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Summer 2002

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Contents

Features

Observations

Letters

On campus

Faculty focus

Sports

Arts on view

Alumni affairs
and development

Class notes

 

 
 

People and projects

The real McCoy
Degrees of consciousness
Car mats: her Bailey-wick
Entrepreneurial bag man
Radio active
Ready or not
Chemistry coup
A different way to see the city
Local Legacy


The real McCoy

     Combine a love of exploration with the desire to help others, and you wind up with a lifetime career that never gets dull, according to Lois Clark McCoy ’42. As a mother of several young children, McCoy explored the deserts of southern California and became a founding member of the San Diego Mountain Rescue Team. This launched a thirty-year commitment for McCoy, who participated in mountain and desert rescues as an EMT, operations leader, urban task force developer, and county government emergency manager.
      She is now president of the nonprofit National Institute for Urban Search, based in Santa Barbara, Calif. The NIUSR is a self-funded think tank of sorts, made up of CEOs, CFOs, independent business owners, and active and retired professionals from government and industry—all of whom work pro bono. The organization’s lifesaving mission includes educating the public about what to do when disaster strikes. “Even with all we know and all the capabilities we have,” McCoy says, it comes down to the fact that “individuals have to take an interest in their own survival.” People in megacities, she adds, tend to lack a clear understanding of the hazards that surround them.
      The NIUSR began the first urban rescue teams in California over twenty years ago, to address earthquake preparedness and response. These teams, now designated FEMA task forces, were among those who responded to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Coincidentally, the NIUSR had planned a late-September international conference focusing on “preparedness for terrorism, major catastrophes, and weapons of mass destruction.” The theme couldn’t have been more timely, and the conference was sold out.
      McCoy, meanwhile, has just finished penning her autobiography, My Life with the Desperados (as yet unpublished, it’s a hefty 400-plus pages), which is less about her, she says, and more about the people she’s met and worked with during her adventures. “They’re all so fascinating—individually and collectively—and oriented toward helping others without even knowing them,” she says. “If you spend your life with people who are ethical, brave, and intelligent,” it rubs off. As for how much longer she’ll stay involved in search and rescue, McCoy says, “I intend to die with my boots on!” —MTS

Degrees of consciousness

      Karuna Kress ’60 (formerly known as Wendy Wyatt) has been interested in the depth of human potential and the process of learning since her Skidmore days, when she penned her senior sociology paper: “The Educational Value of Extracurricular Activities.” In the 1960s, she started a nonprofit consulting organization and personal growth institute while working on her doctorate in adult education at Boston University. Then, while living in India in the ’70s, she became vice chancellor of Osho Multiversity, an international program in Pune, India. Most recently, Kress and three colleagues founded the New England Institute for Transforming Consciousness, a master’s and doctoral degree program in consciousness and personal transformation.
NEITC opened its doors last September and offers programs in work and livelihood, health and wellness, the helping professions, teaching and learning, ecology and science, and the arts. The format includes several short residencies a year, distance learning supported by a mentor, and internships; it culminates with a “consciousness project.”
      “Our foundation,” says Kress, “is personal transformation—and its implications for life and work.” She knows of no similar programs elsewhere. Each semester NEITC accepts ten to twelve new participants from New England and beyond, including Europe. They have included a business consultant, a housewife, a youth worker, a finance director, a therapist, and a college teacher, ranging in age from mid-twenties to late forties. All have at least one thing in common: “Everyone,” says Kress, “is looking for a more meaningful quality of life, working with their deep interests, having [the elements of] their lives—work, play, relations—be congruent.”
      Participants hone what Kress refers to as “basic, universal, intangible skills”—including “being clear, centered, present, aware, in touch with humor”; letting go of old and no longer useful habits and beliefs; tapping creativity and insight; developing a deep self-trust; and becoming more effective at problem-solving. Once these skills are learned, Kress believes, they can be applied to any dimension in life.
      For more information on the institute’s program, write to neitc@earthlink.net. —MTS

Car mats: her Bailey-wick

      Ginger Cannon Bailey ’69 can tell you why it pays to have decent floor mats in your car. Her reasons are simple—they protect the carpet, and they are nicer to your shoes—but Bailey is perhaps a bit more convincing in her arguments than the average person.
      Bailey is CEO of GG Bailey, an online subsidiary of Racemark International, a family-run business that produces high-end automobile floor mats. For more than thirty years, Racemark (co-owned by Bailey and her husband, Bob, a former world-class driver for the Porsche of America Racing Team) has supplied mats to manufacturers in Europe, Japan, and the U.S.—including Audi, BMW, Honda, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Saab, and Volkswagen.
      It used to be that car owners could purchase Racemark mats only through a dealer. For at least a decade, Bailey says, she’d been trying to find “a way to reach the end consumer more directly.” As of November, individuals can now design and order their floor mats directly from GG Bailey via www.ggbailey.com, selecting from about a dozen carpet, trim, and heelpad colors, and personalizing them with embroidered initials, words, or logos. (Incidentally, Racemark designed the one-of-a-kind “007” floor mat for the BMW Z3 Roadster in the James Bond film GoldenEye.)
      Racemark headquarters are just south of Saratoga, in Malta, N.Y. (the Baileys live in nearby Charlton with their three children), with additional manufacturing facilities in Georgia and Switzerland.
      As overseer of the online store’s front-end, Bailey has had to learn a few things about online advertising and marketing tactics. “Doing business on the Internet requires immediate response time, 24/7,” she says. “We have to move at warp speed,” since orders ship within forty-eight hours of receipt. Finally, as a woman in the “ultra-conservative” automotive industry, Bailey knows that her company must rely on technological and business savvy—not gender—to be a success. —MTS

Entrepreneurial bag man

      For Jim Melville ’74, being a businessman and designer is good exercise for both sides of the brain. As owner of Melo Co., which manufactures soft-sided cases and bags for the “streetwear” fashion market worldwide, Melville dreams up new styles for wearable luggage and has the added satisfaction of “painting the world” with his design ideas.
      Melville came up with the concept for Melo Co. about fifteen years ago, while working on his MBA at New York University. Seeing an opportunity to supply dancers and fitness buffs with carryalls for their garb, he started with a single product, the Dance Bag. After getting his degree, he moved the business (and his family) upstate to Stuyvesant, where he has continued to run the company himself.
      While no task is too great or too small for Melville the entrepreneur, the primary focus of his work is coming up with bag styles and developing the brand image of the company’s two registered trademarks, MELO and XS Baggage. Melo employs twenty people (down from a high of fifty, two years ago), but Melville still designs all the products that the company manufactures itself or licenses to other companies.
      Melo’s biggest market is Japan, followed by the U.S. and the United Kingdom. “Our customers are typically young—sixteen to twenty-five years old,” Melville says, “and from major urban areas—hence, ‘streetwear fashion.’” Messenger bags and backpacks are Melo’s specialty, but what’s most popular fluctuates from season to season. Recently, Melville says, “we have had hits with our asymmetrical messenger bags, innovative backpacks, and a line of shoulder bags embellished with street-sign symbols.” There is a drawback to coming up with popular designs: other companies copy them, and Melo suffers the losses. “We are not big enough to match the marketing clout of the big retailers and manufacturers,” Melville notes, “and fashion design is notoriously difficult to protect with patents.”
      If Melville takes his work home with him, in this case it’s a benefit. He and his wife have a passion for backpacking and mountaineering, he says, so he’s designed several products for such adventures. While climbing in the Alps this summer, they hope to summit the Matterhorn using some of Melo’s newest creations. —MTS

Radio active

      Wednesday mornings at four, while most of his classmates were still snoring soundly in their dorm rooms, Steven Schwartz ’80 was fumbling his way to the security office in the basement of Jonsson Tower. His mission: to get the master key to open Case Center so he could get into the WSPN studio, where he hosted a weekly Top-40 morning show.
      Twenty-odd years later, Schwartz is still in the radio business, albeit in a slightly different role. After being on air in the 6-to-10 a.m. slot for about a decade, he is now sole proprietor of the Reynolds Group in Raleigh, N.C., coaching morning-show personalities at commercial radio stations nationwide. He refers to his clients by the single term “talent,” and his goal, in a nutshell, is to bring out their best and improve their ratings.
      Schwartz travels to U.S. cities small and large; he’s also worked in Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. His role is twofold. For the Children’s Miracle Network, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, he is one of three people in the U.S. (and one in Canada) who trains radio show hosts for multi-day radiothons that raise money for children’s hospitals. Nationwide, 170 stations participate, and Schwartz himself works with fifty or sixty each year. “Morning talent,” he says, “is trained to make people laugh.” But raising funds in support of children with debilitating and life-threatening diseases requires them to be “warm, sincere, provocative, and real—on the air.”
      Schwartz also helps morning shows improve their entertainment images. “With fewer companies owning more radio stations, playlists among stations have become similar,” he notes. “Talent—principally the morning show—is what sets each station apart and is proving more and more critical to success in ratings and revenue.”
      Some are leery of an outsider coming in to coach them. Either they think they know all there is to know about their job or they’re sure the station management wants them fired. On both counts, they’re wrong most of the time, Schwartz says. “I tell them I’m acting solely in their best interest.” Successful morning-show personalities, he says, “are very real and authentic, and also have the knowledge of what’s going on in their listeners’ lives.”
      “Doing a morning show is a strategic project,” he adds. “I winged it, but I don’t think you can anymore. With the number of radio stations, TV’s Today Show, CDs, cell phones, traffic—there’s so much actual and mental clutter to cut through. To rise above that, you have to be on target and understand your audience. I have a great empathy for morning talent.” —MTS

Ready or not

      As a member of the Commissioned Corps Readiness Force (part of the U.S. Public Health Service), John Eckert ’85 is on call year-round to respond to disasters—both natural and man-made—anywhere in the world. So he wasn’t surprised when he was deployed to New York City to contribute to post-September 11 relief efforts. Having once worked with the city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner (he’s now based at the Arkansas Regional Laboratory), he was familiar with New York’s landmarks. But when he flew into La Guardia late at night on September 19, he had “a bird’s-eye view into the crater that was once the World Trade Center,” he says. “The site was still smoldering; and with the plume of smoke billowing up, it was an eerie scene.”
      When Eckert—who has a Ph.D. in microbiology—learned he was assigned to the body-identification team, he had some inkling of the enormous task that lay ahead. “As it turned out,” he says, “identifying the remains of nearly 3,000 people meant testing tens of thousands of disarticulated body parts.” Eckert and his teammates from across the country worked at Ground Zero, locating, tagging, and transporting bodies and body parts. Later the team was assigned to the OCME, which catalogued the remains and checked them against dental records and X-rays, as well as records of tattoos, distinguishing scars, or other marks, and jewelry.”
      Eckert worked the night shift, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., seven days a week. “In the beginning, it was very emotional, but after about eight hours,” he admits, “I went on autopilot. The hardest part for any of us was transporting human remains; but being on a team meant that nobody went through the experience alone.” Whenever an ambulance tranported remains to the OCME, work was halted and team members stood silently, saluting as the ambulance passed.
      There were uplifting moments too—like when residents of Lower Manhattan lined the streets to thank the workers as they entered and left the site each day—and even some fun times, including the police-escorted bus ride through the streets of Manhattan; the daily pilgrimages to the Olive Garden in Times Square, which provided free meals to relief workers; and the day (October 6) when victims’ family members and relief workers sang “Happy Birthday” in Eckert’s honor.
      Now back in Arkansas, Eckert is on call for deployment to the “Afghanistan Theater of Operations”—which means he would help control the spread of infectious diseases and identify individuals in Afghanistan’s refugee camps. He’s not sure he’ll get the call; but if he does, he’s ready. —MTS

Chemistry coup

      In the early 1990s scientists identified a compound, found in a rare marine creature, that seemed to be a strong anticancer agent. The gelatinous, anemone-like Diazona angulata is so rare—and its product, diazonamide A, is so promising—that laboratories immediately set to work trying to synthesize the compound.
      Late last year, Patrick Harran ’90 and his co-workers won the race—and then mapped out a new one. At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas, Harran et al. matched the complex molecular structure of diazonamide as it was described in 1991. But when they compared an actual sample of the natural product, they found its description had been flawed. Close scrutiny of the original crystallography and spectroscopic data revealed a couple of mixups (a nitrogen atom mistaken for an oxygen, for example).
      When chemical journals last December published the Harran lab’s synthesis, as well as the corrected structure of the natural product, other diazonamide researchers reacted with “both shock and admiration,” according to one article. Researchers called the feat “a nice piece of chemistry” and “an impressive bit of analysis.” And that launched the next race—to complete a synthesis of the true compound.
      As it happens, the structure that Harran’s team synthesized appears just as biologically effective as the true natural compound—which is lucky, according to Harran, because a key goal is to use synthetic versions in studying potential therapeutic function. “Molecular pharmacology is an exciting downstream aspect of our work,” he says.
      “This is a scientist to keep your eye on,” enthuses Raymond Giguere, Skidmore chemistry professor. “Great things are coming from his lab.” After working closely with Giguere in Skidmore labs and classrooms, Harran earned a Ph.D. at Yale and was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. He began teaching and research at UT–Southwestern in 1997. —SR

A different way to see the city

      When Georgette Blau ’96 moved to New York City two years after graduation, she landed in the same neighborhood where the 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons was filmed. A lightbulb went off in her head. Considering the abundance of famous TV landmarks in the city, she thought: Why not offer group bus tours where people could vicariously live the life of their favorite TV characters and see New York at the same time? A year later, Blau started Scene on TV Tours, now called On Location Tours Inc.
      She started with a Manhattan tour, visiting locations from fifteen different TV shows, including Friends, Cosby, Seinfeld, Will & Grace, The Nanny, and NYPD Blue. In 2001, she added a Sopranos tour to coincide with the premiere of the third season of the show. And last October, she introduced a Sex and the City jaunt.
      The tours, according to the company’s Web site, are offered in a multitude of languages and attract all ages. “We really like when die-hard fans come on the tours,” Blau says, even if they’re “slightly intimidating at times!” Most participants are out-of-towners (only about 10 percent are locals); roughly a quarter are foreigners. The Sex and the City tour—popular for bachelorette parties—is Blau’s best-seller “and probably will be for a while, since women are good about making reservations. A lot of men want to take the Sopranos tour, but they don’t want to bother making a reservation,” she ribs.
      This summer Blau will employ (part-time) about seven tour guides. For now, she handles most of the marketing and operations herself; Insiders Marketplace (iMar.com) deals with reservations and payments. Blau advertises her excursions via the Internet, travel guide books, tourist magazines, brochures, and travel agents. When she can, she escapes the office and leads the tours herself. Her approach, she says, sucks people in: “I try to mix fact and fiction in an attempt to straddle fantasy and reality and bring people into TV land—a sort of escape for some. Seeing the reactions on their faces, especially when they’re reminiscing about old shows, is very rewarding.”
      On Location Tours, adds Blau, are also a fun way for newcomers to explore the New York area. She has plans to expand into film tours—and into other areas of the country, as well. For more information, check out her Web site: www.sceneontv.com. —MTS

Local legacy

      One day in 1841, Solomon Northup, a free black man who worked as a lumberman and violinist in and around Saratoga Springs, was approached at the corner of Broadway and Congress Street by two white men promising him a violin-playing job in New York City. Before he knew it, Northup was drugged, chained, and shipped off into slavery in Louisiana. Over the next twelve years he and his family lobbied to win his freedom and finally, with the help of black and white citizens in New York, Louisiana, and even Canada, Northup was returned to his wife and children in Saratoga. Afterward he wrote a compelling and widely read memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, and lectured about his experiences.
      When Saratogian Renée Moore, UWW ’01, learned of this story in 1999, she promptly organized “Solomon Northup Day—A Celebration of Freedom,” a community event held at Saratoga’s Urban Heritage Area Visitor Center—practically on the spot where Northup was abducted. The idea, Moore told the Daily Gazette, was “to commemorate him and his ordeal, but also to bring together diverse communities and realize how important freedom is to all of us.” Moore worked to get a historic marker erected in honor of Northup, and the Visitor Center has a permanent display about him—the first such recognition, Moore says proudly, for a black Saratogian.
      Every July since then, Moore has coordinated increasingly popular Solomon Northup Days, complete with mayoral proclamations, visits by Northup’s decendants, comments by city religious and cultural leaders, a variety of ethnic foods, and entertainment ranging from poetry and jazz to Caribbean and Chinese folk music.
      In 2000 Northup Day was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’s Local Legacies program, an LOC bicentennial project to document hundreds of community festivals and traditions across the nation. Moore says the celebration is “a family event, with a very multicultural crowd having fun, learning a little history, and finding commonality.” —SR

 


© 2002 Skidmore College