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People and Projects

Prison links

What makes a free person want to help another who’s incarcerated? For Catherine Wise ’79, the seed was planted when she was a junior in college. At the Spa one evening for a study-break bagel, she spied her Chinese history professor wearily slouched over a cup of coffee. He had just returned to campus after teaching a class at a local prison. “In those days, prisoners could obtain a University Without Walls diploma, and many Skidmore professors taught at area prisons,” Wise recalls.

Fifteen years later, with that memory still in her head, Wise began working at Graterford Prison with a church group. She also became a tutor with the Prison Literacy Project—which is how she met Joan Horowitz Behr ’61.

Although they’d both been volunteering for several years at Graterford, Pennsylvania’s largest maximum-security correctional facility, Behr and Wise (above) were not aware, at first, of their common background. But during a coffee break from a tutoring session one day, they discovered they shared the Skidmore experience as well as a commitment to bettering the lives of inmates.

Behr helped found the Prison Literacy Project more than twenty years ago. As the project’s communications manager she raised funds to publish a handbook and two volumes of prison writings and to keep in touch with other criminal-justice organizations and inmate populations throughout the country. Today, she volunteers for the Pennsylvania Prison Society (the world’s oldest prison-reform organization, founded in 1787), writing letters to prisoners in response to their questions and concerns.

Wise, who in 1999 became the Prison Society’s program manager for inmate family services, helped develop Support to Kids with Incarcerated Parents and implemented a parenting-skills project in sixteen state prisons as well as family-visitation programs. She is now the Prison Society’s director of development and communications.

Sharing a belief that “all human beings deserve to be treated with justice and dignity,” Behr and Wise say they are doubly pleased to share the Skidmore connection. —MTS

Mine, mine, mine...

When she took the helm in March as CEO
of the London-based Anglo American PLC, Cynthia Blum Carroll ’78 became only the third woman to lead a Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 company. And what she’s leading is one of the world’s largest mining and metals enterprises.

Her appointment has raised a few eyebrows on both sides of the pond, but Carroll is in her comfort zone. “Throughout my career, I’ve worked in a male environment,” she wrote in a January 2007 Newsweek essay. With each new appointment in the oil and then aluminum industries, she noted, she quickly saw that “performance is what matters.”

Her business savvy has roots in the Harvard MBA she earned in 1989, but it was at Skidmore that she discovered the sciences. Carroll says she came to Skidmore looking to study art history and languages. As a freshman, she signed up for geology to get her science requirement out of the way, and ended up loving it. “She was always in the geology lab,” recalls geosciences professor Dick Lindemann. Carroll earned the department’s Mente et Malleo Award for her field study at Swede Mountain in the Adirondacks, and she did a January-term internship with Amoco Production Research Laboratories in Tulsa, Okla. That, says Lindemann, “really set her feet in the direction of the petroleum industry” and, eventually, hard-rock mining.

Carroll went on to earn a master’s in geology at the University of Kansas and then worked for several years with Amoco, supervising geological field work in oil exploration. Then she began an almost twenty-year career with the Canadian aluminum company Alcan, leading its Ireland division and becoming president and CEO of Alcan Primary Metal.

Notwithstanding her comfort and success in a conservative male business environment, Carroll acknowledged in Newsweek that at Anglo American—which has substantial operations in Africa and was previously led by South-African executives—“I suppose that I am even more different.” But she views that as a plus and intends to bring a fresh global perspective to the company. —KG, MTS

Peaceful planting

In twenty years of growing plants and designing gardens, Evelyn Augusto Humphrey ’85 has dug up dirt not on, but for, some famous people. So family and friends weren’t all that surprised to learn her latest client is none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In the Catskill Mountains of New York, Humphrey is the landscape manager at the six-year-old Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center, which belongs
to Tibet House US, the Dalai Lama’s official cultural preservation center. She’s responsible for bringing the natural environment into balance and harmony, and cultivating gardens of flowers, herbs, and healthy food. “Our goal,” she says, “is to create a spiritual environment where people feel nourished, calmed, healed, and energized.”

Humphrey and her small crew have been clearing campsites and hiking trails as well as creating ornamental and vegetable gardens. Menla was recently recognized as an “important bird area” by the National Audubon Society, she adds.

The work itself is “a soothing balm for all that ails me,” says Humphrey, who works there from March to December (during the winter she is an online bookseller). At Menla—which sits on 320 acres at the base of Panther Mountain, with a stream encircling the property—“the wind blows ancient prayers through your hair, and the mercurial waters pass through in a somewhat mystical fashion, taking whatever burdens the spirit downstream with it,” Humphrey says. “You feel as though you are being held in the cupped hands of Mother Earth.”

When the Dalai Lama visited Menla for the first time last year, Humphrey was among the welcoming staff. “As he climbed the stairs toward us, I thought: This will be as close as I’ll ever come to meeting someone like Jesus or Gandhi. And then I saw that he wore red shoes. I mean, the incarnate of the Buddha of Compassion, and he wore sensible, red shoes! That was perfect. It made me admire this man even more.”

When the Dalai Lama blessed her, Humphrey says, “his touch quieted the anxiety I was feeling. As he pressed his forehead to mine I hoped he would transfer something of the peace of mind and spirit that he possesses to me. Now, during difficult times I find myself asking: What would the Dalai Lama do?” —MTS


Eggscellent endeavor

Perhaps no one knows “the incredible edible egg” better than John Ubaldo ’88. As proprietor of John Boy’s Farm Market in Pound Ridge, N.Y., he is the keeper of 150 chickens, a gaggle of geese, and a bunch of ducks—all of which produce the whites and yolks that can make a supermarket dozen crack with envy.

Ubaldo’s chickens—Araucanas, New Hampshire Reds, Rhode Island Reds, and black Australorps—are raised on the four-acre site of his childhood home. They are not given medications, vaccinations, or artificial feed, and they are free-ranging. “We keep them really clean and let them run around,” Ubaldo told the New York Times last spring. “I know it sounds funny, but they’re happy. That’s why the eggs taste so good.”

For Ubaldo, a former Wall Street broker, tending happy chickens has been at once a link back to his childhood and a refuge from a nightmare. As a youngster he befriended the geese his family kept for their own enjoyment. In fact, he almost chose his college based on which one would allow the birds to come with him (he ended up at Skidmore, without the geese, even though Bennington would have accepted them). After school, he worked on Wall Street for a dozen years, until September 11, 2001, when he lost his brother-in-law “and half the people I knew,”he says.

A few months later he moved back to the Pound Ridge house and started buying chickens. The work is methodical—he rises to the sound of roosters and tends the birds all day, feeding them and hand-washing their mostly brown (and sometimes pale-green) eggs—and Ubaldo finds it therapeutic. “I feel like I’m just now coming out of a kind of fog,” he says. “I’ve relied on this work to keep me going.” Ubaldo also sells smoked salmon, sturgeon, and trout, Canadian and slab bacon, and sausages—all made on the premises.

Scott Eckenrod, head chef at Cava Wine Bar and Restaurant in New Canaan, Conn., which uses John Boy’s eggs exclusively, says, “I have so much respect for John. He could sell his land for real-estate development and make a nice chunk of money. Instead, he wants to be a farmer. It’s hard and unforgiving work, and you don’t make much. But if you like what you do, you’re blessed. John is one of those people.”

Funny thing

As a student, he had “a strict zero-tolerance policy for academics,” deadpans David Miner ’91, who acted in theater department productions, sang with the Bandersnatchers, and founded the Ad-Liberal Artists improv group and the National College Comedy Festival. Now Miner is a partner at 3 Arts Entertainment, whose TV productions include “The Office” (NBC), “Everybody Hates Chris” (CW), “King of the Hill” (Fox), and the critically acclaimed “30 Rock” (NBC), for which Miner is executive producer.

“I know it sounds glamorous,” he says. But it’s not unusual for him to work into the early morning hours, grab just a couple hours’ sleep, and then get up again “to give the kids breakfast and ship them off to school.” It’s sometimes the only way he gets to see his family during production week.

Despite the glamor (or not), Miner still savors his humble Skidmore roots. Being on campus when the Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater opened, for instance, “made me feel part of a new generation—like there were no boundaries,” he recalls. And pulling together the first-ever National College Comedy Festival in 1990 was “truly remarkable,” he adds. “I realized then that producing, for me, was more satisfying than performing.”

He got his chance right out of college, when Tony Award–winning Broadway producer Nelle Nugent ’60 hired him as a comedy developer for projects including a live National Lampoon show. He then produced comedy off-Broadway with Chicago City Limits and later landed an apprenticeship at International Creative Management in Los Angeles. In 1995 he joined 3 Arts as an assistant; he was named partner in 2006, having established a reputation for spotting emerging comedy and theater artists and helping them develop into successful TV and film writers and performers.

Miner’s latest venture, “Human Giant,” a weekly sketch-comedy show for MTV with intentional appeal to the cell-phone and iPod crowd, is a pretty good indication that he still feels that sense of “no boundaries” and being part of a new generation. —KG, MTS

Tea for two, or more...

Short and stout, handle and spout—that’s
really all there is to a teapot, right? Not to Jono Pandolfi ’99. Starting at Skidmore, he studied the teapot and made it his own—stretching it to dizzying new heights (two feet tall and up) and adding quirky spouts, but keeping traditional values like dribble-free pouring and nice, solid handles.

That approach to teapots got him places. As reported in New York magazine last March, “Eight years ago, ceramicist Jono Pandolfi was teaching high-school kids how to make birdbaths and cookie jars. Now he’s selling at MoMA, making dishes for Eleven Madison Park, and designing for Crate & Barrel.”

The lush, smoky-black Kona dinnerware that C & B sells nationally is actually an exception to Pandolfi’s main pursuit of “custom tabletop design for chefs”—the creation of signature accent pieces like bud vases, butter dishes, and candlesticks for elite restaurants. “First we talk about the chef’s food, his vision, his aesthetic. I might make him ten designs—he’ll like eight.” One top chef liked them so much that for their next meeting, he brought along the Bravo-TV crew filming his TV pilot.

To match his pieces to a restaurant’s commercially manufactured dinnerware, Pandolfi blends his own clay (a Skidmore-taught skill), testing as many as twenty-five samples to produce, say, a “perfectly white porcelain with no pinholes in the glaze.” He handmakes the pieces in his Long Island studio: loopy horseshoe vases for Clio in Soho, tiny porcelain pillows for Eleven Madison Park (each used to present the likes of one gemlike strawberry), clever and elegant soup bowls, single-cup teapots, and even an “egg-crate plate” (for serving eggs) inspired by the mattress tossed into in his studio’s Dumpster.

“You never know where inspiration will come from,” he says. “This is what my mind was made to do: design functional, fun objects for incredible places, do the production, and get them on the table.”

He’s pleased that people can buy his gorgeous Kona teapot at Crate & Barrel for $35 instead of a studio price like $80 or $90. Teapots, it turns out, are still his favorite object to produce. —BAM

Imagine this

Sinem Varoglu ’01 (stage name Sinem Saniye, or just Sinem for those in the know) was barely a year old when John Lennon was killed, but there’s a link between them nonetheless.

It started innocently enough. Sinem’s faculty advisor, Skidmore orchestra conductor Tony Holland, drew her attention to an ad for the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, an annual, international contest open to both amateurs and professionals. “He said, ‘I think you should enter,’” Sinem recalls. “I didn’t think my songs were good enough. So I didn’t.” Later, she did enter—twice, in the pop and jazz categories—and was disappointed not to win.

But her music career took off nonetheless, and since graduating she has played to packed audiences in legendary New York venues including The Bitter End, CBGBs Gallery, Pianos, and Kavehaz. She’s also performed at the UN and the Turkish Consulate, on CNN Turk and other televised programs, and for thousands of screaming fans while on a float going down Fifth Avenue at the annual Turkish-American Day Parade. (Sinem means “deep from within my heart.”)

By 2006 Sinem’s songwriting style had undergone “significant changes,” she says. On a whim, she entered the Lennon competition once more, with the Mideast-influenced “Boom Sheke Nana,” this time in the world-music category. Her song was among 20,000 entries worldwide, and Sinem says she never expected to win—not the grand prize in the world-music category, and not the second-round Lennon Award—but she did. And now the song is up for the Maxell Song of the Year.

All the attention has boosted her music career not just in the US, where she’s been awarded a publishing contract with EMI, but also in Turkey and Europe. In conjunction with the release of her CD When I Don’t Sleep (available at and, Sinem is touring this fall, shooting her first music video (in Saratoga Springs, by the way), and establishing her own publishing company. “I love the business side of music in addition to the creative aspects,” she says. She hopes to sign and promote other artists, and after recording a few more albums of her own, looks forward to “taking a backseat to performance and sitting in an office instead, being the lady in charge at my companies.” —MTS