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People and Projects

Pioneer nurses

The faded black-and-white photograph, circa 1952, speaks volumes: Fourteen uniformed nursing students in crisp white uniforms and caps form a perfect Rockettes-style chorus line in front of Biggs Hospital in Ithaca, N.Y. Their faces gleam with optimism, camaraderie,
and pride.

This poignant image, and the one shown below, are just two of many in a new permanent exhibit in the atrium of Dana Science Center that documents the history of Skidmore’s nursing program, from its inception in 1922 through its termination with the class of 1985. Skidmore School of Nursing: Pioneers in Science, with text by college historian and American studies professor Mary Lynn, was dedicated during Reunion last June. It was the brainchild of Bill Ladd ’83 (the alumni board’s chair of reunions), who saw a need to acknowledge the nursing program as a cornerstone of Skidmore’s academic excellence and honor its graduates as “pioneers” in science-based professional opportunities for women.

The exhibit has been well received by alumni like Tracy Guthrie ’55, who proclaims it “a wonderful tribute.” For Ruth Reid Gjessing ’45 the display evokes memories of air-raid drills and the heightened energy of New York City during wartime, inextricably woven with fond recollections of mentors Dean Agnes Gelinas and Assistant Dean Irene Karn. “The breadth and quality of our training provided an excellent grounding for a nursing career,” she states. Ellie Boughner Axford ’55, one of the nursing students pictured in the Ithaca photo, is reminded of “the terror of giving my first injection to a real person, caring for the boys [veterans] at NYU’s Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, and the thrill of receiving our nursing caps. We laughed—and cried—a lot at the end of our shifts, about the events of the day.”

Among the images donated by Dale Conron Ahearn ’75 is a picture of nursing students sunbathing on “the beach,” as the roof of Skidmore’s dorm on Manhattan’s East 38th Street was affectionately known. Another captures a dozen nursing uniforms hung outside the building—“our way of saying good-bye to the clinical program and hello to the real world,” Ahearn recalls. —MM

Tackling life issues

He wasn’t a big-time athlete at Skidmore, though he did play a year of JV basketball. He wasn’t a psychology major either; government was his pick. But he was a head resident in the dorms, and maybe that experience—of being there for others—was the thread to his current job as director of career transition for the National Football League.

Chris Henry ’91, a licensed psychotherapist with an MSW from the University of Southern California, is charged with ensuring the successful transition of players into and out of pro football by offering degree-completion, counseling, and financial-education services.

Heady stuff, helping rich and famous athletes. But, as Henry notes, “NFL players have the same challenges as any other group. The difference is, they’re under a microscope. As a society we’re quick to idolize and also demonize people in the public eye. We forget that they’re real people, many of whom were raised in difficult situations and not taught about socially appropriate behavior, the value of education, or finances.” Couple that with a big paycheck, your face on billboards, and intense pressure from teams, families, and fans, Henry says, and “it’s little wonder that some are going to act in ways we might not like.”

And there’s this, he adds: the average NFL career lasts just four years. Even if a player earns $1 million over his career (the league-minimum salary is $230,000), he retires young and may well have forty working years ahead of him. That too is a tough transition to make. “We have a strange expectation that he should be OK to live a ‘normal’ existence,” Henry says, but “it’s not logical, or fair. We have reinforced, since he was eight, that this kid is something special. At the professional level, it’s magnified. One day the lights go out, and 50,000 people are no longer cheering for you. That can be traumatic.”

Henry, then, doesn’t have the same considerations most people do when they’re watching football on TV. What he thinks about, he says, is “how a player, through injury or dwindling stats, either lost his job or is getting that much closer to losing his job. It’s a week-to-week career.” —PM

Alt art attitude

Big, Red, & Shiny (an online Boston arts journal) art critic Charles Giuliano noted that “the secret of the strength of the Biblical Samson lay in his uncut hair.” He went on to describe the locks of Camilo Alvarez ’98: “An imposing mass of matted, fused, piled up, twirled and twisted Rasta dreads is an eye-catching feature of a gigantically tall, warm and charming, stunningly bright, and awesomely handsome, soaring comet in the Boston art world.” Alvarez is director of Samson Projects, a gallery he founded in the city’s South End almost two years ago.

“Latino art is a strong interest” at the gallery, Giuliano notes, “but hardly its primary focus.” Alvarez, for instance, was just as excited about Opish—an exhibit that brought together original artists of the 1960s Op Art movement and mid-career Neo-Geo artists, plus the emerging artists influenced by them—and has also exhibited works by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American painters.

Alvarez majored in art history at Skidmore, became a curatorial assistant in European painting at the Met, and later worked at New York City’s Exit Art: The First World and the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Moving to Boston, his goal was to blend a commercial gallery with the experimental attitude of an alternative exhibition space for emerging and underrecognized artists as well as established ones.

According to, the gallery intends to “challenge perspectives” and bring “accessibility and discussion of art, ideas, and process to diverse audiences.” As might be expected, public reaction to the exhibits (like one devoted entirely to bad behavior and offensiveness) has been mixed. “Be it negative or positive, at least people are responding,” Alvarez says. “When Picasso came out, people were dumbfounded,” he reminds us. “Same with the Impressionists; they were
completely pariahed.”

Perhaps the only dark cloud for Alvarez is paying the bills. “I work for myself, so I work always. I do everything: curating, stuffing envelopes, tending to collectors and museums, traveling to art fairs, installing exhibitions, updating the Web site. I’m self-funded, so I have no one to answer to—which lets me take risks but
at the same time can get me into loads of trouble.

“I think I’ve caught the attention of the Boston art world,” Alvarez concludes. “As with any small business, it takes a couple of years before you get back in the black. Slowly but surely…with patience, perseverance, and a whole lot of hard work.” —MTS

Jewels in the library

Adventures of Qui Hi in Hindostan,
by Thomas Rowlandson: London, 1816

The magic of the Fox Collection is that it lets undergrads actually handle rare old books—that doesn’t happen at other libraries,” says Wendy Anthony, Skidmore’s special-collections librarian. Professor Catherine Golden adds, “Student involvement with primary sources is fading in our Internet age. But they bring history to life and get students excited.”

Ensuring such opportunities “made perfect sense to us,” says Cassie Roche Fox ’80. The Fox-Adler Collection came to Skidmore in 1967, on loan from Hannah Adler, a native Saratogian. When she died in 1990, she left her rare-book collection to family friend Norman Fox (founder of N. Fox Jewelers downtown), who continued the loan with Skidmore and also underwrote annual guest lectures relating to the collection. Last year Norman joined with daughter Cindy, son Harvey, and daughter-in-law Cassie to donate the resource permanently to the college.

“I was just thrilled,” admits Anthony. “It’s become a much-beloved and well-used collection. Given our mission—teaching in the liberal arts—this is a real gem for us.” Among the publications, mostly from the Victorian era, are illustrated books (like the 1816 Thomas Rowlandson commentary pictured above), literary classics, early editions of serialized fiction, a copy of Beau Brummel signed by Virginia Woolf, and many cartoons and drawings by the renowned George Cruikshank (visit Along with the printed works, the Foxes also provided major funding to endow the Fox-Adler Lecture Series.

For Cassie (who now runs N. Fox Jewelers with Harvey), the gift reflects her interest in illustration and marks her twenty-fifth reunion as a Skidmore grad in English and theater. But mostly, she says, the aim was to honor Norman Fox. His children could have waited to inherit the collection, “and probably given it to Skidmore ourselves,” she notes. “But it was so dear to him that we felt he should get the credit for it. So we wanted to make the gift now.”

Which means that this gem of a collection will keep on shining, not just for Catherine Golden’s literature classes but for students of art, women’s studies, history, and other fields. —SR

Big jump

Last winter, on her first trip to the Middle East, Jennifer Chang Carmichael ’92 rode a camel and skied down a sand dune. But the real reason she was there was to represent Hong Kong at a show-jumping championship in Doha, Qatar. She was among thirty overseas competitors from fifteen nations participating in the “borrowed horse” categories. In three rounds of competition, Chang placed sixth, fourth, and first, which earned her “Leading Rider of the Show” honors.

It was a good year for Chang, who’s been riding since the age of three. She also won the Asian Show Jumping Championship with her own horse, Sport Seeker. That event was held across five nations (Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia). In the past two years Chang has represented Hong Kong at competitions in Bangkok, Seoul, Taiwan, and Mongolia. Most recently, she and four other Hong Kong riders have been competing in Malaysia, in the Asian League series of World Cup–qualifying competitions.

Currently one of four riders short-listed to represent Hong Kong in show jumping at the December 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Chang says their preparation is “going into high gear” now. Some of the challenges they face include height increases for the jumps (4'6" for the team, 4'9" for individuals), tough competition, and the fact that they’ll be competing on ex-racehorses. Her seven-year-old Sport Seeker retired from racing only two years ago, she says. “He is extraordinarily athletic and keen about jumping; he is also very naughty, and I fall off him a lot.” She says she may buy a European jumper with a bit more experience, train with both horses for the next few months, and then decide which one will do best at the Asian Games.

And then there’s this to consider: The 2008 Olympic equestrian games will be held in Hong Kong. “It does reignite childhood dreams of going to the Olympics,” Chang says a bit wistfully. But for now she has her sights set on a medal in the Asian Games and going on to the Grand Prix level elsewhere in the world. As her dad is fond of saying (borrowing from Robert Browning), “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what is heaven for?” —MTS

Cruise music

Mike Flanagan ’01 has crossed the Atlantic fifteen times in the last year. He’s been to the hottest seaport cities of Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Canada—plus a bunch of Caribbean islands. All the while making music.

Flanagan plays in the pit orchestra aboard the two-year-old luxury ocean liner Queen Mary 2. He got the job in 2004, after an agent in Canada alerted him to a job opening. After expressing interest one day, he auditioned the next—over
the phone.
“A package arrived, and I was told to sit in front of a video camera and call the agency,” Flanagan relates. “While on speakerphone and with the camera rolling, I opened the package and played the music contained inside it.” He overnight-mailed the videotape, and on day three was offered the job.

Part of a nine-piece band (with players from England, Canada, and Poland) that puts on two one-hour performances every night, Flanagan performs in a 1,300-seat theater equipped with a huge stage and a thirty-foot revolve with eight hydraulic lifts. The musicians “back up all sorts of cabaret acts, from the typical Broadway singer to the unexpected solo instrumentalist who’s arranged disco versions of Mozart tunes and Riverdance themes,” he says. “We also play several Las Vegas–style shows involving elaborate costumes and pyrotechnics.”

Besides the glitz and glitter, Flanagan says the reality is, “I live in a tin can with 1,300 crew members who have to keep this thing afloat and moving forward, and entertain 2,600 passengers 365 days a year.” He’s also been required to learn a few nonmusical skills—“like how to extinguish fires, deal with panicking passengers, and drive a lifeboat,” he says. “I’ve been tested by the British Maritime Coastal Authority on my ability to put on a lifejacket and help evacuate a room of 400 people—something the band on the Titanic was apparently not taught.”

Flanagan will sail around Cape Horn to Los Angeles and Hawaii this year and then get his land legs back to “establish something more permanent” in the way of work. He wants to play in New York City show bands and keep traveling the world. “I’ve had a great time so far.” —MTS