People and Projects
Climb ev’ry mountain
Marcia Seymour Hanson ’57 was commuting from downstate New York to complete her degree in sociology as a special student at Skidmore when The Sound of Music hit the big screen in 1965. Tuition was just $925 when she started, and there were 15 students in her major.
Hanson had had three children in the nearly 10 years since beginning her studies with the Class of 1957, and she was determined to finish what she’d started. Like Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, she “climbed ev’ry mountain,” doggedly following an upward path by earning her BA from Skidmore, a master’s in library science, forging a long career as a school librarian, and pursuing her hobby as a mountain climber over the past 20-plus years.
In fact Hanson has climbed for most of her adult life. She says she would have pursued technical climbing if she had started earlier and calls her current climbing habit merely “high hiking.” But no matter how you spin it, Hanson is in the thin of 4,000 feet and beyond. She has climbed the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, and the 115 4,000-footers in the Northeast, and she has expanded her topographical challenges to Yosemite National Park and Europe. She climbed with her son in Austria and Bavaria, and took part in the Tour de Mont Blanc in Italy, during which she and husband Paul Dean climbed “some very rugged ranges” along the French and Italian border over the course of 10 days.
With the approach of summer each year, Hanson and her husband ask each other, “Where are we gonna go next?” Self-described minimalists, they camp as they travel, fitting all of their gear into their Toyota Prius. This year they are heading west toward Glacier National Park in Montana.
Hanson is also a Kripalu-certified yoga instructor, and believes that the flexibility and focus she has gained during her training and practice has kept her injury-free as an older climber. Yoga is her “daily ritual,” she says.
Now a grandmother of five, she attends Skidmore’s Reunion every five years with her original class of 1957, recently celebrating her 50th. She credits Skidmore with helping her enter her career when other colleges were asking her why she would want to return to school as a mother. She says, “Skidmore was very supportive.” —Janit Stahl
Homes away from home
From raising dollars in town to raising houses in Central America—that’s the route Ellen VanDusen Guthrie ’60 has taken with her volunteer commitments. The Anchorage, Ky., resident first got involved with her local Habitat for Humanity chapter in 1998, as a fundraiser. Three years later, when her church sponsored a Habitat build, she was itching to roll up her sleeves and pound some nails. “I’ve been sawing, insulating, drywalling, painting, and installing vinyl siding ever since,” she says.
In fact, Guthrie has so many projects under her tool belt that she now oversees other volunteers, making sure the building team meets quality standards. The Louisville chapter of HFH constructs 20 or more houses a year, and Guthrie typically devotes several days a week to the program. In recent years her church has sent volunteers to Guatemala, where HFH has a dramatic presence: It builds about 3,000 homes there each year, Guthrie says.
In January 2008 and 2009 (“a great time of year, weather-wise, to be away from Kentucky,” Guthrie notes), she and about 20 others spent a week in Xela, the second-largest city in Guatemala, toiling long days under the guidance of hired masons who spoke no English. Guthrie recalls, “Much of the work involved digging trenches, hauling concrete block in wheelbarrows, mixing cement with hand tools, and cutting and twisting wire connecting rebar supports”—all at an elevation of 8,000 feet. In a single week, her group made a solid start on three houses, which were then completed by the masons and their helpers a few weeks later.
A highlight for Guthrie was spending time with the future homeowners, who helped with the construction. “The children worked as hard as we did and often were more skilled. By week’s end we knew the families pretty well, despite the language barrier. Genuine tears were shed by all when we left on the last day.” Perhaps best of all, she says, was “returning the second year and reuniting with a family who had made a warm home out of the house we had started for them.” —MTS
Being a better boss
You don’t need special glasses to see your workplace in 3-D. Earl Wallace ’81 might say you just need his new book. The Three-Dimensional Leader: Negotiating Your Mission, Resources and Context (available at www.threedimensionalleader.com) provides a template for understanding how leadership influences employee behavior and organization performance.
Wallace, who lives in Schenectady, N.Y., says the book was inspired by his “passion to see organizations run as effectively as possible. People spend a lot of time at work, and leadership determines whether they enjoy that time and are stretched to grow and achieve.”
As a child, he read about leaders in the military, politics, and business. In pursuing an MBA at the State University of New York at Albany, he set out to answer the question “What are leaders supposed to do?” From his own experiences (he’s served in the Army and has been a high school English teacher and veterans’ legal counselor), he’d observed that leaders “did some things very well but also had huge blind spots; they missed opportunities to inspire employees to serve with pride and enthusiasm.”
The model he prescribes can be applied to most organizations, Wallace says, including schools and nonprofits, sports teams, the military, retail and manufacturing, and corporations. Effective leadership, he asserts, can be developed “just as muscle groups are developed”—with exercise. What he terms “III-D leaders”—as opposed to “I-D” (“me”-focused) and “II-D” (mission-focused, but inconsistently so)—are clear on mission, make sure employees know they are “vitally important” to that mission, and “make decisions within the big-picture context of what the organization is trying to achieve in relation to its customers, suppliers, and partners.”
Having presented his template to numerous organizations (where he was occasionally approached by participants who jokingly asked him to sponsor a support group for people traumatized by their one-dimensional bosses), Wallace took a breather from speaking to work on his book.
A writing lab tutor and English major at Skidmore, Wallace claims he always knew he’d write a book and was inspired by his professors’ “enthusiasm and love of the genres they taught. As I worked with editors and proofreaders on The Three-Dimensional Leader, I thought, ‘What will Professor [Phyllis] Roth think of this being stated this way, with this punctuation?’” —MTS
Videos to go
David Goldberg ’91 always knew he wanted to be a video producer, and at age 35, after working for eight years with Steve Rosenbaum ’83, he launched his own production company in New York City, Killer Bunny Entertainment. “It was the best decision I could have made,” he says.
Among the first clients of Killer Bunny (named for Goldberg’s pet rabbit, Killer) was General Electric, which asked Goldberg to produce a series of high definition online videos for its EcoImagination campaign.
Killer Bunny creates programming for broadcast, cable, industry, and online delivery. Goldberg likes working with a variety of clients, large and small, and enjoys being at the helm of a small shop without a lot of bureaucratic overhead.
An English major at Skidmore, Goldberg never took a course in business but always loved show business. He worked with Rosenbaum’s production company, CameraPlanet, starting in 1989 when it was in the Saratoga Springs area and continuing as vice president and creative director in New York City. He wrote dozens of stories and came to understand how to effectively run a small production company.
Setting off on his own, Goldberg says, “Probably my best strategy was not to be afraid of what I couldn’t do. I wanted to try doing something different. I found myself doing commercial spots for online companies. It was quickly lucrative and taught me a whole new set of skills.”
Killer Bunny’s clients include Court TV, Spike, L’Oreal, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Outdoor Life Network. A lot of the company’s programming is created for the Web, including a branded series called “World Office Sports,” in which office workers compete in off-the-wall Olympic-style sports like swivel-chair races and mail-cart luge. It’s all part of Goldberg's blending of creativity, technology, and understanding the marketplace.
“I’ve always been a good writer, but it takes more than that to succeed in this business,” Goldberg says. “It’s a matter of being creative and being able to sell yourself and your ideas. You have to be able to communicate what’s going on in your head.” —DF, PD
Carlson Bull ’93 is a prime example of Skidmore’s interdisciplinary approach to creative thought, or as founder Lucy Skidmore Scribner put it, the happy melding of “mind and hand.”
A self-determined major in visual communication design, Bull devised a course of study that combined “the practice of art with its theory, looking at it from the point of view of psychology, sociology, and philosophy, and to enhance not only my artistic ability but also my understanding of what makes people like things they like.”
After studying art at the graduate level at the Art Center College of Design and working in Web design and animation, Bull spent time in advertising before founding Bully Commercial and Entertainment Media, which he describes as “an animation and game design shop focused on branded entertainment.” The company also does market research.
Bully’s clients include National Geographic/Nova, PBS Kids, Discovery, Nickelodeon, and Nestle. The characters and storylines that Bully creates for electronic media are often expanded into books, posters, and other tangible forms. This multidisciplinary, multimedia approach is key to Bull’s philosophy, or as he calls it, “a deliberate mixing of the two sides of the brain.”
“Creativity is about putting together ideas from disparate fields of thought, and combining them into something that works, something that’s new,” he says. “To be good at animation, you need to have both an artistic eye and a technological understanding of the program and of the process.”
To Bull, character and story are paramount, with the narratives supported by rapidly evolving and maturing technologies. He sees—and welcomes—the convergence of broadcast channels with “the interactivity that your home PC or laptop allows, to make the entertainment experience even more fulfilling by enabling you to interact with the story.”
Visitors to Bully’s Web site will discover a variety of clips from the company's portfolio. Some will be familiar; most are fun. But even serious subjects have compelling visual interest, drawing the viewer into the topic. All reveal Bull’s enthusiasm for both the product and the process.
“I guess at the very basic level,” Bull says, “I really enjoy doing this kind of stuff. I can’t think of a more fun job to do than this.” —DF, PD
One loan at a time
Earlier this year, Nicholas Roose ’06 found himself on a motorbike in Bali, Indonesia, desperately trying to keep up with the loan officers ahead of him. “They were just ripping,” he says.
The group traveled 25 miles or so on paved roads, then dirt, to visit a group of women who had applied for a loan. “We showed up at the appointed time, 2 p.m., and waited,” he says. In typical Bali fashion, the meeting didn’t start until hours later.
Roose is a fellow with Kiva, a microfinance firm specializing in person-to-person loans. His job is to report back to lenders on the impact of their loans, which range from $25 to $1,200. Someone in Saratoga Springs might make a loan to a pig farmer in Bali. “They buy piglets, fatten them up, and sell them at market,” Roose says. “With a loan, they can buy three pigs rather than one.”
In his three months in Bali, Roose visited 92 borrowers, including farmers, shopkeepers, and rubbish collectors. “Almost all the proceeds are invested into their children’s education,” he says. (In Bali even elementary schools charge tuition.)
After graduation from Skidmore, Roose had a clear vision of what he wanted to do: go abroad and do good. Microfinancing in third-world countries seemed to satisfy those ambitions. “It always appealed to me as a positive thing,” Roose says—“a capitalist drive with a humanitarian bent.”
In 2007 Roose did an internship at the microfinance firm ACCION International. Tantalizingly close to his “romantic notions” of traveling and helping people, he was frustrated by the lack of opportunities at the end of the summer. He moved on to New York City to take a paying job with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. While there, he learned of the fellows program at Kiva. After being accepted to the program and undergoing an “intense week” of training, he set off to Bali in January.
That first visit still sticks with him, and not only for the hair-raising, motocross-style travel. “It was so powerful to see these women, so determined and waiting for this opportunity,” he says. “It was exactly what I’d pictured when I was back home.” —Jill Adams