People and Projects
Battle of the bug
To keep its soldiers in the fight, the army relies on engineers, doctors, mechanics, cooks—and entomologists. One of them is Col. Mustapha Debboun ’80, chief of medical zoology in the preventive-medicine department of the US Army’s Academy of Health Sciences in Texas. For him, entomology is about improving the insecticides and repellents that can protect soldiers out in the field.
“As a young boy growing up in Morocco,” Debboun says, “I was bitten by my share of mosquitoes and sand flies. I was always fascinated by their beauty, role in nature, and danger to humans.” After majoring in biology at Skidmore, he earned a PhD in 1989 and joined the army, because he wanted to safeguard soldiers’ health and “contribute to the great tradition of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.”
That’s one mission accomplished: He has published in and served as an expert reviewer for the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, Journal of Medical Entomology, and others, and he was senior editor of a book on insect-repellent principles worldwide. He has also joined medical detachments in Kuwait, Iraq, and Bosnia, served as an Arabic interpreter with Gulf War POWs, and tested repellent formulas from Peru to Thailand.
If he could be granted one wish, Debboun says he’d find “one magical repellent that’s completely effective against all biting arthropods, whether or not surveillance has identified which one is causing disease.” Such a recipe hasn’t been invented yet, but Debboun did lead the development of a combination bug repellent and camouflage face paint issued to all US military personnel.
Next challenge? Climate change will allow many bugs—like Lyme-carrying ticks and malaria-spreading mosquitoes—to expand their range into formerly cooler regions. Debboun points to West Nile virus, which entered the US only nine years ago and has already infected some 30,000 people in North America. And the Asian tiger mosquito, which carries dengue fever, is now in the southern US and adapting successfully in more northern states.
The military uses a range of pest-control tactics; Debboun says pesticides are just one tool, and a last resort. For a hair-raising look at other critters and controls, visit his Web site: 184.108.40.206/
Deep down dance
If the polyrhythmic drumming and full-body movements aren’t inspiration enough, seeing children take to the dance floor really pleases Charlese Sutton Randolph ’84.
The Pomona, N.Y., resident is artistic co-director of Chiku Awali African Dance and Drum Company of Rockland County, a not-for-profit created in 2003 to bring African culture to the community. She performs, choreographs, and restages dances, coordinates rehearsals, helps decide performance costumes, and—perhaps best of all—teaches youngsters the dances of West Africa.
A Skidmore dance major who went on to earn a master’s in dance and movement therapy at Hunter College in Manhattan, she began taking classes at Chiku Awali “as a way to get back in shape after having my son,” she says. After a month or so, she realized a deeper connection: “The spiritual, emotional, and physical connection to my heritage was immediate and created an outlet for my artistic
Chiku Awali aims to educate people of all ages and “promote positive images of Africans throughout society,” Randolph says. Company dancers include beginners and
experienced dancers who range in age from four to sixty-four. “In African culture, children and adults often dance and drum together to instill greater learning opportunities, to celebrate each other, and to pass on historical information,” Randolph notes. Performances are held once or twice monthly at youth festivals, churches, street fairs, schools, and Rockland Dances (an annual festival coordinated by the local arts council, of which she is a board member).
Randolph loves teaching West African dance, whether it’s to young kids at Head Start of Nyack or adults at nearby senior centers. A recent highlight was getting West Point cadets on their feet for Black History Month. Inspiration abounds for Randolph: her own five-year-old, dance icons Chuck Davis, Katherine Dunham, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines, Skidmore dance professor Isabel Brown… and not least, “the people of Africa who, in spite of hardships and adversities over the past 500 years, have endeavored to create a strong legacy within our community, which I am honored to pass on to future generations.” —MTS
Any cook can tell you: If you’re going to bother with fresh pasta, the obvious accompaniment is fresh sauce. This is where Kirsten Hube Sweeney ’85 comes in. Just Made Sauces, her line of all-natural tomato-based toppings, can be found in gourmet and grocery stores throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut—including Whole Foods Market, Zabar’s, and Food Emporium.
Best-selling Alfredo, Vodka, and Simply Tomato are just the start. There’s also Veggie Marinara (with carrots, zucchini, and oregano), Eggplant (amply chunky), Puttanesca (capers and kalamata olives), and Arrabbiata (spiced with cinnamon, basil, and red-pepper flakes). Sweeney’s low-sodium sauces are free of added sugar and preservatives, and she swears “they really taste homemade!” You’ll find them in the refrigerated section.
In just a few years Sweeney has gone from being a home-kitchen cook presenting her tomatoey concoctions at Connecticut farmers’ markets to having two distributors and a broker for her products. Transitioning to mass production required “lots of research and patience,” she’s the first to say. Besides developing recipes, she needed labels, bar codes, and a packager. At first she cold-called local independent markets, most of which were game for giving her sauces a shot, and because she believes in “getting samples into the customers’ mouths as often as I can,” she supplemented her deliveries with live demos and samples. She’s now expanded the reach of Just Made Foods to include Whole Foods Market's Northeast and North Atlantic regions. And Balducci’s picked Sweeney’s company to produce its private-label pasta sauces.
“I don’t really have a cooking background,” Sweeney divulges, “other than a mother and two grandmothers who always prepared meals from scratch.” But growing up in Europe didn’t hurt. Four years in Italy, four in Germany, two in England with parents who loved good food meant “we always ate very well,” she says.
While sauce production is running smoothly—her copacker “has the recipes down to a tee”—Sweeney’s challenge now is taking the business to the next level. Sales and marketing are continual challenges as she attempts to target new accounts, like Wegman’s, Fresh Direct, and Fresh Market. Eventually, she’d like to add her soups, which also enjoyed success at those Connecticut farmers’ markets. We’ll count on Sweeney to let us know just when: soup’s on (justmadefoods.com). —MTS
In the pink
Several years ago Stewart Pim Goodbody ’99, who double-majored in English and women’s studies, wanted to “move from health and pharmaceutical PR to something more creative and rewarding.” She found the perfect set-up at Digitas in NYC, handling PR and events promotions for Cook for the Cure, KitchenAid’s charitable partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Cook for the Cure, launched in 2001, was “the first program that rallied the cooking community around the breast-cancer movement,” Goodbody says. “For years people had been able to run or play golf to benefit this cause, but there was no program for those who get more excitement out of entertaining or eating than finishing a 10K.”
CFTC has since raised more than $6 million. The program has several components, all of which Goodbody manages. You’ve no doubt seen KitchenAid’s pink product line. Whenever consumers purchase (and register) a pink stand mixer, blender, toaster, or other culinary tool, the brand donates at least ten percent of the retail price to Komen for the Cure. KitchenAid also teamed up with Gourmet magazine to supply party kits for consumers hosting fundraisers at home. And CFTC draws on support from celebrity chefs—Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pepin, Sarah Moulton, Bobby Flay, and Rachel Ray, among others—who participate in press appearances or host private dining experiences auctioned off at high-profile food and wine festivals.
Goodbody also fields media requests for CFTC, serves as program spokesperson, and represents KitchenAid at consumer and trade shows. “In other words,” she says, “I sleep, eat, and breathe Cook for the Cure—in the US and as it expands internationally.”
In recent years she’s developed additional components for the program—including repositioning CFTC’s most important month as May (“October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” she explains, but “it’s easy to get lost in the ‘sea of pink’ during this month”) and launching the first CFTC Survivors Week, giving breast-cancer survivors the chance to win “a weeklong culinary adventure at a renowned cooking school in Tuscany.”
Her interactions with volunteers and breast-cancer survivors are highly rewarding, Goodbody says. The women “are so gracious. They make me realize how important my work is, because for them it’s not just their job, it’s their passion and reason for living; they put everything they have into finding a cure for this disease.” —MTS
Longtime equestrian Jennifer Sheffield ’03 hoped to roar into Reunion on a Harley. Not in the driver’s seat—though that might come later. For now she’s content to ride on the back of her boyfriend’s 2004 Road King. “I hear I don’t look anything like a ‘biker chick,’” she says, adding that she’s an alert passenger. And she forgoes the backrest, preferring to lean forward—something she repeatedly got yelled at for doing on a horse.
Sheffield came to motorcycling innocently enough: she was offered a ride by her boyfriend “as a perfectly safe method of picking me up for our second date.” They took his truck instead, but not long after took the Harley for “a spin around the neighborhood. This, in hindsight, was probably a way to ‘test’ me for any female glitches—or to impress me,” Sheffield surmises. “But it was a great way for us to get close, literally.”
In 2007 Sheffield joined the Bergen County Harley Owners Group and now partakes in charity rides, parades, and day trips. (She’s also a member of the National HOG and LOH—Ladies of Hog—where she claims “there’s a wealth of info that you won’t get from the guys.”) Her first big event was the Paterson (N.J.) Bike Blessing. She’s also ridden in the Andiamo Benefit Motorcycle Run and the Bergen 400, a 400-mile ride accomplished in a single Saturday. Most fun for her are summer trips to Bear Mountain State Park, along the Hudson River.
Sheffield, an anthropology major, has worked a lot of temporary jobs, which means she’s “constantly lost in New Jersey, in a car.” By contrast, the idea on a bike, she says, is that “if you’re out for a ride, you’re never lost and can just enjoy yourself.”
As it happened, Sheffield left the Harley behind on Reunion weekend; the skies at home were cloudy when she started out, and getting caught in even the slightest rain can mean two days of cleaning all the custom chrome.
Nothing about riding so far has been harrowing, Sheffield says. Although… “there was one time we were trying to get to a Cold Stone, practically on the other side of the state, before it closed. That was 80 mph all the way, on a very buggy night.” —MTS
To some, a car is a car—a device to get you from here to there. To others, a car is a glorious machine, whose every painted curve and shiny bit of chrome is a wonder to behold, and whose inner workings are masterful. Janet Thompson, UWW ’97, would fall into the latter camp. As operations manager at Hemmings Motor News, widely recognized as the “world’s largest collector-car marketplace,” she’s seen a lot of cars, from all eras and from all angles.
Thompson, whose “personal interest in antiquity” was nurtured while working as a museum receptionist for several years, started at Hemmings’s publishing company as an editorial assistant for a boating magazine. When that was sold, she became facilities manager at the Bennington, Vt., company, which at the time owned just eight vehicles. Over the next decade or so (during which time Thompson graduated from Skidmore’s UWW program), Hemmings grew its vehicle fleet to ninety and Thompson’s responsibilities grew too. As operations manager, she now represents the company at events and gatherings, oversees buildings and grounds, helps maintain two dozen collector cars, and manages the popular Car Lover’s Oasis gift shop.
In 2005 Thompson represented Hemmings in the Great Race, an annual two-week coast-to-coast competition that tests the will and fortitude of both the drivers and their autos (which must predate 1960). Despite the complexities she encountered as navigator, which entails following a thick book of highly detailed race-course instructions, nothing compared to the physical challenge. Thompson, a devoted exerciser, was nearly overcome by severe hydration (the temp inside her 1934 Dodge panel truck exceeded 110 degrees some days). But it was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one she repeated the following year, this time armed with Gatorade.
If she could have any vintage vehicle in the world, Thompson has a few top choices. “To use, it would be a 1950s Chevy or Ford truck; for fun, a collector MG or Corvette; for luxury a 1940 Buick touring car; for prestige a Lotus or Porsche.” Her favorite vehicle in the Hemmings collection is the Model B pickup truck. She herself drives an Audi Avant and says, “I love it.” —MTS