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“My job exists to help you tell someone how you feel”

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Allison Marsh, Class of 96, has made a career out of being forward-thinking. For the past decade, she’s worked in new product development at American Greetings, most recently as a Research and Development Manager. “The sole reason my job exists is to help you tell someone how you feel,” she says. “That’s actually pretty powerful. But what does that gesture look like to a millennial, or to the next generation? Does it have to look like a traditional greeting card? Probably not!”

IMG_2435[1]Marsh’s team handles the cards that “do the unexpected,” she says. “If it sings, dances, lights up, records your voice, shoots confetti, has a QR code—if there’s something above and beyond what you think of as a regular greeting card, it comes from this department.”

Born and bred in Pittsburgh, Marsh loves the city, and when it came time for college, she wanted to stay. “I knew I didn’t want to sit in Psych 101 with a hundred kids and be lucky if the professor knew my name,” she says.

“So I looked at Carlow, Duquesne and Chatham. But once I visited Chatham, I was done. It’s like being in a treehouse above the city. You can’t see that it’s there from the road; it’s hidden, but like two minutes from everything you can experience in city life. I knew I was going to get a great education in a very safe environment. And to me, that’s what I was paying for.”

Marsh came to Chatham hoping to get a degree in art education, but then she discovered art history. “I totally changed my course,” she says. “I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. It’s creative, but it’s also research and discovery, asking questions, generating hypotheses, and trying to prove a point.’”

And she found that Chatham was instrumental in helping her take that on. “I was pushed, challenged; my professors knew who I was and what I needed to succeed,” Marsh remembers. “With class sizes that small, there’s no way you’re skipping class. And you don’t want to, because you’ve developed this little community of people, not just with the professors, but also with the others in the class. It allowed me to form really nice bonds with other students, working as a team, understanding how I learn best.“ This is something Marsh says that has paid off extraordinarily well in her career.

“I work closely with creative teams, technical teams, and manufacturing teams. I think of myself as a mediator, doing by best to keep all those people as happy as possible while bringing forth the vision of the product we’re trying to introduce. So communication is hugely important, and so is attention to detail, and getting people motivated to work in a team. “

After graduation, Marsh was accepted into a doctoral program in art history at Arizona State University. After six months, she figured out that “the practical day-to-day life of a professor wasn’t in line with my passion. I was like ‘wow, I am not cut out for this.’”

Back in Pittsburgh, she applied for a job as a studio assistant for the artist Burton Morris. “He was a really well-known illustrator and graphic artist, but wasn’t doing a lot in the realm of fine art, and he wanted to make that distinction,” Marsh says. “He recruited three or four of us assistants to transfer his illustration to large canvases. So I was making ten dollars an hour—this is back in 1998—to paint.” Marsh stayed with Morris for a couple of years, and learned the business side of art galleries. When it was time for her to move on, Morris introduced her to a business friend of his. “He said ‘How would you like to learn product development?’” Marsh recalls. “And I was like ‘Sure! What is it?’ Back then, they didn’t have courses in product development—you could study industrial design or things like that, but there wasn’t this business component.”

The company sent Marsh to China, where she learned about working with manufacturers there. “I ended up falling in love with the culture and the people,” she says. “And I’ve been going back and forth to Asia for work now for 16 years. If someone had said to me when I was at Chatham ‘you’re destined to work with the Chinese,’ I would have just laughed. But it happened.”

“It just goes to show that you never know what you have an aptitude for until you let yourself try it,” she continues. “There’s a lot of trial and error. You’re going to try stuff that you’re not good at, but then you’ll try something else and it’ll be a total surprise. That’s what this has been for me. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be working for the company that invented Strawberry Shortcake.”

Or, one would imagine, create a furry bag with googly eyes that Miley Cyrus has been spotted carrying, but that happened, too. “We intended it as a gift bag,” Marsh laughs. “But Miley turned it into a fashion statement. We’re not complaining.”

 

alumna profile: dr. kathi elliott DNP ’14

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Dr. Kathi Elliott, DNP ’14, knows something about role models. Her mother, Gwendolyn Elliott, started her career with the United States Air Force in 1964. In 1976, she became one of the first African American female Pittsburgh police officers, eventually becoming the first woman promoted to Sergeant and, ultimately, Commander. But “Miss Gwen,” as she was affectionately called, found time to give back to the community. Her daughter, Dr. Elliott, says “My mother was involved as a victim advocate with the Center for Victims, and that showed me that talking to people and helping them was what I wanted to do.”

Dr. Elliott received an associate’s degree in nursing from Community College of Allegheny County, and went on to complete three degrees at the University of Pittsburgh: A bachelor’s in psychology, and a dual masters in nursing and social work. In 2014, she completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Chatham.

During her 26 years on the Pittsburgh Police force, Miss Gwen saw the struggles of young women and girls who came to the attention of law enforcement, and was determined to help them have a better quality of life. Her dream came true in 2002 when the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families funded the creation of Gwen’s Girls, an organization that works to empower women and girls.

After her mother’s death in 2007, Dr. Elliott became a board member of Gwen’s Girls, and was recently named executive director. “I plan to continue my mother’s legacy by exposing girls to opportunities and experiences that they traditionally would not have access to,” she said.

“Never let society define you. Discover and work to develop your own individuality. Be confident in who you are and your contribution to the world.” – Dr. Kathi Elliott

Dr. Elliott’s primary goal as the new executive director is to improve girls’ access to education, social services, and workforce development. “It is my hope that with greater access the girls will become self-sufficient and empowered, so that the girls will advocate for themselves and others.”

Still, Dr. Elliott believes, advocacy is not enough. “There are so many negative attributes and risk factors that are already known to exist,” she says. “But there is very little research about what makes a girl resilient. We want to look at what helps them survive by looking at similar situations with different outcomes. We look at holistic programming: mental health, nursing, education, and case management. How can we help girls become resilient?”

Christine Bullock ’05 named finalist for Women’s Health’s “The Next Fitness Star”

Christine Bullock '05
Christine Bullock ’05

Christine Bullock took off the year following high school graduation to pursue her dream of becoming professional ballerina, a skill she’d been honing since she was three years old. It was only when she entered Chatham in 2001 that she shifted her focus and discovered that her passion for health and fitness could turn into a full-time career.

While she began Chatham as a ballerina, she was soon certified as a yoga teacher; and as an RA, she taught students yoga in a residence hall living room. Christine recalls being one of the only people lifting weights in the old Chatham gym, and was a ribbon-cutter for the 2004 dedication of the new Athletic and Fitness Center. As a student, she ran through Chatham’s campus to Carnegie Mellon’s, weaving throughout Squirrel Hill neighborhoods and back again down Woodland Road. This routine was where she blew off the stress of a heavy Chatham course load.

She credits her psychology professor and academic advisor, Tom Hershberger, with sparking the flame which ultimately lead to her tutorial, a study of the effects of yoga on psychological and physiological wellbeing. “I taught yoga and then tested the cortisol levels and mood of each participant,” explains Christine. Upon her 2005 graduation, she left Chatham and eventually landed in California where she cemented her passion for fitness into not only a career, but also a way of life.

Christine believes the key to a sustainable healthy lifestyle is to find what you enjoy and focus on the kind of activity you look forward to – mentally, physically and emotionally. In her role as a fitness instructor, she promotes short, effective workouts and metabolism boosts like colorful veggies, smoothies and soups – “Healthy food isn’t just tofu and sprouts,” she asserts. “If you have trouble sticking to a nutrition or exercise program, something has to change, something is not right. Don’t be afraid to mix it up to keep things interesting,” Christine says.

But perhaps the most exciting development in Christine’s professional career is being named as one of five finalists for Women’s Health magazine’s “Next Fitness Star” competition. She’s featured on the July/August issue cover, along with the five other finalists, each competing for a workout DVD contract. The winner will be chosen by a panel of celebrity judges, as well as fans. People may vote once daily until Aug. 3rd with the winner being announced live on NBC’s Today Show.

Christine credits her time at Chatham for making her the woman she is today. “It was such a tremendous time in my life. The small classes and the intimacy of the school developed who I was. It’s where I established my character,” says Christine. She considers women like her Chatham classmates when developing her fitness videos, “My videos are prop-free. They’re perfect for busy women and can be done in small spaces, like dorm rooms. All you need is a yoga mat and a pair of tennis shoes!”

“I’m so lucky to have the Chatham support system to lean upon. They are such amazing women. From business leaders, to full-time moms, to experts in every field. I’m thankful to be a part of this group of exceptional women.”

To take-on Christine’s weekly workouts and vote daily, visit http://thenextfitnessstar.com.