Alumni Association Board of Directors Award Recipients
Chair, Awards Committee
On June 4, 2016, nine Skidmore alumni will be recognized during Reunion Weekend at the Alumni Association Recognition Ceremony for their professional and life achievements and contributions to the College (featured below). They were selected by the Alumni Awards Committee, which began considering nominations in the fall and met in early February to make their selections.
One of the most gratifying experiences of being a Skidmore alumna/us is the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of one of our own. The Alumni Association Board of Directors actively seeks to identify alumni who deserve to be recognized for their achievements. If you know a Skidmore alumna/us who meets the criteria for one of these awards, visit the Call for Nominations page to learn more and fill out a nomination.
Elizabeth Lowe '76
Creative Thought Matters Award of Distinction
Environmental manager and project director/entrepreneur Betsy Lowe was the founder and inaugural director and is now a trustee of the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y., a state-of-the-art museum on a 81-acre campus, where visitors learn about and experience first-hand the rich natural history and ecosystems of the Adirondack Mountains. A former regional director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Betsy conceived the idea for the museum in 1998, then spent the next eight years engaging community partners, fundraising, recruiting volunteers, and obtaining a state charter, bringing her extraordinary vision to fruition in 2006.
For creative thinkers, inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources. When a forest ranger informed Betsy Lowe ’76 that her remote cabin in New York’s Adirondack Mountain region had burnt to the ground after being ransacked by a bear, she was both alarmed and curious. In search of food during an exceptionally hot dry summer, the bear had broken a propane line, which quickly ignited. It was unusual for these animals to break into secured structures like her Long Lake camp, which was only accessible by boat. What was happening to its habitat? This event, quickly followed by unprecedented wind and ice storms that impacted millions of acres in the Adirondack Park, sparked a series of discussions that would lead Betsy to a life-changing epiphany. A public affairs specialist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, she realized there were scant resources to help people understand and appreciate the six million-acre park. Larger than the state of Vermont or five major national parks combined, this sprawling wilderness is home to ecosystems found nowhere else on the planet. In 1998, Betsy committed herself to addressing that need. Eight years later, this visionary environmentalist founded the National History Museum of the Adirondacks, better known as the Wild Center, serving as its vice president and managing director.
Located on an 81-acre campus in Tupper Lake, N.Y., the Wild Center is widely regarded as one of the most innovative museums of its kind in the country. Designed by the architecture firm responsible for the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the 54, 000 square-foot main building functions as a natural history museum, aquarium, and science center. Visitors are immersed in the sights and sounds of the region’s wildlife and its habitat. Screeches and birdcalls from ravens, eagles, and egrets (both simulated and live) echo in the birch bark-covered Great Wolf Hall. The Living River Trail winds past trout pools shared with live wood ducks and turtles. In the plunge pool, Otters dive playfully around a waterfall for pieces of frozen fish. All along the way, installations allow guests to experience the feeling of walking on a bog and the smell of its dank aroma, as well as inhale the “essence” of local mammals. Children can create their own natural symphony by fingering a keyboard that features the sounds of such park denizens as loons, mosquitos, and bullfrogs. A host of videos provide context for the parade of wild life, and show everything from how deer survive the winter to what it’s like to raft through the Hudson Gorges. The Wild Walk, an elevated walkway suspended at the tree line, affords guests a birds-eye view of the surrounding mountain forests. Below that, a web of trails leads into the forest past a children’s play area to the Racquette River, where a ledge offers more stunning views of the landscape.
In its 10-year-history, the Wild Center has welcomed close to a million visitors; the Wild Walk drew over 100,000 in its first two months. Hailed by critics from the Wall Street Journal, who urge visitors to “linger in this glorious place,” to Readers Digest, who call it “a stunning, state-of-the-art museum,” the Wild Center has become one of the country’s top tourist destinations. The center’s movie, A Matter of Degrees, is narrated by Betsy’s Adirondack neighbor, actress Sigourney Weaver and was a finalist at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and first prize winner at the National Association for Interpretation.
The Wild Center has also become a destination for environmental leaders, hosting a national climate conference in 2008. It is home to the annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, a student-led initiative that equips students from across the region with strategies to help reduce carbon emissions. Much like its founder, the Wild Center has become an integral part of the region’s cultural life and an example of the power of creative thought.
Betsy's ability to translate her vision into this acclaimed celebration of the Adirondack Park has a lot to do with her inclination to think creatively. That quality is rooted in her early love of the natural world and her exposure to a broad liberal arts curriculum at Skidmore. A biology-music major, she recalls happily studying science with faculty members such as Denton Crocker and playing the piano in Filene Hall for hours on end. A semester studying in Madrid, Spain, enriched her Skidmore experience.
Her interdisciplinary background informs the museum’s mission. "I've intertwined my studies in science and music in various ways over the years with the belief that nature inspires the arts.” The Wild Center hosts musical performances, including regular summer guests The Lake Placid Sinfonietta. The Wild Classroom program helps people experience nature by creating artwork and reflecting on the science involved in what they’ve rendered.
“Creativity helped me follow my passions and allow one thing to lead to another,” she reflects. Studying biology sparked her interest in environmental advocacy and helped her land her a job with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a network headed by Ralph Nader. From there, Betsy pursued a master’s in regional planning at Cornell University, where she completed a 200-page thesis project evaluating the management of the Adirondack Park. She was hired by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, serving in a number of roles over a 24-year career (with an eight-year hiatus to found The Wild Center), most recently as director of the Adirondack region.
Betsy's knowledge of and dedication to the Adirondacks as well as her singular ability to engage the public was the starting point for the creation of the Wild Center. An initial letter to friends and local property owners yielded $500,000, which eventually grew into a broad-based campaign that raised $40 million. She conducted community forums and enlisted regional partners including the Adirondack Nature Conservancy and Land Trust, Adirondack Regional Tourism Council, Wildlife Conservation Society, and New York State Museum. Betsy also reached out to regional scientists, elected officials, state and federal government agencies, and private organizations with a level of infectious enthusiasm that drew them in. She established a board of directors, who helped recruit leading museum installation designers, and obtained a charter. “It worked because I fell in love with the people I talked to, from loggers to members of the press. The press loved us and we received tremendous support from New York Governors George Pataki and Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, and Congressman John McHugh. It was a win-win for everyone.” Senator Schumer summed up Betsy’s determination to realize her vision when he spoke last summer at the dedication of the Wild Walk. “The first time I met Betsy, I knew this was going to happen.”
Although Betsy remains a member of the center’s board of directors, she stepped away from her position as director in 2007 to return to the DEC, where she continued to develop and implement innovative programs to address the needs of the Adirondack Park and its residents, earning state and national conservation awards along the way. Now an independent consultant to nonprofits, her commitment to the museum is unwavering. She recently purchased several properties in the center of Tupper Lake with the goal of redeveloping its downtown and is exploring the establishment of a hotel to serve museum visitors.
“I am extremely proud and honored to be receiving this award from Skidmore College. It means so much to have this coming from my backyard, so to speak—where it all began—and to have the College recognize my ‘creative thought.’ It has led to special initiatives and decisions that have made a difference in my life and career, and hopefully, to the public I have served and worked with over time. This award is also a wonderful tribute to my family, friends, and colleagues, and the active local citizens, founding board members, and others who played vital roles in making the museum a reality.”
Jill Schuker '66
Distinguished Achievement Award
Jill Schuker is a senior strategic partner and advisor to Global Communicators LLC, and president of JAS International, a governance, strategic communications and policy planning firm. She previously headed up the Washington Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Jill’s distinguished career in government includes service as special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for public affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration. She held similar leadership positions at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the U.S. Department of State during the Carter Administration, and served as head of press and public and public affairs at the Department of Commerce.
When Jill Schuker ’66 arrived at Skidmore in 1962, she was a 16-year-old with a curious mind and a voracious appetite for reading newspapers. Although she always planned on having a career, Jill regarded teaching as the primary and expected path for a woman. Her Skidmore experience would change all that.
The government major was encouraged by faculty who “opened up possibilities that I would never have considered,” allowing her to discover that “my life didn’t have to be narrowly defined by the times.” She followed her dream of a career in public policy to Washington as the nation roiled with social and anti-war unrest. Charting a trajectory that would take her to the highest levels of influence working in the U.S. Congress, the White House, and the United Nations, Jill became one of the most trusted advisors on the beltway and beyond. Her resume reads like a primer on the major political and foreign policy events of the last half-century. A key aide in Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, she was public affairs officer for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. during the Iran hostage crisis, and, during the Clinton Administration, served as special assistant to the president for national security affairs, senior director for public affairs at the National Security Council, and deputy White House communications director. Now president of her own consulting firm, JAS International, Jill advises public and private organizations around the world on policy, strategic communications, governance, public diplomacy, and leadership. She’s done everything from monitoring elections in the Ukraine to enabling NGOs to improve the quality of life for women and children in developing countries.
Jill also served as press secretary to New York Governor Hugh Carey; executive director of the bipartisan New England Congressional Caucus, co-chaired by Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill; deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State; director of public affairs for Commerce Secretary Ron Brown; and as a consultant to the World Bank on anti-corruption, transparency, and institutional integrity initiatives. In 2009, she became head of center and chief strategist for North America for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a global body that supports the economic, social, and political development of its 34 member nations. An extension of the Marshall Plan, the OECD also works with non-member countries, corporations, NGOs, civil society organizations, and unions.
Jill attributes the depth and range of her expertise in complex policy areas to a life-long penchant for “asking a lot of questions” and being open to new challenges. At Skidmore, she says, faculty encouraged her “inquiring mind” to seek opportunities to benefit her country -–and even the world.
“The academic focus for and on women was ‘can do,’ and ‘can achieve’ and Professors like Bob Smith, Erwin Levine, Henry Galant, and David Marcell were all incredibly supportive. It certainly encouraged my interest in the world around me and the potential of being part of change, at home and abroad.” She enjoyed the camaraderie among government majors, a group of “motivated students with stimulating personalities.” Convincing her parents that she made the right choice, however, took a little effort. “They looked at me skeptically and asked, ‘What are you going to do with a government major?’” she recalls with a laugh.
Professor Smith recruited Jill to become editor of Politeia, the College’s quarterly journal in the social sciences and philosophy, in her senior year. “It was a particularly rewarding experience that enhanced my ability to manage, write, and learn about new areas of intellectual exploration and to bring them together in a coherent presentation of some of the best thinking both faculty and students had to offer. It was excellent preparation for graduate school and also gave me faith in my ability to take on and meet new challenges.”
But Jill was also deeply influenced by other mentors, like English professor Larry Josephs, “whose creativity, appreciation of the written word, and style of teaching, especially poetry, gave me a depth of understanding that I most likely never would have achieved.”
There were wonderful times, like sharing laughs with Janice Burnett Davidson ’66, editor of the Skidmore News and other friends, and also some of the worst: those searing moments in sophomore year, when Jill and other students gathered around the black and white television in Salisbury Hall to watch as the nation mourned its fallen president, John F. Kennedy.
Jill’s growing confidence that she could pursue a career in government prompted her to seek a summer internship in Washington, D.C. between her junior and senior years. Although internships were relatively rare at the time, and Jill considered the idea a long shot, she wrote her local congresswoman, Edna Kelly, and the office of New York Senator Robert Kennedy to make the request. Professor Smith, who had a family connection to a member of Congress, wrote letters recommending Jill to both Kelly and Kennedy. It was a first for Skidmore: no student had previously explored the possibility of an internship. Receiving a phone call from the senator’s office was one of the most “thrilling” moments of her life.
“Interning for Senator Kennedy was my greatest and most cherished early adventure. It was a life-changing experience in a thousand different ways and has affected my thinking, friendships, career, and political and policy engagement ever since.” RFK’s interns were also the beneficiaries of an open invitation to his Hickory Hill estate on weekends. She was introduced to some of Washington’s most influential figures, forming friendships and professional relationships that would guide her career for decades to come. “There was a level of enthusiasm for public service that inspired me and set expectations that I became determined to meet,” she recalls. The experience solidified her aspiration to a career in public policy.
Although, at Skidmore, she was not exposed to the kind of civil rights and anti-Vietnam activism that was sweeping across larger campuses, Jill was influenced by faculty who taught her to challenge conventional wisdom and “think outside the box.” She graduated “ready for deeper participation in the world both academically and politically.” She completed a master’s in political science at Tufts University in Boston, where she was involved in marches and rallies.
Jill started her professional life in a world reeling from social upheaval and violence. She was working on RFK’s presidential campaign in South Dakota when he was assassinated in June 1968. Two months earlier, she watched Washington erupt in flames following the assassination of Martin Luther King. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that summer, Jill witnessed explosive anger in the convention hall spill out onto the streets. She signed on as a volunteer for the Emergency Committee on Gun Control a few weeks later, getting an initiation into the world of bare-knuckle politics as the gun lobby mounted a successful effort to quash the1968 national gun registration bill. The experience, she says, only strengthened her belief that “to change the game, you have to be in the game.”
Jill also served as press secretary to New York Governor Hugh Carey; executive director of the bipartisan New England Congressional Caucus, co-chaired by Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill; deputy spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State; and director of public affairs for Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
She continues to use her multi-layered understanding of government to work to better lives for citizens around the world, especially women and children. Jill is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a founding member of the Women’s Refugee Commission, and an advisory council member for the Women in Public Service Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“I am honored to be the recipient of this award. I know my parents would be thrilled and it brings me great pleasure to think that my experiences have reflected positively on Skidmore. I feel this honor has come to me in part because I have left myself open to new experiences, have been able to mentor others, and have not let ‘things’ alone define success. I hope I have contributed in ways that are meaningful and value-driven. I’ve followed my passions, been lucky enough to embrace tremendous personal and professional satisfactions, and had incredible experiences, great friends and family, and extraordinary mentors. Skidmore was an essential shaping experience at the right time in my life.”
Betsey Wattenberg Selkowitz '66
50th Reunion Service Award
Betsey Selkowitz has spent a lifetime rolling up her sleeves for community organizations close to her heart, including the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, Conn. Former president of the National Council of Jewish Women in Stamford, she is a longtime board member of the Jewish Community Center there. Betsey, along with husband Arthur, is also a passionate supporter of the Lupus Research Institute. A devoted alumna, she brings the same level of commitment to her volunteer work at Skidmore, as Friends of the Presidents chair, National FOP Committee member, class agent, and reunion volunteer. She celebrates her 50th reunion as class fund chair.
For Betsey Wattenberg Selkowitz ’66, volunteering is a family tradition. The Stamford, Conn., native inherited a rich legacy of service from her parents, Ruth and Seymour Wattenberg, whose leadership has preserved the city’s Jewish Home for the Elderly as a vital area resource. Betsey has spent a lifetime continuing that ethic in her hometown and beyond. This self-described “professional volunteer” has been faithfully serving her classmates—and her alma mater—for decades.
Betsey remembers touring the Union Avenue campus as a high school junior. “I felt a connection from the very first moment. I knew Skidmore was the right fit,” she recalls. She wanted to study education but was not interested in going to a teachers college. “I wanted the liberal arts as well and at the time, Skidmore was one of the few colleges that offered both.”
Skidmore’s curriculum allowed her to pursue her interests in art, music, theater, and government. Not required to take education courses until her senior year, Betsey had plenty of room to explore other disciplines and extracurricular activities. She flourished in the Education Department, where Chair John Shepard and Professor John Reed were accessible, supportive, and generous with their time. “I learned so much from them,” she reflects.
Betsey also has fond memories of working on theater productions, playing bridge, and dancing with her dad during Happy Pappy weekends.
But the most important and lasting part of her Skidmore experience were the friendships that she forged there. “Many of my classmates have remained close friends and we continue to share life’s ups and downs.” A group of them reunite most summers for a weekend of “laughter, support, food and wine, and great memories.”
For Betsey, a women’s college was the right choice. “I graduated feeling prepared for teaching and life—and empowered.”
She taught elementary school before starting a family with husband Arty, an advertising executive, and raising sons Adam and Jed. Although the couple had always volunteered, retirement afforded them the opportunity to intensify their efforts, individually and as a team, to make a difference locally and on a national level.
In 2003, Betsey and Arty were honored for their dedicated service to the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield County (where Betsey’s dad was a board member and her mother served the Women’s Auxiliary). Betsey is a former member of its board of trustees. Longtime supporters of the Stamford Jewish Community Center, Betsey received its 2004 Humanitarian Award for her long tenure on its board of directors and Executive Committee. Arty, who was JCC president and chaired its Council of Trustees, has also been a recipient of the award. Betsey served as president of the Stamford Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. Both are devoted advocates of research into Lupus, a disease with which son Adam was diagnosed as a teen. For 15 years, Betsey sat on the board of the SLE Lupus Foundation, while Arty was a board member of the Lupus Research Institute.
Today, Betsey and Arty are both active in Lupus fundraising and the restoration of Mill River Park in downtown Stamford. Betsey recently helped organize a centennial event for the Stamford JCC.
She is also celebrating her 50th Reunion as class fund chair. A consummate fundraiser, the longtime class agent joined the National Friends of the Presidents (now the Presidents Society) Committee in the late ’90s and then served as class FOP chair from 2005 to 2012. In both roles, Betsey made significant contributions to increasing FOP membership, a major factor in helping the College strengthen its endowment, expand its physical plant, and maintain the level of academic rigor that continues to elevate Skidmore’s status as a nationally ranked liberal arts institution. She is a stalwart Reunion volunteer.
The work has its challenges, she says. “Many women in my generation were not raised to make decisions about gift giving and often their husband’s alma mater wins out.” But there are also many rewards. “I love connecting with people, especially classmates I haven’t seen in years. It’s amazing what a difference one phone call can make.”
She has passed the ethos of service on to her sons. Adam, 44, is an independent film producer who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Laurie, an attorney. He is chair of the Lupus LA fundraising organization. Jed, 41, is senior vice president and chief marketing officer at AmeriCares, a health and disaster relief nonprofit based in Connecticut. He and his new bride, Alana, a digital marketing specialist, live in New York City, where Jed is a board member of the We Are Family Foundation, a nonprofit that fosters cross-cultural understanding.
“Being a volunteer teaches humility, which becomes a source of strength,” observes Betsey. “I give back because I loved my experience at Skidmore—and the best part of volunteering has been catching up with the women with whom I shared a wonderful time in my life. I am honored to receive this award and I share it with the many women of ’66 who have devoted their time and talents to Skidmore.”
Judith Murdough Rollinson '56, P'90
Outstanding Service Award
Judy Murdough Rollinson is a professional fundraiser who worked for the University of Rhode Island’s family giving program and led a campaign for the Lincoln School in Providence. When son Tim Clemmey ’90 arrived at Skidmore in 1986, she began another career—as an alumna volunteer. Judy has helped plan class reunions and coordinate Skidmore-Indian River regional events (she is currently the group’s president). A former reunion chair, she served as class fund and Friends of the Presidents chair for her 50th reunion, inspiring record-breaking donor participation. Judy has also served as class Friends of the Presidents chair and reunion historian, as well as a member of the alumni board’s Nominating and Reunion Gift Planning committees. She celebrates her 60th reunion as class president and gift planning chair.
Judy Murdough Rollinson ’56 is a bred-in-the-bone volunteer. She recalls collecting newspaper and tin to help the war effort as a child in the early 1940s. After graduating from the Lincoln School in Providence, R.I., she signed on as class scribe, happily tracking the lives of her high school classmates for the next 30 years. After she married and started a family, she became a devoted den mother to her sons’ Cub Scout pack. Then came serving her church as Sunday school teacher and a position on the board of the Navy League of the U.S. “It’s all about giving back to causes and organizations that have given so much to me and my family,” she reflects.
But in 1986, Judy rediscovered another community close to her heart when son Tim Clemmey ’90 was accepted at Skidmore. Although she had taken a hiatus after her junior year at Skidmore and ended up completing a bachelor’s in Spanish back home at the University of Rhode Island, she became intrigued while exploring “a co-ed Skidmore on its ‘new’ campus.” Tim was entering this evolving institution that she remembered so fondly the same year the Class of ’56 would celebrate its 30th Reunion. Pushing aside some initial trepidation that her alumni status would be questioned, Judy answered the call of several classmates eager to reconnect her with the Skidmore alumni network. She decided to jump in with both feet, taking on the role of class historian. For Judy, reuniting with old friends at her 30th was a revelation; “It felt like I had never left. It was so much fun.” She has been a Reunion attendee—and dedicated alumna volunteer—ever since.
Judy arrived at Skidmore in 1952 interested in theater and proficient in Spanish. She continued taking courses to broaden and deepen her mastery of Spanish language and culture, eventually opting to major in that area and minor in education. She remembers being inspired by her advisor, Señora Kusel, who worked closely with three Spanish majors (out of a class of 300), one of whom had grown up in South America. “We lived and studied together in International House for all three years—we were like family.”
She embraced a liberal arts curriculum that “exposed us to a range of academic areas to study and pursue, and was delivered by an outstanding faculty and staff.”
Of course, there are other things she’s fond of recalling; spending time with friends at the Colonial Restaurant in Saratoga, where a pitcher of beer cost $2. “Now remember, the drinking age in New York was 18 back then,” she laughs.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Judy went to work as a recruitment field coordinator at Katharine Gibbs, a business school she had attended before enrolling at URI. A year later, she was offered the position of director of alumni relations by the headmistress at the Lincoln School, with whom she had chatted during a class reunion. Judy’s career flourished; she went on to serve as Lincoln’s director of communications before moving to URI as director of its 50th Reunion giving program and Parents’ Fund. She discovered that she was passionate about alumni relations but had a special aptitude for fundraising. “It was a very positive chapter in my life,” she reflects.
At URI, she was faced with several challenges. The school’s transition to a compressed fiscal calendar required her to meet fundraising goals in a shorter period of time, and her salary was entirely dependent on doing so. But, inspired by the university’s huge, open campus, she envisioned a brick walkway that would serve as a key development opportunity. After surveying a similar project at Hartwick College, she launched a successful marketing campaign, selling over 5,000 bricks during her initial outreach. Judy also developed and implemented an innovative tuition raffle program; the winning ticket, sold during Parents Weekend, covered the cost of a student’s tuition for a year. “I very much enjoyed coming up with new ideas to bring parents into the fold,” she says. After retiring in 1996, Judy continued to work as a fundraising consultant to a number of nonprofits.
“An important part of my career as a fundraiser and fundraising consultant has been connecting people with nonprofit organizations seeking their support. I ask myself ‘What is it that would make someone become interested in the mission of Organization X? What is in it for them?’ Creative thought, the underpinning of Skidmore’s mission, has played a large part in achieving that goal.” She has employed the same thoughtful approach to the roles she has held as a Skidmore volunteer.
A longtime class agent, she was a member of the Reunion Gift Planning Advisory Committee in the late ’90s and joined the alumni board’s Nominating Committee in 2000. A past reunion chair, she has been a perennial member of her class Reunion Planning Committee. Judy served as both Friends of the Presidents (now Presidents Society) and fund chair for her 50th Reunion in 2006. Her expertise and leadership were instrumental in breaking class and reunion gift records for a second time. “We achieved some of the highest goals ever set.” Today, she celebrates her 60th Reunion as gift planning chair and class president.
“Since our class was relatively small and we mostly all knew each other, I feel comfortable engaging my classmates. I tell those who have not been involved with the College about the remarkable things Skidmore is doing today and ask them to consider, at the very least, coming to Reunion to experience the wonderful sense of camaraderie I did. Of course, there are people who are not happy that Skidmore went co-ed and others who don’t identify with the ‘new’ campus. But I have persuaded many of them to reconsider. I always talk about what inspired me to participate and add, ‘join me.’”
A Florida resident, she has also been very active chairing the Steering Committee for the Skidmore-Indian River/Vero Beach alumni group. She proudly notes that, including herself, three of the six members of the committee are from the Class of ’56: Anne Lerch Sofronas and Mary Anne Dyer Dragoon. The group’s last event, a reception featuring President Phil Glotzbach and his wife Marie, drew over 100 guests.
“I’ve enjoyed it all,” she says. “I volunteer for Skidmore to give back some of what the College has given to me.” Her dedication is a family affair. In addition to Tim ’90, a member of Skidmore’s Advancement staff for over a decade, she is extremely proud of his wife, Sharon Clemmey ’11, who attended as an adult student and is now associate registrar at the College. Judy’s Skidmore connections also include a niece, Meredith Boucher Wagner ’83.
Tim ’90 reflects, “One of the best things about choosing to attend Skidmore was the opportunity it gave my mom to reconnect with the College and become involved as a volunteer. She showed me the way and I have been an active class volunteer for many years. When I relocated back to this area, Mom encouraged me to consider working for Skidmore. If I live up to half the example she set, I consider my time as a staff member a success! I could not be more proud of my mom and grateful for all she has done for me and our alma mater.”
After many years down south, Judy and George are moving back to Rhode Island this year. The desire to be closer to their four sons and seven grandchildren (five boys and two girls), all of whom live in the Northeast, “won out over warm weather.”
Barbara Burgess Maier '71
Outstanding Service Award
Award-winning professor of art and design Barbara Burgess Maier has been blazing trails in art and pedagogy for decades. She has researched, developed, and taught courses that explore the intersection of fine art and technology and the creative process. But she has also consistently employed her skills, creativity, and passion in a roster of volunteer roles. The longtime class agent is a three-time (and current) class president. She has chaired every reunion of her class since 2001, and she designed the logo for its 35th reunion in 2006. Barbara is a perennial participant in the Alumni Art Exhibition at Reunion.
“If you seek to experience life with all your antennae unfurled, you will cultivate your curiosity and learn to meet the unfamiliar fearlessly. Sparks may fly, but the energy it gives will propel you.” Professor of Art and Design Barbara Burgess Maier ’71 embodies the mantra she has shared with generations of college students. An award-winning faculty member at Endicott College and acclaimed artist, she has devoted her life to the study of what she calls “my obsession”: creative thought. Barbara has developed innovative curricula that explore the intersection of art and technology as well as produced mixed media art work included in some of New England’s most prestigious exhibitions and private collections throughout the country. But this dedicated alumna also employs creative thought in her other very distinguished career—as a Skidmore volunteer.
“How fitting that the focus of my life’s work lies at the heart of Skidmore’s mission,” reflects Barbara. It was at Skidmore that she began challenging the boundaries of traditional art. She recalls the thrill of hearing Richard Upton praise her unorthodox method of producing a monoprint. She had applied black etching ink to an eight foot long mirror she salvaged from a dismantled Circular Street Victorian and transferred it onto paper by hand. “‘How did you do that? It looks like a lithograph!’ he said, somewhat mystified.” In her senior year, Barbara refined the technique and included additional media. “No one was doing anything like that at the time. My use of mixed media definitely started at Skidmore.”
After earning a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Barbara launched what would become an extraordinary 43-year tenure teaching at Endicott College, where her passion for creative thought would transform the curriculum. In the early 1980s, she introduced the first courses in computer-based graphic design at Endicott. She developed many other courses in fine art and technology and conducted extensive research on how her students’ creative thought process was affected by the use of digital media. Barbara observed that the amount of time students spent reflecting on their work in between stages of production decreased significantly; “They follow the pace set by the speed of the medium,” she notes. Inspired by these findings, she authored an interdisciplinary baccalaureate degree program in visual communications that married existing academic offerings in innovative ways. Barbara’s passion for the subject of creative thinking also led to the development of a unique liberal arts seminar called Imagination and Creativity, which was open to all students on campus and grew so popular that she was asked to teach the course at Northeastern University. Beloved by faculty and students alike, Barbara was honored with the Endicott Award for Excellence in Teaching, which recognizes “the faculty member who has had the greatest impact on students’ lives personally and professionally.” She reflects, “Creativity is not the domain of artists alone but available to be leveraged by everyone from scientists and educators to athletes to contribute to society and the greater good. I had the privilege of introducing students to their own creativity and helping them identify ways in which they might nurture it throughout their lives.” Her own creativity continues to push her in new directions; creating and photographing three-dimensional assemblages digitally layered with traditional drawings and paintings, video collages, and new combinations of printmaking techniques. (See www.burgessmaier.net.)
A dedication penned by a colleague in the catalog for Inscapes, her latest exhibition, describes Barbara’s defining characteristic as “unstinting generosity.” That quality is also evident in her ongoing work as an alumna volunteer. Recruited as president for her 15th Reunion in 1986, she served in that role ever since. Barbara chaired her 30th, 35th, and 40th Reunions (2001, 2006, 2011), designed the logo for her 35th, and has consistently participated in the Alumni Art Exhibition. At her 30th Reunion, Barbara decided to provide a forum for classmates to share ideas, insights, and experiences with one another. “These Class of 1971 Roundtable events connected us and revealed our continuing collective concern for others,” she says. Adding to the joy Barbara felt at Reunions was the opportunity to share many of them with her mother, the late Dorothy Whipple Burgess ’36. An executive, professor, and newspaper publisher who earned an honorary degree from Rhode Island College, Dorothy, too, led class Reunions with gusto. “She really got everyone going. It was a thrill to see her in her glory marching in the parade with her classmates.”
Barbara says she has volunteered all these years “because I care about the people in my class and value what Skidmore offered us and continues to offer to its students. I am honored to be a Skidmore alumna. As graduates we carry ‘institutional memory’ with us. It is important that this is sustained and that it can continue to strengthen Skidmore into the future. Our class has consistently shown concern for students who need financial help. My classmates’ willingness to contribute to our class scholarship fund is a testament to the depth of their humanistic principles. There are so many classmates who have done far more than I. Our own powerhouse, Sibyl Haley Waterman ’71, who now serves as chair of the alumni board and Sandy Lipson ’71, who has contributed so much of her time and expertise at the Tang, both received this award. I am not in their league, but it means more than I can express to receive this honor. I accept it with pride in knowing that my mother would be very proud too.”
Susan Flanagan '76
Outstanding Service Award
Dr. Susan Flanagan is the founder and principal of the Westchester Consulting Group, which provides long-term health care and disability-related research, consulting, and technical assistance. She has built a remarkable career in this area of expertise and done award-winning work for organizations including Ernst & Young, the State of Massachusetts, and the U.S. General Accounting Office. An exceptionally dedicated alumna volunteer, Susan has spent the past 40 years serving her alma mater as an alumni admissions contact; she coordinated all ACC activity in eastern Massachusetts for almost a decade. Former president of the Skidmore-Boston Alumni Club, she was a top fundraiser for its scholarship drives. She has also served as class president and a member of Skidmore’s Admissions Task Force. Susan celebrates her 40th reunion as a class agent and reunion volunteer.
Susan Flanagan ’76 vividly recalls knocking on the office door of Professor Helga Doblin late one winter afternoon with a question about a Latin assignment. “Dr. Doblin required students to knock in iambic pentameter so she could determine if the sound was actually emanating from outside her door, rather than one to an adjoining office. She looked at me and said ‘Miss Flanagan, you need to go and have your dinner. Go and eat and come back and we will discuss your Latin question. You need fuel!’ She was tough as nails—never graded on a curve—and was an extraordinary teacher.” The relationships Susan developed with gifted and caring faculty at Skidmore had a profound influence on the trajectory of her life, personally and professionally. The biology-chemistry major went on to build distinguished careers in nutritional biochemistry and public health policy. Founder and principal of the Washington, D.C.-based Westchester Consulting Group, she has spent the past three decades providing government and private sector organizations with research, policy, and evaluation services related to long-term health care systems. But all along the way, Susan worked hard to keep her Skidmore connections strong, nurturing old friendships and building new ones, while serving as an alumna volunteer.
At Skidmore, Susan held several jobs, which, combined with student loans and financial aid that included substantial Skidmore scholarships, paid her way. When an unprecedented budget crisis prompted the College to dramatically reduce scholarship funds at the end of her sophomore year, she prepared to withdraw. But fate, in the form of “guardian angels” Larry Josephs, Bob Mahoney, and Tad Kuroda, intervened. Insisting that they needed her for their work, the professors managed to have Susan’s scholarships reinstated, allowing her to continue her education. Like her mentors, Susan took an active role in campus life, serving on the Committee on Academic Freedom and Rights with Professor Kuroda. “Watching him manage this complex, contentious process was a life-changing experience,” she reflects. Student representative to the Biology Department, Susan ran the microbiology lab during her junior and senior years. Thanks to recommendations from “the three musketeers:” Josephs, Mahoney, and Kuroda, she was also awarded the Rodney Andrews Prize for service to the Skidmore community. Biology professor Roy Meyers sponsored her for a January-term internship at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. “They were willing to provide the support necessary for me to pursue what I wanted to do and get hands-on experience,” she recalls.
After graduation, Susan went on to earn a master’s in public health from Boston University School of Medicine, a fellowship from the Pew Charitable Trust, and a Ph.D. in social policy from Brandeis University. She started off working as a nutritional biochemist, then moved into long-term healthcare systems research and policy. Susan’s career advanced rapidly as she made important contributions to the field. As director of the Bureau of Long-term Care at the Massachusetts Rate Setting Commission, she was one of three principal investigators who designed, implemented, and evaluated a Medicaid prospective case-mix payment system for Massachusetts nursing facilities. She served as assistant director in the Division of Health Financing and Systems at the U.S. General Accounting Office, where she was awarded an Above and Beyond Award for her report on the impact of a Medicare home health payment system on clients’ access to services. As senior manager at Ernst & Young, LLP, she was responsible for initiating and managing the company’s New England Long-Term Health Care Practice. Susan also taught long-term healthcare finance at Boston University’s School of Public Health for 20 years, and was honored with its Excellence in Teaching Award in 1994.
She considers the “quantitative analytic skills” she developed taking science courses at Skidmore as key to her success. “In addition, the law and English courses I took allowed me to hone critical writing skills that were essential for both careers.”
As she made her mark professionally, Susan never lost touch with the Skidmore community. After graduation, she became active in the Skidmore-Boston Alumni Club, where she was a top fundraiser for its scholarship drives and signed on as club secretary and then president. During Susan’s tenure in that role, Skidmore-Boston raised more money than any other club for two consecutive years, a feat that made her feel “pretty terrific.” Susan organized big events, such as a quarterly luncheon with Williams and Amherst alumni. She loved the camaraderie and networking that came with volunteering, along with the occasional perk: an opportunity to sit in Skidmore’s box at the Saratoga Race Track during the Travers Stakes. An alumni admissions counselor since 1976, she served as alumni admissions coordinator for eastern Massachusetts from 1978 to 1985. She stepped into a four-year term as class president in 1992, adding on class agent duties in 1996.
“I have enjoyed all the volunteer activities I have been involved in. However, I think meeting prospective students as an alumni admissions contact each year has been the most rewarding. I like to ask them, ‘If you could invite three people to dinner, alive or dead, who would they be and why would you invite them?’ It gets at those unrehearsed, top-of-mind responses. I have definitely seen the quality of applicants improve over the years.”
Susan’s volunteerism has benefited other communities close to her heart, including Rogerson Communities in Roslindale, Mass., an organization that provides housing opportunities for older adults that she has served as board director. She is also past board director of the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly in Boston and the Natick Visiting Nurse Association and a former volunteer at the Northwest Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, in Washington, D.C., which houses women in transition. Susan is currently a member of the Advisory Board for University of New Hampshire Center for Aging and Community Living.
Today, she celebrates her 40th Reunion with much appreciation of her Skidmore experience and the relationships with faculty and classmates that she continues to enjoy. She still visits Bob Mahoney, now retired, every year on Cape Cod.
“I was lucky enough to learn from great faculty at Skidmore,” she reflects. “The College also provided me with substantial financial aid throughout my four years there and for that I am truly grateful. Volunteering is one way I can ‘give back.’ Receiving this award is a great honor.” I am sure there are many others who volunteer tirelessly for the College who also deserve to be recognized with this award.
Merilee Mapes Perkins '76
Outstanding Service Award
As senior program director at the YMCA in Sanford, Maine, Merilee Mapes Perkins is committed to building healthy communities. In addition to fundraising for the Y, she is a board member of Southern Maine Health Care and a county representative for the Maine Community Foundation. Her enthusiasm for helping others extends to her alma mater, too. A skillful fundraiser for Skidmore, she is a two-time (and current) Friends of the Presidents chair, longtime class agent, and a former member of the National Annual Fund Advisory Committee. She has also served as class fund chair, reunion chair, and class president, a role that she is reprising for her 40th reunion. Last spring, Merilee started a three-year term as chair of reunions for the alumni board.
Merilee Mapes Perkins ’76 is a consummate community builder. Senior program director of the Sanford-Springvale YMCA in Sanford, Maine, she has spent the past twenty years growing robust community partnerships that support the Y’s mission: to promote youth development, social responsibility, and healthy living. Volunteering, she says, “is a way to breathe life into nonprofits that need ongoing support to stay vital and healthy.” Merilee has done plenty of that too, strengthening organizations that improve the quality of life for countless York County residents. But for more than forty years, she has been helping two very special communities, with which she has a bond like no other, to thrive—her beloved Class of ’76 and Skidmore College.
Merilee arrived at Skidmore in 1972, a time when the country was still simmering with unrest and grappling with social change. Like many of her peers, she had grown up in a small town, “which made our connections very important. Those four years were almost developmental,” she reflects.
At Skidmore, she “cast a wide net” and engaged with a diverse group of students and faculty. “Exposure to art, music, language, religion, and philosophy at a forward-thinking college was eye opening and mind expanding; I was awakened.” Merilee flourished in an environment that presented myriad opportunities for critical thinking and creativity. One of just ten physical education majors, she enjoyed close relationships with departmental faculty and the students with whom she traveled through four years of coursework. Inspired by history professor Tad Kuroda and Nancy Davis, chair of the physical education department, Merilee decided to pursue a career in teaching. “The combination of lectures on evolution, human behavior, and child development steered me toward a life focus on human development, wellness, and the well-being of community. It was a logical choice for a student who wrote her application essay on the subject of childhood obesity in the U.S.”
Merilee’s academic and social experiences also helped her develop independence. She graduated feeling prepared for the challenges of graduate school and working in her field.
After completing a master’s in perceptual-motor development from Purdue University, she worked as a physical education teacher, vocational rehabilitation counselor, and fitness consultant. When she accepted a position at the Sanford-Springvale YMCA, “it was like my experience, skills, and interests dovetailed perfectly with the Y’s mission, making it the ideal place for me.”
Merilee manages all of the Y’s programs and has developed many in collaboration with community partners that foster wellness and healthy living. She is particularly interested in promoting civic engagement among young people, which she believes should start early. Children in the Y’s preschool and afterschool programs have participated in the Pinwheels for Prevention program. By placing pinwheels on the front lawns of churches, schools, and businesses, even the smallest citizens are taking an active role in spreading awareness about child abuse and other community health issues. Merilee is pursuing an opportunity to develop a curriculum in ethical decision-making for youth and teens.
As the Y’s chief community liaison, she serves on the Maine Community Foundation York County Committee, Partners for Healthier Communities Advisory Board, and York County District Health Council, as well as the boards of the SMHC Physicians Services and the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. She is board vice-chair of Southern Maine Health Care and former board chair of Goodall Hospital. In addition to fundraising for these partner organizations, Merilee is also working on the Y’s $4 million capital campaign. Her outreach to potential donors, she says, comes down to telling the stories of the people served by its programs. “One very powerful example involved two children who were living in a car with their father. Because of someone’s generosity, these kids were able to spend the entire summer at a Y camp.”
As Merilee built her career, her powerful connection to classmates and her alma mater never diminished. After graduation, she signed on as a class agent and participated in scholarship fund drives for the Skidmore-Boston alumni club. A four-time (and current) reunion chair, she has served as class president for the past 20 years. Merilee was Friends of the Presidents Chair for her 20th Reunion in 1996, and reprises that role (now known as Presidents Society chair) as she celebrates her 40th. Last year, she was selected chair of reunions on Skidmore’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. One of the highlights of her career as an alumna volunteer was surpassing ambitious goals for participation and attendance at her 25th Reunion. But she is perhaps most proud of coming up with the phrase “Spirit of ’76” to describe the “electric energy among classmates who shared four of the most important years of our lives. These folks mean a lot to me.” But the happy and hilarious Reunion memories abound. “For our 35th, we paraded about in tall Uncle Sam hats. We will thoroughly enjoy making a spectacle of ourselves again this year,” she quips.
“Volunteering for my classmates and Skidmore is fun and invigorating. It’s also how we maintain a connection to one another and allow current and future students access to the richness of the Skidmore experience. I believe that everyone should donate resources; time, money, or both. We can help the College continue to mature and grow. Volunteering strengthens community and Skidmore is one of my communities. I want it to stay vibrant and healthy.”
Merilee is gratified to learn that her efforts are indeed making a difference. “I am sincerely honored and humbled by this recognition. My contributions are my compensation. To be recognized along with two other classmates speaks to the energy, dedication, and commitment the Class of 1976 has to Skidmore.”
Melissa Milstein Jacobsen '81, P'10
Outstanding Service Award
Melissa Milstein Jacobsen has a strong background in business; she was a marketing manager for Liz Claiborne Hosiery, and now works with husband Glenn in their family-owned landscaping and construction business. But her true passion is volunteering. She’s sat on the boards of local nonprofits, remains an active volunteer for community organizations, and does outreach in Latin America through her church. For her alma mater, Melissa has served her class as president, secretary, fund chair, reunion planner, and class agent. A two-time (and current) Friends of the Presidents chair, she was instrumental in producing record-breaking attendance and donor participation at her 30th reunion. She is also currently a member of the alumni board’s Awards Committee.
When Melissa Milstein Jacobsen ’81 arrived at Skidmore in 1977, she recalls hearing the Marshall Tucker Band blaring from windows in McClellan Hall. A handful of male students walked across Case Green. The College and the city of Saratoga Springs operated in two distinct spheres; town-gown relations were pretty much limited to mingling with locals at Caffé Lena or the Tin’n’ Lint. Twenty-five years later, she re-experienced those four years through the eyes of a parent when son Christopher Jacobsen ’10 enrolled at her alma mater. “It was the same institution, yet transformed,” she observes. Melissa has witnessed Skidmore’s evolution into a national leader in liberal arts education over the many years she has served as alumna volunteer. Like the pragmatic business woman she is, Melissa is “proud that the equity of my Skidmore degree continues to increase.” But that’s just part of what motivates her. This self-described “worker bee” treasures her relationships with classmates and appreciates that her connection to the College—as a student, alumna, parent, and volunteer—has enriched her life.
Melissa had always envisioned a career in business but wanted to explore the liberal arts. Inspired by an introductory course in economics, her interest deepened in advanced courses with Roy Rothheim, and she decided to incorporate that discipline into a double major. She took a January-term class in retail and later completed an internship at Bonwit Teller in New York City. Melissa also flourished in art history and English classes that she “absolutely adored.” A work-study job assisting psychology professor Mac Oswalt with his research on prison inmates was “eye opening and influential,” she recalls. “I really embraced all of my classes, except science—not my forte. Skidmore gave me a complete and comprehensive understanding of business and finance, along with much more.”
After graduating with honors, Melissa entered Bamberger’s Executive Training Program, serving as a sales manager before becoming assistant hosiery buyer in the Newark, N.J., office. In 1984, she joined Kayser-Roth Corporation during the launch of its Liz Claiborne Hosiery division in New York City. While pursuing an M.B.A. in marketing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she rose from New York metro sales representative to national marketing manager.
Melissa left the retail world to join husband Glenn as co-owner of Jacobsen Landscape Design & Construction, Inc., serving as CFO for over 20 years. Together the couple has grown the business, which is nationally recognized for its leadership in the green industry as well as service to the community. Named 2010 Citizens of the Year by a Midland Park, N.J., civic organization, their company was recognized with the National Community Stewardship Award from the National Association of Landscape Professionals in 2015.
“Running a business like ours is complex. Critical thinking and creativity are essential tools for bringing new ideas to market and finding solutions to unexpected problems. You have to train and motivate a diverse staff (of 85 employees), which requires an understanding of human behavior and strong communications skills. The foundation I received at Skidmore has served me well as a business owner.”
A dedicated alumna volunteer from the moment she graduated, Melissa is a longtime class agent and Reunion Planning Committee member. She signed on as class secretary in 1989 and started a four-year term as class president in 1992. She served as fund chair for her 25th Reunion in 2006, then stepped into the role of Friends of the Presidents (now Presidents Society) co-chair for her 30th Reunion in 2011. For both events, Melissa was instrumental in bringing greater numbers of classmates back to campus. A skillful fundraiser, she believes in the power of personal outreach in rallying classmates behind Skidmore’s mission and is an inveterate advocate of the handwritten note. Today, she celebrates her 35th Reunion as Presidents Society chair as well as a member of the Alumni Awards Committee and the Legacy Society.
“I love going to reunions and keeping up with my classmates’ lives. There is also a great benefit to being part of a school taking its place on the national stage. But the greatest joy is meeting alumni of all ages who are also celebrating Reunion or volunteering. The camaraderie you experience is definitely the number one benefit to being a volunteer,” she observes.
Melissa’s service to others has also benefitted communities closer to home. The former youth lacrosse coach is a longtime treasurer for a local Bible study group. She also provides financial counseling to individuals and couples pro bono, something she describes as “a passion.” Newly relocated to Essex, Conn., Melissa is now helping the Essex Auxiliary of the Child and Family Agency provide vital services that fell victim to aggressive state budget cuts. She looks forward to working one-on-one with children in an afterschool care program this fall.
“My husband and I find great joy in supporting people in need. It’s a privilege to be able to give your time and money to others,” she reflects. “You always get more than you give.”
Although she has scaled back her CFO duties to part-time, Melissa continues to manage the couple’s privately held real estate company, Jacobsen Real Estate, LLC. Nonetheless, she is happily freeing up more time for volunteering and visiting family, including daughter Rachel, a teacher who lives in Boston, Mass.
Her special affinity for Skidmore and Saratoga Springs continues to evolve. In 2013, Melissa and Glenn proudly watched Christopher ’10 exchange wedding vows with Katie Lane ’11 at the Saratoga Polo Association grounds. (The rehearsal dinner was held at the Surrey Williamson Inn on campus.) “My family has an enduring love for Saratoga; we’ve spent a lot of time there,” she says. Last summer, Melissa and Glenn enjoyed a Skidmore Alumni Travel Program trip to Norway and Russia.
“I am extremely humbled by this award. Being a member of the Alumni Awards Committee, I realize the caliber of the people who are chosen. This honor is unexpected, but truly appreciated. Skidmore is very important to me and I’m happy to be recognized for my commitment to the College.”
Jessyca Dudley '06
Joseph C. Palamountain Award for
Young Alumni Achievement
Jessyca Dudley ’06 is a Program Officer for the Joyce Foundation’s Gun Violence Prevention Program in Chicago. Her exceptional career in public health includes teaching children in Ghana (as a Skidmore sophomore), designing and implementing community-based disease prevention and outreach programs in Chicago, and working with the Peace Corps to combat HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Along the way, Jessyca, who never forgot her long-ago pupils in dirt-floor classrooms, was inspired to create The Building Fund, a nonprofit that has built and stocked classrooms, libraries, and computer labs in Ghana.
By the time she was a high school senior, Jessyca Dudley ’06 had spent years preparing to become a professional dancer. Despite an injury that kept her from auditioning for conservatory programs, she decided to follow her dream, selecting Skidmore after hearing about the reputation of its dance department. During her freshman year at the College, Jessyca realized that a career in dance was not meant to be and struggled to answer to the question: “What do I do now?” She decided to focus on fulfilling core requirements and signed up for an introductory women’s studies course with Professor Paty Rubio. The experience would transform Jessyca’s life, ultimately leading her to the discovery of a new avocation. The women’s studies major is now an accomplished public health professional and award-winning nonprofit leader. Founder of The Building Fund, an organization that provides impoverished schoolchildren in Ghana with access to education, her extraordinary achievements continue to change lives in communities from West Africa to Illinois.
“I was so intimidated and impressed by Professor Rubio’s expectations of academic rigor that I approached her after class to learn more about the major,” recalls Jessyca. Although she fully embraced women’s studies, Jessyca was still uncertain how the degree would translate into a career. Professor Rubio and colleague Adrienne Zuerner encouraged Jessyca to spend the summer before her junior year “traveling and digging deeper into my interest in community health,” an area she was exploring strictly as a volunteer. After applying to a number of nonprofits, Jessyca was offered a two-month teaching post at the Tuskegee International School in Ghana, West Africa.
“On my first day at the school I was struck by the condition of the classrooms. The walls were bare, the floors were made of dirt, there were barely enough seats for the students, barely enough classrooms, no running water and the only books were the government-issued workbooks that all students in Ghana receive. There were no toys in the preschoolers’ rooms, no reading books or posters or any of the things that I had grown so used to seeing in every classroom that I have ever been in.”
After recovering from the initial shock, Jessyca drew upon her internal strength and began developing special relationships with her students and colleagues. “My students were facing great adversity and, in spite of this, they are still some of the most interesting and brightest children I have ever met.”
She returned to Skidmore determined to address the staggering deficit in educational resources she had witnessed at Tuskegee. Reaching out to every organization she could think of for help, Jessyca discovered that, sadly, “there simply were none” willing or able to work with the school. “I thought, well, I guess I have to start one myself,” she recalls.
She spent months appealing to supportive friends and others in her personal network, making cold calls to a range of nonprofits and government organizations, and organizing a series of fundraising events in New York City. By developing a strong base of support and sheer force of will, Jessyca was able to launch The Building Fund (TBF) in 2005.
A 501 (c)3 organization, TBF has secured and managed funding to construct classrooms (including tables and chairs), computer labs, and libraries at Tuskegee and the Young Apostles School, also in Ghana. It has also provided over 2,500 books and 300 pounds of school supplies to fill those facilities. TBF’s volunteers and interns, who hail from local communities and countries all over the world, handle its day-to-day operation. Through partnerships with such nonprofits as Fly for Good, a company that offers discounted airfare to humanitarian aid workers, and the Stuff Your Rucksack Foundation, which matches international travelers to communities in need of supplies, TBF continues to find new sources of support for its mission. Over the years, the organization has been recognized with a Google Grant for its efforts to foster community service and the African Achievers Award, which celebrates charitable efforts that are improving the quality of life on the continent.
In her senior year, Jessyca earned the Thoroughbred Award for her leadership in promoting “a richly diverse and vibrant campus.” A leader in Skidmore’s outdoor pre-orientation program (known as SCOOP) during her sophomore, junior, and senior years, she introduced new freshmen to everything from hiking in the Adirondacks to the myriad ways they could participate in campus life. She cherishes memories of working with Roberta Chramoff, assistant to the dean of student affairs, who “was like a second mother,” and arranging “particularly memorable” barn dances and talent shows for new freshmen. “I doubt my fellow ‘Scoopies’ would appreciate me revealing some of the special talents they showcased on those nights,” she quips. Jessyca also served as president of the Feminist Action Network.
Her experience in Ghana gave Jessyca the confidence to fulfill another long-held dream: joining the U.S. Peace Corps. As a HIV/AIDS outreach worker in Jeppes Reef, South Africa, from 2009 to 2010, she expanded health campaigns and community education programs, trained employees of the host organization, and implemented a strategic plan to ensure its continuing ability to meet client needs. She completed a master’s in public health focused on maternal and child health at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012. While there, Jessyca worked as a clinical research assistant at the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and HIV Prevention at Lurie Children’s Hospital, conducting ethnographic research to understand the cultural issues involved in preventing HIV/AIDS among African-American adolescents. After graduation, she conducted clinical and social science research on the reproductive health of women and adolescents at the University of Chicago. As a research specialist, Jessyca employed data to develop programs and implementation strategies, including a curriculum using games and digital media to promote wellness among middle schoolers. She also served as an intervention facilitator for a Chicago community outreach project designed to educate youthful offenders on probation about HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and safer decision-making. Hired as a public health specialist by the City of Evanston in 2013, she continued developing evidence-based programs and strategic partnerships to improve public health in that community. She is currently program officer for the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, where she deploys her expertise funding initiatives aimed at reducing gun deaths and injuries in the United States. In Chicago, she observes, “gun violence is a public health crisis.”
The foundation of her career, says Jessyca, was built at Skidmore. “It is all because of the awareness created at Skidmore that the advancement of women requires strong advocates, knowledgeable about the diversity of the female experience. More broadly, I acquired the research, writing, and leadership skills that have brought me success in my profession. Entering the workforce with leadership experience and strong writing skills was a huge advantage and set me on a path that led to many great opportunities.”
She observes, “I certainly was not expecting to win this award. Being selected from among my peers, many of whom have gone on to do great things, including founding companies and becoming leaders in their fields, is an exceptional honor. It wonderful to know that Skidmore values the work that I have done since I left.”
These days, Jessyca’s parents are in charge of running The Building Fund, although she remains involved as board chair emerita. “It’s still my baby,” she says with a laugh.