Category Archives: Tiger of the Week

Tiger of the Week: Lauret Savoy ’81, Earth Scientist, Map Reader, ‘Memory Tracer’

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Lauret Savoy ’81

Lauret Savoy ’81 (Courtesy Lauret Savoy ’81)

Read me, it called then. It still does,” writes Lauret Savoy ’81 in her new memoir, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, a finalist for the 2016 PEN Open Book Award and nominee for a Pushcart Prize.

This is how Savoy, a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College, describes the beloved map she’s carried for years — a large, “creased, taped, and re-taped” roll she’s unfurled on every cross-country trip since Princeton, “since that day in college when Professor Judson handed out copies to his geomorphology class.”

Savoy’s map, as she recalls in Trace’s fifth chapter, “What’s in a Name,” is a hand-drawn and inked copy by “master cartographer-artist” Erwin Raisz. It’s also something she “reads” — which suggests that Savoy sees her map as something more than the shaded, textured terrain of “physiographic landforms”; her map, like Trace, is a text. And its style — precise yet expansive, even hard-to-pin-down — models Savoy’s unique background.

“I don’t define myself as a geologist,” Savoy says, though she earned a M.S. in earth sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University. Rather, Savoy identifies as a writer who uses her “experience and past work as an Earth historian” to explore themes of race, identity, culture, and heritage. Continue reading

Mike Signer ’95, Lawyer, Scholar, Author, and Mayor

Mike Signer ’95

Mike Signer ’95 (Cat Thrasher)

Mike Signer ’95 is a lawyer by profession, but he’s never shied away from pursuing a range of interests. He teaches college courses on political theory and writes books about history, including a 2015 biography of Princeton’s own James Madison, Class of 1771.

Late last year, Signer added one more pursuit: He was sworn in as mayor of Charlottesville, Va., a city of 44,000 people and home to the University of Virginia.

Running for office and teaching about politics are connected for Signer, who holds a Ph.D. in political theory. In classes, he tries to show students the ways in which the political system is broken, and how they can work to make it better. Public service, he said, is his chance to “walk the walk.”

Mayor is a part-time position in Charlottesville — though so far, Signer has devoted about 35 hours a week to the job. Like most Virginia municipalities, the city employs a full-time city manager, and the mayor and city council fulfill a role akin to that of a board of directors at a public company or a board of trustees at a university.

Signer’s campaign tagline was “One Charlottesville,” and in his first three months as mayor, he’s started working on key issues that include economic development; balancing growth with the historical character of the city; funding public schools and working with the city’s independent school board; and improving regional relations by partnering with colleagues in Albemarle county, which surrounds the city.

Signer said that his interests in public service and academia began in high school and blossomed at Princeton. In college, he started a local chapter of the Rainforest Conservancy, edited the Progressive Review, and served as a Mercer County field director for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He also dove into political theory, learning from influential professors such as George Kateb and Paul Sigmund. “It was this really heady mix of ideas and practice,” he said.

Both prongs of his Princeton experience were in evidence when Signer spoke with PAW last week. In a half-hour conversation, he delved into Aristotle’s study of city-states, philosopher Hannah Arendt’s views on being “in the world,” and Francis Fukuyama’s writings on the virtues of trust. But he also spoke about the rewards of his day-to-day mayoral duties, including getting to know his colleagues over breakfast — a practice that he wishes were more prevalent up the road in Washington, D.C. “It leads to amazing results when you carve out the time and the trust to do that,” Signer said.

Tiger of the Week: Brewer and Entrepreneur Ken Buonocore ’03

The idea of owning and operating a bar with friends is something that’s been discussed in university dorm rooms for decades. And while that dream fades away for most after college graduation, Ken Buonocore ’03 made it a reality two years ago when he co-founded Conshohocken Brewing Company.

Ken Buonocore ’03 (Courtesy Ken Buonocore ’03)

Ken Buonocore ’03 (Courtesy Ken Buonocore ’03)

It all began in 2009, when he received a home brewing kit for Christmas. Buonocore and his friend John Remington would spend hours in Buonocore’s basement, testing out different ingredients and buying more equipment in an attempt to brew the best beers possible. The friends even took a beer judging certification class to sharpen their knowledge about the brewing process. They started entering local brewing competitions, and noticed that they started to win several of them.

“At that point, I was home-brewing probably three or four days a week,” Buonocore said. “I turned my entire basement into my laboratory. It was around that time, in 2012, that we really started getting serious about it.”

The pair then found an investment group to provide the preliminary finances and set to work buying full-scale brewing equipment, drafting a business plan, and picking out commercial space. On April 1, 2014, Conshohocken Brewing Co. was officially open for business.

Located about 15 miles northwest of Philadelphia and minutes from the Schuylkill River Trail, Conshohocken Brewing Co. offers about 10 beers on tap on any given day in addition to a small pub menu. Buonocore said the brewery’s proximity to the trail attracts a number of runners and bikers, many of whom come in for a post-workout drink.

“Our blonde ale does really well because it’s a lighter beer, and the people coming in off the trail go for it often,” he said. “Other than that, our IPAs are our most popular.” Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Hollywood Exec Ben Fast ’06

Ben Fast ’06 (Courtesy Indigenous Media)

Ben Fast ’06 (Courtesy Indigenous Media)

Entering his freshman year at Princeton, Ben Fast ’06 had his sights set on computer science, or maybe economics. But his outlook changed early that fall when he saw a show by Quipfire!, the student improv comedy group.

“It kind of turned everything upside down,” Fast says. “I immediately wanted to do what they were doing.”

Fast dove into comedy and theater, joining Quipfire!, the Triangle Club, and Theatre Intime. After college, he went west to USC, where he studied screenwriting in the film school. He pursued writing jobs in film and television — an often-humbling path, he says — before joining the Weinstein Company as a creative executive.

In December, Fast was named executive vice president, development, at Indigenous Media, a studio co-founded by Jon Avnet, Rodrigo Garcia, and Jake Avnet.

Fast deals with traditional platforms as well as digital and emerging media in his new job. “The fundamentals are still the same,” he says. “It’s identifying talent early, trying to find undervalued talent, finding great ideas, and communicating those ideas effectively.”

Working in Hollywood rewards doggedness, he adds: “It really takes someone who is adamant and impetuous to get something made.”

Fast sees some parallels between the projects in his current career and the student shows that were so absorbing during his time at Princeton. The stakes may be higher, but the ingredients for success are similar. “You still want to have the sense of fun and camaraderie, if you can,” he says. “People who love what they’re doing are going to work much harder on it.” Continue reading

Tigers of the Week: Cato Laurencin ’80 and Michael Artin ’55 To Receive National Science and Technology Medals

Two alumni, Cato Laurencin ’80 and Michael Artin ’55, will receive presidential honors for their groundbreaking research. Laurencin has been selected as one of this year’s eight National Medal of Technology and Innovation honorees, while Artin is one of the nine National Medal of Science recipients. Also among the science honorees is Princeton ecology and evolutionary biology professor Simon Levin, whose research focuses on how large-scale patterns are maintained by small-scale behavioral and evolutionary factors at the level of individual organisms.

Cato Laurencin ’80 (Peter Morenus/UConn)

Cato Laurencin ’80 (Peter Morenus/UConn)

Laurencin ’80, a distinguished orthopaedic surgeon, was selected for his research on regrowing human tissue, including one innovative method for regrowing knee ligaments that was ranked among Scientific American‘s top 50 discoveries in 2007.

The technology medal will not be Laurencin’s first White House honor. He was the recipient of the Presidential Faculty Fellow Award under President Bill Clinton, and he also received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring from President Barack Obama.

Laurencin has had an impressive road to success. After graduating from Central High School in Philadelphia and then from Princeton with a B.S.E. in chemical engineering, he simultaneously earned his M.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Medical School and his Ph.D. in biochemical engineering/biotechnology from MIT.

Continue reading

Tigers of the Week: From Triangle Club to Love Triangle, Playwrights Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06 Debut Off-Broadway Play

Scott Elmegreen ’07, left, and Drew Fornarola ’06 (Courtesy Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06)

Scott Elmegreen ’07, left, and Drew Fornarola ’06 (Courtesy Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

“Ben likes beer, sports, and Emily. And Chris.” That’s the tagline for Straight, a new play written by Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06.

The pair met at Theatre Intime and the Princeton Triangle Club in the fall of 2003.

“Triangle is a pre-professional kind of experience,” said Fornarola before a Thursday night performance of Straight in New York. “It’s as close to what it’s like to do a show here as I imagine most people could have in college.

“You’ve got a creative team. You’ve got investors that you present a show to, and they give you feedback. You’ve got audiences to think about. It’s a big budget show on a big stage. The chance to do that twice a year is second to none.”

Well, maybe second to doing the same thing in New York. Straight follows Ben (Jake Epstein), a 26-year-old investment banker in Boston who struggles to understand what he wants, and what he thinks he should want. Ben feels comfortable in his long-term relationship with Emily (Jenna Gavigan) — or so it seems.

Enter Chris (Thomas E. Sullivan), a college student who’s also coming to terms with his sexuality. What begins as a one-night stand evolves into something more — a significant and sincere connection between two men trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Climber and Filmmaker Majka Burhardt ’98 Tells the Story of a Remote Mountain

Majka Burhardt ’98 on the first ascent of Majka and Kate’s Science Project (5.10-, IV, 12 pitches) on Mount Namuli. (Photo: Rob Frost)

Majka Burhardt ’98 on the first ascent of Majka and Kate’s Science Project (5.10-, IV, 12 pitches) on Mount Namuli. (Photo: Rob Frost)

Even when she was a Princeton student, Majka Burhardt ’98 was living life by her own rules. Burhardt crafted her own study abroad program in order to travel to Nepal during her junior year and was able to take a year off after sophomore year to climb mountains in places like British Columbia, Ecuador, California, and Alaska. Working as a climbing guide and serving as an Outdoor Action leader while at Princeton allowed the anthropology major to combine her love of academics with her passion for climbing.

“I am a total dork and academic, and I love getting out there physically,” Burhardt said. “And I’ve been determined to put those things together for my whole life. I think I always knew that I wanted my life to be complicated – I was always trying to add more to it, no matter what I was doing.”

Today, Burhardt is an author, entrepreneur, professional climber, and filmmaker who has spent the last two decades traveling the world. For the last 10 years, she’s been working mainly in Africa, climbing in and telling stories about places like Ethiopia, South Africa, Namibia, and most recently, Mozambique.

Burhardt fell in love in with Mozambique after seeing photos of its picturesque mountain ranges. As she began to toy with the idea of climbing there, she became fascinated with one peak in particular: Mount Namuli, an isolated mountain that had been mostly unexplored in recent years due to a civil war that wracked the country from 1977 to 1992. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Nanotechnology Innovator Jackie Ying *91

Jackie Ying *91 (Courtesy the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology)

Jackie Ying *91 (Courtesy the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology)

By the time Jackie Ying *91 arrived at Princeton to begin work on a Ph.D. chemical engineering, she had a passion for chemistry, sparked by a high school teacher in Queens, N.Y., and cultivated during her undergraduate years at Cooper Union. In graduate school, she found the faculty to be engaging — “They really got to know every single one of us very well,” she says — while also providing freedom and flexibility.

Ying’s time at Princeton, along with industry research experience at Bell Labs and a post-doctoral position in Germany, started her on a successful path in biomedical research and nanotechnology. She joined the faculty at MIT and was promoted to professor in 2001. She left that post in 2003 to lead the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore, the country where Ying spent most of her childhood.

Last December, Ying was named one of the first two winners of the Mustafa Prize, a $500,000 award for top scientists in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states, presented biennially by the government of Iran. Ying says the award — and the impressive list of nominees — shows that “science and technology is a common language” around the world.

Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Mattie Brickman ’05 To Debut a Reunions-Themed Play in L.A.

Mattie Brickman ’05, third from right in the front row, with the cast of Reunions, Reunions, Reunions. (Courtesy Mattie Brickman)

Mattie Brickman ’05, third from right in the front row, with the cast of Reunions, Reunions, Reunions. (Courtesy Mattie Brickman)

Mattie Brickman ’05 has enjoyed explaining the phenomenon of Princeton Reunions to her friends in California. “They go back every year?” people often ask. “What do they do every year?”

But for Brickman, a playwright and screenwriter, there’s more to reunions than fun and revelry. Revisiting your alma mater fits a more general storyline of “going back to an evocative place that formed you,” she says. That was a driving force in the development of her new play, Reunions, Reunions, Reunions, which debuts Feb. 5 and will run through Feb. 21 at the Studio Stage Theater in Los Angeles.

Set at a fictional college, the play features four main characters, including Courtland, who is coming back for her first reunion. She visits her boyfriend’s father, a professor obsessed with turning points in history, to pick up a gift that becomes, in Brickman’s telling, something of a Pandora’s box.  Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Nushelle de Silva ’11, Building Bridges in Sri Lanka

Nushelle de Silva ’11, center, with children from the Building Bridges program. (Courtesy Nushelle de Silva)

Nushelle de Silva ’11, center, with children from the Building Bridges program. (Courtesy Nushelle de Silva)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Nushelle de Silva ’11 grew up in Sri Lanka. In 1983, before she was born, the country erupted in what would be a 25-year civil war.

“My parents, who were fairly young at the time, saw the horrific violence that erupted on the streets,” she says. Then, she pauses. “I don’t want to provide details that run the risk of flattening what was a very complex conflict.”

Sri Lanka is a country that de Silva’s parents left and returned to — despite the civil war. After a stint in Sydney, Australia, where Nushelle was born, the family moved to Colombo, the southwestern capital, when she was 7.

In 2004, during a ceasefire, de Silva’s K-12 all-girls’ school visited a sister school in Jaffna, the country’s northernmost city. “It had a huge impact on me as a young girl,” she remembers.

“My childhood was certainly filled with bomb drills and curfews and explosions that took the lives of many — my school was damaged by a bomb a few years before I enrolled — but none of us saw the kind of violence these girls saw on a daily basis,” she says. “It was a sobering visit for a 16-year-old to make.”

Last year, de Silva earned a master of science in architecture studies, a two-year research degree at MIT. Now, she is a first-year Ph.D. student.

In December, de Silva was honored with the Queen’s Young Leader Award for “Building Bridges,” a series of arts workshops for ethnically diverse children and youth in “recently rehabilitated communities” in northern Sri Lanka.

De Silva founded Building Bridges in 2012, with the support of a Princeton ReachOut 56-81-06 grant. She launched the program after graduating from Princeton with an A.B. in architecture and certificates in urban studies and theater. Continue reading

Tigers of the Week: Sean Mewshaw ’97 and Desi Van Til ’99 Collaborate on the Feature Film ‘Tumbledown’

Sean Mewshaw ’97 and Desi Van Til ’99 at the Napa Valley Film Festival. (Courtesy Sean Mewshaw and Desi Van Til)

Sean Mewshaw ’97 and Desi Van Til ’99 at the Napa Valley Film Festival. (Courtesy Sean Mewshaw and Desi Van Til)

Despite being English majors, active in performance groups like Theater Intime, and only two years apart at Princeton, Sean Mewshaw ’97 and Desi Van Til ’99 never crossed paths on campus. But the pair, who are now married with two children, share a common path: They both point to their experiences at the University as imperative to their success in the film industry.

Van Til and Mewshaw met in Los Angeles in 2000 through mutual friends and began dating soon after while starting to establish themselves professionally in Hollywood; during that time Mewshaw worked on Gangs of New York and Remember the Titans, and Van Til helped produce 13 Going On 30 and Drillbit Taylor.

After almost a decade of working in Los Angeles, Van Til began feeling homesick for her home state of Maine. She began to write — first a series of scenes between two characters, but it soon developed into a full-blown screenplay called Tumbledown, named after a mountain not far from Van Til’s hometown of Farmington, Maine.

“It was very much Desi diving into her own inquisitions about ‘why do I live in LA, could I live back in Maine, and what does it mean to live in the woods where it’s beautiful and you have time and space,’ ” said Mewshaw.

Tumbledown is a comedic love story about a woman named Hannah (Rebecca Hall) who lives in the woods of Maine and is struggling to move on with her life after the death of her husband. When she meets Andrew (Jason Sudeikis), a New York academic who has his own theories about her late husband’s death, the two collaborate to put together the real story. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Architect and Professor Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72

Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72 (Courtesy Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)

Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72 (Courtesy Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)

Architect and professor Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72 recently was selected to receive the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architecture Education in recognition of his efforts “to shape a generation’s thinking about the environmental aspects of architecture,” according to the award announcement from the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. Kelbaugh is a former dean of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, where he continues to teach. Before coming to Michigan, he served as chair of the architecture department at the University of Washington.

Kelbaugh studied architecture as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Princeton, and he launched his career not far from his alma mater. One block away from Nassau Street, he built an innovative solar home in the mid-1970s, incorporating a Trombe wall, a south-facing glass wall backed by a concrete wall that collects and radiates heat.

“That house garnered a lot of publicity,” Kelbaugh recalled. “We stopped counting, but I think it was in over a hundred books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, you name it. Even in magazine ads, it was showing up, for products that had nothing to do with the house!”

As a pioneer in passive solar architecture, Kelbaugh took a deep interest in energy conservation. He later partnered with Peter Calthorpe, a founder of New Urbanism, and pursued transit-oriented development projects. Continue reading

Tigers of the Week: 2015

tow_collage-1021PAW’s Tiger of the Week feature will be taking a break for the next two weeks, but we encourage readers to keep sending nominations of alumni doing interesting or notable things (see the form at the bottom of this post). About half of our 2015 honorees were nominated by PAW readers. Many have made local or national headlines, but thanks to your input, we’re just as likely to profile alumni who’ve made their mark away from the public spotlight. Follow the links below to read about the 53 alumni featured in the last 12 months.

Mike Condon ’13David Zabel ’88Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13Randy Hobler ’68Daniel Velasco ’13Arron Melvin ’01 *07Chris Hamm ’14John Oakes ’83Monica Greco ’13Doug Emlen *94Luna Ranjit *04Allegra Wiprud ’14Vin Gupta ’05Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00Christian Birky ’13Ajay Kapur ’02Patrick Ryan ’68Ross Tucker ’01Gavin Black ’79Grant Wentworth ’09Zachary Pincus-Roth ’02 and Eve Weston ’01Leonid Kruglyak ’87Jasmine ‘Jazzy’ Ellis ’10Anne Matlock Dinneen ’99Rick Hamlin ’77Ben Taub ’14Jay Xu *08David Billington ’50Veneka Chagwedera ’09 and Jared Crooks ’11Gevvie Stone ’07Mark Milley ’80Sarah Sherman ’08Valerie Vigoda ’87Lili Anolik ’00Landon Y. Jones ’66Stu Nunnery ’71Danielle Ivory ’05Mary Throne ’82Scott Clemons ’90Nick Guthe ’91Stephanie Flack ’92Jason Schwartz ’03Ellie Kemper ’02Andrew Jarecki ’85Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09Jodi Hauptman ’86Jonathan Mayer ’09Claire Max *72 and David Weinberg *89George Hawkins ’83

Nominate your top Tiger

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.

Tiger of the Week: Goalie Mike Condon ’13, A New Princetonian in the NHL

Mike Condon ’13 makes a save during a Nov. 27 Montreal win against the New Jersey Devils. (Ed Mulholland, USA TODAY Sports)

Mike Condon ’13 makes a save during a Nov. 27 Montreal win against the New Jersey Devils. (Ed Mulholland, USA TODAY Sports)

After going undrafted in the NHL following his time as a goalie on the Princeton men’s hockey team, Mike Condon ’13 was unsure of what to do next. He had played four seasons at Princeton but only started his senior year. When the Tigers’ season ended in March, Condon flew to southern California to try out for the Ontario (Calif.) Reign, a mid-level professional team then in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), while trying to finish his senior thesis about post-Cold War arms transfers.

Condon played well in California and was called up to play backup goalie for the Houston Aeros, the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Minnesota Wild. It wasn’t long before Condon caught the attention of the Montreal Canadiens, signing a contract in May 2013. After honing his skills during the last two seasons with the Canadiens’ ECHL and AHL affiliates, the Wheeling Nailers and Hamilton Bulldogs, Condon earned the role of backup goalie for the Canadiens. He has played in 23 of the team’s 36 games this season, filling in for the starting goalie, Carey Price, who is out with a lower-body injury until at least mid-January.

The jump from minor-league hockey to the NHL “is a challenge, and there’s a little bit of doubt in your mind,” Condon said. “At first it’s a little intimidating to be on the ice with [NHL players] because you don’t know how you’re going to fare. But the best way to do it is to jump into the fire, play with confidence, and trust your training.” Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: David Zabel ’88, Television Writer, Producer, and Co-Creator of ‘Mercy Street’

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

David Zabel ’88 (Courtesy David Zabel)

David Zabel ’88 (Courtesy David Zabel)

On Dec. 7, in front of a full-house audience of star-struck undergraduates and artsy locals, David Zabel ’88 spoke from a stage that supported the early days of his career — literally. It was at 185 Nassau, the longtime home of the arts at Princeton, that he spent hours and hours at late-night rehearsals and intensive writing workshops.

Once he discovered the theater at Princeton, Zabel said, his other interests (history, for example) quietly faded away. It snapped his future into focus.

“I was interested in a bunch of different things,” he said. “It was just theater that embraced me — earliest and most fully.”

Zabel is now an award-winning television writer, producer, and director. He wrote more than 45 episodes of ER, the medical series on NBC. He was the showrunner of ER for the program’s final five years, and he was also the showrunner and executive producer of Detroit 1-8-7 and Betrayal (both on ABC).

Zabel returned to 185 Nassau not as an actor, as he’d been as a student, but as the co-creator and executive producer of a new six-part Civil War-era television series on PBS that premieres this January: Mercy Street. The first episode will air Jan. 17 at 10 p.m. (after Downton Abbey). Mercy Street, PBS’ first American-made drama in over a decade, is based on real events.

After a special preview screening of the show and a presentation of a short video about Zabel’s work, produced by the Lewis Center of the Arts, Zabel shared the stage with Mercy Street cast members Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), McKinley Belcher III, and Tara Summers, and historians James McPherson and Audrey P. Davis. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13, Teaching Tech Skills Through Minecraft

Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13 (Courtesy Piper)

Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13 (Courtesy Piper)

After his junior year at Princeton, Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13 traveled to Ghana, supported by a global-health fellowship, and developed a game-based curriculum to teach children about malaria. The effort seemed to be succeeding, Pavlyukovskyy said, but his work was cut short when he came down with a severe illness and had to be evacuated to Paris.

As he convalesced, Pavlyukovskyy had time to think about more ways to help kids in the developing world, and his thoughts kept coming back to technology. Skills like computer coding know no national boundaries, he reasoned, so “if you give people these tech skills, they can participate in the global economy.”

Pavlyukovskyy, a molecular biology major, didn’t know much about computer coding or electronics, but he vowed to learn more. Three years later, he’s still following that path, helping to spread tech skills around the globe through an educational startup called Piper. The company’s first product release is a “Minecraft toolbox,” a do-it-yourself computer kit that kids can build and then use to play an interactive version of the popular video game. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Randy Hobler ’68 Dreams of Broadway — and Brings Princetonians Together

If someone had told Randy Hobler ’68 in his senior year that he would go on to have a successful career in theater, he probably would not have believed them. When Hobler was a student at Princeton, the theater department did not yet exist. While Triangle Club and Theatre Intime provided extracurricular opportunities in the performing arts, Hobler said the “notion of going out and doing theater [as a career] was alien to the culture of Princeton at the time.”

Randy Hobler ’68, left, with his undergraduate bandmates Marty Faletti ’68, Bill McCabe ’67, Kit Hinsley ’67, and Pete Stockman ’68. (Courtesy Randy Hobler)

Randy Hobler ’68, left, with his undergraduate bandmates Marty Faletti ’68, Bill McCabe ’67, Kit Hinsley ’67, and Pete Stockman ’68. (Courtesy Randy Hobler)

Hobler instead channeled his creative expression into music as a member of a rock band and a drummer in the Princeton University Band. “In doing that music,” he now realizes, “I was expressing something inside me.” That spark he felt eventually led him to create his musical The Spirit of River City.

The show explores the notion of “reorchestrating one’s life” through a bio-fantasy narrative about famous playwright Meredith Willson. Upon his death, Willson returns to the past to influence his younger self not to make the same mistakes and endures a series of adventures along the way.

The narrative began as sequel to Willson’s famous musical The Music Man. Hobler, who had a family tie to Willson through his father and grandfather’s work, aimed to celebrate the famous playwright by adding details he had left out about himself in The Music Man. Hobler researched extensively and worked hard for over a decade to make The Spirit of River City both historically accurate and novel. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Daniel Velasco ’13, Teach for America Alum and Charter School Mentor Teacher

Daniel Velasco ’13 (Courtesy Daniel Velasco)

Daniel Velasco ’13 (Courtesy Daniel Velasco)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Outside Daniel Velasco ’13’s classroom window at the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Ind., stands an abandoned building with boarded up windows. But the view doesn’t bother Velasco — his focus is on his students, not his surroundings.

“I absolutely love all of my students, even those that make me want to pull my hair out,” Velasco said with a chuckle. “The greatest lesson I have learned from them is patience.”

This is Velasco’s third year at the charter school. During his first two, he taught full time as a Teach for America fellow. Velasco taught AP United States history, AP world history, economics, government, and world history. He has also tried to build relationships with his students, and to connect with them as a mentor.

“When I teach my kids, stay after school with them, and host tutoring sessions during breaks, I think about the teachers that did that for me,” he said.

After completing his two-year Teach for America commitment, Velasco decided to stay at the 21st Century Charter School as a mentor teacher. In this role, he continues to teach half time, and he also serves as a building leader. Although he is young, he has considerable responsibility at the school. He works closely with two building administrators and 25 teachers.

In the mornings, Velasco teaches economics and government classes to 12th graders. In the afternoons, he observes teachers in their classrooms and gives them feedback in order to help them improve their teaching style and instruction.

“Life as a teacher is both draining and rewarding,” he said. “My life is completely different than when I was at Princeton, because I no longer have just my education and my future to worry about, but also my students’.”

Velasco’s own education was global. He’s a city-loving, second-generation Mexican Midwesterner who was born and raised in Chicago. He spent much of his time at Princeton — well, not at Princeton. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Race Car Aerodynamicist Arron Melvin ’01 *07

Arron Melvin ’01 *07 (Courtesy Arron Melvin)

Arron Melvin ’01 *07 (Courtesy Arron Melvin)

Arron Melvin ’01 *07 raced cars before coming to Princeton, and as a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, he found he had a knack for understanding the science of what makes cars go fast — fields such as fluid mechanics and aerodynamics. “What I enjoy doing in an academic sense was consistent with the career I wanted to pursue,” said Melvin, who now works as the chief aerodynamicist for Chevy IndyCar.

Melvin joined Pratt & Miller Engineering and the Chevy team in 2012, and much of his work came to fruition in 2015 when Chevy and its IndyCar rival, Honda, both released new aero kits — body components designed for greater speed and versatility. Chevy outpaced Honda to win pole position in each of the season’s 16 races, and two Chevy drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon, won the two biggest titles on the circuit, the Indianapolis 500 and the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, respectively.

Racer magazine, in its season recap, wrote that Chevy was the clear winner in what would be remembered as “the Year of the Aero Kit,” and Melvin and colleagues Charles Ping III, Christopher Berube, and Mark Kent won the 2015 Louis Schwitzer Award, for “innovation and engineering excellence at the Indianapolis 500.”  But Melvin, who also has worked on the hyper-competitive Formula One circuit, knows that technological advantages often are short lived. He and his team are hard at work designing improvements for next year. “I’m very driven by the competitive side of things,” he said. “We’re pretty pumped up for 2016.” Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Chris Hamm ’14, Helping to Build a Better Solar-Powered Home

Chris Hamm ’14 was part of a Stevens Institute of Technology team that built the winning entry in the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. (Courtesy Chris Hamm)

Chris Hamm ’14 was part of a Stevens Institute of Technology team that built the winning entry in the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. (Courtesy Chris Hamm)

Last month, after more than a year of planning, four months of construction, a cross-country voyage, and nine days of on-site assembly, Chris Hamm ’14 and his teammates from Stevens Institute of Technology were ready to show off their work: SURE HOUSE, a “sustainable and resilient” solar-powered home that was among more than a dozen entrants in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif.

The biennial competition rates projects in 10 categories, including architecture, engineering, and energy balance. At the end of more than a week of judging, the Stevens team topped the final rankings.

For Hamm, a master’s student who directed energy analysis for the project, creating the 1,000 square-foot home presented challenges he’d never encountered before. “Seeing a project through, from the beginning design phases to actually building it, requires another level of collaboration and compromise,” he said.

Hamm studied environmental engineering at Princeton and took a strong interest in sustainable building and energy modeling during his junior and senior years. His undergraduate thesis explored strategies for adapting Passive House, a popular building-energy standard developed in Germany, to apply to homes in various climates in the United States. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Publishing Veteran John Oakes ’83

John Oakes ’83 (Courtesy John Oakes)

John Oakes ’83 (Courtesy John Oakes)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

In September, John Oakes ’83, a veteran book publisher based in New York, returned to the Princeton campus for “Careers Beyond Wall Street,” a panel sponsored by Princeton Progressives. He described a shrinking industry that is, well, still stuck in the Stone Age.

“I think going into book publishing — certainly the traditional side of it — is tantamount to apprenticing yourself to a potter. Or a stone carver,” he said.

Book publishing is “quaint, time-consuming, frustrating, and occasionally thrilling,” he said — and it’s in the midst of a massive transformation.

As the co-publisher at OR Books, an independent press that sells e-books and paperback books direct to readers, and prints on demand, Oakes is shaping that transformation, one book at a time. In the coming year, Oakes also plans to re-launch The Evergreen Review, a groundbreaking literary magazine, with Editor-in-Chief Dale Peck.

The Evergreen Review, created by Barney Rosset, the late publisher of Grove Press, published a sea of cultural legends — including Susan Sontag, Malcolm X, Jean-Paul Sartre, Vladimir Nabokov, Allen Ginsberg, and Samuel Beckett — in its original run from 1957 to 1973.

Oakes first met Rosset, Beckett’s American publisher, in 1982, when he found himself knee-deep in his English department senior thesis. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Monica Greco ’13, Helping Refugees in Jordan Start a New Life

Monica Greco ’13 (Hesham Elnagar)

Monica Greco ’13 (Hesham Elnagar)

After Monica Greco ’13 graduated from Princeton, she packed her bags and flew to Amman, Jordan, to begin her yearlong Fulbright scholarship to study Roman military history. But while living in a country in the midst of a refugee crisis, where many families were seeking to start a new life after fleeing from violence in nearby countries, Greco started volunteering with a small nonprofit refugee-aid organization called the Collateral Repair Project (CRP).

“I spent a lot of time on public-policy stuff at Princeton and have always been interested in emergency aid,” said Greco, a classics major who earned a certificate in the Woodrow Wilson School. “CRP is like an extension of me, or I am an extension of it — I’m not sure at this point.”

CRP is located in Amman’s Hashmi Shamali neighborhood, which is home to a large number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. When a refugee family crosses the Jordanian border, adults are forbidden from working in the country in almost all cases, Greco said. CRP’s emergency-assistance program provides basic amenities like food, medical support, mattresses, cooking utensils, heaters, and fans to families in dire need.

“Things are very, very hard — people can’t work, which means they can’t support themselves,” she said. “So while there’s this relief of not being subject to bombings, violence, kidnappings, and torture, things are still hard when they get to Jordan.” Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Doug Emlen *94, Author of ‘Animal Weapons’

Doug Emlen *94 (Courtesy Doug Emlen)

Doug Emlen *94 (Courtesy Doug Emlen)

Doug Emlen *94, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Montana, thought that writing was his “A-game” — a strength, a specialty even. He’d written textbooks and taught classes about science writing. But when he began working on his first book for a general audience — an exploration of evolutionary arms races in the animal world — Emlen realized he still had much to learn.

“I would send these things that I thought were masterpieces to my editor,” he recalled with a laugh. “And she’d turn around and say, ‘You sound like a professor.’”

As Emlen searched for his narrative voice, he drew inspiration from his days as a Princeton graduate student, when he spent periods of seven or eight months researching dung beetles on an island in the rain forests of Panama. “I was writing these letters back to my then-girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and she kept them all,” Emlen said. “All these incredible things came flooding back, and so that’s how I was able to start working in these back stories and adventures. I’d actually written them down in my letters, 20 years ago.”

The grad-student adventures are woven into a wide-ranging review of biological research in Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle, which won the 2015 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in Science earlier this month. In the words of one selection-panel member, it’s a “lively, engrossing account of the arms races in animal evolution, development, and ecology.” (Joan Breton Connely ’76 also was among this year’s Phi Beta Kappa honorees, receiving the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for The Parthenon Enigma: A New Understanding of the West’s Most Iconic Building and the People Who Made It.) Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Luna Ranjit *04, Working for Social Justice

Luna Ranjit *04 (Aaron Colussi)

Luna Ranjit *04 (Aaron Colussi)

Luna Ranjit *04, a Woodrow Wilson School MPA graduate and native of Nepal, began working with Nepali immigrants in New York City 10 years ago as one of the founders of Adhikaar, a Queens-based community organization that takes its name from the Nepali word for “rights.”

“Although our focus is the Nepali community, we’ve never called ourselves a Nepali organization,” said Ranjit, Adhikaar’s executive director. “We’re a social-justice organization which happens to serve some of the most marginalized groups within the immigrant community.”

Ranjit and her colleagues set their sights on a range of community needs, including workers’ rights and access to health care, while building a more prominent voice for one of New York’s fastest-growing immigrant groups.

In the last year, Adhikaar has made headlines for its community leadership in the wake of tragic earthquakes in Nepal and its advocacy on behalf of workers in New York nail salons — shining a light on health and pay issues that were featured in The New York Times in an in-depth investigative report and editorial last May. Adhikaar helped to catalyze change, including new workplace safety regulations in the state, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, and a wage-bond requirement that went into effect Oct. 6. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Allegra Wiprud ’14, Conservation Leader

Allegra Lovejoy Wiprud ’14 (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 gets emotional when she recalls her first land stewardship trip at the D&R Greenway Land Trust, an 18,000-acre land preservation and conservation nonprofit. It was an invasive species removal job in Hopewell, N.J. That day, the dangerous plant that her team tracked down, cut back, and destroyed — the climbing growth that covered, choked, and threatened to kill a tree — was English ivy (Hedera helix).

Perched on a picnic table outside the Johnson Education Center, a historic barn overlooking Greenway Meadows, Wiprud mimes how she removed the ivy, grabbing the vine with her hands as if it were a snake coiled around her neck. By clearing the ivy away, she says, “We can give the tree its life back.”

Ivy might look quintessentially Princeton, but as Wiprud is learning, the non-native plant climbs and grows so fast that it smothers other plants and starves trees of sunlight.

Unlike the local flora, Wiprud, a native of Brooklyn, has flourished amongst the ivy. While at Princeton, she meditated, studied, and practiced yoga. She quickly found a home in Murray Dodge Hall, a center of religious and spiritual life on campus. Eventually, she unearthed and discovered within herself a new belief: Hinduism. She took the lead in student religious groups, planning programs, retreats, and service projects for the interfaith Princeton Religious Life Council and the National Hindu Student Council. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Vin Gupta ’05, Pursuing Work in Clinical Practice and Health Policy

Vin Gupta ’05 (Courtesy Vin Gupta)

Vin Gupta ’05 (Courtesy Vin Gupta)

Although there is “increasing evidence” that universal health care improves health outcomes, many of the world’s lower- and middle-income countries have not pursued universal health care policies, according to a recent article by lead author Vin Gupta ’05 and three colleagues, published online in The New England Journal of Medicine. With that in mind, Gupta and his colleagues studied the adoption of universal health care in six countries — Chile, Mexico, China, Thailand, Turkey, and Indonesia — and the political, social, and economic factors that made the change possible.

The results, Gupta told PAW, are “more diagnostic than prescriptive,” but the research could play a useful role as the United Nations discusses new development goals at a summit that begins later this week. For example, the group found that “societal solidarity” (admittedly difficult to measure) was not a prerequisite to adding universal health care. Economic growth, on the other hand, was present in all six countries during the periods in which the government added universal health care.

Gupta said that more of the research, including details from individual countries and examples of “how they navigated common problems,” will be part of a new book, A Convenient Truth: The Politicization of Health Reforms and Electoral Success in the Southern Hemisphere. His co-authors include Eric Goosby ’74, a professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine who served as the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator in the Obama administration from 2009-13.

Gupta, a chemistry major at Princeton, attended medical school at Columbia, starting a path toward clinical practice. But a few years later, a Fulbright fellowship in public health took him to China and East Africa and kindled a deep interest in foreign policy and global health. Now, with his M.D. from Columbia and a master’s degree in international relations from Cambridge, Gupta is pursuing both tracks in his career.

Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Documentary Filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 (Courtesy Little Monster Films)

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 (Courtesy Little Monster Films)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Meru, a Sundance Audience Award-winning white-knuckler of a documentary, follows three elite mountain climbers on their quest to conquer the 21,000-foot summit of Mount Meru, the most technically difficult peak in the Himalayas. It’s a death-defying expedition into sub-zero temperatures that involves extraordinary risks.

But the mission that climbers Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and Jimmy Chin share is not only physically grueling; it’s emotional. Meru tests their friendship, and their relationships with their families back home.

No one knows this better than Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00, who co-directed and co-produced the film with Chin. The directors fell in love through the making of Meru, and they married in 2013. Now, they split their time between the Upper East Side of New York City and the big blue skies of Jackson Hole, Wyo.

“I’m not a climber, so I was always more interested in the human relationships in the film,” Vasarhelyi said from New York as the couple’s toddler, Marina, gurgled patiently after waking up from her afternoon nap. (She’s used to Mommy doing interviews, Vasarhelyi laughed.)

Vasarhelyi and Chin met at a conference in 2012. Chin, a professional alpinist and cinematographer, shot the film with Ozturk on their two Meru expeditions in 2008 and 2011. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Christian Birky ’13, Hiring Former Inmates to Make Sustainable Clothing

Christian Birky ’13 (Courtesy Lazlo LLC)

Christian Birky ’13 (Courtesy Lazlo LLC)

During his junior year at Princeton, Christian Birky ’13 received an email from the Pace Center about a program that matched student tutors with inmates at a local prison. After participating in the program for a semester, Birky said he was so “blown away” by the scope of the prison crisis in the United States that he decided to write his senior thesis on prison policy.

“And so I continued to learn about how dysfunctional the entire criminal-justice system is here in the states,” Birky said. “When I was working with the guys, they would say over and over again that they had no idea how they were going to get a job when they get out.”

Meanwhile, Birky also was involved with the Sustainable Fashion Initiative, a student group dedicated to developing a “culture of sustainability in the fashion industry.” Birky said he had never considered a career in fashion before college, but after graduation, he moved to Detroit and started Lazlo, a sustainable men’s clothing line.

“There’s basically no way to make cheap clothing and still do things right,” Birky said. “So what we’re thinking is, ‘we’re going to go in the opposite direction — if fast fashion, labor abuse, and disposable clothing is at one end of the spectrum, we’re going to see how far in the other direction we can go.’”

Lazlo’s goal is to provide high-quality and durable clothing for men while ensuring its products are manufactured in the most ethical and sustainable ways possible. And to do that, Birky plans to hire former inmates from the Michigan prison system. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Ajay Kapur ’02, Bringing Creative Arts to Online Education

Ajay Kapur ’02 (Jeffrey K. Plunkett ’97)

Ajay Kapur ’02 (Jeffrey K. Plunkett ’97)

PAW’s January 2013 Music Issue highlighted the technologically advanced performances of Ajay Kapur ’02, a professor at the California Institute of the Arts best known for developing intricate, responsive robotic instruments. Now Kapur is shifting his creativity to a new outlet: Kadenze, an educational technology startup that he founded with Princeton emeritus professor Perry Cook.

Kadenze, which launched in June, features courses in music, art, and design that range from traditional topics (the history of Western art) to cutting-edge technology (“Physics-Based Sound Synthesis for Games and Interactive Systems,” a forthcoming class from Cook and Stanford’s Julius Smith). The platform aims to fill a niche that has been largely neglected in online education.

“It’s great that you can learn math and engineering and all these things that are out there,” Kapur told Inside Higher Ed. “We want to bring creativity into the mix.”

Princeton, Stanford, and CalArts are among Kadenze’s launch partners. (A few institutions are offering credit for the online courses, but Princeton is not among that group.) In addition to serving as Kadenze’s CEO, Kapur is teaching one of the first courses, “Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists.” It features sessions with three digital-music innovators who are also Princetonians: Cook; Ge Wang *08, an assistant professor at Stanford and co-founder of Smule; and Spencer Salazar ’06, a doctoral student at Stanford.

WATCH: Ajay Kapur ’02’s robotic creations, a video by Jeffrey K. Plunkett ’97 Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Patrick Ryan ’68, Gallery Director

Patrick Ryan ’68 at his Princeton art gallery, Gallery 353. (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

Patrick Ryan ’68 at his Princeton art gallery, Gallery 353. (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Patrick Ryan ’68 doesn’t do “art speak.” But he does know how to command the stage at an auction, rattling off antiques and art at break-neck speed to the highest bidder. Last Saturday, at the historic Benjamin Temple house and dairy farm in Ewing, N.J., where he was born and raised, Ryan auctioned off more than 80 items in 2 1/2 hours under a blazing hot sun — all for charity, to support the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.

Ryan has led a life of talking fast and moving faster. A long-time art collector and gallery owner, Ryan is just as comfortable in overalls and work boots as in seersucker shorts and a polo shirt.

He reckons he somehow “inherited the Irish gypsy gene,” a drive that rattled against the quiet rituals of his father’s 166-acre dairy farm: rising at 4:30 a.m. to milk 50 cows, twice per day. “The cows don’t care if it’s Christmas,” he remembers.

One item on the auction block was an original milk bottle from the Ryan family’s farm, which opened in 1903. “No one can believe that there was a dairy farm out in Jersey,” he says. “But that’s all there was: horses and cows and peaches.”

Ryan’s wanderlust took him far beyond his father’s dairy farm — to boarding school, to Princeton, and after graduation to law school in Washington, D.C., then homes in Chicago, Honolulu, Louisiana, La Jolla, San Francisco, Sante Fe, Oregon, Key Biscayne, Las Cruces — and home again, after five years as the director of an art gallery in Charleston, S.C., and nine years as a pecan farmer.

Last May, Ryan opened Gallery 353, a one-room art gallery in Princeton. Tucked within the basement of the McCarthy building on Nassau Street, the gallery’s current collection is as eclectic as Ryan’s background.

“It’s a great job to be able to sit and just enjoy beautiful things. Especially when you can’t lift — when you can’t do fence holes any more!” he laughs. Continue reading