When film critic A.O. Scott crowned her “the definitive screen actress of her generation” in a long essay in The NewYork Times in March, Greta Gerwig was too overwhelmed to read the whole thing. But she read enough to be “incredibly flattered that he thought so much about it,” she says, and to get the gist: Both in the no-budget features that jumpstarted her career and opposite Ben Stiller in the recent indie film Greenberg, Gerwig is not doing what we usually think of as acting.
“Her diction is more like what you hear at the next table in the local coffee bar than at the movies,” Scott asserted.
“She tends to trail off in midsentence, turn statements into questions or tangle herself up in a rush of words. She comes across as pretty, smart, hesitant, insecure, confused, determined—all at once or in no particular order. Which is to say that she is bracingly, winningly, and sometimes gratingly real.”
On a sticky August afternoon, I meet the suspect actress in the spacious, subtly quirky Chinatown flat she shares with two roommates and two kittens— Diane Kitten and Paw Newman. With her luminous hazel eyes, Gerwig proves pretty indeed. And she seems real enough—peppering her talk with pauses to think. But “confused” and“insecure”? “I am made of steel—you have no idea!” she exclaims in cartoon outrage, flexing one of the biceps she has been working on for the remake of the 1981 Dudley Moore vehicle Arthur. She plays the love interest—the Liza Minnelli working-class waitress part—and has just come from a kickboxing session that the studio ordered. They want her as toned as possible. On a more serious note, she points out, “Directors know they don’t have to mollycoddle me. A lot of our conversations start with, ‘I’m just going to tell you this straight....’”
Gerwig is not surprised that people confuse her with her characters: “I like acting where you can’t see the performance,” and she works for that effect. For Greenberg, in which she plays a lovely personal assistant who cannot make it through a sentence without apologizing and is defenseless against the Stiller character’s misanthropic jabs, “I behaved with her gentleness and constant apologizing for the whole three months we were making the film,” she says. “It is easier to get there and stay there than to drop it every night. And it was hard to come out of, because I forgot who I was. When it’s working right, you’re just sort of swimming in it. It’s not that there’s no work behind it, it’s that the work is done and you’re letting it happen.” For Arthur, filming in Manhattan over the summer, she heads to the shoot even on days when she isn’t needed. “I’m hanging out and working on the character,” she explains. “I spent hours trying on costumes. You find [the character] by making a whole lot of wrong choices.” Plus, she likes “the feeling that we’re all making this together—everybody’s down in the trenches together.” The feeling is familiar.
Gerwig cut her teeth on a genre of low-distribution, festival-circuit film called “mumblecore” because of dialogue as casual as thinking—or noshing, which the 20-something characters do a great deal of. She starred in and co-wrote Hannah Takes the Stairs in 2007, about a young woman who muddles her way through romances with one coworker after another. And with the following year’s Nights and Weekends—as much a portrait of a generation as of a couple (Gerwig and codirector Joe Swanberg), who aim to be both friends and lovers and end up as neither—she added codirector and coproducer to her credits. The movies caught the attention of Greenberg writer- director Noah Baumbach.
Gerwig attributes her triple-threat status—writer, director, actress—to Barnard. The Sacramento native “always secretly wanted to be an actress,” she says, and planned on attending a conservatory. But her mother, a nurse, insisted she take the liberal arts route. Gerwig figured, Barnard was at least in New York.
The college experience turned out to be “genuinely life changing—everything converging and interlocking,” says this major in English and philosophy. “I got more excited about acting when I realized I could write scripts. And it was pretty killer to work on my own weird theatre, and then talk about Renaissance plays in English. I went to old art films and new art films running at the same time at Film Forum. I felt completely, dorkily jazzed.”
She also developed a point of view. She realized that she “responded to writing and acting where you feel someone doesn’t know what to say next. The acting becomes every moment the character is living in desperate uncertainty, but it feels that way in the whole theatre. The audience is like, ‘Oh, no! What is that person going to say now?!’”
A favorite example is Will Eno’s Pulitzer Prize–nominated Thom Pain (based on nothing), in which the title character, played by James Urbaniak, experiences “moments of deep discomfort where he would lose track of what he was saying, and you really felt that Urbaniak was losing track.” On the film front, she “likes gently watching people live in all their complexities.” The movies of Mike Leigh, for example, express “a genuine confusion around why people do what they do.”
Eventually Gerwig wants to get back to writing and directing, in “one of those long, crazy careers, Clint Eastwood-style.” But for now, with Arthur to finish and the first Whit Stillman film since his 1998 Last Days of Disco to shoot this fall, the acting—“that secret dream I quietly fed”—is more than enough.
-by Apollinaire Scherr, photograph by Sebastien Kim
Vicki Cobb has pondered many questions in her 89 science books for children. When the economic downturn forced many American schools to curtail author visits, a new question emerged: How would she, and other nonfiction authors for children, manage without the additional income from these speaking engagements? Cobb, a former middle school science teacher, is not fazed by challenges. She knows how to make tea bags fly, bars of soap erupt, and how to collect cosmic sand. And so, at a time of life when others might settle into retirement, she’s embarked on a new experiment—launching a Web company.
“I’m so cutting edge for an old lady,” jokes Cobb, a resident of Greenburgh, New York, who, during an hour and a half-long interview, speaks animatedly about a wide range of topics, jumping effortlessly from Galileo to grandchildren, from skiing to sexism.
But she seems most spirited when discussing INK THINK TANK, which she refers to as her baby. With the online venture, Cobb hopes to continue her mission to improve the quality of education across the country, while also helping authors improve their bottom line. “Children’s nonfiction is not a good way to make a living,” she says. In more buoyant economic times, Cobb would supplement her income by visiting as many as 50 schools each year.
INK THINK TANK, which includes a cadre of about two dozen nonfiction authors of children’s books, is designed to function as a resource for teachers. It includes two main features: 1) A free database of books which are aligned with national standards and are deemed high-quality by Cobb; 2) A program of virtual author visits, which link teachers with a writer. The program also enables students to interact with the authors for a fraction of the cost of a live meeting. But can children really relate to a figure talking on a screen? No problem, according to Cobb. She recently spoke to a school in Louisiana, she says, where her image was projected onto a tremendous screen on the wall. When she was finished, the children felt they knew her so well, they “wanted to take a picture with me on the screen.”
In her prolific career as a science writer, Cobb’s central goal has been to pique children’s curiosity. She believes that “the school culture is such that as the kids get older they ask questions because they want answers for the test. I want kids to dance a little with the mystery.” To persuade children to do that dance, Cobb engages in a style that is both entertaining and educational in her books and public speaking. In her most recent book, What’s The Big Idea? Amazing Science Questions for the Curious Kid, published in June, Cobb escorts readers through much of elementary school science, from physics to chemistry to biology, posing and answering questions. The language is simple and playful, geared to children, but can be informative to adults who haven’t grappled with such topics in years. For example, the chapter, “Why Doesn’t The Sun Burn?” begins with this sentence, “The secret of the sun’s constant energy is that it is not fire.” The titles of Cobb’s vast library of works suggest her light-hearted style: Science Experiments You Can Eat, her first big hit, was published in 1972. Among her many works, she’s written Lots of Rot, The Scoop on Ice Cream, and I Face The Wind.
Cobb understands persistence, having reached adulthood at a time when women were often not welcomed in fields like science and math. Growing up she was told: “Girls don’t do science.” It wasn’t until she transferred to Barnard College from the University of Wisconsin in her junior year, that she could pursue her interest without questions. She did encounter sexism in the almost entirely male classes she took at Columbia, but “the big ideas of science dazzled me,” she recalls. More than five decades later, Cobb retains that initial amazement, and it is this sense of wonder that she hopes to instill in students today, through her books—and her presentations, both real and virtual.
On her personal Web site, vickicobb. com, viewers meet an animated caricature of Cobb, winking and smiling, hinting at the adventures ahead if you dare to delve into the world of science.
-by Elicia Brown '90
What originally sparked your interest in Carolina?
I love place names and Carolina is named after a woman. How many towns do you know are named after women? Carolina was the wife of the mill’s founder, Rowland Hazard. Also, I loved his character. He took on the institution of slavery in New Orleans and in the north he took on corporate railroad power, despite all the things he might lose including his business and his credibility. He decided to act and change these things. Then there was John Quinn, who is a founder of USA Today and bought the mill in 1970. How is Carolina different than other mill towns? It’s a village like many others and a little too far away from any major cities, about 45 minutes from Providence. It’s really small; you can drive through it in less than a minute. Throughout its history, Carolina was blessed by having people who could see that the world could be a better place. Most mill towns are built on the notion that there was enough water to create a business. Carolina was built on the same principle plus “let’s make this a really good place to live.”
How is Carolina different than other mill towns?
It’s a village like many others and a little too far away from any major cities, about 45 minutes from Providence. It’s really small; you can drive through it in less than a minute. Throughout its history, Carolina was blessed by having people who could see that the world could be a better place. Most mill towns are built on the notion that there was enough water to create a business. Carolina was built on the same principle plus “let’s make this a really good place to live.”
How was it a good place to live?
Carolina is designed so that you work in one spot and then you live in another section of town, away from the mill. In the 1840s, the Hazards created a school for the workers at a time when school wasn’t available. They moved a church to town. You could encounter cultural organizations like debating teams. In the 1880s, there were debates around these topics: “Should the female pronoun be included in the state constitution?” and “Should America participate in wars in other countries?”
Even though the film is made, you’re continuing to hear Carolina’s stories, right?
When most documentaries are made, they’re like sealed documents. I wanted to have a different model. I did this film with the premise that everybody has a story. I was able to pick up some of them, but certainly not all of them. I developed the film’s Web site so that residents of Carolina can add their own stories.
How did the town residents view you?
Summer people in a town like this are regarded as outsiders. Now I’m regarded as the summer lady who made a film about them. I’m a lot more popular now, but I’m not an insider.
-by Ilana Polyak
On one of her first days at Barnard, Hadden May Martinez ’14 stole away to The Diana Center, parked herself behind her laptop, and began the sometimes arduous process of organizing her class schedule. When her BlackBerry buzzed, Martinez glanced at the e-mail. The Vera Joseph Scholarship Program? She’d never heard of it. But when Martinez opened the message, she learned something that would alter the substance of her first year, and perhaps change the course of her life for many years to come.
Martinez—who’s devoted to her biology class even though it means rising in time for a 9 a.m. lecture three times a week— learned that she was to be one of the first 10 participants in the recently launched the Vera Joseph Scholarship Program. Named for Class of 1932 graduate and chemistry major Vera Joseph Peterson, MD, who passed away in January 2008 at the age of 98, the program will award a total of 75 scholarships during the next five years to financially needy students with a passion for math or science (such as chemistry, biology, physics, and astronomy) as well as a record of academic excellence.
Born to a poor black dressmaker and a Chinese immigrant in a tiny mountain village in Jamaica, Joseph faced much adversity in her early life: She was ridiculed because of her Chinese heritage and illegitimate status, and she witnessed much illness. At around age 9, she moved to Harlem. As one of the first African-American students to study at Barnard, Joseph attended at a time when the College maintained quotas for black students. Despite this, Joseph apparently delighted in her college years. “Barnard was the one place that meant the most to her,” says her daughter Carla Peterson, a professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park. Joseph raised three daughters with her husband, Dr. Jerome S. Peterson, whom she married in 1938.
The scholarship, open to first-years and juniors, will be granted in the future to students who undergo an application process. But for this year, participants were selected without having previously known of the program’s existence, and news of the scholarship arrived via e-mail as the best kind of back- to-school surprise. One such surprised junior, Dominique Keefe, is majoring in biology and plans to work for an environmental nonprofit group after graduation.
Funded by a grant of almost $600,000 from the National Science Foundation, the program eases the financial burden of students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, all of which require talent and persistence, as well as a substantial commitment of time. Unusual among scholarships, the Vera Joseph Scholarship Program not only replaces student loans, but also eliminates all requirements for work-study. That relief is not lost on Keefe, who says she plans to use the extra time to pursue unpaid research opportunities.
In addition to providing financial assistance, the Vera Joseph Scholarship Program aims to create a community of like-minded scholars, offering ready access to a team of five professors whose research ranges from investigating the early universe to cell signaling. “We plan to build a cohort among the students,” says Janna Levin, who is an associate professor of physics and astronomy and director of the program. Participants can communicate with one another on their own Wiki page, and will meet several times a year for workshops and lectures.
Scholarship recipients are already linked in a sense, not only because of their shared interests, but also because they are bound to reflect on the impediments and accomplishments of Vera Joseph, who graduated from Barnard Phi Beta Kappa and received a full scholarship to Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons. In addition to serving as
a physician and assistant to the director at the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Health Center, Joseph went on to become an assistant professor of medicine at the American University of Beirut, a member of the Governing Board of the International School of Geneva, and a consultant on public health and aging to the World Health Organization’s regional office for Europe. She was also active with the Medical Women’s International Association and served as its honorary secretary.
In 1964, after settling in Amherst, Massachusetts, Joseph assumed a position with Smith College Health Services, and eventually became director. Ten years later, she and her
husband were co-recipients of the Ira Hiscock Award for contributions in public health. In an essay, “Different Voices: The Experiences of Women of Color at Barnard,” published in 1997, Joseph writes as if she were addressing the recipients of the new scholarship in her name. She advises students: “Don’t let disappointments get you down. Hold on to the larger picture. Enjoy your youth and the excitement of being in college and New York City, but don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal.”
Levin, who co-wrote the grant for the program (along with staff from Barnard’s Institutional Support office), and is a novelist as well as a scientist, will serve as a compelling role model. Scientific research, she says, “provides the opportunity to explore big questions in a world that is absolutely, insanely fascinating.” Levin also acknowledges, however, that the path to a science career can be challenging and lengthy. “It’s an intensive journey,” she says. “It involves lots of labs, lots of problem sets. It involves practice in the way that language does and fluency only after a certain time. If there are obstacles, it’s hard to pursue. We can’t remove all of them, but we can remove this [financial] one, as well as give them back some time.”
-by Elicia Brown, photograph courtesy of Barnard College Archives
Dear Alumnae Sisters,
The fall term is well underway. Leadership Assembly will have occurred by the time you read this letter, and the schedule of events and activities for the College family is in full swing. Since this is my final year as AABC president, I find I am prone to reflection. I have been thinking about the ways in which we, Barnard people, are indeed a family, connected in many ways. In just the past few weeks I have had long “catch up” conversations by phone with several women who attended Barnard in the Seventies, as I did. I’ve exchanged e-mails with members from two different classes in the Fifties. I received a lovely handwritten letter from a member of the Class of 1948. I have added administrators and fellow alumnae to my professional network on a social networking site. I had a late lunch with a couple of faculty members. I received and sent jokes, newspaper articles, and job postings to an e-group. I have exchanged text messages with a young alumna. I had an ice cream cone date with a senior to discuss an internship. At committee meetings in the Vagelos Alumnae Center, I have had lots of coffee, hugs and kisses, and stimulating conversation. So many different and wonderful interactions that have enriched my life!
Human beings are gregarious creatures. The Barnard family offers us opportunities to cultivate so many different types of relationships. We can connect with members of our class through the magazine’s Class Notes or a visit to our class Web page. I’m sure your class correspondent would love to hear from you. Your class officers can use your help in planning reunions and mini-reunions and making Phonathon calls. For those of us who also want intergenerational connections, there are opportunities to mentor a Barnard student or connect with a more seasoned homebound alumna through a Project Continuum program. You could also plan to take a trip with the Barnard travel program. Alumnae committees and departments of the College plan events and activities for a remarkably diverse group of women that always end with lots of conversation. Did you know that you can audit a class? Imagine sitting in a class, learning things in new areas of study, like neuropsychology.
Take advantage of your membership in the Alumnae Association to revitalize your old connections and make new ones. Join the alumnae network. You can connect to your Facebook page directly from alum.barnard.edu. Carry a Barnard tote bag so your sisters will be able to identify you. Hire a Barnard babysitter. Join a committee or a regional club. Barnard was the cornerstone of one point in our lives. Because of that experience we have a shared history. Leveraging those wide-ranging and multi-level connections has been rewarding for me. If you have had the same experience, let me know. If you haven’t been connected in the past, now is the time. Barnard continues to be a place that provides a rigorous and challenging education that takes women seriously. Contact Alumnae Affairs at 212.854.2005, so the knowledgeable and helpful staff can help you make your connections!
As ever, Frances Sadler ’72
-photograph by Elena Seibert '78
Katherine Don established Beijing’s RedBox Studio in 2005; the studio’s name was inspired by the first design project she and creative director George Chang completed. “We wanted the name to be an umbrella for all of our projects related to promoting the arts in China,” says Don. The multifaceted RedBox Studio provides graphic design and art advisory services, and works with artists, private collectors, and institutions to facilitate acquisitions, exhibitions, art programs, and publications.
For more than 10 years, Don has promoted contemporary Chinese art in Beijing and New York. She sees her work as a bridge for cultural exchange enabling clients to understand and eventually acquire these works. RedBox Studio also gives private art tours for museum trustee groups, organizes free community art events, publishes artist monologues, and frequently fields questions from international news agencies about the Beijing art scene. Don’s goal is for RedBox Studio to be a resource for fostering art appreciation in the Beijing community and beyond.
Don credits Visual Arts Professor Joan Snitzer with guiding her into the field by supporting her double major in art history and East Asian studies, as well as pointing her toward important internships. Barnard also helped Don with the business aspect of directing her own gallery. She claims it was the experience gained from running the Barnard Bartending Agency that provided her with a platform for operating a business and interacting with a variety of clientele. Don explains, “The agency gave me the confidence to pursue an initial career in a seemingly difficult industry, in a very specialized part of the arts.”
After a visit to an Asian art fair, she recognized how a dynamic and interesting art market in China was just beginning to hit an international nerve. She found work at a New York gallery specializing in contemporary Asian art, and after several months, went from serving as an assistant to becoming the gallery’s director. In 2005, she left her position and moved to Beijing to be closer to the art community, and to begin what is now RedBox Studio with Chang.
Gallery directors also find themselves in the role of art advisor, and Don has made that a large part of her business. “As art advisors,” she explains, “we have the flexibility to work with artists, galleries, and collectors to source artwork and artists for our projects.” Some of the studio’s ongoing initiatives include the RedBox Review, an online resource for contemporary Chinese art, and the RedBox Art Guide series, the first bilingual pocket-sized guide to art districts in Beijing. The studio hosts
a variety of events, including a regular speaker series and art salons, and co- hosts various platforms for fostering art appreciation in the local community. “One of the really exciting aspects of RedBox is that we have the flexibility to engage with artists and the community outside the confines of the gallery walls,” says Don.
“One of the areas RedBox is particularly interested in is the development of works on paper—not drawings in the Western sense, but paintings in the Asian sense,” she says. Many artists trained in printmaking and Chinese painting (ink painting) have the confidence and market support to explore the medium. Even well recognized contemporary Chinese painters known for their work in oil on canvas were trained in printmaking in China’s top art academies. In the international art market, paintings on canvas sell for a much higher price than works on paper, but this may change in China, due to the fact that Chinese painting originated on paper. “After all, paper was invented in China,” notes Don. The commitment to paper led RedBox Studio to organize exhibitions this past year for Peng Wei and Xu Lei, Chinese artists who work in that medium, who incorporate China’s artistic and historical past in their work, but also engage with its contemporary culture.
About her work with RedBox, Don affirms, “To be able to effect change and to see the ways that my actions help, change, touch people through the arts is most gratifying about the job I have created for myself. To meet new people is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling aspects of being an entrepreneur in Beijing. Like China today, a place recognized for social and economic growth and opportunity, I enjoy how the arts act as a platform for people to gather from different cultures and exchange ideas and interests.”
Don admitted that through that process she has encountered challenges and made successes that any small-business entrepreneur would have. However, she is proud to have come so far having set up a reputable design studio and art advisory business and pioneering an infrastructure for a relatively young contemporary art market in China.
CLAUDIA ALTMAN-SIEGEL GOLDYNE
photograph by Aya Brackett
Stateside, Claudia Altman-Siegel Goldyne opened the Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco in January 2009, seeing potential in the city’s small but vibrant art scene. In addition to staging exhibitions and providing advisory services to various types of collectors and museums, she represents contemporary artists working in a variety of media. The gallery is named in honor of her parents, and recognizes her own achievements. As a child, Goldyne’s hyphenated surname was unusual and not a common practice at the time. As an adult, she grappled with the implications of changing her name. When she married, she chose Goldyne for herself, but named her gallery for her family. Goldyne grew up in a creative household (her mother is a writer; her father, an architect). “I was one of those kids who hung out in the art department,” she says. Goldyne always knew what she wanted to do, and believed that Barnard was the place for it: “I wanted to be involved in art on some level and knew the College’s art history department was famous.” She adds, “Barnard made me really feel like I could have my own business and do whatever I wanted. It never occurred to me that it would be something difficult to do as a woman.”
Writing, essays about art and artists as well as press releases, is a big part of Goldyne’s role, and she honed her research and writing skills at the College. It was Michele Maccarone ’95, who initially hired Goldyne at Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York. Goldyne began her career there as a security guard. Two years later, she was the gallery’s director, a position she held for 10 years until striking out on her own.
When Goldyne relocated to San Francisco three years ago, she hired an assistant and worked out of her living room—but she was thinking ahead: “Before I had a space I had artists working on their stuff,” she says. When she found a home for her gallery, she launched Altman Siegel with a quickly assembled group show. Although she opened at the height of the recession, which has hurt the art market, Goldyne astutely saw the possibilities. The art world at that time was “so quiet and slow, it was easy for me to establish a reputation quickly, and people were more open to doing business with a young gallery because there wasn’t a lot of competition or business happening.”
Speaking as a gallery owner, she notes, “I think a lot of people come into galleries and they don’t know what we do. Exhibition is only part of [it]. We are agents of art. We’re trying to sell it—to promote it for curators and critics. We’re doing that for every artist we work with.” In addition to a robust exhibition program, Goldyne advises those seeking to begin an art collection as well as develop an existing one, “I try to educate them about new ideas and new artists, which artist has a solid market, and whose work is likely to increase in value over time.”
Central to her effort is her relationship with the artists she represents—the commitment is long term, intense, and serious. The first step is following the career of an artist. She says, “I had been working in the art world for over 10 years and watched certain careers over time. I had a wish list of people I wanted to work with before I started Altman Siegel. If you are a good gallery, when you represent the artist you allow them to make art while you take care of the business aspects. The gallery handles the nuts-and-bolts of their careers.”
After studying and learning about an artist’s work, a director might ask him or her for a studio visit, then decide if the gallery will represent that artist. “The idea is to find people who have potential and promote them,” says Goldyne. She arranges shows in San Francisco, and concurrently might be organizing exhibits for the same artist in another city. To facilitate this, the gallery must be well connected to museum curators and art dealers around the world. A young gallery often finds younger artists who have a certain amount of experience and can be taken to the next level. A good director recognizes the milestones artists have to reach early in their careers.
Goldyne likes to find artists who make past connections, those who reference art history. “It’s not so much about the medium they are working with, but the conceptual ideas. There is a certain rigor in the idea I’m looking for,” what she describes as “...a work that looks good but adds something to academic dialogue, in that it expresses something aesthetically but with an idea that’s new—that it adds to art history in a new way.” Shannon Ebner and Trevor Paglen are two such artists. Ebner, a conceptual artist, sets up staged photographs of words set in landscapes. The viewer reads the word, interprets it, but then is forced to rethink its meaning because of the cues in the landscape surrounding it. Paglen researches and photographs classified military sites and American spy satellites, some of which he captures in blurry form from hundreds of miles away. Comments Goldyne, “The point of his practice is not to give away trade secrets, rather to document distance in all of its permutations: both the distance between his camera and the object he is shooting, and also the distance between what you see and what you know.”
There are many reasons why she loves her job, one of which is her relationship with the artists she represents: “You’re relating directly with the artist in a long- term way. It’s an intersection of places where you bring together artists, museums, and collectors. You get to work with artists very closely and see work develop over time. You see the work go from the studio to its final destination ... the museum wall or the collector’s wall; you get to see art on its full journey.”
See more artwork/images at alum.barnard. edu/magazine
-by Stephanie Shestakow '98
Your career takes you to enemy-occupied territory during wartime. You keep your eyes and ears open, gather information, use your wits, and send back to your “control” whatever you learn. Friends and colleagues may suddenly turn against you, you are constantly under suspicion, sometimes there is a price on your head.
A career in espionage? This was the path of two Barnard women. Virginia Hall, Class of 1927, spied for the Allies in Nazi- occupied France. At a time when female operatives were a novelty, she was aiding the French Resistance and sabotaging German troops. The Nazis called her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” Juliet Stuart Poyntz, Class of 1906, joined the Soviets in the war against capitalism. An early, vocal suffragist and feminist, and a founder of the Communist Party of America, Poyntz became a Soviet spy here in the United States before defecting and ultimately being silenced. Neither woman set out to join the shadowy world of spying, but both were on missions to help causes they believed in.
When Virginia Hall (later Virginia Hall Goillot) applied to Barnard in 1925, she already knew she wanted a career as an officer in the Foreign Service. Born into a wealthy Baltimore family in 1906, Hall traveled throughout Europe during her childhood. Trips to places like Belgium, France, Italy, and Switzerland helped her develop a gift for languages, including French, German, and Latin. French and math were favorite subjects. She started at Radcliffe before coming to Barnard, where she was an average student who did not seem to participate in a lot of aspects of campus life. She left in good standing without graduating in 1927. Despite knowing she needed a college education, Hall yearned to start her life off campus. She gave up the idea of a degree and persuaded her father to send her to Europe. “She was really interested in exciting things. Her family was exciting—her grandfather was a sea captain, her father was an entrepreneur,” says Judith L. Pearson, author of The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy.
By 1931, Hall was a code clerk with the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, who “wanted to rise through the ranks and become an ambassador,” says Pearson. She was working for the American Consulate in Turkey in 1932 when tragedy struck. On a hunting trip, she accidentally shot herself in the foot and lost her left leg at the knee. Skillfully adjusting to her wooden leg, Hall continued to seek career advancement, but a disabled woman at that time was not going to break the glass ceiling. In 1939 she headed to Paris, where she took on freelance writing assignments and even drove an ambulance. When the Germans moved in, Hall moved on—to London.
Once there, Hall was recruited as a spy. Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) group endorsed female operatives, who were presumably less likely than men to be interrogated. The SOE trained Hall to master weapons and codes. Her first assignment was in France. Working as a New York Post reporter, she sent to London coordinates of safe zones in which to parachute money, weapons, or other supplies for the resistance movement. She also found safe houses for escaped war prisoners and wounded troops.
Hall was good at her job and her aliases were well known in resistance circles: “Diane,” “Camille,” “Marcella,” “Aramis,” “Marie Morin.” The Nazis knew her simply as the “woman with a limp.” (Her leg had its own code name: “Cuthbert.”) When she discovered a double agent among her ranks, a French abbot working for the German intelligence organization Abwehr, she feared she was in danger. Soon wanted posters appeared bearing her distinct likeness. The message: She was “the most dangerous of all Allied spies and we must find and destroy her.” Just before the German occupation of southern France in 1942, Hall managed to escape the country on foot across the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain—a feat for anyone without a wooden leg.
The SOE was impressed, and in 1943, Hall was awarded the prestigious Order of the British Empire Medal by King George VI. Meanwhile, the U.S. had entered the war. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS, predecessor to the CIA) recruited Hall and sent her back to France in 1944. This time she was disguised as a French goat herder, in oversized peasant clothes filled with padding. She carefully slowed and shifted her gait, so the limp was not noticeable. Time on a farm as a child made her comfortable with the goats, and the 38-year-old American became an old French peasant woman, all the while helping to organize guerilla groups that sabotaged bridges, supplies, and weapons, and to report Nazi troop movements back to the Allies via her suitcase radio.
In 1945, Hall was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Although it was intended that President Truman would present the second highest military honor for heroism to the only female civilian recipient in World War II, Hall worried that too much publicity would compromise her identity and future covert operations. Instead, OSS founder Major General WilliamJ. Donovan presented the honor with little fanfare. After the war, Hall returned to the United States and married fellow OSS member Paul Goillot in 1950. The two settled in her home state of Maryland, and while she continued with the CIA, her international escapades were over. She remained in a comfortable job analyzing French paramilitary affairs for 20 years before retiring.
If Hall was an adventurer who helped alter the events of history, Juliet Stuart Poyntz (born “Points”) was bent on changing the world. Born in Omaha in 1886, she came to Barnard in 1903. She was 16 and her family was living in Jersey City, but she took full advantage of college life. Class treasurer during her first year, then sophomore class president, she became secretary of the Barnard Union and, during senior year, president of the Undergraduate Association and chair of the Student Council. Poyntz edited the yearbook, Mortarboard, and was a member of various clubs, including the Kappa Kappa Gamma women’s fraternity, the Christian Association, and the sophomore dance committee. During senior year she performed in a play, participated in the school’s third annual Greek Games (taking first place in wrestling), argued in the interclass debate (her team won), and made Phi Beta Kappa. Valedictorian of her class, her yearbook named her “Most Popular in College,” and next to her photograph a quotation reads: “At her command the palace learned to rise.”
Poyntz also founded Barnard’s first chapter of the Collegiate Equal Suffrage League of New York State in 1907. “When the movement began,” she later recalled,
“the intrepid few who composed it were distinctly made to feel by the rest of the college that they were regarded as ‘queer,’ as lacking in balance and altogether abnormal.” Said Poyntz in her valedictory speech: “Mere facts can never develop power and personality. But in our rebellion against mere information, we have tried not to go to the other extreme, exemplified by the college girl whose motto was, ‘never let your lessons interfere with your college life.’” In 1914, Poyntz would turn the then thriving suffrage club into a feminist club, arguing for the merits of women’s studies to provide more education about “the general economic and social position of women and the history of the woman movement.”
After graduating from Barnard, Poyntz claims she “broke away from the respectable middle classes” to find her “proper level” working as a traveling special agent for the U.S. immigration commission. But she was soon back at school. During the years from 1909 and 1913 she held teaching assistant positions at Barnard as she studied variously at Columbia, the London School of Economics, and Oxford University. She also changed “Points” to “Poyntz,” and married a man named Dr. Friedrich Franz Ludwig Glaser, a German diplomat and a Communist.
Her interests in equality and the labor movement in America fueled her Communist sympathies. The notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred in 1911, causing the deaths of 146 garment workers (many jumping 80 feet to escape the burning factory floor), and Poyntz became a champion of labor causes. She did investigations for the American
Association for Labor Legislation, and became the education director for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union Local No. 25, the union that represented some of the Triangle Factory workers. Poyntz helped found the Communist Party of America in 1919, and then became head of the Labor Research Department of the Rand School of Social Science, a school teaching communist
and socialist ideals. In addition, she gave speeches and wrote articles for The Nation.
Although never elected, Poyntz ran for office on the Communist ticket four times. (In a 1928 bid for attorney general of New York, she had more than 10,000 polling votes.)
Having traveled to Russia several times, and even once to China, it was in 1934 that Poyntz apparently began working for the Soviet OGPU (a KGB predecessor), sending back whatever specific information she could about the United States. But on a
1936 trip to Moscow, she witnessed Stalin’s “great purge” of dissenters, which ultimately
resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10 million people, including individuals she knew and cared about. Her own loyalty to the party came into question, and by the time she returned to America that loyalty was indeed gone. She told friends she wanted nothing more to do with Communism and revealed that she feared for her own safety.
Whittaker Chambers, the TIME magazine editor who testified in 1948 about his years as a Communist, broke with the party around the same time. “For a year I lived in hiding, sleeping by day and watching through the night with gun or revolver within easy reach. That was what underground communism could do to one man in the peaceful United States in the year 1938.” Part of his fear was due to the disappearance of his friend, Poyntz, who in June of 1937 left her room in the American Women’s Association Clubhouse on West 57th Street and never returned, although it took authorities and the media six months to take notice of her disappearance. Eventually, Poyntz’s lawyer came forth with some information: She had been missing for months but he hoped she might turn up.
The New York Times continued to follow the story in the coming months. Carlo Tresca, a fellow Communist Party member, revealed he knew Poyntz was with Sancho Epstein, an editor who was her old friend and perhaps lover. Epstein was an “agent
provocateur” working with Soviet secret police, Tresca said, who most certainly took her body to Moscow or disposed of it along the way (Tresca himself was murdered
in 1943). Poyntz’s body was never found, despite rumors of it being buried in Dutchess County.
The Poyntz case remains unsolved, and many of her colleagues went on to renounce Communism and have productive lives and careers. As for Virginia Hall, she passed away in 1982, not a famous war hero, but as an elderly woman who loved to tell stories of her days as a spy. But Hall may still become famous: Her story is currently being developed for a movie.
-by Melissa Phipps
Maria Rivera Maulucci ’88
Assistant Professor of Education, Barnard College
Maria Rivera Maulucci studied biology and worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant, helping non-majors get through their biology requirements. “I had no training in education theory ... but I began to realize how rewarding teaching could be.” After graduation, Maulucci began teaching at De La Salle Academy, a private middle school in Manhattan that prepares underprivileged kids to enter top parochial and prep schools. “I thought I would only stay for two years, but
I wound up staying for five,” she says. “I realized how vital it was to make the classroom a fun, engaging place for students.
We took field trips and did special projects, and I got to know each one of my students individually—I discovered the joys of teaching.” Maulucci earned a master’s in forestry from Yale and a PhD in science education at Teacher’s College. “I learned during my post-graduate work that there is an art and a science to teaching,” says Maulucci, who joined Barnard’s education faculty in 2004. “It’s important to be passionate. But it’s equally important to understand the craft of teaching, both in terms of pedagogical strategies and of the political and social context in which teachers find themselves.”
Amy Mascunana ’08
Esl Teacher & School Data Specialist, P.S. 385: The Performance School, The Bronx
During Amy Mascunana’s senior year at Barnard, she had a conversation with her mother about her 6-year-old brother’s schooling. Mascunana, whose Puerto Rican parents raised the family in a bilingual Bronx household, says, “We were worried about the quality of his education. I felt for the first time how important education is, and I wanted to do something to help.” In 2008, Mascunana graduated with degrees in urban studies and political science, and applied to Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits recent graduates to teach in low-income areas in the United States. She was assigned to P.S.
385, a Bronx elementary school where she continues to teach. The job is physically and emotionally demanding. “As a teacher, you stand up all day and can’t go to the bathroom when you want,” she says. “You go home late, and take all your feelings and concerns about the kids with you.” Mascunana is studying for a master’s degree in education on evenings and weekends. It’s a tough lifestyle, but she loves it. “You can’t imagine the feeling of seeing a student who has been silent for five months say his first sentence in English,” she says proudly. “You think, ‘I taught him those words.’”
Joanna Yip ’04
College Advisor and English Teacher, International High School, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Joanna Yip teaches 12th grade English at International, which enrolls students who have been in the U.S. for two years or less. “I want to help educate students who don’t have the same privileges as others,” she says. As a participant in Barnard’s education program and 2004 winner of the College’s Sacks Prize (awarded to an outstanding student teacher of adolescents), Yip noticed a flyer for a teaching internship with Summerbridge (now the Breakthrough Collaborative), a nonprofit that helps start low-income middle school students on the path to college and prepares older students for education careers. For two summers, through the program, Yip
taught humanities to seventh and eighth graders in New York. In her senior year, the English major helped write a grant to start the School for Democracy and Leadership, a public school in Brooklyn that focuses on teaching sixth through 12th grade students about their roles as citizens and activists. After her second year teaching ninth grade English at the school, Yip was certain teaching was the career for her. “The classroom is where students can feel empowered or disempowered,” says Yip, who is pursuing a doctorate in urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center. “It’s vital that in those formative years they find their voices.”
Gillian Williams ’90
President, The Rensselaerville Institute
Gillian Williams spent two years teaching ESL at an overcrowded, underfunded public school in Washington Heights as one of the 500 college graduates who participated in Teach for America’s pilot year. “There was a lot of concern from the establishment about sending untrained recent graduates into the classroom,” says Williams. The assistant principal who hired Williams told her that whatever gaps there might be in her Spanish would be made up by her humor and optimism. Barnard Professor Bob Crain’s “Introduction to Sociology” inspired her to switch her major from English, and she did a series of projects
under his guidance. For one, she worked with the Association to Benefit Children, teaching preschool to homeless children. She loved it: “I got back more than I gave.” Today Williams serves as president of the nonprofit Rensselaerville Institute, which recently launched a School Turnaround initiative to help administrators rapidly improve academic achievement at underperforming schools. “There’s no secret to success,” she says of the group’s ambitious goals. “You need people who will roll up their sleeves and tackle each day with the energy and dedication required to accomplish the task at hand.”
Lillian Mongeau ’04
Reporter, Degree Candidate, University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism
“Barnard taught me how to think critically and look at the world from multiple points of view,” says Lillian Mongeau. A voracious reader, Mongeau studied English and creative writing. As a writing fellow at Barnard, she assisted her peers and went on to teach writing at low-income New York City high schools. Her experiences inspired her to apply
to Teach for America, which placed her in a middle school in Roma, Texas, on the Mexican border. Most students were Mexican-Americans who spoke Spanish at home and English in school. “It was hard to see 12-year-olds who could
barely put a sentence together [in English],” says Mongeau. Today, Mongeau uses the lessons she learned in Texas as she pursues a journalism degree from the UC Berkeley. She also reports on the North Oakland, Calif., education system for publications including the Oregonian and OaklandNorth.net. “During my two years with TFA, I realized the importance of setting goals and working toward them,” says Mongeau. “You’ve just got to keep moving forward no matter how difficult it gets. It sounds simple, but I believe if I live my life that way, I’ll have no regrets.”
Anna Posner ’06
English Teacher, Bronx School of Law and Finance
Anna Posner intended to study theatre, but the costume designer for a student-run production mentioned Barnard’s education program. “She told me if I wanted to pursue theatre, I should get a teaching degree so I could support myself,” Posner recalls. The backup plan turned into a passion—and a career. By her sophomore year, Posner joined the education program and participated in the Breakthrough Initiative, teaching English to seventh graders on Long Island. “I love teaching for the same reasons I love acting,” she says. “Teaching is about performance, community, and having lots of energy—being on all the time.”
As a senior and a winner of the Sacks Prize in 2006, Posner student-taught at the Bronx School of Law and Finance, a public high school where she was later hired. “The conversations I have with these kids happen at such a high level,” she says, noting that one of her classes recently discussed notions of fate and free will in Sophocles’ Oedipus applying some of the ideas to their own lives. “I feel lucky to be surrounded by so many intelligent, articulate people every day.” In August 2010, Posner received her master’s in English literature from Hunter College, hoping to spend the rest of her career in the classroom.
-by Harper Willis, photographs by Dorothy Hong, Mark Mahaney, and Aya Brackett
When Jessica Simpson shows up at Macy’s to promote her latest wares, chances are Bernice Clark Bonnett ’85, senior vice president of marketing, helped make that appearance happen. Of course, there’s more to retail than glamorous celebrities. Clark talked with Barnard about being an executive at one of the country’s most popular, and one of the world’s most famous, department stores, and how she lures shoppers into this retail behemoth, even in a tough economy.
The job market in retail may be tight, as it is in many other industries today, but whether the stock market is up or down, Clark says, many young women fresh out of college are still starting successful retail careers. In fact, the industry needs their input to make sense of the latest trends playing out on fashion blogs and Web sites.
“One of the cool things about retail is that it’s a constantly evolving business,” Clark says. “How you reach people and draw them into the stores is constantly changing.”
Clark never envisioned herself as a top marketing executive when she graduated from Barnard. A double-major in sociology and piano performance, she did have an interest in business and decided to find a job in an advertising agency where she could learn about many different fields at the same time. She wanted to keep her future options wide open. “I didn’t want to get locked into any industry right away,” Clark says. She worked for a wide range of clients during her 15-year career at top-tier agencies such as Leo Burnett in Chicago, and Young & Rubicam and Saatchi & Saatchi in Manhattan. Her accounts included Colgate-Palmolive (International), DuPont, AT&T, and Kellogg’s cereals. “I still know way more about cereal than I should talk about at a cocktail party,” Clark admits with a laugh.
She doesn’t like playing favorites, but she always had a particular fondness for her retail clients, such as Sears and KitchenAid. Clark enjoyed walking into stores to see what people were buying and tried to figure out why.
She could see the fruits of her efforts firsthand, and didn’t have to wait for sales numbers to figure out whether a marketing strategy was working.
When she moved to Minneapolis in 2003, she started looking specifically for a job in retail and found one at Marshall Field & Co., where she served as a vice president of marketing. Four months later, her job changed when her boss left the company. Clark took on a bigger leadership role, reporting directly to the company’s president. She had to learn very quickly how to work with the retailer’s many different divisions, as well as with outside merchants and vendors.
“The marketing department of a retailer is like its own mini ad agency,” Clark explains. “The merchandising and marketing groups work very closely with the merchants, and then you also have a creative department and a production department.”
Clark learned how to manage multiple teams of people. She had been overseeing one team of 45; now four teams with about 150 people answered to her. The circumstances were difficult since the company was undergoing a lot of changes. Employees felt uneasy and were nervous about their jobs, she explains. “Would I want to go through it again?” she asks, then says, “No, but it was a very big experience for me, a growing experience for me.”
Clark didn’t have to wait long for big changes again at Marshall Field’s. Macy’s (then as Federated Department Stores) officially acquired Marshall Field’s, whose Chicago flagship store had a history in the Windy City stretching back more than a century. In 2006, all the Marshall Field’s stores were renamed Macy’s. Clark began developing and carrying out marketing strategies for Macy’s north division. Then the 2008 recession hit, and consumer spending came to a screeching halt. At the same time, Macy’s began consolidating some of its operations in New York City; Clark’s job title changed several times, and ultimately she was transferred to Manhattan. In her current position she leads Macy’s nationwide merchandise marketing efforts, planning seasonal promotion campaigns, and weekly promotional events for the Internet, television, radio, magazines, and newspapers.
Like all department stores, Macy’s has definitely felt the pains of the recent recession. But no matter what the economic climate, Clark says, people will always need new clothes and appliances. They just won’t shop for them as often. That means department stores like Macy’s have to compete harder than ever for their share of that business. “People are not going to stop shopping,” Clark avers. “It’s how often they shop and what they buy that are all variable.”
In any economy, it’s a mixture of products and promotions that draws people into stores. And it’s Clark’s job to figure out the right mix for each targeted shopper. Americans love celebrities, and an appearance by Jennifer Lopez or Martha Stewart is a surefire way to increase foot traffic. But celebrities are just one piece of the retail giant’s marketing strategy. Clark says creating lasting, long-term relationships with shoppers is also key, and holiday events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, now part of American culture, are critical to that effort.
Without a doubt, the Internet is changing Americans’ shopping habits, Clark says, and it has changed the way her marketing team works, too. She now has young staffers who spend their days checking blogs, updating Facebook statuses, and tweeting about various store promotions on Twitter. But the Internet hasn’t stopped people from wanting to shop in actual bricks-and-mortar stores, where they can touch and see what they may have already looked at online. “People love the physical experience of shopping,” Clark asserts. “And the best stores create a sense of discovery.... That little discovery is an emotional win for people that’s hard to quantify.”
Creating that sense of discovery takes vision and a lot of planning. Clark is always thinking months or even a year ahead, figuring out which product lines Macy’s should promote and lining up events at various stores across the country. On the same day, she may work on a Christmas promotion and meet with designers about a spring or summer clothing line. “The calendar is emblazoned on my brain,” Clark says.
“I’m always thinking a few months or even a year ahead.”
And every day, she and her staff carefully track which promotions worked and which ones didn’t. Clark admits that building a 50-person team based in New York to manage Macy’s national marketing campaigns hasn’t always been easy. Some of her new employees had their lives turned upside down after being relocated to New York City. She’s empathetic and, having moved between the Midwest and East Coast, knows personally how stressful moving can be, whether it’s finding a local grocery store or a new doctor.
Clark’s goal is to keep everyone focused on the big picture and what they’re all trying to accomplish every day as a team.
“You have to cheerlead a little bit, and have a little fun with it, so people don’t get caught up in what’s hard about it.” Clark declares, “You have to get past the frustrations that come with change.”
Optimistic about job prospects in retail, she says there are opportunities available for the persistent and dedicated, and internships are a great place to start. Macy’s, for example, has an eight- to 10-weeks summer internship program; the company also offers 12- week executive-development programs in various divisions. The programs are highly competitive; the work may be at times tedious. “I would never sugarcoat this for anyone,” Clark confesses. “Any time you start out in a career, there are some things you love doing, and some things you don’t. But anything you’re asked to do has some importance even if it seems small. It’s relevant in some way.”
The retail industry is changing every day, and the input of young people is critical to department stores such as Macy’s. Fresh out of college, they know firsthand the latest consumer trends so crucial to marketers as they try to reach potential customers via their computers, mobile phones, and iPads.
“This is an idea business,” Clark explains. “And ideas are not driven by age or experience. If you have insight, you have [the] ability to contribute.”
Lida Orzeck ’68
CEO, Hanky Panky
Gale Epstein just wanted to give Lida Orzeck a birthday present, an underwear set she sewed from hand-embroidered handkerchiefs. But Orzeck had bigger plans as she admired Epstein’s handwork back in 1977. “A light bulb went off,” affirms Orzeck.
People would buy them, she decided then and there, and they could make them. It seemed improbable. Epstein was working for a sweater company, while Orzeck was working as a social psychologist for the City of New York. But Epstein sewed some samples, and Orzeck took them from store to store, “not knowing what I was doing,” she admits. Stores liked what they saw, and she didn’t have any trouble selling the handmade panties. “We were in business just like that,” says Orzeck. “Stores were eager to discover new brands. That was the late ’70s; it was a very exciting time.”
Today, Hanky Panky is a multi-million dollar company; its thongs and T-shirts are essentials for fashion- and comfort- conscious women. Orzeck is CEO, and Epstein is president and creative director. And they are still good friends. “That doesn’t happen [too] often,” she notes.
Hanky Panky hasn’t done much traditional advertising. People have learned about the brand through friends or store clerks. “Hanky Panky has had the good fortune of growing through buzz,” Orzeck says. The company had generated so much buzz among its well- heeled celebrity clients that The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about it. Without hesitating, she can recall the date her life changed forever: June 18, 2004.
It was everything they had every hoped for, but their small company wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of demand for their lingerie. The pair had been handling almost all aspects of the business, and now they had to work 24/7 just to keep up with orders. “Our dream turned into a nightmare temporarily,” reveals Orzeck. “We were bombarded with requests for goods, and we ran out of our entire inventory in two months. Literally. It definitely took a few years off my life.”
Six years later, Hanky Panky has a staff of about 150 employees, and Orzeck has learned how to delegate, if for no other reason than to keep her sanity. Now she’s truly a chief executive with a staff that can pretty much run the company. “I have my life back,” she says. She hasn’t stopped taking on challenges though. The company recently launched its own Web site, something they had hesitated to do for several years. Stores were anxious about brands selling directly to customers a few years ago. They saw it as competition, not an opportunity for partnerships. All that’s changed now, and stores realize the Internet isn’t a threat.
“It took a while for that understanding to develop,” Orzeck says.
Hanky Panky may be late to the Internet, but the company is having fun with its new venture. Customers even can log on and personalize their own pair of undies. Questionable phrases are run by Orzeck, and so far, only three inquiries have been made. “All of them passed muster,” she notes.
Needless to say, Orzeck is always looking for young talent. Hanky Panky hires between six to 10 interns in the fall and summer; several interns have even been hired after their graduation. The company is still relatively small, plus since the products are made in the New York metro area, employees get a good sense of what goes on with all aspects of the company. “When someone is working here they get a pretty good understanding of how the business runs,” Orzeck says, and she offers sound advice for young people interested in a career in fashion. If you want to work for a company, do your homework. Really learn about it, and let the hiring manager know it in a well- written cover letter. “And there better not be typos,” Orzeck says. “I won’t consider any applicant with a bad cover letter.”
Morgan Seidler ’03
Director of Merchandising, Planning & Analysis, Phillips-Van Heusen Sportswear
Most young retail executives start their careers by interning or graduating from in- store training programs. Others work their way up the administrative ranks. Morgan Seidler began her career in fashion retail a little differently. After graduation, she went to Brooklyn Law School. In the summer of 2006, she was a law student working as a summer associate at the Warnaco Group, which owns and licenses brands like Calvin Klein. That’s when she realized she wanted to work in fashion, not in a law office. “I wanted to work more with the actual product than the legal issues,” Seidler says.
“I told myself that if I can find a job at the end of the summer, I’m not going back to law school.”
She didn’t have any family or professional connections in retail, but Seidler didn’t go back to law school. She landed a job that fall at Tommy Hilfiger, working in an entry-level position in the store-planning department. A year later, Phillips-Van Heusen hired her as an analyst, promoting her to senior analyst a few months later. Now she’s director of merchandising, planning, and analysis. She’s working on both the financial and merchandising side of the business, and playing a key role in getting the clothing maker’s wares into stores. “So many aspects start and end with us,” Seidler says. “We’re the first division to do the research and development work. We do the postmortem. We really hit on every aspect of the process.”
On the financial side, she handles budget planning, analyzes sales figures, and comes up with revenue projections. She also works with merchandising to design the clothes, and then figures out the best stores to try sell them in. Should a shirt be short- or long-sleeved? Should it be sold in a big chain or a regional department store or a small boutique? How much should they stock? Those are the questions she grapples with daily. She’s always thinking about the future, and the next line.
It’s no surprise the recession made her job a lot harder. The spring 2008 was rough in terms of sales, but it wasn’t just because people were broke and out of work; they didn’t like what stores were selling either. “In retail, if you can offer exceptional products, people are going to buy them,” Seidler says. “When we have done poorly it’s because [shoppers] just didn’t like what we were making.”
Seidler admits she’s taken an unconventional career path in fashion retail. “And certainly not one I would recommend,” she says. She’s trying to help future Barnard graduates find their way more easily. By creating a social and professional network for fellow alumnae who work in retail. Barnard’s Web site lists such alumnae, but it doesn’t provide many details, she explains. “Retail can mean a lot of different things,” Seidler says. “I think it would be nice to organize a little bit.”
So far, she’s spoken on a couple of panels, and she’s taught a retail math class. She’s anxious to do more. For now, though, her advice to young Barnard graduates anxious to become employed in the world of fashion is simple: “Keep your head up and be resourceful.” Sometimes all it takes to kick start a retail career is a friendly smile and a willingness to work, no matter how menial the task. “As a receptionist, you work hard and smile and people are grateful,” Seidler asserts. “I’ve seen several of our receptionists get promoted very quickly.”
Even in a tough economy, jobs can be found. “I would be mindful of the companies that are most likely to hire, and keep at it,” she says. “Eventually you’ll get a break.”
Laura Kenkel ’09
Executive Training Program, Macy’s
Laura Kenkel wanted to do something in fashion even before she graduated from Barnard. But she had a hard time meeting potential employers. “Why would they want to hire someone who is a psychology major?” she asks.
For a while, she thought about becoming a fashion journalist. Then during her junior year, she won a scholarship from the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund. The program helps place students in summer internship programs at fashion companies. Kenkel landed at Macy’s Merchandising Group, in the product development department. She forgot about becoming a journalist. “I liked that I could affect the product,” she says. “I wasn’t just writing about it. I got to have a hand in making it, too.”
Kenkel is now a product assistant and a trainee in Macy’s highly competitive, 18-month executive development program. Trainees are full-time employees, but they also give a full presentation about their goals and objectives while they’re in the program. Typically, trainees don’t get to choose where they work. But her former bosses in product development liked her work as an intern so much, they requested that she work with them again. Now she’s working on Macy’s in-store clothing brands for its trendiest department—juniors. “That’s why it’s fun,” enthuses Kenkel. “Juniors are the easiest fashions to translate from the runways. You can just play more.”
Basically, she functions as a liaison between designers and buyers at Macy’s. It’s not exactly as glamorous as it might sound. She spends her days answering e-mails and making sure orders arrive on time. She’s busy getting samples to advertisers, or dealing with vendors and buyers to make sure everyone is happy. There are plenty of chances to be creative, too. “I really like that I get to do a variety of things,” says Kenkel. “I’m not always just sitting at my computer.”
Some days, she works with designers to help figure out what clothes young girls will like. Would a skirt be cuter with a shorter hem or does a shirt need an updated look with new buttons? Other days, she’s pulling together outfits for photo shoots in magazines like Teen Vogue or Seventeen. “I feel close to the product,” Kenkel affirms. “I’m not too far away from being the customer. I feel like I can give valuable feedback.”
One of the best ways to find out what young women are wearing is to scour the Internet. Not because young girls are shopping more online. Plenty of customers still want to try clothes on in stores, just for the adventure of finding that perfect item. But the Internet is changing the way customers and retailers communicate. Sites like Polyvore.com let people mix and match clothes from different stores and then share their ideas. Retailers can see what people are sharing, and whether or not their clothes are popular.
Social media sites like Facebook are good for both research and advertising. Meanwhile, more young women are creating their own Web sites and fashion blogs, too. Product developers like Kenkel read them religiously to see what looks trendsetters are creating. In fact, she feels so close to her customers, her biggest challenge may be separating her own likes and dislikes from theirs. Sometimes items that she never imagined would sell well fly off the store shelves.
“You have to get over your own biases, and do what’s best for the business,” Kenkel insists. “I may not like it, but will it work? That can be tricky.”
-by Amy Miller, photographs by Dorothy Hong
Thank you for another fascinating issue of Barnard Magazine.
One request on formatting: In Memoriam (p. 82) is impossible to read. The names are given the same weight and margins as the dates of death; this made my eyes swim trying to parse them out.
The names of living alumna in Class Notes are bold. The same courtesy should be accorded to the dead.
Indenting the dates would also help increase legibility. Thank you!
—Mary Most ’75
New York, NY
Editors Note: Please note that the In Memoriam names are now in bold type.
I am the mother of an upcoming senior at Barnard. I am writing to tell you of a very special experience she has had during her years at Barnard.
My daughter, Allyza is white, Jewish, and from Westchester County. For her first year she was placed in a triple [with a group of women from a] menagerie of backgrounds and cultures and religions [that] added tremendously to their friendship. They all decided to room together in a suite the next year and the next year and here we are—at their senior year and (with a few minor changes) the group is essentially still living together in the Barnard housing. When you see them all together smiling—it is quite a picture . . . a mini United Nations. I just thought that they epitomize the experience of diversity on campus and all of the positive images of a Barnard woman.
Thank you for your wonderful magazine. (I try to read it from cover to cover.)
—Ryna Lustig PA11
We come from across the country and around the world, from coast to coast and from one hemisphere to the next. We have diverse ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds, different academic fields, and divergent interests, yet living together over the past four years has been integral in our Barnard experiences. As it turns out, unexpected room placement can lead to deep connections. Differences that could have led to cultural clashes have rather enriched our friendship (often in a humorous way) and have broadened our horizons.
—Allyza Lustig ’11