Summer 2013

Summer 2013

Several weeks ago, an article in The New York Times caught my attention. It was ostensibly a real-estate piece; an only-in-hipster-Brooklyn story of a young man who, having grabbed some measure of success with a hit Internet TV show, was looking to move from an absurdly small studio apartment to one that at least had space for his bicycle.

What caught my eye, though, and has been disconcerting to me since the mid-1990s, is the assumption built into this young man’s résumé—that digital content in the 21st century, like his online show, comes for free. Because he, like so many Barnard graduates and bright young graduates across the city and the world, had thrown his talents and energy into a venture that essentially had no prospect of ever turning a profit. He was posting his show, for all to enjoy, with no expectation of any kind of financial return. Just as an entire generation of his peers is sharing videos on YouTube, expressing political opinions on Twitter, and displaying photos on Instagram.
This unleashing of creative energy is extraordinary, akin perhaps to the mechanical tinkering that stoked the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, with one major difference. The innovators of the Industrial Age strove to sell their products. The creative geniuses of the Digital Age simply give it away.

Of course, vast fortunes are being made by some members of this movement. David Karp, founder of Tumblr, sold his firm to Yahoo!, for $1.1 billion. Facebook raised $16 billion in a 2012 IPO. Silicon Valley is generating millionaires and billionaires like so many tater tots. But the underlying philosophy of the Digital Age, forged in the earliest days of shareware and Wikipedia, is that information should be, must be, free. All of which is fabulous until you’re 27 and smart and desperate to move up from your 6- by 8-foot closet in Bushwick.

The underlying problem here is that the very folks who are scrambling to find a creative outlet that might pay the bills are the same ones who, as a generation, have no experience actually paying for content. Instead it is a generation raised on digital downloads and seamlessly shared musical files; on Web TV, and Hulu, and newsfeeds displayed in the palms of their hands. It is not their fault of course. Because it was us, their parents and teachers and policymakers, who neglected to create rules or property rights for the evolving Internet. It was us who, in the race to embrace and develop digital content, rejected any governmental intrusion into this new space, disdaining even the most basic regulatory structures—things like trademarks and copyrights—that prevail in the ancient world of analog.

The result is an energized but deeply asymmetrical economy. Some young people (and even a handful of older ones) are building firms, and raising funds, and generating legendary amounts of wealth. Some work for the emerging titans of the digital sphere: Google, Facebook, and the like. But many are also hovering around the creative fringes of this space, writing blogs and curating articles and producing online videos, very little of which are ever likely to generate income.

For individuals, the free flow of information and creative content is a godsend, putting worlds of data and music and personal connections literally at our fingertips. For society, however, free content actually comes at a cost. This cost may be worth paying. But for the moment at least it is also driving a seismic shift in employment patterns, redefining what a new generation of workers gets paid to do, and what they do for free.

Barnard’s Class of 2013 graduated in true New York style on May 19, with Commencement taking place at Radio City Music Hall. In her remarks, President Spar gave a nod to the venue’s most famed act, acknowledging (and resisting) the impulse to “indulge in just the briefest, the smallest, hint of a high kick.”

Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, delivered the keynote address, urging the graduates to “step out of the shadows” and make their voices heard. Gbowee also received the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the College’s highest honor, together with three other pathmakers in their fields: Jimmie Briggs, journalist, human rights advocate, and founder of the Man Up Campaign; architect Elizabeth Diller, founding principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose projects include the High Line and the redesign of Lincoln Center; and Lena Dunham, award-winning creator and star of the acclaimed HBO series GIRLS.

The Class of 2013 heard from several classmates. Senior Class President Linda Zhang recalled the shared experience of arriving at Barnard as foreigners who “rapidly formed our own little families.” Student Government Association President Jung Hee Hyun invoked political scientist Kim Nan-Do’s metaphor, “If birth is metaphorically at midnight, by the time we are 20 years old, it is now just 6 a.m. …We all have so many hours to make our day fulfilling.” In her Academic Reflections, Natalia Quintero compared her education to the mathematical expression of an inflection point: “In the moments where my intellectual path could have plateaued, Barnard always exalted it.”

The Senior Fund co-chairs, Lauren Hancock and Jennie Ostendorf, announced that almost 70 percent of the class had contributed to the senior class gift, raising $27,000 toward an initiative to reduce the College’s impact on the environment. They noted that an anonymous donor had given $5,000 in honor of her 50th reunion, and that the class had received generous donations from the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, President of the Alumnae Association Mary Ann Lo Frumento ’77, Dean of the College Avis Hinkson ’84, and President Spar. Said Ostendorf: “...[T]hrough our gift, we have also inspired a spirit of giving, setting a new precedent for the College community. We hope to carry on this spirit of giving as Barnard graduates.”
 

—By Alyssa Vine
—Photographs by Dorothy Hong and Asiya Khaki '09

You might know the work of Elena Seibert, but not realize it. She recently photographed writer Jhumpa Lahiri ’89 and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for the jackets of their latest books; she shot the portrait of Nora Ephron pulling a turtleneck over her face for her 2006 book of essays I Feel Bad About my Neck, and the image of neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks in headphones for the cover of his 2007 book Musicophilia.

The Ephron and Sacks photos are so recognizable, they could be said to verge on iconic. Seibert has been photographing authors and celebrities of every stripe for more than 20 years, and has developed a reputation for her especially gentle touch with high-profile subjects who are camera-shy. (Seibert also shot this issue’s cover portrait of Dorothy Urman Denburg ’70.)

One of Seibert’s regular clients is publisher Alfred A. Knopf, whose vice president and director of marketing, Nicholas Latimer, calls Seibert his secret weapon. “Lots of people take beautiful photos, but much of what I see out there is sort of the same,” Latimer says. “You can never say that of her photos. It’s always interesting, always different.” Latimer’s favorite example of why he loves working with Seibert involves the time he sent her to shoot Ephron for her 2006 book. Latimer wanted Ephron shot in black and white, wearing a turtleneck to cover up the aforementioned neck. But Ephron was begging Latimer to skip the photo altogether and just use an illustration of her. “Nora was what I would call an unwilling participant. I promised her it would be quick and painless,” Latimer says. “Still Nora said, ‘I’ll give her 20 minutes, tops!’”

Ephron and Seibert met, spent two hours having a great time, and Seibert came away with a set of gorgeous portraits that Ephron loved. Latimer recalls, “She didn’t like just one, she liked about 30. By then they were best buds. That’s just one of many reasons why Elena is my number-one go-to person.” Nora Ephron thought so much of Seibert that when her sister, the writer Delia Ephron ’66, needed a photo five years later for the publication of her new book, Nora sent her straight to Seibert. “Nora said, ‘Oh, you have to use Elena,’” Delia Ephron recalls. “And it’s true. If you don’t like to be photographed, she’s really perfect, because you just feel happy all the time you’re with her. She really becomes like a girlfriend. She’s very patient, helpful, generous, and so easy to be with. And then when you look at the photos, it’s like looking at yourself—but a good version of yourself. The best version.”

Seibert calls these evaluations incredibly flattering and says she takes great pains to approach every subject as an individual and to put him or her at ease in front of the camera. “At Barnard I studied ideas and language and humanity, and those are the tools I use in my work,” she says. More specifically, she credits her first English teacher at Barnard with fostering the love of literature that helps her connect with author subjects. “I became an English major because I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t the same kind of academic that I felt most of the other students were. So I’m this kid from the suburbs sitting in class, and this woman barrels in, Catharine Stimpson. She was tall, she had frizzy hair, she was clearly braless, she wore flip-flops and baggy jeans.

“I was just floored. I had never experienced such boldness, such brashness; she had such conviction in everything she said,” Seibert says. “I remember sitting [in class] thinking, wow, this is college. I took every class she ever taught for the rest of my [years] there. It really was a major turning point in my life.” Seibert also spent a year in Paris in a Columbia program, falling in love with the city and awakening her visual sense. Still, she didn’t become a photographer right after college. She worked in TV and considered documentary filmmaking for a few years before her husband, Alan Goodman CC ’74, encouraged her to move toward photography. Starting at age 28, she gave it her full attention, attending the International Center of Photography and spending a year apprenticing with freelance New York photographer Jill Krementz. Then came years photographing for Newsday and The Los Angeles Times. Seibert only left the 24/7 on-call life of a photojournalist for portraiture when her son, Perry, was born in 1994. Perry has just graduated from high school, daughter Lily is 16, and Seibert is at the top of her field, with a whole host of celebrities out there who aren’t interested in ever working with anyone else but Elena Seibert again.

—By Kim MacQueen
—Photograph by Lily Seibert

Petra Costa’s mother told her she could live anywhere except New York, and become anything but an actor. Those prohibitions were her mother’s attempt to shield her younger daughter from following in the footsteps of Petra’s older sister, who committed suicide in 1990 while studying theatre in New York.

Despite her mother’s bans, Costa was drawn to Manhattan and theatre. But, unlike her sister, Elena, Costa thrived in New York City and, ultimately, turned hazy memories of her sister—dead at 20 from an intentional combination of aspirin (to which she was allergic) and alcohol—into a film about her quest to understand her sister and herself.

Costa scrutinized old family movies, read her sister’s scribbled diaries, and interviewed friends and family. The result is Elena, an 82-minute film combining documentary and fiction, which plumbs the sisters’ influence on each other and picks at the scar of memory, loss, and pain. She describes Elena in the film as “my inconsolable memory made of shadow and stone.” In its final images, still women garbed in pale diaphanous dresses float, Ophelia-like, on their backs in water.

Elena premiered at the 45th Festival de Brasilia do Cinema Brasileiro last September and scooped up four prizes in the documentary category: best director, best art-direction, best film-editing, and audience award for best film. (It’s also won awards in Croatia, Poland, France, and Mexico.) About 50,000 Brazilians have seen it, making it the country’s most-viewed documentary so far in 2013, says Costa, noting that documentaries are rarely seen by more than 5,000 viewers; Elena is one of the most popular documentaries from Brazil for 2012 and 2013, according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) Web site.

Costa, 30, says she feels gratified by the attention, because suicide remains a forbidden topic in her homeland. “I felt it was important to talk about it, particularly in Brazil, where it’s extremely taboo,” she says in a phone interview from her home there. “Until now, there were almost no articles about suicide. And there are almost no support groups. So it’s a subject matter that…the film is bringing much more into debate.” Costa also notes that since women are under-represented in Brazilian cinema, and are most often portrayed as prostitutes, she wants to show another perspective. She’s received e-mails and Facebook messages from grateful viewers who say Elena helped them process their loss of a parent or sibling. Costa was 7 when her sister died; she withdrew, displayed obsessive-compulsive behavior, and claimed that she, too, wanted to die.

A native of Brazil, Costa spent six months of her childhood in New York City with her mother and sister. Despite her mother’s misgivings, she landed at Barnard. (She’d applied to several universities, but once accepted into the College, she knew it had everything she wanted.) “The moment I arrived in New York, the phantoms of my sister quickly dissolved,” she says, and she no longer feared that Elena’s tragic fate would become hers. “I quickly started to make my own path and really fell in love with the whole atmosphere, just being in such a rich environment, exchanging so many ideas, and being challenged intellectually in so many ways. I felt clearly that I found my identity,” she says, and remains indebted to Bruce Robbins, a Columbia University professor in the department of English and comparative literature.

Costa found work after graduation with a television company, but it left her unsatisfied. She enrolled at the London School of Economics and Political Science, earning a master’s degree in 2008 in health, community, and development, with the idea of aiding trauma survivors in Brazil. “That educational background and the related research inspired me and helped me, and was a kind of theoretical background for Elena,” she says. Filmmaking, though, proved irresistible. Costa directed and produced Undertow Eyes (2009), a 20-minute film about her grandparents before turning her focus on her late sister. Elena took two-and-a-half years to make and was funded with support from the Tribeca Film Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Brazilian telecommunications company Oi. It is being screened at film festivals around the world and slated to be shown in Brooklyn on August 10 as part of the Rooftop Films series.

Costa initially was concerned about how her mother, Li An, would react to seeing painful, intimate family history played out on the screen. But Costa says her mother encouraged her to make Elena—and participated in the project despite her enduring grief—because her daughter’s suicide had been looping endlessly in her brain for years. “After the release of the film, she had some very therapeutic effects of having it seen by so many people, releasing a lot of good energy,” she says. “In some way, she celebrates and feels redeemed from her guilt. That was completely unexpected.”

For her next film, which is being shot in France and Denmark, Costa is collaborating with Danish filmmaker Lea Glob. The directors met through a Danish initiative that pairs non-European filmmakers with European ones. Another hybrid of documentary and fiction, the film will follow a pregnant woman exploring how her sense of self changes as she prepares for motherhood. It will dig deep into the themes that Costa says she finds irresistible: womanhood, motherhood, identity and relationships.

For more information about the Brooklyn screening of Elena, visit rooftopfilms.com.

—By June D. Bell
 

More than 1,400 alumnae returned to campus for Reunion 2013, spending a very warm weekend, May 30-June 2, revisiting important years spent at Barnard with old friends, and making new connections. Among those who participated was 102-year-old Mae Nueske Miller ’33 who celebrated her 80th reunion at a special tea with President Debora Spar for classes marking their 60th-plus reunions.

Over the course of the weekend, alumnae heard the latest news about the College, and took part in discussions on such topics as the challenges of making a career in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and what it takes to become a leader. There was entertainment as well: dance performances, the Moth storytelling show, plus luncheons, receptions and class dinners, and the Saturday night gala.

Many classes marked their milestone reunions with special parties and lectures. The Class of 1983 luncheon on Saturday featured a lecture by Caroline Weber, associate professor of French and a specialist in 18th-century French literature and culture. The Class of 1963 kicked off its 50th-reunion festivities with a cocktail party hosted by Martha Kostyra Stewart ’63; the class also set an exceptional fundraising record, more than doubling its original goal.

Over the past four decades, Dorothy Denburg says there have been times when her friends have been jealous: While they’ve enjoyed fulfilling careers, few have known the pleasure and satisfaction that she experienced as she forged a path of innovation and accomplishment at Barnard. Since announcing her retirement earlier this year, Denburg has received many tributes and been feted at multiple receptions. Students, faculty, colleagues, and President Debora L. Spar noted Denburg’s profound impact as dean of the College, from 1993 to 2010. To honor her contributions and long service, Denburg was named dean of the College emerita as of July 1, 2013.  

Since 2010, Denburg has served as vice president for college relations, greatly increasing alumnae engagement with Barnard. “Students hunger for opportunities to connect to alumnae,” she says. “They absolutely enjoy every opportunity they have—whether it’s social or networking through the career development office. It was definitely clear to me that I needed to find ways of enhancing those opportunities.”

In advance of big events on campus, she’s made a point to invite alumnae who would be particularly interested. For example, for Professor Lee Anne Bell’s “For the Public Good” talk featuring former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, invitations were extended to alumnae educators. A reception at Vagelos Alumnae Center afterward allowed Barnard education students to interact with the alumnae. In addition, during a two-day conference earlier this year honoring the work and career of playwright and poet Ntozake Shange ’70, Denburg ensured that Africana studies alumnae were special guests.

“We’ve also greatly expanded the alumnae mentoring program, which has grown from 50-some mentoring pairs in its first year to 86 mentoring pairs this year,” Denburg says. “That program makes a one-on-one connection between alumnae and students interested in the same general professional area.”

Denburg invited alumnae to take part in Barnard Reach Out, a semiannual event where students do community service projects. She also recognized that alumnae craved connections to the intellectual life of the College, especially those who don’t live in the New York- metropolitan area. “What Barnard alumnae most cherish are the memories of who they were when they were in college—the intellectual growth they experienced and the excitement of what transpired in the classroom. Each time I’ve traveled, I’ve tried to have a faculty member accompany me,” she adds.

Among those who’ve lectured to Barnard clubs in the U.S. and Europe are Anne Higonnet from art history, Yvette Christiansë from English and Africana studies, political science professor Kimberly Marten, political science and urban studies professor Flora Davidson, Joan Snitzer, director of the visual arts program, and Katie Glasner, assistant chair of the dance department. Denburg also created the first-ever Barnard online course with author and professor Mary Gordon ’71.

“Staying close to the College really gives you a connection to the wonderful young women who are our students today,” says Denburg. “It’s not just that our students are smart. Most of them are very passionate about having a positive impact in the world.”

Denburg’s impact on Barnard, and in turn the world, has been a thread throughout her life. After graduating, she began studies toward a doctorate in English at Columbia while working part time for the late Professor Barry Ulanov. In 1971 she decided to take a year’s leave from her studies for personal reasons and accepted a job offer from the late Helen M. McCann, director of admissions from 1952-77. This set her on a career path at the College that has lasted 42 years.

Denburg describes McCann as a wonderful mentor who assigned her work that challenged her professionally and personally. Having never traveled around the U.S. except for one Barnard trip to El Paso, Denburg found herself on the road. “In that year, I traveled for the college to Washington, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia,” she says. “I learned to find my way around and locate high schools without GPS. I learned to stand on my feet and answer questions from people radically different from me all over the country.

“At the end of the year, when I thought I was going back to graduate school, Helen offered me a big promotion that I probably wasn’t ready for. I took it and then she mentored me while I grew into the position.”

Denburg stayed in the admissions office until the end of 1979. Thoroughly enjoying her work, thoughts of graduate school faded away, but McCann insisted she continue her education. Instead of returning to the doctoral program at Columbia, Denburg enrolled in Teachers College where she earned a master’s in student personnel administration with a concentration in counseling, and a doctorate in higher-education administration.

After about a decade serving in various advisor roles, Denburg became dean of the College. In a recent letter to alumnae and the Barnard community, Spar describes Denburg’s 17 years as dean as “legendary.” Among her accomplishments were enhancing student services, strengthening financial aid, and shoring up health and wellness programs. She also taught courses in the first-year seminar program and the Centennial Scholars program. Being in the classroom helped her gain more insight into the dynamics of the College.

Denburg has certainly seen Barnard evolve throughout her four decades here. “The College now is a more vibrant, strong, diverse, stable, and healthy place than it was when I first started working here,” she observes. “It’s been fascinating to see that change take place.”

For the past 20 years, Denburg has also helped students plan for their futures by overseeing the Office of Career Development, which The Princeton Review ranks among the country’s top 10 college career offices. She praises former director Jane Celwyn for facilitating conversations with students about such topics as the challenges that face women in the workplace, and work/life balance. At the suggestion of current career development director Robert Earl, Denburg created a new full-time position for a person whose job it is to bring employers to recruit at Barnard.

Under her watch, the vast internship network has expanded, especially essential at a liberal arts college, since internships give students opportunities to explore a career in a particular field. The career services staff now also runs the Careers and Coffee program—she refers to it as “very Barnard”—where alumnae in varying fields meet with small groups of students. “It’s Barnard women reaching out to younger Barnard women, and younger Barnard women being excited about people who went to the same school as they do,” she says.

While Denburg is officially retiring, she will remain active at the College. For the next year, she will teach the senior seminar for 12 Centennial Scholars and work with them as they develop their projects. She will have office hours for those scholars and her advisees.

In the future, she has an offer to teach a first-year seminar one semester a year, which she hopes to do. And she promises to be a very engaged alumna. “Most of all, I feel profound gratitude,” she says about the past four decades. “I’ve been fortunate to have the career I’ve had. Mostly because of all the people that I’ve had in my life—students, colleagues, faculty, staff, and the alumnae the students have become.”

—By Lois Elfman '80
—Photographs by Dorothy Hong, Sam Stuart, and Rebecca Douglas '10

In a now famous 2010 TED Talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg urged working women to take control of their careers and demand the chance to “sit at the table,” a notion she reemphasized in her 2011 Barnard Commencement address. The following year, President Barack Obama echoed the point in his speech to the Class of 2012, encouraging the graduates to “fight for your seat at the table.” But what does it really take to earn—and keep—that proverbial seat? At Reunion, several alumnae who have risen to executive levels shared their stories at the Friday panel, “A Seat at the Table.”

Linda Fayne Levinson ’62, Katherine Plourde ’73, and Bernice Clark-Bonnett ’85, discussed their career paths and offered insight into the realities of achieving and maintaining their “seats.” Dana Points ’88, the editor-in-chief of Parents and American Baby magazines who serves on the boards of the March of Dimes and Safe Kids Worldwide, moderated the conversation.

Levinson, a Barnard trustee, serves as a director at car-rental company Hertz, as well as at technology companies Ingram Micro and NCR, Jacobs Engineering Group, and Western Union. She majored in Russian studies at Barnard, received a master’s from Harvard, and holds an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. “I continually reinvent myself,” she said. The first woman elected partner at McKinsey & Co., Levinson has also been a partner at venture-capital firm GRP partners and at private-equity firm Wings Partners. She credited good problem-solving and people skills as elements of her success. She also stressed the importance of finding mentors, whom she defined as “people who can tell you how an organization works, who have your back, and who can walk you through complicated political situations.” One does not only have to look to female mentors; you can learn from both men and women. Said Clark-Bonnett, “It’s about who you find a connection with—people you respect in how they lead.”

Plourde, who holds a BA in English literature and an MBA from Fordham University, championed the qualities of flexibility and adaptability. She serves on the boards of the Pall Corporation, a filtration company, specialty-chemicals producer OM group, and 120 East End Corporation, with previous service on the boards of Asphalt Green and National Child Labor Committee. Plourde said that the culture of corporate boards is changing; in the past, board members were CEOs or friends of the board’s chair. Now more boards seek experts to include in the conversation, such as Plourde, who brings her expertise with chemical companies (she was rated the number-one specialty-chemical analyst in the annual Institutional Investor poll from 1987 to 1997) to those boards on which she serves. At the panel, Plourde described women as the “worker bees” of these boards. In every meeting, she said, women are ready and willing to contribute. Women are also good at picking up subtexts, added Levinson, “[They] tend to name the elephant in the room,” she said. Still, in 2012, only 17 percent of all Standard and Poor’s companies’ board seats belonged to women.

Clark-Bonnett double-majored in sociology and piano performance in the arts program. She too earned an MBA from Stern. In the 1980s she joined the world of advertising, which she described as “very hierarchical and male-dominated, much like the television show Mad Men—even in the 80s.” After working 15 years at top-tier agencies, Clark-Bonnett joined Macy’s, where she’s now senior vice president of marketing and leads a combination of teams that include almost 100 people. She said perseverance and hard work have earned her a seat at the table, as has seizing the right opportunities to lead.

How do women find or choose a leadership style? “Be heard,” advised Levinson, “and stick with who you are, but find a style of being a strong persona [that] does not make everyone in the room uncomfortable.” Great leaders are not afraid of change—all panelists mentioned the value of flexibility, and the ability not to panic. All found that as leaders in companies, it is important to keep staff motivated, and show appreciation for everyone’s role and hard work. Good leaders create good companies and select a diverse group of people to manage. As women, they need to be skilled and forthright negotiators, both for themselves and with others. “Women are terrified, they won’t negotiate for themselves,” remarked Levinson. All the panel participants agreed that women should not compromise themselves in terms of higher salaries or promotions.

A common theme of the conversation: Own your success. Men often have no problem doing this, while women are reluctant to draw attention to how accomplished they are. Successful people talk about their paths to achievement, and their results. “Don’t just come in and do your work,” said Plourde, “Let people know what you accomplished today.” And every day.

—By Stephanie Shestakow '98
—Illustration by Grady McFerrin

The key to career success for women in science boils down to three factors, according to several dozen alumnae gathered for “On the STEM Trail,” one of this year’s Reunion panels: receiving encouragement from a young age, gaining confidence to overcome gender bias in fields dominated by men, and being mentored in high school, college, and beyond.

A multigenerational panel of three distinguished alumnae in science assembled in Barnard Hall’s Held Auditorium to talk about their career paths. Most of the audience members were also working in or retired from positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Sonia Ortiz ’08, a chemistry major at Barnard and now an analytical chemist at Novartis in Boston, moderated the discussion.

All three panelists said they knew at a young age they wanted to be scientists.

Saralyn Mark ’83, an endocrinologist, geriatrician, and women’s-health specialist, said her childhood goal in the late 1960s was to be a doctor and an astronaut, although she had no idea that women were not admitted to the space program at that time. During the admissions process, Barnard representatives told her, “We’ll get you there.” Mark said, “That was like candy to a child.” She eventually became NASA’s first senior medical advisor and
a finalist for NASA’s astronaut program; currently, Mark is president of medical- consulting firm SolaMed Solutions, and an adjunct associate professor at Yale and Georgetown universities’ medical schools.

Physics major Bonnie Fleming ’93 is now an associate professor of physics at Yale. She said her hunger for upper-level science classes at her girls’ high school led her to take classes at the adjacent boys’ campus, the only place they were offered. But when she came to Barnard, she found the science classes she wanted. “I’m a physicist, a scientist, because of Barnard—absolutely,” she said. Fleming worked at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois before joining the Yale faculty in 2004, where she conducts research in particle physics and studies neutrinos.

Tiffany Mills ’03, also a physics major with a BS in mechanical engineering from Columbia, manages a group of scientists and engineers for the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) in New Jersey; previously, she worked for a company leading tests of remotely operated weapons systems for the army. Mills knew as a teenager that she wanted to study science, but didn’t know what kind. She said the “3-2 program,” which allows Barnard students to earn a BS in engineering at Columbia, was perfect for her. “Through Barnard, I found amazing internship programs and got to explore science,” she said. “The most important thing was exploring all the different paths I could take.”

Ortiz asked the panelists how they overcame gender-bias in their fields; each said she had faced challenges as a woman in a scientific field.

Mark said she rarely saw gender-based discrimination in hospitals, but sees it in the business world. “I try to be as competent as possible, and use humor to defuse the situation,” Mark said. “I have to be on my toes all the time, and when I do see it, at this age, I call them out on it.”

Fleming noticed gender-bias later in her career. “Twice in job interviews I have been asked if I will have children,” Fleming said. “I said ‘no,’ which was a lie. I have three children.” Mills followed up, adding that in the military workplace it’s important as a woman to “control emotions and stay level. In my area, we just try to act like a man.”

The panelists said the Barnard environment had helped them overcome gender discrimination. Mark said, “At Barnard, you are being fed the tools to navigate the world.” Fleming noted, “Barnard gave me a lot of confidence, which is key for women in science to succeed.”

With input from the audience, the discussion moved toward how to encourage more women to follow the STEM path. Everyone agreed that mentorship is an important ingredient. “Passion alone is not going to get you there,” said Fleming. “I do my best at Yale to encourage women in science. We bring in middle-school girls to show them that science is fun and that they can do science.”

Mark said when mentoring young women in STEM, it’s important to demonstrate how their skills can translate to many career paths, “so they don’t
feel pigeonholed at the age of 17.” Mills stressed staying connected with other women in these areas, saying she found her job through the Society of Women Engineers. “Networks are critical to the success of women in
these fields,” she affirmed.

Both Mills and Fleming believe the small student-teacher ratios in Barnard STEM classes were important to them. “The 3-to-1 student-advisor ratio is the best-kept secret at Barnard,” said Mills. “You have the professors at Barnard who are integrated into your life. At Columbia, I was one of thousands.”

“Numbers make a huge difference,” concluded Fleming. “I had the advantage of a small college and a large university,” and being able to take advantage of both opportunities is a boon to STEM students.

 

--by Kristi Berner
--Illustration by Daniel Horowitz

 

When Caroline Bliss Spencer ’09 craves a taste of college, she hops on the 2 or 3 train and travels from her Tribeca home to Morningside Heights, where she might grab a B.E.L.T. sandwich (bacon, egg, lettuce, and tomato) at Community Food & Juice on Broadway, or pop into one of her other favorite eateries.

Unlike some recent graduates, however, Spencer has cultivated more extensive ties to Barnard than an occasional nostalgic meal uptown. As chair of Gala Nights, a fundraiser focused on young alumnae, Spencer—who works in private wealth management at Goldman Sachs—has helped raise more than $40,000 for student scholarships this past year alone. The two-year-old event at the Plaza Hotel is an after-party of dancing that follows the more traditional Annual Gala, which raised close to $2.3 million this year for scholarships. Gala Nights brings together recent graduates and friends for the social event, which Spencer describes as reminiscent of “senior week, but for grownups.”

If Spencer and a group of recent alumnae are successful, Gala Nights may be the first episode in a larger story. Together with Ashley Walker Bush ’11 and Alannah Arguelles Chang ’08, Spencer is working to construct a base
of young alumnae like herself, eager to continue their involvement with Barnard, and also to support the College. “I think there’s such a great opportunity to grow a community among the alumnae and make it feel like a continuation of school,” says Chang, a buyer for Bloomingdale’s, who previously worked as a beauty associate at Vanity Fair, and is pregnant with her first child. She believes the Barnard network will nourish and support recent graduates, adding, “Part of going down this road is giving back to the school.”

Bush, a documentary filmmaker who is also the granddaughter of the first President Bush and niece of the second one, worked as a research assistant to President Debora Spar during the year following her graduation. Bush marvels at the way graduates benefit from “the influx of amazing Barnard alumnae who open their arms wide,” but acknowledges that it can be “hard for young alumnae to write a check when they are trying to figure out how to pay for the rent and groceries.”

For their next project, the trio plans to raise money and awareness for the newly established Karen Blank Scholarship Fund, which will provide financial aid to Barnard students who have demonstrated strong academic performance as well as dedication to improving a community—campus, local, or international. The fund celebrates Dean of Studies Karen Blank, who recently retired after serving the Barnard and Columbia communities for 28 years, in roles that included dean of studies, chair of the faculty committee on programs and academic standing, and honor board advisor at Barnard.

The fund has already piqued the interest of at least one young alumna. Emma Siesfeld ’10, who works for Teach For America in Massachusetts training special-education teachers, credits Dean Blank for encouraging her to take on leadership roles in student activities and to pursue her interest in studying economics. She recalls that the dean urged her to take classes outside her comfort zone. When Siesfeld learned about efforts to honor Dean Blank, she contacted President Spar, volunteering to engage young alumnae to build upon the scholarship, which was established last fall with a major gift from an anonymous donor.

The Blank initiative, and others that follow, will no doubt benefit from the energy and tenacity of Caroline Spencer whose approach is to send out blast e-mails to everyone she knows as well as individual ones. Before the first Gala Nights in April 2012, Spencer recalls a case of nerves as she sat with fiancé, Tom Spanos, at the dinner that precedes the after-party. But, as the dinner was winding down, she began to hear the strains of the DJ’s music. And when she entered the party space, catered that year with an assortment of sweets from Dylan’s Candy Bar, it was “already packed with 20- and 30-year olds”— women as well as men, and Barnard alums as well as those without a direct affiliation.

For Spencer and her peers, the gift of a Barnard education is not just a fresh and fond memory, but one whose benefits they are continuing to reap: “It’s a special community. You go there and you learn how to find your voice, how to take risks on a challenging campus, in a challenging city. It changed the direction of my life.”

 

--by Elicia Brown '90
--Photograph by Dorothy Hong

 

The Gala honored Connie Alexander Krueger ’53 and Harvey Krueger and the Krueger family, which includes several alumnae in addition to Connie; and Claire and Leonard Tow, Emily Tow Jackson ’88, and the Tow Foundation. Cheryl Glicker Milstein ’82 and Philip Milstein P ’14 and Nina Rennert Davidson ’95 and Mitchell Davidson cochaired an evening that raised close to $2.3 million for scholarship aid.

Barnard Board Chair Jolyne Caruso Fitzgerald '81 and Gala Cochairs Cheryl Glicker Milstein '82 and Nina Rennert Davidson '95 with President Spar

 

Trustee Binta Niambi Brown '95 and Dean of the College Avis Hinkson '84

 

P. Roy and Diana Touliatou Vagelos '55

 

Members of the Tow Family who were honored: Emily Tow Jackson '88, Leonard and Claire Tow, and Emily's daughter Hope

 

James Dow and Lucille Zanghi P '10

 

Honorees Connie Alexander Krueger ’53 and Harvey Krueger with their family and friends: Deniz Dinler, Tiffany Silliman, Dr. Rachel Cohen ’03, her brother Alex Cohen, Connie Krueger, Arthur Bialer, Harvey Krueger, Peter Bialer, Cathy Krueger Cohen, Michael Bialer, Abigail Krueger Bialer ’85, and Pamela Alexander Schlenger ’57

 

--Photographs by Asiya Khaki