young kids from college were able to raise money and build a company and feel confident enough to walk into the rooms that we walked into,” Hartman said.

Selling Spoon after graduating from Northwestern led Hartman to her job at Discovery as VP of Product for Food Network and all the food brands there. She built a large-scale consumer app for Discovery called Food Network Kitchen, which set her up to do the job she has now as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the New York Times.

At the New York Times, Hartman is creating an app to spread her love of learning to the New York Times’ child audience. The app will be a “how-to” guide for kids on how to do all sorts of things, from making a bouncy rubber egg to finding fossils in a backyard.

“There's so much room for magic and wonder in a kid's product,” Hartman said. “And a lot of adult products are so utilitarian and kind of boring that I was really excited to get to work on something that was a little more creative.”

With this knowledge of Hartman’s career, it’s not surprising to learn that she was a Medill student who worked on campus publications like North by Northwestern and spent her free time developing coding skills at the Knight Lab. One might not expect to hear that Hartman double majored in Journalism and Religious Studies.

While at Northwestern, Hartman thought she might use her education in Religious Studies to assist a journalism career involving reporting on religion. Although her career today is not on its face related to Religious Studies, Hartman believes taking classes in the department prepared her for life beyond college in other ways.

“I think that studying Religious Studies is a lot about empathy building, it's a lot about understanding someone else's perspective and someone else's worldview and what's really important to someone,” Hartman said. “I think that empathy building like that is critical for everything, from being a citizen of the world to being a good leader on a team to being a good team member. I wish more people focused on that.”

If she could go back and do college all over again, Hartman says she would only focus on taking fascinating classes taught by the best professors instead of worrying about her coursework’s relating to her professional goals. She believes that students’ career-building skills are better served by extracurricular activities instead.

“Classes are best utilized when they help you understand the world better, think better and build empathy, and learn how to participate in the world, not to learn how to do a job.”

Religious Studies led Hartman to the practice of meditation by way of an Indian Buddhist monastery. Hartman studied Buddhism while living at a Buddhist Monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, where she practiced meditation for two and a half hours every day. Hartman still uses what she learned about meditation in her life now.

“Learning to notice your feelings and emotions before you act on them is an unbelievably helpful thing,” she said.

She also continues to use what she learned at Northwestern about exploring interests that may or may not be related to her career path, even when Hartman’s passions are as varied as they are numerous. For example, she’s on the board of the University of Texas McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis as a way of delving into her interest in astrophysics.

Hartman agrees that her interests are “probably equally random” to her as they are to others, but all that means is that she has more opportunities to learn.

"It's really easy to kind of stay in the limited confines of the life that you've built yourself; it's a practice to not do that,” Hartman said.