Project Long Talk

I had a fun reunion with my pre-school teacher Mimi Lawson-Johnston Howe ’89 in Princeton. She helped me learn to read and write and now we share our Trinity ties.

Howe loved her time on campus, majoring in Art History and minoring in Education. She spent her free time at the campus day care center and enjoyed her sorority, Tri Delta.

She went to Florence the spring of her junior year and and then interned at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice which combined her love for art history and the Italian language, travel, and education. It also cemented a life-long relationship with the museum.

As the great granddaughter of the late Solomon Guggenheim who established the Guggenheim Museum in New York it is only natural that she continues a long family tradition as vice president of the board of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

After graduation, she spent a year traveling the world and then settled in New York City. Her first job was at Go America Tours in the traveling industry where she helped European travelers come to the States for vacation before search engines like Google maps, and connective tools like Facebook.

A few years later, Howe decided to teach early education at the Princeton Junior School where we first met. She and her husband have three children, and she is now a Destination Services Consultant. Howe helps international business executives relocate to thePrinceton area.

Before today’s culture had terms like “achievement gap” Karen Mapp ’77 was sitting in Trinity’s admissions office, considering how to improve the education prospects for all students. Mapp’s work as an admissions officer confronted her with a persistent quandary: what is the connection between a low income/low opportunity student’s educational success and family? Her questions turned into actions, and she has committed herself to answering the question, and to creating opportunity for greater access to post-secondary education.

While at Trinity, Mapp majored in psychology.  She started the cheerleading program and loved her friends. Following graduation, she worked at Southern New England Telephone Company and then joined the Trinity admissions team for six years.  At that time, Mapp wasn’t considering the pursuit of a doctorate, and enjoyed working with her Trinity colleagues, students, and parents.

As Mapp interviewed thousands of prospective students at Trinity, she noticed patterns in the answers of the high school students when she asked them about factors leading to their educational success.  Students unanimously deferred to either a supportive family member that inspired, or a lack of encouragement, which led to internal motivation. She says, “My interest in families and education came out of admissions. I slowly realized that families played a larger role in the success of the students than was recognized by schools.” Her realization became a seed that needed to be watered and tended to.  Mapp says, “It was April 1, 1992 and I was sitting at my admissions desk at Trinity when I was received a call from Professor Jay Heubert, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), to say I had been admitted to the doctoral program.”

Today, Mapp is at HGSE as a Lecturer in Education and Director of the Education Policy and Management Master’s degree program, a role she has held since 2005. When I asked her what she most enjoys in her role, she replied, “I LOVE teaching my students and talking through my research with parents, school and district staff, and policy makers.  I also feel connected to the practice piece of the family engagement work. I identify as a researcher and practitioner.” The exciting thing about Mapp’s work is that people are paying attention to her findings and putting them into practice.  For example, districts are now developing programming and hiring full time professionals that work on fostering educational partnerships between families, community members, and school staff, opening doors for students who in the past would not have considered college. Mapp is devoted to education. A lifelong learner, she is dedicating her career to helping others do the same.

When Regan Hofmann ’89, was a young journalist, she dreamed of being a war correspondent. The creative writing major worked for CBS News shortly after graduation and aspired to use reporting in war torn areas to help people understand—and resolve—the forces that drive conflict around the world. She says, “Being a writer influences how you see and move through the world. I have always been drawn to the most difficult things and I have always seen the incredible power of the press to raise awareness, make change and spare lives.” She felt being a war correspondent was the ultimate test of her writing skills; she longed to use her pen as a device that could bring help to others. But when Hofmann expressed her desire to work on the front lines to her bosses, she was told that women weren’t being sent to report in certain countries as it posed too much risk—both to the reporter and to the network. “They explained it would be counterproductive to our coverage to have me captured or killed,” she said.

But Hofmann, who grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, didn’t abandon her dream. She set it aside, temporarily. Hofmann left CBS News to work for several advertising agencies in New York City, including Young & Rubicam and Saatchi & Saatchi. She was still interested in messaging and advertising allowed her to continue to use language and imagery to influence an audience. After several years, she left New York for Atlanta where she launched a monthly arts and entertainment magazine known as Poets, Artists, and Madmen. Eventually, she returned to the Northeast and worked for, and became the editor-in-chief of, New Jersey Life—a luxury lifestyle monthly in the mid ’90s.

But her job wasn’t the only reason she came north; there was another reason Hofmann returned to her hometown to live: she’d been diagnosed with HIV.

On the outside, Hofmann appeared a healthy, young, successful woman facing a bright future. What people didn’t know was that she was also facing a life living with a retrovirus that threatened to kill her.

Diagnosed in 1996, Hofmann told only her immediate family that she had contracted the virus. The doctors who diagnosed her said she had one, maybe two at most, years to live. It was false information; she had in fact just contracted the virus but because her general practitioner, who was unfamiliar with HIV, didn’t know that the blood work of someone in the midst of “seroconversion” (the period shortly after initial infection when the virus becomes active and starts replicating in the body) who is newly infected can mirror the blood work of someone who’s been living with the virus a while, he told her that her time was limited.

Suddenly, Hofmann’s dream to use her writing skills to help others was eclipsed by a more pressing reality: simply, to survive herself. Ever an optimist, in an effort to face her premature death, she tried making a list of things she would be spared by dying young. She wouldn’t have to save for retirement, watch her face wrinkle or experience the pain of seeing her loved ones die first.

But then, she survived.

One year, then a second. And fifteen more.

Ten years into living silently with HIV, Hofmann decided to become an AIDS activist and go public with her HIV status. POZ magazine (poz.com) was looking for a new editor-in-chief. Its CEO reached out to Hofmann to see if she’d be interested. For four years prior, Hofmann had written anonymously for POZ about the challenges of living with HIV. It had been her first step toward realizing her long-held dream of telling stories to help make the world a better place. “Other people living with HIV would read my column and write to POZ sharing how what I’d written had inspired or supported them,” she says. “It was then I personally knew the power of journalism. Deciding to go public with my HIV status as POZ’s editor was a way to prove to myself that I was no longer ashamed to say I am living with HIV, and a way to hopefully help others feel the same way. I finally came to the place where I realized I was ready to fight back against the stigma that surrounds HIV. Everyone deserves the same opportunity to access health care and support for a medical condition. And the stigma surrounding HIV continues to keep people from accessing the life protecting care they need and deserve. Treatment doubles as protection as it reduces—by 96%—the chance the virus will spread. But treatment can’t protect individual and public health if people are too scared to come forward for testing and treatment. I thought that by sharing my story, it would encourage more people to connect to care.”

Her dream of using journalism as advocacy never waned; with the offer to run POZ on the table, Hofmann had a chance to realize her long held desire to write about difficult and disturbing matters.

In 2009, Hofmann told her story of being a woman living with HIV who works as an AIDS activist more fully in a memoir entitled I Have Something to Tell You (Simon & Schuster). In the years since taking the helm at POZ, she became a board member of the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and a global ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. She serves on a committee advising U.S. Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebellius on the issues of HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis. She has spoken numerous times at the White House and on Capitol Hill on the issue of HIV/AIDS. In October, she left her job at POZ to work as a consultant focused on global health.

Looking into her eyes as she told me her story, I was so struck by her journey that I wondered out loud about the role Trinity played in her life. Given the scope of her work, I doubted her college years loomed large. She immediately told me I was wrong.  She said, “My years at Trinity were critically important for what I battled later in life. At Trinity, I learned how to write well, to think in a 360-degree way on an issue and I got comfortable questioning the status quo. Even the physical tests of crew and rugby—the two sports I was involved in at Trinity—conditioned me for being able to endure mental and physical pain in ways that have come in handy in my life and work. Trinity taught me invaluable skills, it opened up my mind and it toughened up my body.”

Several years ago, she journeyed for the first time to Africa. “I had met a lot of people living with HIV in all kinds of circumstances in the United States,” she said. “As a reporter focused on the global pandemic, I wanted to have first-hand knowledge of what it was like to live with HIV in a developing nation.”

Standing on the front lines of the AIDS fight in South Africa in Soweto—an urban slum outside Johannesburg—she realized she would never be the same. As she visited people in Soweto, shots were fired and the group she was with had to take cover and eventually, leave. “In that moment, I realized that ironically, I had become a war correspondent of sorts after all,” Hofmann says. “The war on AIDS, while ultimately a theoretically winnable one given the medical tools and knowledge we have now, is far from over. Being in Soweto has never left me. It’s why I continue to fight so hard every day: because we can begin to end AIDS now, it heightens our moral imperative to do just that.”

It is rare that you meet someone who is living a life whose purpose is so clear. Hofmann has dedicated her career to two main disciplines: the pursuit of human rights and global health. Journalism is her weapon of choice. She has applies her passion and skills daily to worldwide issues that impact, literally, tens of millions of people. Hofmann has a positive energy that I experienced physiologically sitting in front of her. All Trinity students can learn from Regan’s sense of personal empowerment, especially those who are trying to realize their own dreams. Hofmann’s advice for students? “Never abandon who you know yourself to be and who you wish to become. The path to get yourself there may seem unclear at times and life is bound to take strange twists, but as long as you keep focused on your destination and keep moving forward, you will get there one day.”

Hofmann’s book, I Have Something to Tell You, is available on amazon.com. Her website is reganhofmann.com. 

My visit with Debra Nevas ’86, confirmed that there truly are Trinity alums ALL OVER New York City. Tucked away, a stones throw from Grand Central station, is the comfortable office of Debra Nevas, Ph.D. The city sounds are muffled when I enter her office building, and once I am in her office, I might as well be on a quiet street. Debra is a clinical psychologist, working in private practice with patients who experience all kinds of difficulties in life, including some who are crime victims.

When I sit on her couch, the tables are turned. I am driving the conversation instead of her providing therapy for her patients. When I asked Nevas about crime victims specifically she says, “It’s hard to hear what we do to each other as human beings.” She describes her approach as helping to light the way for the patient. She thinks of her role, in part, as holding a lantern through the process of healing. Sometimes she is walking in front of the patient, sometimes behind, or side by side, depending on where the patient is in his or her healing process.

Nevas wouldn’t have become a clinical psychologist if she hadn’t worked closely with Professor Randy Lee throughout her time at Trinity. Professor Lee served as her mentor after she first met him when she took his class, Theories of Clinical Psychology. The course set her on a path that was not planned and she went on to write her thesis. Nevas had the opportunity to intern at Hartford Hospital on the inpatient psychiatric unit. There, she learned, she was not afraid of the work, but found it endlessly engaging. Lee told her she could become a clinical psychologist – he encouraged her to consider it as a career and believed it was something she could do. Nevas says, “Lee’s encouragement changed the course of my life.” Ultimately, Nevas attended Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, where she received both her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology.   Nevas maintains a small practice so that she can spend time with her husband and children.  Encouragement and hard work between a Professor and student at Trinity can be powerful enough to start a career.

Jeffrey Raven ’84 arrived at Trinity College after having lived in Beirut, Iran, and Paris. Because he was a diplomat brat, he was exposed to countries all over the world. His experience in great cities perhaps set the stage for a career in architecture—to compare world cities based on their morphology and form. Today, he is a professor, scholar, and architect.

Raven, an architect at heart fell in love with Trinity’s buildings and structures immediately. His favorite activities were Ultimate Disc, the radio station WRTC 89.3, and the Model United Nations. He majored in history, and took full advantage of the low student/teacher ratio. Raven focused on literature and history, and eagerly jumped at the opportunity of a one-on-one class with Prof. Philip Bankwitz entirely in French. Raven says, “I was always interested in architecture because it’s a flexible vessel in which I can pour my interests.” Raven appreciates several disciplines and saw the way he could combine them in the field of architecture.

After Trinity, Raven pursued and completed his architecture degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. He then later went on to get his masters from Cambridge University. Raven has done a masterful job combining teaching with his own projects. He explains architectural concepts to me with ease and I begin to understand his passion for his work. Raven is based in New York in part because he was teaching at Columbia and loves big, world cities. He references a fondness for layers of culture, smells, and tastes within different urban environments but especially New York. Now, he is director for the Master’s in Architecture and Urban design at New York Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

When it comes to his own design projects (within the U.S. and internationally) he follows a triple bottom line; environment, economics, and equity. He also has a real interest in resilient cities within the context of sustainability. Raven says, “Half the battle of architecture is designing eloquently in harmony within the context.” He views each project as their own entity based on natural resources, population, and citizen’s interest.

I took the risk of asking Raven if he has had a favorite project. He smiles and tells me about a community based planning project in the South Bronx. He says, “This project was influential for me. I learned urban design and planning can be a Trojan horse for democracy building and civil society.” Raven views architecture organically, he sees that spaces provide comfort, safety, and creative environments for the people within them. He has been able to explore his own talents, share them, and push the field of architecture to grow.

I have always wondered what it was like when Trinity College went co-educational. I was finally able to hear first-hand from one of the first graduating classes of women just how different the college was. Peggy Herzog ’76 had blazed the trail for women like me to go to Trinity. Herzog relished the chance to learn what had been only offered to men just a few years before she arrived at Trinity. 

She recounts her Trinity education with a precision down to the class and subject. She loved her studies with dance (although not yet a major), music history, art history, and English. She remembers lectures and sings melodies from her music 101 and 102 classes.  Faculty like Judy Dworin and Hugh Ogden impacted her immensely. Not only were her classes enjoyable, but she found time to audit classes. She shares that she sat in on one of Drew Highland’s classes and her mind was truly blown.

Herzog would often stay in the library until it closed. She remembers going to the cave with friends at 10:30 for late night coffee, and then heading back to study. Ultimately, Herzog majored in Psychology. The interdisciplinary experience that Herzog created was a precursor of the interdisciplinary majors that Trinity now offers students. The Trinity experience was at its finest for Herzog, as she went from the dance studio to her psychology classes.

Post Trinity, Herzog became a clinical psychologist for children, adolescents and adults. She believes that the knowledge that she uses as a psychologist now, is heavily drawn from her Trinity Education. Learning how to analyze a Great Book, teaching dance to inner city children, and learning Developmental Psychology, were essential to her work today as a clinician. Herzog also lectures, and offers workshops to lawyers, mediators and conflict resolution specialists on Nuances of Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication, both, nationally and internationally. She has been invited by the International Association of Collaborative Professionals, The New York Association of Collaborative Professionals and The Women’s Bar of New York State, to teach their members.  

 Trinity’s education is s relevant today as Herzog prepares current workshops. This June, she is presenting at the annual conference of the Association for Conflict Resolution of Greater New York. As she teaches concepts such as attitude, cue delivery, and cue receptivity she will be drawing non-verbal communication skills first explored in through the non-verbal nuance in Judy Dworin’s dance improvisation classes.  Herzog’s Trinity education is still relevant today. Sitting with Herzog at her kitchen table over a cup of tea, I was lost in the nuances of her “interdisciplinary thinking”. I was lost—in her world of thought and passion.

Pure Career

March 22, 2013 | Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

Ralph Sinsheimer ’77 loves music. Sitting in Solaris LLC, where he is a partner, I was surprised that one of the first things he wanted to tell me was that he loves psychedelic, a-tonal, and American styles. I asked him if he is still able to have music be a part of his life as a partner at a wealth management firm. Sinsheimer does not skip a beat and says, “Absolutely, I go to concerts all the time.”

Sinsheimer had two stand-out memories from Trinity. He loved his experience on the Rome campus, and being the Program director at WRTC 89.3. After Trinity he started his career in the music industry. However, he felt that he had to give up some of his passions and beliefs in order to keep up in the business, so he decided a leave. A listener and a reader, he moved on to publishing. Sinsheimer worked at Random House and graduated from NYU with an MBA.

Ultimately what was most important for Sinsheimer was a positive office culture rooted in trust and purity. Nine years ago he had a vision to start his own firm which is now, Solaris Group LLC. Solaris Group is a global wealth strategy and asset management firm. They work with high net worth families and organizations. What sets them apart is their absolute commitment to each individual client.

Sinsheimer taught me that a pure career can mean doing a lot of different things. It’s not what you’re doing, but how you do it. Sinsheimer says, “a career can be a haphazard evolutionary thing.” He explains that we can always do a better job, but we can’t always do what we love—unless you make it a priority.

T-Shirts as Art

March 14, 2013 | Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

I walked past the colored cardigans, chunky jewelry pieces, gold-buttoned blazers, and processed to Crewcuts, the children’s line of J. Crew.  Seeing the pint-sized clothing bursting with color, sparkles, and textures I couldn’t help but feel ten years old again and was elated. When I shared this feeling of excitement with Jenny Cooper ’89, designer and creator of Crewcuts she says, “we want to let all little girls share in the excitement of clothing, sparkly things, the pleasure of a great fitting jean, and the splash of a color that tugs at your heartstrings!”

Cooper grew up in the Berkshires and was excited to move to the city of Hartford for college. Ready for a change, and the structure of an urban setting, she came to Trinity wide eyed and started her education with the Guided Studies program as a freshman. “When I was ten years old, I bought a multi colored seersucker fabric and made a pair of pantalones, and matching tube top,” says Cooper. She has always liked making clothes and her mother allowed it, even when it was outside of the box. Cooper majored in Fine Arts at Trinity and her roommate can even attest that her creation of clothing was happening on late nights in their dorm room in Anadama.

Beyond Trinity’s campus, Cooper wanted to see the world. She studied abroad in Florence, Italy and loves the impact that travel has on design. “My memories are not so much educational, or class related, but figuring out who I wanted to be,” Cooper says of Trinity. She interned at Real Art Ways and was able to explore what she wanted while still getting a well-rounded education.

According to Cooper, Crewcuts was conceived as much because people internally wanted more choices and fortunately the customers agreed. Prior to designing Crewcuts, Cooper worked primarily with women’s sweaters. She has been at J. Crew for 13 years.  Her favorite aspect of the job is the participation of her boys in the creation of the clothes and colors.  Cooper explains, “There is something very emotional about color.”

Cooper is so successful at what she does because she feels emotionally connected and involved in the process of designing the line. She gets excited when I mention sparkles and explains that Crewcuts is actually creating their own colors of glitter fabric. Cooper says, “as a company, we are very tactile and visual.” J. Crew designers are able to see everything they produce before they produce it.

Her favorite item within Crewcuts is the t-shirt. Cooper says, “T-shirts are wearable art, not everybody does art, but everybody gets dressed.” Everyone does have to choose what they wear for themselves. With her fine arts background, Cooper uses her Trinity education every day, creating wearable art for lucky children.

In Pursuit of Magic

March 8, 2013 | Uncategorized  |  4 Comments

After a long Friday afternoon discussion, we left the quaint coffee shop and started walking towards the subway. On the way through the scaffolding and skyscrapers, was a piece of urban art, a spray painted message that read, “in the pursuit of magic.” Within seconds, I looked up to see the top of the empire state building peeking over the wrought iron fence that guarded the solitude of Gramercy Park. In pursuit of magic may be just what Lisa Anastasi ’83 is.

 

 Anastasi has worked in fashion and design ever since she graduated from Trinity, staying true to her herself from the start. Anastasi has dedicated impressive stints at both J. Crew and Ralph Lauren as a designer and creative director for their companies. Anastasi embodies the classic clothing she designs. Her ideas are original, containing soft fabrics and comfortable lines, applied with a business sense (stemming from her economics major.)

            She describes, “I love functional, innovative design—clothing with purpose or ease makes me happy.” While at J. Crew Anastasi, who has a true talent for color recognition, describes spending a few days at a mill in the north of Scotland.  This centuries-old mill, nestled in among the moors and heather, inspired her to work with an array of colors in raw wool to create new and exclusive tweed colors and palettes. After J. Crew Anastasi moved on to Uniqlo and most recently has been consulting privately.

A true personal transformation took place for her as a Trinity student from a shy, naïve girl to a strong, driven young woman. Anastasi studied Italian under Professor Campo and was deeply affected by learning about her own culture and family history. She attributes her biggest growth to the rowing team. She says, “I found a home with the rowing team. I became addicted to working hard and seeing results. I developed a drive and hunger for success I never knew I had.”


Anastasi soon realized that in all aspects of Trinity, if she applied herself and worked hard she would do well. This has become indicative of her career and life path. Upon reflection of some journals from the spring of 1984, Anastasi recounts her first days in New York City after her Trinity graduation.  At that time, she lived her life looking upwards walking through the bustling streets and has ever since. Those who don’t look for magic will never find it.

 

Pilar Proffitt ’89’s home encapsulates the liberal arts experience. She and her husband/business partner Robert Bristow, work, live, and learn all within their self-designed campus: a modern yet rustic glass-walled farmhouse. I sat with the couple at their handmade kitchen table looking out onto the stunning raw land.

A stone’s throw from the Hotchkiss School, their home in Lakeville, CT, is the headquarters for Poesis Design. Proffitt and her husband create architectural, interior, and furniture designs. They chose the name Poesis because it means “to make.” Proffitt says, “It’s all about approaching design in an interdisciplinary way. We want all elements of our work to align.”

Proffitt’s Trinity education started with an engineering major, evolved into fine arts, and led her into a Master of Architecture degree program at Virginia Tech (where she and Bristow met). Proffitt immediately states she was glad to have had a liberal arts education. She says, “Broad experiences dictate the breadth and depth of your work. Ultimately, my broad experiences at Trinity inform what I do now.” Proffitt recalls Professor Michael Fitzgerald of the Fine Arts Department as a particularly formative person in her Trinity education. She remembers her senior thesis installation like it was yesterday, laughing as she remembers the peanut butter and banana sandwiches she served to her guests. Her work as a senior at Trinity highlighted the juxtaposition between poetic and conceptual art. 

In addition to having a varied education, I asked them what it’s like to work with your significant other. Bristow says, “We are married in many ways, and feed off each other—but maintain our own identities as designers.” They discussed a “me, we” mentality that they maintain as their joint identity comes into fruition with projects. Their main goal is to grab what the client is about, adopt it to their own skills and deliver something far better than the client ever expected. Proffitt embodies the idea of doing what you love first, and being rewarded second. Her accomplishments have been recognized by major publications like The New York Times, NPR, and Vogue.

Before I left, I was treated to a tour of their house, designed and crafted entirely by the couple. The grayish-purple accents and patina’d furniture express a combination of comfort and minimalism I have never seen. Proffitt and Bristow love the concept of “graceful wear” in their designs. Bristow says, “Real materials and honest processes infuse the work with authenticity which grounds us in the human continuum.”


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