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In Memoriam | People & projects

People and Projects

Full circle



Sue Rockwell West ’62 has no shortage of happy memories from her Saratoga Springs childhood. Many of them are tied to Skidmore.

For several summers, West attended Camp Mesacosa in nearby Corinth, which was staffed by Skidmore’s physical-education majors, and all her grade-school art, music, and PE teachers were Skidmore practice teachers. A government major at Skidmore, West went on to receive a nursing degree from Columbia University, “but what I really wanted was to be a writer,” she recalls.

Fortunately, after spotting an ad in the New York Times for a nurse/writer, she was able to combine her education with her passion. She went to New York City to write for nursing magazines about the advent of hip replacements and heart-and-lung transplants. She later worked as a pharmaceutical advertising copywriter, where she extolled the virtues of soft contact lenses, and medications for coronary artery disease.

West later moved to San Francisco and fell in love with the city. When her husband announced he’d been offered a job in the Saratoga region, she admits to having mixed emotions. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in the same place where I grew up and went to college,” she says. “But I was amazed at what I found. I came back to a place that was familiar yet unfamiliar.”

“There’s a lot of civic pride here. And Skidmore is much more involved and open to the community nowadays,” she says. “I love going to the Tang Museum, attending theater workshops and productions, and enjoying the summer writers program. Where else can you hear so many well-known writers read their own works?”

Now retired, West keeps busy nursing a little bit, acting as a docent and volunteer gardener at the Yaddo artists retreat, and participating in Mediation Matters, helping to mediate small-claims issues, disputes between neighbors, and family conflicts. As a mediator, she says, “The hardest part for me is to keep quiet and not offer advice. Just talking to each other, people do find acceptable solutions—most of the time.” —Stacey Morris, PD





Women's work




Instead of burning their bras or otherwise protesting against the constraints of a man’s world, women should sit at the conference table and revamp the system from inside.

That’s the advice of Liz Roman Gallese ’69, author of Women Like Us, about 1975 graduates of Harvard Business School, the first class to be ten-percent female, a proportion Gallese calls “critical mass.”

As a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she had noticed and applauded a surge in women in pinstripes and wanted to examine their personal and professional big pictures. “The issue was that they weren’t advancing to senior positions,” she says. “It was a superb news story. What’s changed is that they are advancing now—look at Hillary Clinton. And women head Fortune 500 corporations and Ivy League schools.” Gallese is thrilled about that, but more still needs to be done.

Now vice president for Catalyst (www.catalyst.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting women in business, Gallese advises corporations about how to build and sustain diversity in the workplace. “Together with CEOs, we determine how best to support an organization's culture of inclusion. The approach helps organizations gain competitive advantages in recruiting, retaining, developing, and advancing talented women.”

She points out an ironic, parallel concern for women whose achievements she champions: whether to make a commitment to career and pare down at home or to focus on family and community. Gallese emphasizes her confidence in women to do both, if they are willing to perform an elaborate balancing act, but she worries that many are delaying the decision too long and can lose out in either arena.

Gallese draws on personal experience for her observations. Women’s progress has been on her mind since the ’60s, when she was determined to attend an “excellent college” and found limited opportunities for a coeducational experience. Gallese also has the perspective of a working mother, having raised two children while pursuing her career.

She concludes, “The point is that women have options. Career, home, or a combination are fulfilling arenas.” —Helen S. Edelman ’74






Fat or fit?




Obesity now affects nearly 20 percent of American children, and by age fourteen around half of those kids already have “metabolic syndrome,” a mix of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar troubles. “If a kid is age 8 with metabolic syndrome, it will take 10 years or less for that child to become a type-2 diabetic or develop heart disease,” says researcher Sarah Sova Messiah ’89.

Messiah has managed or joined research projects funded by federal, foundation, and corporate grants and has presented her work in medical journals as well as the popular press and TV and radio news shows. A psychology major, she earned a master’s of public health and then a PhD at Miami University’s med school, where she’s on the pediatrics faculty.

Messiah loves the diversity of Miami and has traced ethnic variations—from culinary to physiological—in her research. In some cultures, she observes, a plump baby is regarded as a healthy baby. But she reports, “We see many infants who don’t lose their ‘baby fat.’ They keep getting bigger and become overweight children.” With obesity so prevalent lately, even medical culture may harbor misconceptions: “If the norm gets skewed,” Messiah fears, pediatricians seeing heavy patients may write them off as average when they’re actually metabolic time bombs.

Nutrition and exercise are both essential, she says. “My own athletic activity most definitely improves my productivity and every other aspect of my life. My morning workouts are when I de-stress and organize the upcoming day. It’s sad to see children who may never have known what feeling good really feels like.”

A basketball and softball player in high school, Messiah rode her horse at Skidmore. She later joined the prestigious US teams in sprint and marathon flat-water kayaking; she first moved to Miami to compete in the trials for the 1992 Olympics. Nowadays she mostly paddles for fun and “to lead by example for my patients and my own three kids.”

Her dream is to help “give all children a fair chance at a healthy, productive life.” And it’s a reachable goal, she adds. “With this childhood-obesity epidemic, unlike with cancer or HIV, we know the cure.” —SR





Mood music





How do you make a vampire come alive? Simple. Set him to music. A Nathan Barr score, preferably.

HBO’s runaway hit series True Blood, a gothic, dark-humored, vampire drama, is fueled by haunting and evocative music by composer Nathan Barr ’95. Since arriving in Hollywood more than ten years ago, Barr has enjoyed meteoric success as a television and film composer, with a diverse filmography that includes Club Dread, The Dukes of Hazzard, and both Hostel films.

He’s currently working on the second season of True Blood, providing everything from lyrical folk tunes to richly woven mood pieces written expressly for each scene. “Absolutely, each piece is written to picture, scene by scene,” he says. “In addition, I’ve developed themes for some of the characters, that are recurrent and evolving, and help to define the personas.”

A show favorite is the Bill and Sookie love theme, Hair Clip, which features spare guitar and cello played by Barr. Eerily reminiscent of Appalachian melodies, it conveys both foreboding and fatal attraction, as might be appropriate for a burgeoning love between a telepathic waitress and a 167-year-old vampire.

For inspiration, Barr relies on his classical training (J.S. Bach and Strauss are favorites) and his sprawling collection of musical instruments. He uses an armonica (a glass instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin) to provide some of the ghostly atmospherics. He describes the sound as “similar to when you run a fingertip around the rim of a crystal glass.”

True Blood will keep Barr busy through the spring, after which he’s looking forward to a summer respite at the Yaddo artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs. For a few weeks, he’ll work on some compositions that he's been contemplating for use outside of film or television. One such project will pair him with his father, poet John Barr, a returning Yaddo alum, to work on an opera about family bonds and, naturally, gothic crime.

For someone so steeped in the darkness of the nether world, Barr does manage to get out in the light as work permits. Recently he has traveled to Berlin, London, France, and the decidedly sunny St. Barts. —Jon Wurtmann ’78

 



Wired want ads




Two proven business strategies are joining familiar elements in new combinations and staking out an underserved market. Entrepreneur Toby Dayton ’90 has pursued both approaches in his business, JobDig.

A “multimedia, multichannel recruitment company,” JobDig produces weekly job-listing newspapers; radio, print, and television advertising; and a Web site—one-stop shopping for recruiters and job-seekers alike.

Dayton (son of Trustee Emerita Joan Layng Dayton ’63) says JobDig focuses on “smaller markets, tier-2, tier-3 cities,” mostly in the Midwest and plains states. The Minneapolis-based company has grown quickly, attributable in part to Dayton and his colleagues not knowing what was considered possible.

“Because we didn’t come from newspapers and publishing, we weren’t restricted by a lot of assumptions that those people make about how they deliver value to their advertisers and how they serve their readers,” he says. “For example, most people said you could never sell advertising over the phone. If you have a local publication in Iowa, you cannot sell an employer an ad from Minneapolis. We said, ‘We don’t think that’s true; we’re going to do it.’”

Focusing on smaller markets “was very counterintuitive, and I don’t think we would have developed that type of operation if we had come from traditional publishing,” Dayton adds. “We've basically taken a very old business model—classified advertising—and brought it into today’s era with Web technology and multimedia.”

The Web site (www.jobdig.com) offers job-search tools, articles, blogs, and podcasts. On the print side, each edition is geared to its market and contains listings from local employers as well as other helpful content. About 250,000 copies of the 13 free papers are published each week.

An English major, Dayton minored in government and went to Washington, D.C., after graduation to do policy research on Capitol Hill. Then, back in his native Minnesota, he was working at a private equity firm when he learned about the fledgling JobDig, then with a staff of three. Now Dayton is president and CEO, JobDig has 90 employees, “and we’re growing very, very rapidly,” he says. “It’s been a fun experience.” —DF, PD






Sound tracks



















After working with the Chipmunks soundtrack for a year, I was ready for a new challenge,” says Julianne Kelley Jordan ’91. “Really ready.”

Jordan is referring to the boisterous 2007 kid flick Alvin and the Chipmunks, where she served as music supervisor overseeing the creation of the high-pitched songs that delight youngsters as surely as they test the nerves of those over age 12. The soundtrack went platinum and earned Jordan an American Music Award, attesting to the power of the youth market.

“Whereas regular films are shot first, then music is added to the scene and carefully edited to fit, music to animation is done in reverse: the music is produced first, then animation follows… with liberal adjustments back and forth,” she explains. She should know, with her impressive string of music supervisor credits including Hotel for Dogs, Fool’s Gold, The Italian Job, and the breakthrough indie film Swingers.

Swingers marked the start of another auspicious chapter in Jordan’s career, the pairing with wunderkind director Doug Liman. She’s since enjoyed a string of successful projects with Liman, including Go, The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Jumper. “Doug is an amazing director and he gives me free rein,” she says.

An Albany, NY-area native, Jordan devised a self-determined major in arts administration at Skidmore, where she also played viola and took music classes. A chance introduction to the head of music for Warner Bros. led her into film music.

With the homogenization of commercial radio, bands and promoters seek placement in commercials, television, and film. Increasingly, they turn to music supervisors like Jordan. She says the discovery of new talent is an exhilarating part of the job, though it entails wading through hundreds of demos and samples weekly.

In the car, her radio presets are tuned to Howard Stern or NPR. “I’m saturated with music at the end of the day; I can only listen to talk radio at that point,” she chuckles. Relaxing in her Hollywood home, Jordan reflects on her future: “My next project? Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel!” —Jon Wurtmann ’78






Trash talk






















Holter Graham ’94
spends a lot of time these days Dumpster-diving. It’s all in a day’s work for the “green” handyman he plays on the Discovery Channel’s new show Wasted—it’s a kind of Eco-Nanny 911 for viewers who want to shrink their environmental footprints.

A user-friendly reality-TV show, Wasted challenges households to undergo energy audits that reveal how their daily habits are literally trashing the planet, then rewards householders with cash and kudos for their efforts to improve efficiency and reduce waste.

A theater-loving English major at Skidmore, Graham earned an MA from Vermont College in creative writing and poetry. But his screen and stage credits started much earlier, with the tow-headed, gun-toting kid he played in Stephen King's 1986 feature film Maximum Overdrive, and include a part in the Oscar-nominated Fly Away Home (1996). His current role takes muscle (and good humor) as he literally climbs into Dumpsters, empties giant black trash bags, and assists host Annabelle Gurwitch in totting up each family’s consumption (and waste) of energy, water, and transportation.

What do the show’s “eco-criminals” do that’s so bad? Tolerate drafty windows and leaky faucets, drive gas-guzzling cars, let food spoil, leave TV on for the dog, scrub with commercial cleansers, etc. Graham and Gurwitch shower their contestants with custom-tailored advice and free green products to try, like nontoxic floor cleaners, cloth dish towels, and natural makeup. Three weeks later, they return to reward householders with a projected year’s worth of green-regimen savings in the form of dollar bills stuffed into a shiny recycling can that Graham opens with a flourish. The media watchdog commonsensemedia.com gives the show three stars out of five, adding, “People may be inspired by how easy it is to reduce waste without significantly altering their lifestyle.”

Is Graham a real eco-crusader, or does he just play one on TV? Well, for starters, the New York City apartment he shares with author/professor wife Neela Vaswani ’96 uses wind-farmed electricity and lots of compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Graham marvels, “It is amazing how many greening efforts are that simple.” Spoken like a truly green handyman. —BAM





On the town












It’s a question we all ask: “What am I going to do tonight?” Some of us ask it more often than others; some of us just stay home and wait for the latest arrival from Netflix. Jamie Hutson ’05 found himself asking that question a lot. He decided to find some answers, and to share them with his fellow Saratogians, by creating a community Web site, TheSaratogaLife.com.

The purpose of the site is to gather information from local restaurants, clubs, and organizations, creating a virtual meeting place with listings of menus, real estate and lodging, services, and cultural events, plus articles on area activities. The site also includes visitor-submitted videos and a section devoted to happenings on the Skidmore campus. Subscription to the site is free and is designed to keep members easily updated on subjects of personal interest.

Hutson had made a lot of connections in Saratoga Springs as part of the Skidmore-Saratoga Entrepreneurial Partnership program, and with those associations he knew that he could turn his plan into a reality. After eight months of subsisting on ramen noodles and several weeks of Web design lessons, Hutson’s brainchild, TheSaratogaLife.com, was launched in August 2005—with help from Leigh Foster ’07, Charlie McNeil ’07, and Jordan Taler ’07.

While other Internet entrepreneurs were trying to create the next great social network, Hutson took a more back-to-basics approach. He knew that users wanted to give reviews of restaurants, but he also knew that his small site needed to appeal to local merchants. The site enables business owners to edit their own ads and, through him, reach out to customers—even those who have written a bad review. This recipe appeals to the clients he sells ad space to as well as the thousands of unique visitors that click on his site every month.

Hutson’s company, the Local Life, now has sites serving Providence, R.I., Raleigh, N.C., and New Haven and Stamford, Conn., among others. His goal is to be live in twenty-six cities by the end of 2009, eventually becoming a Web presence up and down the eastern seaboard. —Robin Adams ’00