Category Archives: Tiger of the Week

Tiger of the Week: Hester Blum ’95, Scholar at Sea

Hester Blum ’95 (Courtesy Hester Blum)

Hester Blum ’95 (Courtesy Hester Blum)

Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, memorably noted “a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.” Hester Blum ’95 had the benefit of a Princeton education — plus a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania — but as a scholar of Melville and oceanic studies, she’s often yearned to experience a bit of Ishmael’s maritime schooling. Next week, she’ll have that opportunity.

Blum, an associate professor of English at Penn State University, will be spending two days at sea on the Charles W. Morgan, a recently restored 19th-century whaling ship, and writing literary reflections about her experiences. Mystic Seaport, where Blum has conducted some of her research on sea narratives, launched the months-long “38th voyage” of the Morgan to promote interest in America’s maritime heritage. “Where once the Morgan’s cargo was whale oil and baleen,” Mystic Seaport’s website said, “today her cargo is knowledge.”

Two days is a far cry from the two-to-four-year journeys of 19th-century whalers, but Blum said that the voyage is a rare opportunity to “inhabit the space of the artifact that I’m usually encountering on paper.” Her work often takes her to archives, to read out-of-print books or never-in-print manuscripts. This time, it will take her to the narrow perch of a night watchman, like the one Ishmael describes in “The Mast-Head,” one of Blum’s favorite chapters from Moby-Dick — and the inspiration for the title of her book The View from the Masthead, a study of the role that seamen played in American literature of the 1800s.

Tiger of the Week: NBA Newcomer David Blatt ’81

David Blatt ’81 in 2012, when he was the head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. (© Sebastian Kahnert/DPA/ZUMAPRESS.com)

David Blatt ’81 in 2012, when he was the head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. (© Sebastian Kahnert/DPA/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Until this week, David Blatt ’81 was arguably the most accomplished basketball coach outside the NBA. He’d coached in Israel, Turkey, Russia, and Italy, winning league championships, a European title, and an Olympic bronze medal (with the Russian team in 2012). Now, fresh off a stunning Euroleague championship with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, Blatt has made history as the first international coach to jump directly to a head-coaching position in the NBA.

The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Blatt as their new coach on June 20, and praise soon arrived from past players, basketball experts, and a certain Hall of Fame coach who lives just down the road from Jadwin Gym. Pete Carril, Blatt’s mentor during four seasons at Princeton, told Star-Ledger columnist Dave D’Alessandro that the NBA newcomer has great potential. “He knows the game. He knows how to teach it,” Carril said. “Now let’s hope he has the kind of guys who understand what he’s selling.”

Blatt, a native of Framingham, Mass., has lived abroad since graduating from Princeton, first as a professional player in Israel and then as a coach. With the Tigers, he was a talented point guard, making second team All-Ivy his junior year with a team that tied for the league title. But that did not guarantee a starting spot in his senior year, as Carril told PAW contributor Tim Warren in 2007. “I had to bench him and put in a freshman,” Carril said. “It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. But instead of pouting, Dave worked even harder. And in the second-to-last game of the season, we were losing and my freshman wasn’t doing anything. Dave scored six or eight points in a short time, made a couple of steals, and we won the game.”

With similar perseverance and patience, Blatt worked and waited for his shot in the NBA. In October, he’ll take the floor for the first time with his new team — and in a twist of fate, the Cavaliers will be facing his old team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, as part of the NBA’s series of exhibition games against international clubs.

Tiger of the Week: Jason Aramburu ’07, Green Entrepreneur

Jason Aramburu ’07 (Courtesy Edyn)

Jason Aramburu ’07 (Courtesy Edyn)

Jason Aramburu ’07 has had his eye on soil since his undergraduate days. As an ecology and evolutionary biology major, he conducted senior-thesis research in Panama, studying how a population of ants chose nesting sites based on soil properties. After graduation, he started a company called Re:char, which developed a charcoal fertilizer and brought it to farmers in developing countries.

Now, Aramburu’s devotion to soil is coming to gardens in the United States. His new company, Edyn, has created a Wi-Fi-enabled probe that measures soil properties and uses the data to automatically regulate irrigation through a solar-powered water valve.

The product received positive reviews in The New York Times and Wired last week, and funding for its Kickstarter campaign more than doubled its $100,000 goal in less than two weeks.

Aramburu told PAW that while his biology background has been immensely important, a course outside his department also had a major influence: Ed Zschau ’61’s High-Tech Entrepreneurship. “It was an incredibly inspiring class and made me think about doing something entrepreneurial,” Aramburu said.

Re:char launched in 2009 and has been adopted by thousands of farmers in Kenya, Aramburu said, and its proceeds helped him to create Edyn. Perhaps the most valuable experience was doing soil research in Kenya — that’s where Edyn’s first prototypes were developed.

Aramburu said that other Princetonians have contributed to his new company’s promising start. Paul Cowgill ’08, is a software developer for Edyn; Ron Sachs ’88 was among the first investors; and Aaron Lee *00, the chief technology officer at Home Depot and cofounder of Redbeacon, serves as a company adviser.

Tiger of the Week: Tony Nominee Jarrod Spector ’03

Jarrod Spector ’03, far right, with Beautiful castmates, from left, Jake Epstein, Jessie Mueller, and Anika Larsen. (Lev Radin/Shutterstock.com)

Jarrod Spector ’03, far right, with Beautiful cast-mates, from left, Jake Epstein, Jessie Mueller, and Anika Larsen. (Lev Radin/Shutterstock.com)

By the time he reached fourth grade, Jarrod Spector ’03 had started a career in theater, playing the role of Gavroche in Les Miserables, first in a regional production and later on Broadway. He would watch the Tony Awards and dream of someday hearing his name called. But that dream was tempered over time, as Spector recently told BroadwayWorld.com:

“You get older and you realize how hard it is just to get a job, let alone get a job in a good show, let alone for that show to be on Broadway, let alone for that show on Broadway to be considered for Tonys. … I’d sort of written it off as a fantasy.”

Spector joined elite company this year as a nominee for best featured actor in a musical — he plays the role of Barry Mann in Beautiful — The Carole King Musical. Though he did not win the award, he was thrilled by the nomination, and by the recognition that Beautiful has received (two Tonys and five other nominations, including writer Douglas McGrath ’80 for best book of a musical).

The 2014 Tony winners and nominees had several Princeton connections. Roger Berlind ’52 is one of the producers of A Raisin in the Sun, the winner for best revival of a play. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the best musical, is running at the Walter Kerr Theatre, owned and operated by Jordan Roth ’97’s Jujamcyn Theaters. Alumnus Jonathan Schwartz ’10 plays Omar in Aladdin, a best-musical nominee. And Princeton lecturer Jane Cox was nominated for best lighting design of a play for her work on Machinal.

Tigers of the Week: Norman Augustine ’57 *59 and Christopher Lu ’88

Norman Augustine ’57 *59, left, and Christopher Lu ’88. (Office of Communications/Mark Czajkowski [Augustine], Denise Applewhite [Lu])

Norman Augustine ’57 *59, left, and Christopher Lu ’88. (Office of Communications/Mark Czajkowski [Augustine], Denise Applewhite [Lu])

Princeton’s newest graduates received their degrees June 3 and will head out into the world with fresh wisdom and advice, thanks to two prominent alumni — Norman Augustine ’57 *59, a retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., who delivered remarks at the Graduate School Hooding Ceremony June 2; and Christopher Lu ’88, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, who spoke to seniors at Baccalaureate June 1.

Augustine encouraged the Ph.D. graduates to stray from their comfort zones and take on challenges in their careers. “Life is not a spectator sport,” he said. “Neither is it a dress rehearsal. The greatest regrets in life are not the opportunities one pursues and fails, but are the opportunities one fails to pursue.”

Lu shared the words of his father, an immigrant from China who, when interviewed for a magazine story about how middle-class families struggle to pay for college tuition, replied, “I’ve told my sons that your education is your inheritance.”

“An inheritance is something that your parents spend a lifetime accumulating,” Lu explained. “It is not something to be squandered. Unlike a gift, there are strings attached to an inheritance. There are responsibilities implied. An inheritance is something you grow and pass on to the next generation.”

Both speakers also emphasized service — in Augustine’s case, highlighting the role of service outside of one’s professional obligations, and in Lu’s case, either as a career path or as an avocation. Lu, with a nod to John F. Kennedy, added that service means “asking … what you can do for your country, and not simply waiting to be asked.”

Tiger of the Week: Award-Winning Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06 at the Obies (Off-Broadway Awards) last week. (Shutterstock/Lev Radin)

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06 at the Obies (off-Broadway awards) last week. (Shutterstock/Lev Radin)

For Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06, the last few months have been a whirlwind. The Brooklyn-based playwright has brought two new plays to the stage in New York City — Appropriate, which ran from late February to mid April at the Signature Theatre, and An Octoroon, an exploration of Dion Boucicoult’s 1859 play The Octoroon, which began its ongoing run at the Soho Rep. in late April. Last week, in recognition of both works, Jacobs-Jenkins received the Obie Award for the best new American play; the two productions dominated the off-Broadway honors in the acting and directing categories as well.

“It’s been a very charmed year, without a doubt,” Jacobs-Jenkins told PAW.

Jacobs-Jenkins majored in anthropology at Princeton, acted in campus productions, and delved deeply into creative writing courses. In his junior year, he took a playwriting class, taught by Robert Sandberg ’70, which he said “opened up something for me creatively that I didn’t even know was there.” As a senior, he wrote and staged the play Heart!!!, a creative-thesis production about an African-American boy with a heart problem.

Issues of race figured prominently in Heart!!!, and they also take center stage in Appropriate and An Octoroon. (They are “addendums to my thesis, in some funny way,” he said.) The first features a white family trying to come to grips with its violent, racist ancestors; the second explores slavery in the South. The Village Voice, which featured Jacobs-Jenkins on the cover of its May 21 issue, hailed the playwright’s “ravenous appetite for the hard questions.”

An Octoroon is scheduled to wrap up next month, but Jacobs-Jenkins has plenty of work ahead, including the debut of another new play, War, at Yale Repertory Theatre in the fall. (Classmate and Princeton lecturer Lileana Blain-Cruz ’06 will direct the production.) Next spring, Jacobs-Jenkins is slated to teach a course at Princeton.

Read More: “Pay No Attention to the Man in the Bunny Suit,” a profile of Jacobs-Jenkins from the May 21 Village Voice.