People and Projects
Angel of mercy
Many visitors to Albany’s Memorial Hospital have met Suzanne Cohen Rosenthal ’43. Working at the information desk from noon to 4 p.m. three days a week, Rosenthal has racked up 7,000 volunteer hours to date. That’s a lot of meeting and greeting, but she handles the job so steadily and consistently that Albany’s Capital District Senior Issues group last year honored her with a lifetime achievement award.
Everything she learned in her multicareer life qualified her for the work she loves. A bio major at Skidmore, she worked for a public-health association and an ophthalmologist. She took up real estate and later managed the family’s shoe business while raising two children with attorney husband Leonard. “I’ve worked so much in my life and always been paid for it,” says Rosenthal, who initially couldn’t see much point to volunteering. “But after Mom passed away in 1981, I came in to the volunteer office out of gratitude for the care she had received. I went from being very materialistic about compensation to seeing volunteer work as fulfillment—something you need in your life.”
On the job, she says, “I can give out a room number and phone number, or tell you if a patient doesn’t want visitors, but I can’t tell you a patient’s condition. We take care in giving out information because we get some strange calls: ‘I haven’t seen my wife in three days—is she there?’” Judging each case on its merits, Rosenthal pays close attention to what a visitor says or what’s revealed in a voice. “You have to use your judgment, especially with the critically ill. Say a patient has no family, few visitors, and someone comes in and says, ‘I’m her best friend’—hospitals today realize that patients need family and friends.”
The information desk is “the front line, the first contact most visitors have with Memorial Hospital,” Rosenthal points out. “People come in nervous and anxious. It’s our job to express the hospital’s care, love, and concern.” —BAM
Braille doesn’t just help blind people read texts; it helps them do math and music as well. When music-education major Susan King Spungin ’63 went for a master’s at San Francisco State University, she happened to study music braille—and wound up earning a second master’s in the teaching of visually impaired students. Thus began a notable career in advocacy and education for the blind, which has included awards from several national foundations and associations.
In the early 1970s Spungin joined the American Foundation for the Blind in New York City (where Helen Keller had worked) and earned an EdD from Columbia Teachers College. By 1981 she was directing AFB’s research arm, and by 1999 she was a vice president for its policy research, technology, aging, employment, and other programs. She says, “A great deal of my time was spent in the air—traveling, especially to Washington, D.C.” She gave lectures and workshops, wrote journal articles and guides for educators, and “worked to organize the blindness field, pulling universities and agencies together to facilitate communication.”
After the school-mainstreaming legislation of 1975, she helped formulate guidelines and standards for public schools teaching visually impaired children. Among her proudest achievements was helping to found the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, which now serves families in more than fifty countries. She’s also held high office in the World Blind Union, International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment, and other groups.
As Spungin’s overseas consulting and expertise grew, she became AFB’s vice president for international programs in 1999. She has focused on developing countries, where, she says, “the needs are startling but, with help from countries around the world, very solvable.” As in the U.S., issues range from recruiting and training teachers and rehabilitation specialists to facilitating access to computer technologies like voice activation and touch screens.
Having retired a year ago, Spungin is enjoying spending time with her growing family (six grandkids and counting), while continuing her writing and editing. She also planned a January trip to Paris for the celebration of Louis Braille’s 200th birthday. —SR
Surf's up, chowder's hot
I would call myself a modern-day adventurer,” says artist, surfer, and legendary Brooklyn chowder-maker Ben Sargent ’00.
Yes, Brooklyn. The Boston native, who started making “chowdah” as a kid, was determined to bring a taste of New England to Brooklyn, where he opened the first of his two chowder restaurants not long after graduating from Skidmore. And yes, surfer. He says, “We surf all through the winter at the landing strip of JFK airport!”
A few years ago his cooking caught the attention of renowned chef Bobby Flay, who showed up at Sargent’s restaurant to challenge him in the premiere episode of the Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Sargent prepared his monkfish and eel chowder, while Flay used lobster, corn, and green chilis. The judge pronounced Flay’s just a little better, but Sargent was so endearing on camera that he landed a gig on Martha Stewart’s show.
And Sargent is always cooking up new opportunities to pursue his passions on camera. This summer he joined the Art Race reality show that had him crossing the U.S. in forty days “with no cash, no shelter, nothing but a backpack of art supplies,” he says. The idea was to create art in trade for food and transportation.
A sculptor, Sargent (pictured above with two Texans whose car he repaired) had to ditch his clay after one day because it was too heavy. “I was completely out of my comfort zone not working with clay,” he admits. “I made drawings, paintings, Polaroids; I welded with scrap metal.” He even created “ground art” for a pilot who wanted to see his logo from 500 feet up. Art Race airs on Cablevision’s Gallery HD in a twelve-part series this fall.
The restaurant business is now behind him, but Sargent is still making magic with fresh seafood and plenty of butter and cream (“I’m known for my good ingredients, not my light ingredients”). He’s developing a line of packaged chowders, and he envisions “a cooking-art-adventure show” to let him combine his love of art and the outdoors—as he did at Skidmore, where Professor Chip Cunningham “told me not to take the easy way out. Don’t do what everyone else is doing.”
It’s fair to say Sargent has stuck to that advice. To follow his adventures, see www.brooklynchowdersurfer.com. —KG
Dollars and sense
Lots of students and recent grads gain valuable real-world experience from internships, generally in their area of study. But it’s not often that an internship leads directly to a career, and in another field to boot. It happened that way for Julie Mayne Baker ’76, who received her Skidmore degree in government and then an MA in public administration from Syracuse University.
Her freshly minted master’s in hand, Baker was looking for work in higher-education policy, but “the Department of Education kept losing my application, and NASA was actively recruiting,” she says, so she joined the Presidential Management Intern program in the international affairs division at NASA in 1978.
One of Baker’s assignments was with the chief financial officer. “I quickly discovered that in Washington, whoever controls the money drives the decisions,” she says. So she transferred to that office and has been with the agency ever since.
Now deputy chief financial officer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Baker oversees a $3 billion budget. The Goddard center, with more than 3,000 government employees and nearly 7,000 contract workers, develops and operates unmanned scientific spacecraft, including the Hubble Space Telescope.
For Baker, all that number-crunching serves a higher purpose: “The dollars that are spent on space exploration have a very direct return to the strength of the economy of our country,” she says. “NASA pursues the most basic questions that drive humans to explore space. The pursuit of these questions results in development of critical technologies that then are incorporated into business, manufacturing, health care, and information technology industries on Earth.
“I love my work because NASA does such really cool stuff—and pushes so many boundaries of the imagination. Goddard engineers develop space hardware, and it is common to walk into the engineering buildings and see hardware that will
someday be in space.”
Baker also enjoys running and swimming, and has competed in triathlons. She and husband George have a daughter, a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College. The couple lives in Columbia, Md., where Baker has the pleasure of keeping a quarterhorse named, appropriately enough, Sprocket the Rocket. —PD
Juliet D’Annibale ’94 doesn’t recall any fine dining during her Skidmore years—eating cheap was more important than eating well. Now the former French major is an award-winning director and producer of a popular cooking show, Everyday Italian with chef Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network. D’Annibale received two daytime Emmy awards last spring.
Not expecting to win, D’Annibale arrived late at the Emmy event and didn’t have time to get nervous before her name was called for best director. “I’m not sure what I said. I hadn’t prepared,” she says. Later, when she collected the producing award with the whole team, she was able to enjoy the moment without stress. “That was the icing on the cake.”
Upon graduation from Skidmore, D’Annibale pursued her first love, film, in New York City. “I worked for free at first, just to get in that world,” she says. While gaining experience in production, she worked on independent films, where she “wore ten hats and did whatever needed doing,” and on big-budget studio productions.
After nearly a decade, she burned out. “I didn’t feel like I was doing that much creative work, even though I was in this work to be creative,” she says, adding that the lifestyle was “insane.” She turned to television for a more predictable schedule. In her newly acquired free time, D’Annibale started taking cooking classes and found a new love. She went to culinary school and worked as a freelance chef: for an Italian restaurant in Soho, for a wine store’s tasting menu, and for the Food Network.
Soon her two careers, TV producer and chef, converged with the opportunity to produce Everyday Italian. Although the position was a step down in pay, she says, “I took the job to get a new experience, to get my foot in the door. That’s the way you get ahead. Then a thousand doors open for you.”
For D’Annibale, one of those doors was the opportunity to direct the show the following year. Four years later she was at a black-tie gala, accepting an Emmy statuette from Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek. —Jill Adams
Jared Tendler ’01 devised his career plan in a Skidmore dorm. The business and psychology major and varsity golfer had the idea of using golf as a conduit to the psyche…or vice versa. “Skidmore shaped my career,” says Tendler, a golf therapist.
Golf therapist? According to Tendler, who holds a master’s in counseling psychology and is a licensed mental-health counselor, a golf therapist reaches into the mind of the golfer to improve results on the course. He is an expert on the “mental game,” and anyone who’s ever driven, chipped, and putted through eighteen holes knows how crucial mental focus is.
Banish the notion of the links as a surrogate psychiatrist’s couch. Tendler’s work is about identifying weaknesses and making subtle changes in mindset to create opportunity, satisfaction, and results. Relationship issues are only in the mix if they interfere with the game.
Tendler, a three-time All-American at Skidmore, has developed his original born-in-the-dorm notion of the golf therapist from “a conduit to the soul or interpreter of feelings” to “a developer of mental strategies.” He says, “We
organize the way the client op erates on an emotional level, and aim to manage the emotions with specific techniques.”
Tendler has first-hand experience: He retreated from his first bid in the professional golf tour when his own focus flagged. He honed his strategies on himself, and now he joins the tour when his schedule allows.
Tendler has worked with the Kirkendoll Performance Golf Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., ESPN Golf School’s Online Academy, and more recently www.10thgreen.com. (His own Web site is www.jaredtendlergolf.com.) He also conducts seminars on stress- and performance-management skills for corporate clients. And he has broadened his reach by serving as a mental-game expert in the online poker world.
Skidmore psychology professor Flip Phillips told him “college is about leaving with more questions than when you came in,” Tendler recalls. “I did have more questions, but I had the ability to look at the answers too.” —Janit Stahl