Alumnae/i in Action
White Mountain provides an experience that lasts a lifetime, and this impressive array of alumnae/i and their work in the world shows how! Do you know an outstanding alumna/us we should feature here? Please email your suggestion to email@example.com.
Jonathan Bachman ’03
We recently had the chance to sit down with alumnus Jonathan Bachman ‘03, a Louisiana-based freelance photographer whose images for Reuters of the Baton Rouge protests are hailed as ‘iconic’ and ‘impossible to forget’.
The images you took after Hurricane Isaac and the Baton Rouge protests are powerful. Could you tell us a little bit about your work as a photographer and your journey to becoming one?
I have always loved photography and knew early on that I wanted to be a photographer. However there was one experience that made me want to become a photojournalist. However there was one experience that made me want to become a photojournalist. It was my freshmen year at Loyola University and I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Associated Press staffer Alex Brandon. We were hanging out in the newsroom when a report of a fire came over the scanner. We ran to his car and drove like crazy to get on scene. When I saw his photo in the paper the next day I said to myself, this is what I want to do.
Today, I am a New Orleans based freelance photographer. I mainly cover breaking news and sports. I currently provide images for Reuters, Getty Images and the Associated Press.
What are your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a photojournalist?
The most rewarding experience for me is seeing a community come together after a natural disaster. It is amazing to see neighbors go above and beyond to help one another. The very best humankind has to offer. However it is difficult to be a witness to the pain and despair. For me, after an assignment I get to go home. The people’s lives I have photographed remain destroyed. It’s hard to shake off the emotion.
How do you feel your time at White Mountain prepared you for the work you do now?
Well, I learned a whole lot about photography while at the White Mountain School and without WMS I wouldn’t be the photographer I am today. WMS gave me time, support and opportunity. I was constantly challenged and encouraged to be creative, and I am grateful for my teachers’ support.
Check out more of Jonathan’s images at www.jonathanbachmanphotography.com.
Amy Bannon ’14
"I vidly remember the morning reading that opened the door for me to chase opportunities within the world of adaptive sports.”
Amy Bannon ‘14 was impacted by White Mountain in a number of meaningful ways, but the moment she describes here is the one that really set her on the course she continues to pursue today. When Amy heard a morning meeting presentation by Sandy Olney P’04, Executive Director of Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country, she felt a spark and knew immediately that volunteering with ASPNC was how the wanted to spend her winter. “She spoke with infectious enthusiasm, and I left that morning reading feeling responsible to contribute to such an amazing organization. Instead of recreational skiing after school in the winter, I spent three days volunteering with ASPNC and couldn’t have been more thrilled. I saw how therapeutic and beneficial skiing was to our participants both behaviorally and physically.”
Amy had enjoyed a number of previous experiences as a volunteer with various programs aimed at helping those with disabilities access recreational activities. When she was in high school in Rhode Island before starting at White Mountain, she helped to train Special Olympic athletes at Yawgoo Valley Ski Area and she assisted with various recreational programs in her local community. Amy began to recognize the growing passion that she had developed for connecting those with disabilities to outdoor spaces through sports and recreation. With this foundation in place, her exposure to the work she was able to do at ASPNC was life-changing and helped her see that this was work she could and would pursue in her future.
After her graduation from White Mountain, Amy spent one year at the University of New Hampshire and then transferred to Prescott College in Arizona to pursue a degree in outdoor program administration with a minor in education. It was a chance encounter on a ski lift at the Arizona Snowbowl in 2015 that opened the door for Amy to continue the work she was so passionate about in a new part of the country. She was in her first season of working at the mountain when she found herself sitting next to Alex Davenport, the founder and Executive Director of the Northern Arizona Adaptive Sports Association, on the chairlift. He had recently started the non-profit program and Amy immediately expressed interest in volunteering as an instructor and in helping to grow the program. In the three years since, they have certainly accomplished that. Last winter they had 470 participants and they continue to add instructors and equipment in order to serve people with a wide range of disabilities. Alex Davenport has seen Amy’s impact on the program firsthand. He said the following:
“Her dedication to adaptive sports and the people who participate in them was apparent the day I met her. Amy is both bright and very dedicated. During her time with our Adaptive Ski School she has helped facilitate hundreds of lessons and taught over 300 students herself. She has been and continues to be a pivotal part of our growing non-profit organization. It’s rare to find someone so passionate about what they do and we are so lucky to have her.”
At White Mountain, we feel lucky to have had Amy as a student and more recently, as a member of the faculty when she was back on campus this past fall to work in the outdoor education department and coach climbing. Come winter though, she was back in Arizona to complete her senior year at Prescott and to continue her amazing work with the NAASA that is so impactful for so many people.
Katherine Desimine ’15
We recently had the chance to connect with young alumna Katherine Desimine ’15. An avid dancer, she continues to pursue her passion for dance in her post-secondary studies at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Read more below!
What has your life been like since you’ve left White Mountain?
I’m about to enter my second year at The University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia, and I’m studying dance there. After I graduated from WMS I was at Smith College for a year, and then I transferred to UArts last year. Smith is an incredible place, it has an outstanding dance program that opened my eyes to the ways that dance can look and be and feel, but I knew that I wanted to focus solely on dance and be around other people with similar mindsets/ambitions, and UArts has done that for me. I feel really really lucky that I get to study what I love, essentially all day everyday. I’ve also realized that I want to make dance and teach dance as well as perform, which is really exciting because I’ve always loved working with kids so it kind of combines all my passions.
Could you speak a bit about your passion for dance and how it developed?
Where to even start with my passion for dance, there’s so much to say. I started dancing when I was a sophomore at WMS as part of the dance winter sport. Then I started dancing year round at Creative Edge Dance Studio (CEDS). Creative Edge is a remarkable place, the teachers there are the reason why I am so passionate about dance, why I love to push myself artistically and athletically, and why I was able to get into an amazing dance program like UArts! Now, being at UArts, I feel like I’ve found my purpose in life. (I know that’s super cheesy but there’s no other way to say it.) Dance has an ability unlike any other art form to bring people together, to create communities, to expose problems that we face and to bring to light their solutions. That’s really powerful to me, and I love exploring the ways dance and life feed into each other.
I love exploring the ways dance and life feed into each other.
Could you speak a little bit about your time at White Mountain and how you felt it prepared you for college?
My years at WMS were really really special. I think what impacted me the most was the community bond that was present at WMS, the way that I felt held and safe when I was there. I was able to be my truest and best self at WMS. The social aspect of WMS prepared me to recognize and create spaces that foster similarly supportive communities, which is a super important aspect of my life. In a more academic sense, the focus on curiosity at WMS prepared me to be authentically invested in everything I’ve done in college, and to constantly ask questions, both of myself and others. Those values, of curiosity and research and digging, are really crucial skills for me as an engaged student and artist.
What advice do you have for current White Mountain students?
Go to school for what you love, even if it seems impractical (like studying dance, for example). To quote Jim Carrey, “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it.” I understand the desire to feel safe and do what feels practical, I really do, but I have also seen a lot of friends studying subjects that they aren’t especially passionate about, and to be frank it makes me sad. We have such an amazing opportunity at WMS to explore and figure out our passions, and I think it’s a waste to not put all that exploration and passion to use!
Casey Fletcher ’80
Dr. Fletcher is a Small Animal Practitioner residing in Asheville North Carolina. In addition to the traditional role of practicing veterinary medicine, Casey is also deeply involved in companion animal welfare issues, particularly pet overpopulation. On any given day, a visitor might find a litter of abandoned puppies, kittens or orphaned opossums getting a much needed boost in life. She believes that this “obligation to help those in need” is directly attributable to her time at WMS.
Her journey to become a veterinarian took a rather circuitous route. As a self described “Free Spirit”, upon graduation from WMS, immediately attending college was not in her plans. “I wasn’t ready or able to be serious about academics at that point in time. It was the early 1980’s and hitchhiking around the country was infinitely more appealing to me. Many of us needed some extra time to settle ourselves.” Eventually, she earned a two-year computer programming degree and ultimately enrolled in San Francisco State University to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biology. “That was when my light switch really turned on. I understood science. I became very focused on my education and animal welfare issues. My goal was to become a veterinarian.” says Casey. That goal was achieved in 1996 when she was graduated from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Casey met her husband Marty in 1983, while living in San Francisco. They were married 11 years later in a simple ceremony, on the edge of a Minnesota lake by none other than WMS’s own faculty/chaplains, Kristen Foster and Frank Davis. They are currently raising three children, one girl and two boys. Casey is an avid gardener.
When Casey looks back at her time at WMS, she reflects on the environment of the late 1970‘s. “As time goes by, I see our chapter in WMS’s history as a little piece of Americana. It was a time of peace, prosperity and decadence. However, once you strip away the 1970’s stylism, the overall experience we had was the same as every generation before and after. We all share a deep caring for one another and a love and appreciation of the outdoors.” She sees her WMS friends as family and those from different WMS decades as a sort of extended family. “We all weave in and out of each other’s lives creating a beautiful WMS tapestry.” There is a common bond between anyone who has ever lived at our School.
The faculty at WMS had a major impact Casey’s philosophy in life. “The faculty at WMS believed in me,” says Casey. “Although I was far from a model student, many had faith in me as a human being. They knew that some of my less than stellar behaviors were simply a phase and not a permanent feature.” Just this weekend Casey was able to reconnect with Lisa Cantrell, who was a nurse at WMS during her school years. “Lisa and Patty Ritzo (art) and Kristin Foster and Frank Davis knew I had potential,” says Casey. “I am sure they were deeply concerned about me at times, but I feel they just as deeply believed in me. The level of support and care they gave me during a time that I needed it, has shaped my entire outlook on life.”
Now Casey makes giving back a part of her regular routine. Her in-house “animal projects” are designed not only to help the individual animals but to involve others in the art of caring. She teaches by example, the importance of helping when and where you can. Whether it is an animal in need or a neighborhood child who needs someone to believe in them. “I think that is a life lesson and a White Mountain School value that resonated with me. We have an obligation to help when we possess the ability to do so. These were the ethics and values I learned at WMS. We learned to do the right thing.”
Toby Gadd ’66
“Be true to the values and passion that embodies life at White Mountain, absorb the wisdom that life sometimes brutally hurls at you, and then do something that brings you and your community genuine joy and satisfaction.”
Imagine stepping into an urban chic, brick interior, cafe-style room. Groups of friends are clustered around tables sipping hot chocolate and engaged in relaxed conversation with the “shhhhzzzt” of the milk steamer in the background. Others are standing at the display case, selecting truffles, chocolate bars and drinks to eat in or take home. A friendly and knowledgeable wait staff serves patrons a ‘chocolate flight’, complete with plain crackers and water to cleanse the palate between tastes. At Nuance Chocolates, Toby ‘88 and Alix Gadd have created an unparalleled chocolate experience in old town Fort Collins, CO. Chocolate at this level feeds body and soul; it engages your mind as well as all five senses – it is an experience not to be missed.
Entrepreneurial by nature and profession, Toby has started, managed and sold two successful businesses in the last 20 years. After selling Montage Graphics/ParticleLogic Marketing in 2011, Toby, faced with free time and a comfortable financial situation, spent his time competing in ultra-endurance mountain bike races, hanging out with his family, traveling, and making chocolate in his kitchen with his scientist wife. When they traveled to Costa Rica and began learning about cacao-producing regions of the world, several observations rose to the fore. First, some areas were producing environmentally and ethically sustainable cacao beans, without pesticides, herbicides or child labor. Second, chocolate from different countries tasted fantastically different. And third, they both really loved experimenting with and eating chocolate. Their kitchen hobby expanded to include the basement. Before too long, Toby’s business mindset took over — Nuance was born.
Toby says of Nuance, “The opportunity to share what we’d learned about chocolate seemed like something too good to pass up. Having a plan in life is good and all, but I’ve learned to always leave room for serendipity.” And with that, Toby embarked on his next adventure. With a small factory a few doors down where beans are roasted, ground, mixed with sugar and sometimes lk, and then fashioned into chocolate bars or truffles for sale in their shop or online, Nuance is one of only a small number of ‘bean to bar’ chocolate makers in the country. Nuance now boasts the largest selection of single origin chocolate bars in the world and has continued to use only sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients. With a flavor profile of more than 600 naturally occurring compounds, making it more complex than red wine, single-origin chocolate offers a seemingly unlimited playground for the chocolate lover and entrepreneur alike. Today, Nuance is thriving. The shop is pleasantly full throughout the day with both tourists and ‘regulars’. One patron commented that the unique chocolate experience, coupled with the warm, friendly neighborhood atmosphere brings him in regularly to relax and enjoy a sweet treat after work. As online sales continue to grow too, Nuance has had to increase their number of employees several times over the last few years. Toby and Alix are considering expanding into the wholesale market at some point, but are clear that they won’t take that step until they’re ready and are confident they won’t sacrifice quality and mission for the sake of growth.
When asked what advice he might give today’s White Mountain students interested in opening a business of their own, Toby said, “Be true to the values and passion that embodies life at White Mountain, absorb the wisdom that life sometimes brutally hurls at you, and then do something that brings you and your community genuine joy and satisfaction.”
Interested in learning more about Nuance and maybe ordering some single-origin chocolate to taste? Check them out at www.nuancechocolate.com.
Will Gadd ’85
“What’s next?” seems to be Will Gadd’s ‘85 signature question. Will’s 20+ year career in outdoor sports has been filled with awards, world records, sponsorships and adventure. A ceaseless explorer, self-identified obsessive competitor and a savvy businessman, Will has turned his passion for outdoor adventure sports into his career; sport into his life’s work.
Three time gold medal X-Games winner and World Cup winner in ice climbing, Will has also won numerous national and international sport climbing competitions. He has put up some of the hardest mixed and ice climbing routes in the world and written the most well-respected “how to” ice climbing book which has been translated into multiple languages. In the last decade, Will set his sights on paragliding, winning several U.S. and Canadian Paragliding Nationals titles, broke the paragliding distance world record three times, and was the first person to cross the U.S. by paraglider. In early November, 2014, Will was named one of the 15 top adventurers of the year by National Geographic for his August, 2014 paragliding adventure in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies. Clearly Will is an athlete driven to push himself further, driven to seek new challenges.
Will has been active outdoors since he was a young boy growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. He credits his dad with being his first teacher and inspiration. At age eight, Will and his dad climbed his first peak, 11,453-foot Mount Athabasca, in the Canadian Rockies. At 14 he was already kayaking first descents. Will arrived at WMS in 1983 as a Junior. Will says of his time at The White Mountain School, “WMS was perfect for me, and I actually still follow the basic program I learned at WMS: work in the morning, then get outside and move every afternoon. A lot of teenagers need high levels of exercise, and WMS offered that and a solid education that has served me well. I was also lucky to have some good mentors at WMS, teachers who “got” my energy levels and allowed me some latitude in life.”
After graduating from WMS in 1985, Will went on to earn a B.A. in political science from Colorado College. He then took an internship with Climbing magazine. Ok, he actually created the internship – they hadn’t had one before, but Will convinced them that he should be their first. Following his internship, Will stayed on for an additional six months as an editor. He then headed to Stanford to take journalism courses for a summer. At that point, Will started competing and doing well in sport climbing events. He wrote about those his experiences in magazines. Will then went on to run an outdoor sports magazine, and also started a qualitative market research company that did work for Nike and other large brands. Over time, Will’s competitive sports led to awards, medals, prize money and, more financially impactful, sponsorships. Will is now sponsored by Red Bull, Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Smith Optics and Gin Gliders. He guides, coaches and shares his adventures through writing, TV shows, and both corporate and adventure presentations/speaking engagements. Will has successfully combined hard work and significant athletic talent with marketing and business skills to create a career in the adventure sports world.
So, as “Dad” to two young girls, and at age 47, what is next for Will Gadd? While he continues to win competitions and set records, Will admits that it isn’t really his focus any more. He’s moving in a couple of (of course) different directions. In the world of adventure, Will is becoming more creative. He’s focusing more on place, exploring interesting, challenging, beautiful areas for his adventure sports. That was the inspiration for his recent Canadian Rockies paragliding trip. He and his partner could have chosen a longer route, but, instead they chose a remote location with some technically interesting features. Will is pushing the boundaries of the ice climbing world by being a pioneer in spray ice climbing. Spray ice, the ice formed from the mist of waterfalls, is stunningly beautiful and, until recently, considered unclimbable because of the delicate nature of the medium. By protecting the routes with bolts on the rock behind the fragile ice, Will and others have made this type of ice climbing possible, even if they do need metal detectors to locate the protection bolts after they ice over!
Slightly outside of the world of high adventure, Will’s new initiative is a “just move” campaign. In a recent interview with Arc’teryx, Will laments, “We all try to be busy instead of being alive, busy instead of getting out and breathing, busy sending useless texts instead of walking in the woods with our kids or introducing them to life’s joys. We move information instead of simply moving.” Will’s answer to the problem he has identified is to stop overthinking exercise, training and health and just, well, move. Have a layover in the airport? Pack sneakers and head out of the terminal for a run. Family responsibilities? When you bring your kids to the playground, don’t sit on the bench, join in the play, be the monster that chases them around the yard, play tag, go sledding and pull the kids up the hill. Do whatever you can do to get outside and move.
Whether he’s challenging himself or fellow athletes in competition, coaching or simply giving advice on healthy living, Will sets the bar high for himself. One has the sense that his very last question on this earth will likely be the same question he’s been asking since childhood, “What’s next?”
Kyllan Gilmore ’08
An attorney in the DC area, Kyllan specializes in intellectual property law and is a Young Alumnae/i Trustee for White Mountain. Kyllan grew up in Littleton NH, and attended WMS as a day student.
“I’ve always been cursed with the burden of diverse interests so I spent a lot of time at Cornell trying to discover what I was going to do. I wanted to pursue something that allowed me to attend to all those diverse interests – math and science, philosophy and international relations – and patent law allowed me to dabble in all those things.” As a litigation associate in the patent law office at Winston & Strawn, Kyllan works with clients to develop patent systems that will both achieve economic and technological advancement while bettering the human condition.
Kyllan credits White Mountain with exposing him to the varied interests that drive him today. “As a 4-year day student from Littleton, I wasn’t exposed to particularly diverse backgrounds until I came to White Mountain. The White Mountain School’s unique ability to not only bring people together from around the world in a school setting but to also force students to engage with each other on a personal level through Field Courses and a quality community life program are opportunities that you just don’t get anywhere else. Even as a day student, I was integrated into that global community. It’s kind of hard to be a member of the White Mountain community and not try new things.”
Dr. Gaynelle Henderson ’66
"My experience at St. Mary’s had a tremendous impact on me, very much reinforcing the values and morals that my parents espoused, as well as my sense of independence and confidence."
Making an Impact Since 1955
Gaynelle Henderson’s passion for travel and her belief in its power to transform is in her blood. In 1955, her parents, Jake and Freddye Henderson, opened the first African American overseas touring company in the United States. In 1957, Atlanta-based Henderson Travel organized the first tourist group from the U.S. to the continent of Africa—to Accra, Ghana, to celebrate its independence and the inauguration of its first Black African president, Kwame Nkrumah. This was before airlines were even flying to Africa, requiring Gaynelle’s mother to charter an aircraft from Paris to accommodate the group.
As Gaynelle often shares, “This trip was the catalyst that made my parents decide to promote Africa as a tourist destination and persuade more people, African Americans in particular, to visit and return to their “motherland”. They knew that if people would only cast aside the stereotypes of Africa that are still too often seen, and venture forward to visit any of its 54 countries, they would realize what a diverse, colorful, fascinating, educational and totally unique experience travelling to Africa is.” As a result, Gaynelle’s parents and the Henderson travel agency have received numerous awards over the decades from the Heads of State of a number of countries and African and international travel and tourism organizations for pioneering African tourism.
Diversifying the Company
Following her graduation from St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains (now The White Mountain School), Gaynelle matriculated to Howard University where she earned a degree in speech pathology and, later, a doctorate in organizational communications. In 1984, Dr. Henderson founded the Washington D.C. office of Henderson Travel/Henderson Tours. Seeing change in the tourism industry on the horizon, Gaynelle diversified the company in 1990, developing the Management Consulting Division (Henderson Associates) which provided professional services to the U.S. Federal Government from 1989 – 2004. With a client roster that included the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Labor, Education, Transportation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Export-Import Bank and Customs, Henderson Associates provided conference planning, education and training, facilities management, public relations and professional and logistical support services.
Through her experience of contracting with many Federal Government agencies, Gaynelle learned the ins and outs of proposal writing, marketing, and contract management, which catapulted her into the next phase of her career– consulting in the international arena. She was able to combine this technical knowledge of management consulting and her in-depth experience in African travel and tourism when she was asked to manage the North America Office of Ghana Airways, Ghana’s official international airline.
Promoting Tourism Throughout the African Diaspora
Since 1955, Henderson Associates/Henderson Travel has continued to plan and execute tours throughout the African diaspora and the world, connecting hundreds ofthousands of people with Africa, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. In addition to customized tours for various sized groups of American tourists, Henderson Associates has played a pivotal role in various international tourism initiatives. Soon after her stint as General Manager of Ghana Airways, Gaynelle was asked to assist the Department of Tourism of Bermuda in marketing and ultimately managing the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference (ADHT). The ADHT mission was to encourage sustainable economic development throughout the African Diaspora through cultural and heritage tourism. Gaynelle writes, “We encouraged communities and countries to research and document their own unique African heritage through slavery and to incorporate that history into new tourism trails and museums. This experience was tremendously important to me; I saw it as a natural progression for the company and as a way to explore and expand my own interest in Africa, its diverse history, sometimes tortured heritage and beautiful culture.”
Henderson Associates/Henderson Travel also contracted with The Ministry of Tourism of the Bahamas and of Tanzania and Zanzibar in assisting with their own ADHT conferences hosted by their Ministers of Tourism. Under Gaynelle’s leadership, Henderson Associates assisted in planning, managing and promoting international ADHT tourism initiatives from 2002-2009, attracting hundreds of participants to different host countries each year and bringing together Ministers of Tourism, heritage tourism specialists, museum directors, educators, historians, anthropologists and students from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, North, Central and South America. Gaynelle continues to consult with countries and communities within the African diaspora that are interested in researching and documenting their own unique African history and culture and incorporating it into tourism initiatives.
The Role of SMS
When asked how her high school experience shaped her life and career, Gaynelle reflected:
“Through this work and my travels throughout the world, I have grown to really appreciate the foundation that St. Mary’s-in-the Mountain’s (SMS) gave me, as well as the sense of independence and adventure that it fostered in all of us. From Atlanta, GA, which was very segregated at the time, I came to SMS, a predominantly white private prep school in Bethlehem, NH, as the only African American student my first year and one of two thereafter. It was a very different and rewarding experience for me that expanded my boundaries and perspective on the world at that time. My experience at St. Mary’s had a tremendous impact on me, very much reinforcing the values and morals that my parents espoused, as well as my sense of independence and confidence. I also owe so much to my parents, who encouraged me and my siblings to travel the world, to view and treat all people as equal, and to strive to continue learning through education and experiences.”
The importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and into new places and experiences was clearly recognized by the Henderson family. Gaynelle’s parents truly walked their talk, educating all four of their children in New England boarding schools (Gaynelle and her older sister, Carol, at St. Mary’s), traveling extensively on their own, and opening up new travel opportunities for tens of thousands of others. Gaynelle’s mission continues: bring to others the deep learning that can only come from immersive experiences and, in this way, contribute to the understanding between people that will result in the equality and respect so very necessary in today’s world.
Laurah John ’05
We spoke with Laurah to find out more about her life after graduating from The White Mountain School 10 years ago, her accomplishments and her plans for the future.
WMS: Laurah, in 2013 you led the team that won the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum Startup Weekend. This was a 54-hour entrepreneurship challenge where teams were tasked with creating the plan for a feasible, small enterprise designed to meet a local need and designed to be able to grow into a more comprehensive project. Can you describe that project?
Laurah: Well, my team worked to develop a startup enterprise that would initiate resource recovery for upcycling recyclable and difficult-to-recycle materials to produce new products that are better in quality and of greater environmental and economic value. We decided to use a regular plastic bag and create a small crotchet-like basket, literally shredding it to then recompose it. The idea was to target hotels in Saint Lucia since they are big producers of waste, collect these materials like plastic and upcycle them into products that we could then sell back to the hotels.
At the end of the challenge, our projects were evaluated based on the criteria of customer validation; the strength of the business plan; execution methodology; funding; and the practicing of lean startup through the development of a minimal viable product (MVP). To be completely honest, I was not thinking about winning this competition; I just wanted to present something concrete, viable and realistic at the end of it all. It was an intense, adrenaline pumping, sleep-deprived weekend, but in the end my team came out victorious!!
The concept for the project was really born out of my Master’s research, which explored the feasibility of establishing a resource recovery programme in an urban poor community in Saint Lucia. Ultimately, my goal was to address some of the key deprivations faced by the urban poor through sustainable solid waste management. For me, inefficient and inadequate solid waste management in Saint Lucia was, and continues to be, a very tangible problem that needed to be addressed. In addition to its negative impact on the environment, the hazards posed have very real and direct consequences for people, particularly the poor, located in crowded, unplanned communities. This is not only an environmental issue but one of social equity as well.
WMS: And what happened next? Were you able to see some of you ideas put into action in Saint Lucia?
Laurah: Well, as the team leader, I won an all expense paid trip to the US to meet with potential investors and entrepreneurs! I am getting ready to take that trip in March, 2015. When I arrived back home, there were a few of articles written about my success in Paris, which led to a number of PR opportunities. I was featured in two separate local TV broadcasts on young leaders. I was selected and featured in the 2015 calendar of our National Back, which celebrates the accomplishments of Saint Lucians in all sectors (academic/professional/sport etc.). I was also asked to deliver the key-note address at the 28th Graduation Ceremony of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (a great honour usually reserved for the more seasoned and accomplished professionals in the nation and region!). I am and continue to be extremely grateful for these opportunities as they have provided me with a platform to reach out and share my experiences and ideas with a much wider audience.
However, I have to admit that all of this attention has felt a bit premature. And in many ways I feel undeserving, because, to answer your second question, it has been a slow journey trying to put my ideas into action in Saint Lucia. There are a number of reasons why things did not kick off immediately upon my return home at the end of 2013, but the most significant was the overwhelming fear and feeling like I had no idea what to do next. How was I going to establish this business? Would it even work? I did not even have a background in business!
That fear of failure kept me paralyzed for quite some time, and it was not until the feeling of regret (if I did not try) outweighed the fear of failure that I finally started working on this project. So far I have incorporated the company; I am putting together my business plan, while making strategic partnerships as I look to secure the necessary financial and in-kind support. It really does feel truly satisfying to have the courage to trust in myself and to be living my dream. It is still a work in progress and everything may not be perfect, but I am happily taking my time to craft this vision into reality.
WMS: That reminds me of a quote I read in a newspaper article about you and your experience at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum Startup Weekend. In that article you gave the following advice to young people, "Focus on discovering your passion and allow that to lead you when you are deciding on your education and career path. Be courageous! Be bold! Recognize that there will be many challenges but your ability to overcome them is what will give you the advantage and the perseverance to push beyond those barriers." It seems to me that you are trying to live the advice you give. So I’m wondering, what’s next for you? Where do you see yourself heading in the next 5 years? In what ways are you going to continue to be bold and courageous?
Laurah: Those are some very good questions! I do try my best to live by that advice…but it is definitely challenging and it takes a lot of courage.
In the next five years I hope that I am still following my passion, whether that be through the growth and expansion of my business or some other project that is to be seen! I will continue to be bold and courageous by living a life that is honest and true to myself, advocating for the things I believe in such as the principles of social equity and sustainability, and actively contributing to the progress of my country.
WMS: Your passion for social development has brought you around the world to focus on issues of social equity and sustainability. You have worked for the Government of Saint Lucia within the Ministry of Social Transformation, Local Government and Community Empowerment for a few years now and are currently the Project Coordinator for Social Safety Net Reform. Tell us a little bit about your career path after WMS.
Laurah: After leaving the White Mountain School, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in Social Development, and I got my first opportunity to work in this field during my undergrad years. For three months in 2008, I interned with the East Africa Law Society in Tanzania, spear-heading a research project to investigate gender equity within the East African legal profession. It was an incredibly enriching experience, which challenged my own preconceived notions of gender and social inequality within a developing country context. My next experience came while I pursued my Master’s and I worked full-time as a Caregiver at an emergency foster home in British Columbia, Canada. Being a front-line worker in Social Work exposed me to a plethora of social issues being faced by Canada’s Aboriginal children who are disproportionately represented in the foster care system. These experiences gave me an opportunity to observe and analyze issues of social inequity within and from several different contexts and lenses. They provided me with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work that needs to be done.
After completing my Master’s in 2012, I was unemployed and searching for a job in social development. I looked to the Government of Saint Lucia because it afforded opportunities to work in my field. Employing a somewhat unconventional approach, I emailed my cover letter and curriculum vitae to the Permanent Secretaries (PS) of three Ministries. A month and a half later, I got a call from the PS of Social Transformation asking if I was still unemployed and interested in a position at the Ministry that I was quite overqualified for. I went in that afternoon for an interview and I started the next day. One year later, I was promoted and offered the position of Project Coordinator for the Social Safety Net Reform.
I have never had a specific job in mind that I wanted to pursue, I simply know what I am passionate about and I have always allowed that to guide me. Right now I consider my job with the Ministry and my work in starting my own business as manifestations of this passion, and I am incredibly grateful because I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
WMS: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your work on the Social Safety Net Reform project?
Laurah: Before I answer that question, I should probably provide a bit of context about the Social Safety Net Reform. This is a mammoth project that consists of approximately ten sub-components that will likely span the next five years. The Government is reforming the entire system responsible for providing support to the poor and vulnerable populations in Saint Lucia. From an institutional perspective this requires putting in place the necessary policies, legislation and tools to ensure that these people are protected and accurately targeted. It requires reforming programmes to ensure the capacity to provide benefits/services and also ensure that the poor have access to them.
The most significant challenge is the inadequate technical, human resources within the Ministry to efficiently and effectively execute this Reform. The country is experiencing a particularly constrained fiscal climate and so in many ways we have been forced to operate with minimal resources. And while scarcity may promote innovation and creativity in ensuring what needs to get done, is done; it is nevertheless a tricky balance to prevent burnout and disenchantment among staff.
WMS: What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Laurah: First off, I am just excited to be part of a Reform that has the potential to have such a positive impact on the lives of some of the island’s most vulnerable populations. The job itself has given me an opportunity to be a part of the policy development process while also implementing the activities that stem from and embody these very policies. As such, I have interfaced with persons at all levels, from the policy/law makers to the managers who ensure the programmes work, to the frontline workers who administer the services/benefits, to the beneficiaries who access the services and benefits. I have learned so much at every level and this diversity has ultimately been one of the best parts of the job.
WMS: Following WMS you attended Bishop’s University, Canada, where you earned a B.A. in Sociology and Political Studies. After that you earned your Master’s in Urban Studies at Simon Fraser University. Did your time at WMS impact your graduate and undergraduate studies at all and your professional work since then?
Laurah: My time at the White Mountain School has everything to do with what I studied and my career choices to date, but that’s a story I would like to share at Graduation….so stay tuned?
Matt Michaud ’02 and Tyler Randazzo ’15
In the winter of 2013, Matt Michaud ’02 took a break from building Sandwich Tech’s carving skis in his workshop in Littleton, NH to talk with a group of WMS students who were part of the “Carving up Equations to Carve the Slopes: The Math of Ski and Snowboard Design” Field Course. Listening with rapt attention was then sophomore, Tyler Randazzo ‘15. Fast forward a year and Tyler, written proposal in hand, had a plan…Sandwich Tech Intern. Tyler approached WMS and Matt with his idea – he’d learn about running a small business and also custom design and build a pair of skis; Sandwich Tech would get help in an area where they could use an extra set of hands. And with that, Tyler, Matt and his wife, Katie, embarked on a year and a half long educational relationship, mentorship and friendship. WMS took some time to listen to what Matt and Tyler had to say to each other about their time working together.
Matt: Tyler, your Internship Proposal outlined some pretty big goals, so we extended your time with Sandwich Tech to provide time for you to accomplish a lot of what you’d hoped for. What surprised you the most along the way?
Tyler: It sounds sort of cliché, but everything took a lot longer than I thought it would! There is a lot of complicated math and computer software use behind ski design and while I really like math and science, I was starting from ground zero with CAD 2006. You were incredibly patient in terms of teaching me how to use this software. I had to work much harder than I thought I would to learn the concepts and skills. You also had to teach me how to use all of the machines in the workshop, things like the ski press, the band saw and planer. Actually, I think I picked-up the machine shop stuff pretty quickly. The math started to make a lot more sense to me after I’d spent some time in the shop to see the creative process in action and became part of the actual build.
Matt: It’s funny that you think it took you a long time to pick up CAD! I thought you learned that pretty quickly. It’s important to remember that you weren’t just learning how to build a pair of our skis; you were designing your own ski from a blank slate – that’s complex.
Tyler: Well, as you know, I can be a little hard on myself! I am proud of all that I learned and of what I accomplished – I love the final product. I liked that some of my work with you was very academic and other parts involved working with my hands. I still can’t believe that I was part of helping you and Katie build your ski press machine last winter. It was so cool to be involved with making a machine that I then got to use for my own skis. I also learned so much from you guys about the materials choices involved with ski building – there are so many different considerations when selecting the appropriate woods and plastics. Looking back on this experience, I realize that you and Katie put a lot of time and energy into working with me. What made you agree to work with a high school kid on something like this?
Matt: (laughs) Working with you really helped us hone our ski-construction explanation. It’s kind of like studying for an engineering exam…if you want to pass, study – but if you want to ace it, teach the material to other people. Working with someone new to the field really forces you to unpack the confusing parts. It was a great experience for us to go through and our business is strong because of it. I also want to be sure to mention how much you helped us out on the communications and marketing side of things. You set up the Sandwich Tech News page on our website and wrote some really great articles. A lot goes into writing copy for a branded website. You picked up the site optimization strategy really quickly. Your writing is great and we were especially thrilled with how your New Hampshire Public Radio post came out. You hit lots of important keywords and anchor text in a succinct post. I almost never needed to edit your work.
Thank you to both Matt and Tyler for talking with WMS about their experience. Together, they built a fantastic internship. Tyler’s final project and presentation were exemplary and it’s great to see the White Mountain network in action!
Justin Plaskov ’02
An attorney with Lohf, Shaiman, Jacobs, Hyman & Feiger in Denver, Colorado, Justin Plaskov ‘02 works in the employment law department and has won trials in federal, state and county courts. Justin was a key member of the 2015 trial team which obtained a $14,000,000 punitive damages verdict against a private federal contractor in a race/national origin discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Justin recently spoke with White Mountain’s Office of Development & Alumnae/i to share the following update.
What is your current role?
I’ve been at Lohf Shaiman for over 5 years practicing plaintiff employment law and working under Lynn Feiger, the attorney who successfully litigated the first ever Title VII sexual harassment claim in the country. A lot of what we do revolves around civil rights, employment discrimination, reasonable accommodations for disabled clients, and contract and wage issues. As Lynn’s mentee, I’ve been fortunate to run more and more of our growing employment law practice.
What got you interested in law in the first place?
At places like White Mountain and Prescott College, where I got my undergraduate degree, we often talk about how we can best affect change. How we can do the most good. I was certainly attracted to using a law degree as a tool to help affect positive change.
Some of my interest was also personal. Once I started practicing for the LSAT, I started geeking out over the logic games – the problem solving section of the test. As I moved forward with the process, I also realized that it really did fit in my with skill sets. The law emphasizes critical thinking and thinking outside the box to problem solve, which were skills that were definitely fostered at White Mountain. And then once I got into law school at the University of Colorado, I discovered that I fell in love with learning in ways that were different from my prior experiences. I enjoyed pushing myself in a very structured, traditional classroom. At White Mountain, I was always pushed to expand on and grow in my perception of what I was capable of – in sports and the outdoors or in creative and inquisitive spaces in the classroom. But law was different. And I fell in love with it.
What brought you to White Mountain originally?
I was really attracted to White Mountain because of the outdoor opportunities available to students. My parents were attracted to White Mountain’s small student body. I was only at White Mountain for two years but at that age it certainly fostered my love for the outdoors. I spent so much time at White Mountain in the woods and mountains – just walking the bio-loop around campus, skiing 3 or 4 days per week, or going off with a group for the weekend.
Academically, I came from a public school where I wasn’t enjoying school. It took a while, and through the work of so many wonderful teachers, what White Mountain did was rekindle my love of learning. The humanities and environmental studies courses at the School really opened my eyes. I felt like nobody had ever taught me the things I needed to know about the world until I came to White Mountain.
What advice do you have for someone considering law school?
For other White Mountain alumnae/i considering law school, I would have four recommendations prior to applying. First, read books and talk with attorneys about law school to see if it sounds like something you’d be interested in. Second, take practice LSAT exams to see if you enjoy the challenge or if it feels like a chore. Third, spend time away from school after you graduate from college. I know that the experience of working as a professional (I was an international travel guide and high school history/government teacher) prior to law school enriched the experience and made me more ready to be an attorney upon graduation. And lastly, find the right law school for you. I chose Colorado Law School for a myriad of reasons, including the collegiality of the student body, the high academic standards, an older student body, and a high proportion of students who go into public interest fields after graduation. I know from talking with other attorneys that choosing the wrong law school can have significant negative consequences.
Davi da Silva ’09
Alumnus Davi da Silva ‘09 is a second-year Ph.D. student in Biomedical Engineering at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.
How did you become interested in Biomedical Engineering and the Harvard-MIT program?
The program is very interdisciplinary, but in a way that delves deep into each discipline. I think there are some people who very quickly realize that they want to focus on this one specific thing but I have always been more interested in a lot of stuff. That’s one excellent thing about White Mountain, my teachers always encouraged me to pursue different interests – academic and otherwise.
At the University of Chicago, where I went for my undergraduate degree, I was very interested in math but was also interested in pre-med, especially after taking Anatomy & Physiology/Wilderness First Responder (WFR) at White Mountain. I didn’t want to pick between the two so I majored in both Mathematics and Chemistry, and also took some biology classes and did some biomedical research.
After college I got a job working in a bioengineering lab at the National Institutes of Health for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. It allowed me to pursue two different academic interests and not choose between my two passions. When looking at graduate programs, the MIT and Harvard program fit the bill.
Now that you’re in the program, what does your day to day look like?
I take a mix of traditional engineering classes and medical classes while my lab’s research focuses on creating miniature devices to study cancer cells. One day I’ll be in engineering courses with MIT Ph.D. students and the next day I’ll take medical courses with M.D. students at Harvard Medical School. I even go on medical rotations. Both sides of the program are essential to making the research work. We need the engineering to create our devices and medical knowledge to understand what those devices should do and how they can be useful to clinicians.
Davi is just one of many White Mountain Alumnae/i who have entered the field of Biomedical Engineering. Read more about the work of Sol Diamond ‘93, Associate Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, here.