2014 Award Recipients
Creative Thought Matters Award of Distinction
Winnie Wan ’74
Disruptive technologies are said to be innovations that set the status quo on its ear, create new products and markets, and often radically advance the quality of life for consumers. A serial entrepreneur in the life science-medical field, Winnie Wan ’74 is no stranger to the power of this kind of innovation. Over the past three decades, she has launched and built seven biotech companies that have harnessed revolutionary technologies to help detect and fight diseases including cervical cancer, HIV, and Hepatitis B and C.
As executive chair, co-founder, and CEO of OncoHealth Corporation in San Jose, Calif., Winnie currently oversees a corps of veteran researchers developing a new approach to identifying patients at risk for cervical cancer, a disease that strikes over 12,000 American women each year. Existing methods involve the Papanicolaou (Pap) test and the DNA test for the human papilloma virus (HPV), the cause of persistent infection that can lead to cervical cancer. Both tests have significant drawbacks, which include producing results that are often false positives. Of the 40 to 50 million women undergoing screening every year in the U.S., less than 1% will develop cervical cancer, yet about four million women will receive abnormal Pap results and over 10 million will test positive for HPV. The HPV DNA test simply confirms the presence of the virus, which resolves itself without treatment in the majority of cases. In an attempt to identify those cases requiring medical intervention, millions of women are subjected to stressful, expensive, and unnecessary biopsies and repeat testing each year. Winnie and her team are working to change all that with the introduction of a new product that will detect two specific proteins closely associated with cancer development. She estimates that adopting this new screening tool could save the U.S. healthcare system up to $2 billion annually. More importantly, it would spare millions of women who test positive for HPV from having to undergo repeat testing and invasive procedures year after year, as well as free them of the fear that they may have cancer.
Winnie is well positioned to bring innovative biomedical technologies successfully to market. The serial entrepreneur has a history of combining scientific inquiry and business acumen with creativity to challenge conventional wisdom. This approach to her career and life, she says, has its roots at Skidmore.
Winnie traveled from her native Hong Kong to the U.S. for the first time to attend Skidmore. She recalls that welcoming, supportive faculty and staff made her feel at home. The chemistry major received a “solid foundation” in the sciences from chemistry professors Charlotte Fahey, Paul Walter, and Eleanor Samworth, who also encouraged her to think creatively and nurtured a belief that she could succeed. Exposure to the liberal arts broadened her intellectual horizons. “My positive experience at Skidmore gave me the confidence to take risks and a sense of freedom from having to follow a traditional path.”
Winnie took those lessons to heart. After graduation, she entered a Ph.D. program in chemistry at Yale and then pursued postdoctoral work in cell biology at Rockefeller University. It was here that she realized conducting lab experiments was not the future she wanted. Instead she became intrigued by the idea of bringing new life science technologies to market to address unmet medical needs. “At that time, the biotech industry was in its infancy, entrepreneurship was just a concept and it was not apparent what skills or expertise were really needed to commercialize novel scientific discovery.” Nonetheless, Winnie quickly shifted gears and with no prior business background, entered Columbia University to pursue an M.B.A., quite uncommon for a scientist in 1981. She went on to land a position at Baxter Travenol Laboratories, Inc., a large health care company where she honed her expertise in product management and finance. Two years later, Winnie joined Hana Biologics Inc., a small biotechnology company in the San Francisco Bay Area that specialized in novel products such as cell-culture medium for biotherapeutics production, diagnostics for Down syndrome analysis, and cell transplantation for diabetes treatment. There, she was promoted to director of marketing and began to cultivate her own entrepreneurial interests. Three years later, she joined a Stanford University scientist (and friend from Rockefeller University days) to launch SyStemix, Inc., a start-up that developed a HIV drug testing model and stem cell therapy for cancers. Winnie served the company as first executive and vice president of business development, building the infrastructure, recruiting the scientific team, and raising money for research. The company made its initial public offering in 1991 and was later acquired by Novartis.
Her success did not go unnoticed. In 1991, medical product firm Becton, Dickinson and Company recruited Winnie to start an intrapreneurial venture developing a new business based on cell signaling discoveries. With Winnie at the helm, the venture grew and she was promoted to president of a new division that supplied cancer diagnostics based on biomarkers and computerized microscopy technology to institutions around the globe. In 1997, she left to co-found a new company, GeneTrol Biotherapeutics, Inc., which developed therapeutics for the treatment of hepatitis C and B and multiple sclerosis, with a University of California, San Francisco professor. She served as the firm’s president and CEO until 2003. The following year, Winnie teamed up with an engineer-inventor to co-found FortéBio, Inc. She raised the venture funding and built a team to develop and commercialize systems for the analysis of bi-molecule binding kinetics, a key step in new drug development. Since 2005, the company has been providing simple, cost effective analytical systems to the pharmaceutical, biotech, and research community worldwide. Winnie, who served as its CEO and president until 2007, is particularly proud that these systems “are examples of solving unmet needs with an innovative combination of technologies from three different industries: fiber optics from telecommunications, immunoassays from diagnostics, and automation from the instrument industry.” Under her leadership, FortéBio became one of the first life science companies to set up manufacturing operations in China. It was later acquired by Pall Corporation. In 2008, Winnie founded BEING BioPharma, another Silicon Valley start-up, with the mission of producing bio-generic drugs in China for underserved patient populations. Unfortunately, the global recession prevented her from raising sufficient capital to further the venture. In 2010, she co-founded her current venture, OncoHealth Corporation.
All the while, she has been a case study in being receptive to new and creative ways of viewing the world. “Creativity is the engine that drives my whole career. As a serial entrepreneur in the biomedical sciences, I often have to envision the ultimate value of the novel product enabled by a scientific discovery or disruptive technology before it is obvious to most people. As a CEO who seeks to commercialize the technology, I have to identify the competitive market positioning of a novel product and be able to articulate that unique value to potential investors and customers. As a leader whose goal is to realize the potential of the technology, I have to find and assemble individuals with complementary talents and expertise to work with the technology inventor to ultimately ‘deliver the goods.’”
Winnie traces much of her success in moving fluidly among these various roles to the ability to “glean knowledge and wisdom from different perspectives,” something she acquired by exposure to the liberal arts breadth of a Skidmore education. But perhaps most importantly, her positive Skidmore experience allowed her to develop the optimism that has guided her decisions ever since. “The result of those positive and encouraging formative years at Skidmore was that I totally bought into the “American dream.” In the ensuing years, I was emboldened to make unconventional professional choices and take risks that shaped my entrepreneurial career in the biomedical field.”
Being selected to receive the Creative Thought Matters Award of Distinction, she says, is humbling.
“I feel flattered and grateful that Skidmore was the nurturing starting place that provided me the foundation to realize my own American dream of being able to do what I believe in and enjoy. Winning this award has brought me back to my Skidmore roots.”
Winnie and husband Stefan live in Woodside, Calif.
Distinguished Achievement Award
Sallie “Penny” Chisholm ’69
As an undergraduate at Skidmore, it never occurred to biology major Sallie “Penny” Chisholm ’69 that she could pursue a career in that discipline until her academic advisor encouraged her to apply to graduate school and obtain a Ph.D. Penny’s decision to take that suggestion would be life-changing for her and game-changing for the scientific world. A preeminent biological oceanographer, her studies of the dominant photosynthetic organisms in the sea have revolutionized scientists’ understanding of life in the world’s oceans. Those studies have taken her to MIT, where she holds a joint appointment as the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies and a professor of biology and to the White House, where she was presented with a National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama last year.
It was at Skidmore, however, that she discovered a passion for science. “I began to appreciate that science, as a ‘way of knowing,’ carried some clout. I remember distinctly when it dawned on me that if you had knowledge derived from the scientific method, people would have to take it seriously. I was hooked. For my senior thesis I measured the manganese budget of a small lake. It didn’t matter to me that very few people would care about this topic. What mattered was that I could tell a story that those people would believe—because I had evidence.”
After earning a Ph.D. in biology at SUNY Albany, Penny did post-doctoral research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she became intrigued by the biology of ocean life. She joined MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 1976, and in 1978 began also working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as a visiting scientist. She became the MIT director of the MIT/Woods Hole Joint Program in Oceanography in 1988.
That was the year Penny and a team of scientists discovered Prochlorococcus, the world’s smallest, yet most abundant photosynthetic organism, while studying another microbe in the Atlantic Ocean. Penny’s collaborator and former postdoc, Rob Olson, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute had decided to put a biomedical instrument called a flow cytometer onto the research vessel to study phytoplankton. Flow cytometers count cells individually as they pass through a sensor, and are used in hospitals to count the cells in blood samples. But Penny and Olson figured that they could also count cells in samples of seawater, and Olson had the courage to put the instrument on a ship.
When she and the research team first saw what they now know to be Prochlorococcus with the flow cytometer, they weren’t sure what they had found. At the time of their discovery, scientists didn’t know of any ocean microbes that small that contained chlorophyll. It soon became clear the scientists had discovered a tiny new photosynthetic organism, and Penny’s research career took off in a new direction.
"When I saw the beauty of the data, I was captivated,” she says. “Seeing how you could study this one species—in controlled experiments in the lab and in its larger ecological context in the wild—inspired me to pursue Prochlorococcus as a simple model system for the rest of my career.”
In the years since the discovery of Prochlorococcus, Penny has studied these tiny bacteria on every possible level, from the molecular components of their genetic material to their role in the ocean ecosystem. She has discovered that they exist in astounding numbers: there are 100 million Prochlorococcus per liter of seawater or a billion billion billion on the planet. They play a critical role in keeping ocean ecosystems healthy and the earth habitable; these organisms serve as the base of the ocean food chain and through photosynthesis, produce as much as 20 percent of the oxygen replenishing the atmosphere each year. Prochlorococcus is part of the biological pump in the oceans, which draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and helps keep it in the deep ocean. A better understanding of this system will help studies on climate change. Penny points out that scientists are just beginning to understand the complexity of the ocean ecosystem. “Basic research on the carbon cycle and the organisms that play a role in it is absolutely essential for any kind of policy decisions about climate change,” she says. “The oceans are an essential part of regulating our climate and the biology of the oceans is an essential part of that.”
In addition to teaching on the university level, Penny has also shared her passion for science and knowledge of the earth’s ecology with a younger generation of students. She has teamed up with illustrator and children’s book author, Molly Bang, to produce three children’s books. Their first collaboration, Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life (Scholastic, 2009), was acclaimed in 2010 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science as the year’s Best Children’s Science Picture Book. Their second, Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas (Scholastic/Blue Sky Press, 2012), received the same award for 2013. Their latest effort in this “Sunlight Series”, Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth, is due for release this September. “In order to understand why burning fossil fuels so rapidly over 200 years is such a dramatic shock to the earth, you need to understand the natural carbon cycle,” Penny notes. Writing these books, she says, “is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also been really fun.”
Along with the National Medal of Science, Penny has garnered numerous other awards and honors during her distinguished career. A Guggenheim Fellow, she is the recipient of the Alexander Agassiz Medal for original contribution in the science of oceanography (and the first female to be so honored); the Huntsman Award for Excellence in Marine Science and the Rosenstiel Award in Oceanographic Science. Other recent honors include the Ramon Margalef Prize in Ecology, bestowed by the government of Catalonia, Spain and selection as Resident Scholar at Bellagio Conference and Study Center in Italy. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences for her “pioneering studies into the Earth’s primary production.” Penny is also an elected fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Microbiology, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
When she received the National Science Medal award last year, Penny pointed out that Skidmore was the home of her scientific roots. “I always tell people that the project I worked on for my senior thesis at Skidmore was not a cutting-edge topic, but that didn’t matter. I learned how to do science in the most rigorous way. I learned the fundamental principles of the scientific method. That is what matters, as that is what students carry with them when they move on.” That ‘basic training’ has served me well over the years and I am very grateful for it. So receiving this award is, in some ways, coming full circle for me.”
A dedicated alumna, Penny presented The Charles Lubin Family Chair for Women in Science lecture on campus in 2008.
She resides in Watertown, Mass., with husband Don Sisson.
50th Reunion Outstanding Service Award
Judith Pick Eissner ’64
Judith Pick Eissner ’64 has vivid memories of her graduation from Skidmore. She recalls sitting amid a sea of classmates assembled on the lawn near the science building on the Union Avenue campus to hear the remarks of commencement speaker and Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith. But it was another woman who spoke that day who captured Judith’s attention and sparked her imagination. Josephine Young Case, chair of Skidmore’s Board of Trustees, had assumed the role of acting president after the sudden death of President Val Wilson. With words that belied a fierce devotion to the College and courageous leadership, she inspired Judith, who recalls thinking, “I’d like to be where she is some day.” Just seven years later, in 1971, Judith became the youngest trustee in Skidmore history. She would go on to shape Skidmore’s evolution over the next quarter century, guiding the College through a period of dramatic growth and laying the foundation of the preeminent liberal arts institution it is today.
Judith traveled to Saratoga Springs from her mid-western home after graduating from a large Illinois high school of 4,000 students. She arrived at Skidmore ready to study social work—an interest since childhood—and make her mark as a campus leader. Embracing coursework in her sociology major, Judith also delighted in exploring art history in a course designed for art majors with Professor James Kettlewell. “Through this course, I gained not only a historical perspective but the ability to analyze individual works of art, something I have employed many times since as an avid art collector,” she notes. Elected to the Student Government Association Community Council during sophomore year, she also became a “big sister” to a younger student.
Sadly, tragedy struck in Judith’s junior year: her father passed away after a lengthy illness, leaving Judith to care for a younger brother back home and uncertain about her future at Skidmore. Judith, who lost her mother at 12, had spent much of her adolescence caring for her family and felt compelled to resume that responsibility. But driven by the memory of her father’s encouragement to stick with her Skidmore education and the knowledge that neither her mother nor her grandmother had completed a college degree, she soldiered on.
With the guidance and support of faculty advisor and sociology professor Elizabeth Ferguson and other College staff, Judith was able to take a leave of absence for most of her junior year, making up credits during two semesters at Northwestern University while caring for her younger brother. She returned to Skidmore as a senior, prepared to do field work at a special school for delinquent adolescents. “The experience was challenging and demanding but it cemented my desire to pursue graduate studies in social work,” she says, adding “Skidmore helped me do what I needed to do to graduate with my class in 1964 and I’ll always be grateful.”
Judith went on to earn a master’s in social service administration from the University of Chicago a few years later and launched a distinguished career in her field. Over the years, she has served as director of social services for the Chicago chapter of Planned Parenthood, a field instructor for University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, director of development for CAB Health and Recovery Services in Danvers, Mass., and senior development officer for Northeast Health Foundation in Beverly, Mass.
As her career blossomed, Judith never lost touch with her desire to serve Skidmore as a leader. She signed on as class fund chair and an alumni admissions contact immediately after graduation. By 1965, she was president of the Chicago Alumni Club and in 1971, Judith was elected to Skidmore’s Board of Trustees. Outgoing board president Josephine Young Case traveled to New York City to help prepare Judith for her role, impressing upon her the importance of growing the College’s then slender endowment. That candid discussion, says Judith, “is something I will never forget.”
As an alumna trustee, she threw the full force of her mind and spirit into serving a college facing unprecedented challenges. “Skidmore was struggling with admissions, finances, low endowment, and a two-campus operation,” she recalls. As chair of the Business Management Committee, she developed a mastery of complex financial issues and became an essential participant in every major decision made by the board. Judith’s steady, thoughtful leadership helped guide the College through the construction of a new physical plant on the Jonsson campus, the doubling of the student body and the faculty, the implementation of major curricular changes, and the transition from a women’s college to a coeducational institution.
As a member of the Planning Committee for the Wide Horizons Campaign, she helped launch Skidmore’s first fundraising effort, which raised $13 million in 1981. Judith was named chair of the board’s Executive Committee in 1985 and the following year was elected board chair, the first alumna and youngest person in the history of the College to hold that position. She hit the ground running, heading up the search committee that brought David Porter to campus as Skidmore’s fifth president, one of the achievements of which she is particularly proud. “David brought energy and new directions to the College,” she reflects. Under her leadership, the board helped kick off the $25-million Celebration Campaign in 1987, boosting the growth of Skidmore’s endowment. The campus landscape was transformed as Skidmore renovated and expanded the Lucy Scribner Library, constructed an outdoor athletic complex, upgraded computer and telecommunications capabilities, built an addition to the Williamson Sports Center, and expanded the Dana Science Center. Judith also helped the College define and achieve its curricular priorities for the ’90s, which included elevating academic excellence, increasing diversity and scholarships, and enhancing the sciences and collaborative research. She played a key role in shaping The Skidmore Journey: A Campaign for Our Second Century, which supported these ambitious goals. Launched in 1993, the campaign raised $86.5 million, enabling Skidmore to substantially increase its endowment and fund the construction of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery. Along the way, Judith served her class as fund chair and secretary.
The alumni association recognized Judith’s exemplary stewardship of the College and its resources with an Outstanding Service Award in 1984 and a grateful board of trustees paid tribute to her leadership with the Denis B. Kemball-Cook Award in 1992. In 1995, her final year on the board, the College honored Judith by awarding her a doctor of humane letters degree. As she stood before the crowd of new graduates to deliver the commencement address that day, she knew she had come full circle, following in the footsteps of Josephine Case Young. The Eissner Admissions Center stands as testament to Judith’s 24 years of remarkable service to Skidmore.
Former president David Porter adds to the chorus of praise in his own inimitable style: “For decades Judy Eissner has been a wise, imaginative, and energetic Skidmore advocate, leader, and trustee. I am everlastingly grateful for the manifold and thoughtful ways in which she eased and guided my way when I arrived at Skidmore in 1987, and for her tolerance of my verbally ‘irrespunsible’ ways. We might well describe Judy as the ‘Pick of the Skidmore crop’ and the ‘Eissner on the Skidmore cake’!”
Witnessing Skidmore earn national recognition as a top ranked liberal arts college is perhaps Judith’s greatest reward. “Today the College is thriving and has improved in all of the areas of most concern in 1971. Each time I visit Skidmore I try to walk the campus and am proud of my contribution to its success.”
But she’s not stopping yet. These days, Judith is busy at work on the National Advisory Committee for the Tang and as a member of the Campaign Committee for the College’s Creating Our Future Campaign.
She also stays connected through family ties: niece Emily Pick ’99 and cousins Kate Neisser ’87 and Alexis Neisser ’12.
Judith shares her time and treasure with other institutions dear to her. She is former chair of the National Parent Advisory Committee and a current member of the Alumni Council at Cornell University, alma mater of husband Bruce and daughters Bonnie and Elizabeth. An overseer for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mass., she is also chair of the Abbot Public Library Second Century Fund in Marblehead, Mass.
“Winning this award is something I never could have conceived of 50 plus years ago and I am so proud that I have helped the College in some small way. I am also moved by all of those proud, hardworking alumni who came before me. I would not be in this place without the support of my husband and two daughters and my wonderful Skidmore friends, most especially my high school friends Anne Milnor O’Connor ’64 and Hollie Hicks Clay ’64 and former dorm mates, the Peabody ladies, who have traveled this journey with me from the very beginning.”
Judith and Bruce live in Marblehead, Mass.
Outstanding Service Award
Susan Clark Jorgensen ’59
Sue Clark Jorgensen ’59 has always loved travel and adventure. She has explored destinations throughout the U.S. and around the globe and has done everything from rafting in Colorado to teaching English in Tanzania. Along the way, Sue forged another important path: serving her alma mater as an alumna volunteer. Happily for her classmates and Skidmore, she has no plans to stop anytime soon.
She traces some of her penchant for wanderlust to her student days at Skidmore. The psychology major recalls spending “many fascinating hours in ‘the smokers’ (before the days when smoking was recognized as a health hazard), where people traded stories and ideas. Meeting people with backgrounds far different from mine widened my horizons.” This experience contributed to her desire to experience the world.
At Skidmore, Sue also learned lessons from faculty members who would have a profound and lasting influence upon her life, both personally and professionally. Already active as an athlete, “big sister,” and member of the Student Government Association, Sue was encouraged by government professor Henry Galant to get involved in the political process at all levels, starting locally. “He was instrumental in my initial involvement with the League of Women Voters and later running for and becoming a member of the Harvard School Committee.”
She remembers psychology professor Van Voorhees Lloyd as “a wonderful, caring man who fostered spirited inquiry and made the study of psychology fascinating.” Courses with him sparked her interest in that discipline. After graduation, Sue was hired as an office manager for Harvard University’s Center for Research in Personality, where she worked directly for psychologists Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary. Although she found the job “extremely interesting in many ways,” Sue’s sights were set higher. She soon enrolled in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where she completed a M.Ed. in 1961. She then embarked on a career as an educator, teaching in elementary schools and working with student teachers in the greater Boston area for more than 30 years.
As a busy professional raising children Laurie and Erik (her “most important accomplishment”), Sue took Henry Galant’s suggestion to heart and dove deeply into civic life. In addition to her work on the Harvard School Committee, she served on the boards of the Harvard League of Women Voters and the Harvard Conservation Trust. An avid tennis player, she was also president of the Harvard Public Tennis Court Association.
When Sue retired in the late 1990s, the siren song of adventure travel grew too loud for her to ignore. She spent a whole year touring the U.S. and visiting friends and relatives; she also managed to spend a month in Australia and New Zealand. Sue then began taking trips with Global Volunteers, an organization that serves communities in need worldwide. Working alongside local people in Tanzania, China, and Turkey, she assisted with construction work, taught English, and “did whatever was needed. My eyes were opened to the ways in which huge numbers of the world’s population live,” she recalls. These experiences satisfied her love of travel and reinforced her commitment to life-long learning. “One is always learning while visiting new places,” she says. Trained as a trip leader, Sue has led a group of volunteers who dug trenches for a water line to supply a remote mountain village in Jamaica and directed groups that assisted at-risk high school students in Immokele, Fla.
As her career and life unfolded, Sue never lost touch with her Skidmore roots. She began volunteering as a class agent in the 1980s, signed on as class historian (along with Carol Copeland Sullivan ’59) for her 30th reunion in 1989, and served as reunion hospitality chair in 1994. In 1995, she stepped into a four-year term as class president. Since 2004, Sue has served her class as fund chair. She enjoys being a “cheerleader” for the class agents who fan out to solicit gifts and donations for the Annual Fund. Over the years, she has rallied these volunteers to achieve record-breaking participation and reunion gifts. Sue also worked closely with other class leaders to establish the Class of 1959 Scholarship Fund; it has been providing support for deserving Skidmore students for over a decade. The job, she says, “has been enjoyable because of the wonderful classmates with whom I work—1959 is a super class. It just goes to show that lots of small efforts can add up to something really significant.” A resident of Saratoga Springs since 2004, Sue lent her time and talent to the Palamountain Benefit Auction Committee from 2005 to 2009.
Class president and Friends of the Presidents chair Beverly Sanders Payne ’59 observes, “Sue has been a true and active supporter of our class and is now irreplaceable since she moved to Saratoga! She stays connected with Skidmore through her own interests and is always following up with our class efforts in a very conscientious fashion. Sue is a wonderful communicator who keeps the class agents and I well informed. I believe she loves what she does!”
Sue’s continuing pursuit of life-long learning has spurred her involvement in both the Skidmore and Saratoga Springs communities. She’s attended classes in Skidmore’s Mature Learners Program for the past ten years. “They make me appreciate the high caliber of Skidmore’s faculty and the degree to which they engage with their students,” she notes. Sue has also served as a member of the Executive Council of Empire State College’s Academy for Lifelong Learning.
She delights in her close ties to the city of Saratoga Springs, the home of her daughter
Laurie and son-in-law Jim, and their two daughters, to whom she is a devoted granny.
Sue is also happy for the opportunity to continue building another important relationship—with
her alma mater. “Returning to Saratoga after living in the Boston area for most of
my life has been a great move for me. Though I’ve always felt a strong connection
to Skidmore, spending my retirement years here has strengthened that. I feel truly
fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful community and I very much appreciate receiving this award.”
Val Burkhardt Marier ’64
Val Burkhardt Marier ’64 knows how to evoke a memory. Class president and chair of her 50th reunion, she authored a letter earlier this year inviting classmates to travel down memory lane that started with a staccato burst of spot-on imagery: “Sophomore year. The Van Deusen ‘smoker.’ Playing bridge. Wearing big metal rollers. Hoping for a phone call from a Dartmouth guy. Puffing on a Parliment. Sound familiar?” A gifted communicator, Val’s facility with words has powered a successful career as a journalist and travel writer. It is also part of what makes her an exceptional alumna volunteer. For over 25 years, she has been using her talents to help classmates forge and maintain meaningful relationships with one another and the College.
Val says her own bond with Skidmore was instantaneous. As a high school senior, she set out to tour several colleges en route to visit a brother at Dartmouth. She recalls that her mother, Lucille Hogan Burkhardt ’36 abruptly declared “we are going to visit Skidmore.” Val was mesmerized as she walked across campus with her mother, who stopped to introduce her to President Val Wilson, cinching the deal. “I was sold. There was something so right about it. It was that immediate.”
She loved taking classes in music appreciation and art history, as well as the coursework in her government major. Val has vivid memories of “giggling during a mid-week government class when professor Henry Galant exhorted, “Monday you’re recovering from the weekend, Friday you’re leaving for the weekend, so Wednesday is mine. Now pay attention, ladies!” Galant and his wife, Eleanor, who hosted government majors at their home for dinner and wine, “treated us like the children they never had—it was great.” Val remained close to the couple, who would attend her wedding several years later.
Val’s passion for writing originated at Skidmore; she enjoyed answering history and government essay questions, at which she excelled. When a history professor read one of her essay responses out loud in class, she realized writing was something she wanted to pursue. “I thought, wow, that’s my work.”
Another important element of Val’s Skidmore experience was the spirited camaraderie among classmates. There were the dorm “smokers,” a place where they bonded over bridge and cigarettes. Fast friendships also developed and deepened during exam week, when government majors (and other groups of students) studied and ate together.
After graduation, Val “chose the communications angle,” writing press releases and other publications for charitable organizations before ultimately launching a career in journalism. She authored a weekly column for several northern New Jersey newspapers and then became a freelance writer, covering hard-hitting topics for such national magazines as First for Women, Brides, and Modern Maturity. Recruited as a travel writer, she spent a decade traveling the world, exploring everything from Singapore’s multicultural neighborhoods and Australian sheep stations to reindeer safaris in Lapland and the Alaskan Iditarod. Along the way, she garnered her share of accolades, including a Writer’s Digest Journalism Award for an article about a program that helps Harlem teens prepare for college. She currently writes for a local newspaper in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Raised in a family that values service to others, Val was determined to give back to her alma mater and champion ’64’s indefatigable class spirit. A longtime class agent, she signed up to volunteer for her 25th reunion in 1984 and served as class historian (along with Nancy Harrison ’64) for her 30th reunion in 1989. She recalls, “It was so much fun learning about classmates I didn’t know that well and discovering how wonderful they were and what their time at Skidmore had given them.” Class secretary from 1990 to 1994, Val thoroughly enjoyed being the first to know what was going on in the lives of classmates. “Frankly, I am nosey,” she quips. The three-time reunion chair has rallied her classmates to come together in record-breaking numbers for their 40th reunion in 2004, their 45th in 2009, and their 50th today. Val spent long hours building momentum for this landmark event. “It really matters to me that people come back. Those four years were a key time in our lives.” She credits special events chair Ellen Pomeranz Sax ’64, who arranged for class dinners at the Canfield Casino and the National Museum of Racing, for “making me look good,” and lauds Judith Pick Eissner ’64, Lynne Tower Combs ’64, and Beverly Fuhrmann Gregory ’64 for doing “a great job” as 50th reunion gift co-chairs. “Barbara Blanch Roy ’64 has created a really unique and beautiful class history. The entire volunteer team is wonderful and each member is a great partner.”
Val says that the 50th is a special milestone in many ways; Skidmore’s evolution over that time period has been remarkable to witness. “When we returned for a reunion planning weekend last summer, we were all blown away by the campus. It was so complete—and replete with things we love.”
A desire to see the College continue moving boldly into a bright future is part of what has motivated this devoted alumna to give of her time and treasure over the years. Yet echoes of the past—“burning my freshman bib, meeting my roommate Susie Riley Gunderson ’64 every afternoon in the Snack Bar, and playing bridge in the ‘smokers’”—still resonate in her mind. Those memories and the special friendships that grew from them continue to drive Val’s volunteer efforts.
She reflects, “I am thrilled, flattered, and humbled to receive an Outstanding Service Award. The fact that my mother was honored with this award at her 55th reunion makes it doubly special.”
Val’s legacy family also includes her daughter, Alexandra Tamis MacCannell ’92.
Val and husband Robert live in Kennebunk Beach, Maine.
Judy Roberts Kunisch ’69
“Skidmore changed my life,” says Judy Roberts Kunisch ’69. Her parents had encouraged the Minneapolis, Minn., native to explore different parts of the country and so she arrived on campus in 1965 ready to learn more about the East Coast, college life, and herself. A nursing major, she spent two “intense and exciting” years learning and working in New York City hospitals before returning to Skidmore’s campus as a senior. “The New York City component of the nursing program was extremely rigorous—we had to report at 7 a.m. for long work and study days. As seniors back on campus, we suddenly had the freedom to talk, learn, and explore with the rest of our classmates.” But it is the entire four-year experience, she says, that resonates in her memory. “It built the foundation for my nursing career.”
She went on to earn an M.B.A. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and launched a distinguished career as a nurse executive, building and implementing innovative solutions to improve the quality of medical care and manage costs. A former Fortune 100 insurance company vice-president, Judy was responsible for medical programs and managed care services in 50 states. As project director of the Hartford Action Plan’s Preterm Prevention Project, she supervised RNs in six clinics throughout Hartford, CT, as she worked to improve women’s access to prenatal care. She also served as network director for the Visiting Nurses Association before taking a post as vice president of medical support and strategy for The Hartford Insurance group. In 2006, Judy struck out on her own as a consultant, designing progressive business models for health care providers and insurers.. She is currently a lecturer in nursing management, policy, and leadership at the Yale School of Nursing working with “the next generation of nurse leaders!” Her numerous professional honors include; the Robert U. Massey, MD, Award for Distinguished Service; and the T. Stewart Hamilton Fellowship for Health Care Management. A former policy advisor to the Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, she is an expert panel member of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Innovations Exchange.
As her professional life blossomed, Judy’s career as an alumna volunteer kept pace. It began in the mid-1980s, when Skidmore chose to end its nursing program. Like many other nursing alumni, she vigorously voiced her dissent to the college administration. A passionate advocate for honoring the program’s legacy and serving the needs of its alumni, she was recruited for a two-year term as a member-at-large on Skidmore’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. Her involvement with the board deepened in 2000, when she signed on as a member of the Awards Committee. Judy’s exceptional leadership skills did not go unnoticed and in 2005, she rejoined the board for a three-year stint as Awards Committee chair. Elected board president in 2008, Judy would chart its direction over the next three years in ways that would both refine the board’s mission and elevate its visibility among alumni and the broader Skidmore community.
She spearheaded an effort to rebrand and market the Skidmore Alumni Association, partnering with students in the Department of Management and Business to create the association’s first logo and marketing collateral. Board members were dispatched to staff information tables at Reunion and reach out to alumni at regional events around the country.
Under Judy’s tenure, alumni just a few years out from graduation were identified and actively recruited for future leadership positions on the alumni board. Newly minted graduates were encouraged to return to campus to attend “Zero Year Reunion.” Special attention was given to cultivating lasting relationships with young alumni—those who had graduated within the previous ten years. Judy led initiatives aimed at strengthening career development programming for this cohort, partnering with the alumni-driven Skidmore Business Network to increase in person and online networking opportunities in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco.
As an alumna trustee on Skidmore’s Board of Trustees, Judy helped shape the College’s growth by serving on the Advancement, Infrastructure, Strategic Planning, Trusteeship and Student Life committees. She worked tirelessly to keep the importance of engaging young alumni front and center in trustee discussions. “Most of all, she reflects, “I am proud that the alumni board built a strategic partnership with the board of trustees, serving as a conduit for communication and action for the more than 30,000 Skidmore alumni around the world. I lost count of the number of times I said in trustee meetings, ‘the chair I’m sitting in doesn’t belong to me; it represents the 30,000.’”
As a seasoned nurse executive and alumni board president, Judy was in a unique position to help facilitate the establishment of Skidmore’s articulation agreement with the New York University College of Nursing in 2009. Working with NYU nursing dean Terry Thomas Fulmer ’76, she played a key role in bringing Skidmore back into the business of training nurses for the first time in over two decades. The partnership, she recalls, “ignited a return to Skidmore’s nursing roots.” The program, which places qualifying Skidmore graduates on an accelerated track to a bachelor’s in nursing from NYU, is particularly timely, says Judy. “It serves both the growing number of Skidmore students who want to enter the nursing profession as well as the enormous demand for nurse practitioners nationwide. Skidmore is now on the cutting edge of filling the most critical staffing need in the healthcare industry—nurses who can deliver primary care. The passage of the Affordable Care Act has amplified this need.”
In addition to her work on the alumni board, Judy has also served as a class agent and regional club volunteer. Over the years, she’s been a familiar and welcoming presence at Skidmore scholarship dinners, Friends of Skidmore Athletics events, Reunions, and Commencements.
What sparks her desire to volunteer on behalf of her alma mater? “Being a volunteer, you receive much more than you give. The highlight of this experience is meeting so many incredible alumni from across the decades with whom you share an immediate, mutual, and wonderful bond.”
Judy feels “very honored” to be chosen for an Outstanding Service Award. “I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to serve an institution that has given me so much. My involvement with Skidmore has been very important to me—and I plan to stay involved.”
Part of a legacy family, Judy is the mother of Hans Kunisch ’01 and the sister of Mary Roberts Adams ’79 and Suzanne Roberts McCarty ’83.
She and her husband, Walter, live in West Hartford, Conn.
Meredith Eastman Principe ’94
Meredith Eastman Principe ’94 remembers contemplating her final project for professor of Spanish Grace Burton’s senior seminar on Spanish Baroque literature. Burton asked students to compare the themes that emerged with those in other works. “She didn’t say it had to be literature,” Meredith recalls. The Spanish-English major submitted a paper pointing out similarities between the texts explored in the seminar with the music of Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi and included a CD of his selected works. An excited Burton stopped Meredith in the hallway, asking her to elucidate Vivaldi’s music. Meredith, who was involved in Skidmore’s music program, was glad to oblige but somewhat surprised “that such a knowledgeable professor would ask me to help her understand something. It was definitely a ‘Creative Thought Matters’ moment.”
The creative learning environment and other elements of her Skidmore experience inspired Meredith to forge a career in higher education. She is currently VP of Campus Bound, a consulting firm that helps students and parents navigate the college admissions process. Along the way, this devoted alumna has lent her time and talent to serve the College in multiple leadership roles.
At Skidmore, the shy freshman jumped into the pursuit of interdisciplinary study and wide-ranging, diverse interests with both feet, building an interdepartmental major that was rounded out by classes in music, photography, and other disciplines.
“I loved that at Skidmore I felt free to continue my hobbies and develop new ones, regardless of how skilled I was (or wasn’t) at them. I took private saxophone lessons from Mark Vinci, who played for Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli!” Meredith also performed in the jazz band and chorus with dedicated music majors. “To be surrounded by students with such amazing talents, who were pursuing the arts as a career, but to not feel intimidated by them was a unique experience and I am grateful for that. Skidmore encouraged me to expand my horizons rather than narrow them and thereby find a direction that truly fit.”
For Meredith, the discovery of that direction is strongly rooted in her experience as a student worker at Skidmore. A tour guide and office assistant for Admissions, she served as house counselor, resident assistant, and head resident for Residential Life. The lessons she learned from these commitments, she says, had a powerful and lasting impact on her, both personally and professionally. Through training and the mentorship of Don Hastings, dean of residential life and associate dean of student affairs, and Mary Lou Bates, director of admissions (now vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid), she “learned a lot about leadership, work ethic, and conflict resolution. I still utilize the mantras I learned from them, that good leaders ‘give all the credit and take all the blame’ and ‘with discovery, comes responsibility.’ Mostly I learned how to be a leader while still simply being myself and staying true to my own personality, values, and convictions.”
After graduation, Meredith went to work for her alma mater as assistant director of admissions, and was later promoted to associate director. She spent six years refining her skills and knowledge before enrolling in Boston College, where she earned a master’s in counseling psychology with certification to work as a high school guidance counselor in 2002. She worked in that capacity at high schools in Hingham and Wayland, Mass., for several years before joining Campus Bound as a private educational consultant. Her in-depth understanding of the college admissions process from both the applicant’s and the institutional perspective, as well as her solid leadership skills, served Meredith well as she advanced to the position of VP.
As her career unfolded, she served the College as a reunion planning volunteer, admissions contact, career advisor, class agent, and fund chair, continually seeking ways to leverage her expertise to benefit Skidmore. “It didn’t seem right to go from living and breathing Skidmore College for 10 years to being an alumna with limited involvement or connection to this special place,” she reflects. Chair of admissions on the College’s Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2003 to 2009, Meredith found herself in a unique position to help the College respond to dramatic changes in admissions as well as to Skidmore’s rising status as a top-ranked liberal arts institution. “It was exciting to serve in that role in an era of intense technological change. When I began we dealt with paper applications. Within a few years, the majority of applications were being submitted online, which meant that an applicant’s first contact with the College was now at the time of application. The number of applications spiked upward and there were more early decision and multicultural applicants, an impressive rise given Skidmore’s historical demographics. The College was becoming more selective and simultaneously increasing its yield (the number of applicants who enroll). Meanwhile, Skidmore was being hailed as by the Newsweek/Kaplan Guide to Getting into College 2006 as one of the ‘25 New Ivies’ and lauded as ‘a hidden gem’ by Newsweek magazine. Frankly, it was a lot of fun to deliver the good news to the alumni board year after year.”
She is quick to underscore why she gives back to her alma mater. It has to do with the encouragement she received to uncover new vistas on route to finding her professional direction and her passion for helping young people begin that journey. “Skidmore’s interdisciplinary focus allowed me to wind my way from college admissions to guidance counseling to my current position at Campus Bound. I love working with teenagers and their families to reduce the stress and anxiety that is so pervasive in the college admissions process. It is rewarding to help students find their own path—and to help them make educated decisions of which they can be proud. My Skidmore education and experience taught me that you don’t need to narrow your interests in order to find a career path, but that you should instead explore all of your interests, finding ways to integrate them into a holistic and satisfying future.”
Meredith feels “honored” to receive the Outstanding Service Award. “My volunteer work for Skidmore has never seemed like work—it’s been at least as rewarding and influential to me as it has been helpful to the College. Through my service to Skidmore, I have met myriad amazing alumni and have developed a stronger appreciation for what makes and has always made the College unique; I have a better sense of Skidmore’s identity.”
She lives in Nashua, N.H., with her husband, Colin, and their daughter, Maggie. The couple is expecting a second child this summer.
Joseph C. Palamountain Award For Young Alumni Achievement
Seth McEachron ’04
Growing up outside rural Salem, N.Y., Seth McEachron ’04 listened to his father, Don, recount how 12 families, including his, operated farms that dotted a 10-mile swath of the verdant Battenkill Valley in the 1960s. Today, the McEachrons own and operate the only farm left there. Over the years, their neighbors, like so many farmers, have succumbed to the pressure of unstable market prices and other challenges. Yet the McEachron dairy farm has not only survived, it is thriving. Its success is no small feat nor a surprise when you consider who is at the helm. A fifth generation farmer, Seth partnered with Don to research and implement an innovative business model that led to a brand new venture, one that is ensuring the farm’s sustainability now and into the future.
A business and economics major, Seth began studying the dairy market in depth in 2003. Like most dairy farmers, the McEachrons sold their milk to companies to process and bottle and were paid a price that fluctuates considerably depending on supply and demand. Seth determined that by being able to process and bottle their own milk on the farm, the family could side step the volatile milk pricing system. The production and bottling business instead would pay the farm a fair and steady price. By 2008, the Battenkill Valley Creamery (BVC), with Seth in charge, was up and running. During its first week of operation, the plant processed 600 gallons of milk which, according to Seth, “is the equivalent of milking nine cows for a week.” Today, it produces 31,000 gallons of milk per week or “500 cows worth.”
As production has soared, so has consumer demand for BVC products. BVC’s all-natural, hormone free milk and premium ice cream is now sold in 70 retail and grocery stores in the Capital District, including Price Chopper and Hannaford, as well in 75 area restaurants. The business delivers to 300 households in the greater Saratoga Springs area and sells at five local farmers’ markets. Seth has also partnered with the distributors The Dairy Wagon and Solex Fine Foods, selling products to more than 350 restaurants, coffee shops, and retail stores in New York City. BVC also supplies three home delivery businesses that deliver to over 2,500 customers in the Poughkeepsie area, Long Island, and Northern N.J.
By selling directly to local consumer markets, Seth was able to capitalize on the growing local food movement. Traditional dairy farms sell milk that is blended with milk from other farms and shipped around the country. “Since most dairy farmers’ milk ends up in blends processed elsewhere, consumers can’t be sure where their milk is coming from, how it is processed, or how the animals are treated,” notes Seth. According to him, public concern about the use of synthetic bovine hormone to stimulate milk production in cows fueled a desire to buy local, traceable dairy products. BVC encourages members of the public to schedule tours for a first-hand look at how the creamery operates.
Seth’s insight into BVC’s niche market has steered him away from traditional advertising. Instead, his marketing initiatives focus on capturing the loyalty of local and regional customers. BVC products have been featured at food and wine festivals across New York State and the company sponsors a local bike race, the Tour of the Battenkill, to promote its signature chocolate milk; winners are awarded commemorative bottles of it.
In addition to becoming a top choice among regional consumers for natural, hormone-free, and great tasting milk, accolades have come from other sectors. In 2010, BVC milk earned the title Highest Quality Milk in New York State from Cornell University’s Department of Food Science. Competing with 23 other producers across the state, BVC was the first farm producer-bottler to earn the prestigious award.
Seth admits he is not your typical dairy farmer. “Most farmers go to agricultural schools and study things like animal husbandry,” Seth reflects. “Instead I chose to study business and economics at a liberal arts college—a very unconventional move.” He credits his Skidmore education with giving him a deep understanding of how businesses and markets operate as well as the ability to think “outside the box.” Seth loved the courses he took with economics professor Lynda Vargha and has vivid memories of studying finance with management and business professor William Edwards in “the most amazing and difficult class I have ever taken in my life.” He recalls commiserating with other students about how tough the coursework was, “but in the end, all of us truly appreciated the complexity of what we had learned.” Exposure to the liberal arts, he says, “helped me ‘learn how to learn,’ broadened my understanding of different perspectives, and opened my eyes to new ways of thinking. The liberal arts breadth is something more valuable than you realize at the time. Looking back, I definitely see its impact on what I do today.”
This solid grounding in business and economics, coupled with a strong foundation in the liberal arts, gave Seth the skills he needed to think strategically and creatively. “Envisioning and building the creamery and becoming the first and only farm in the region to process and bottle its own milk, was a creative process. We were also the first local dairy farm to focus on the local food movement. Our marketing approach—direct to consumers through festivals and fairs rather than traditional advertising, is another example of creativity at work.”
Seth isn’t stopping there. These days, he is busy improving the efficiency of the creamery’s production systems and also looking to introduce new technologies to the farm to help it expand.
He is most proud, he says, of “being able to improve the longevity of the family farm, build a new business from scratch, and pass both on to the next generation.”
Being chosen to receive the Palamountain Award, he adds, “is very flattering. I did some research on past recipients and I feel humbled. It means a lot to me that Skidmore considers me deserving of such an honor.”
Seth and his wife, Yvonne, live in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.