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Alumna profile: Sowmya Narayanan '10

Dr. Sowmya Narayanan has been busy. She’s just finished an MD/PhD program at the University of Virginia, and about to start her general surgical residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Still, she made time in her schedule to come back to her alma mater to be the keynote speaker at Chatham’s first annual Department of Science Student Research Day.

Narayanan majored in biochemistry, but during her second year, she picked up a second major, too.

“During my first semester, I took a mandatory first-year English seminar with Dr. Lynne Bruckner that introduced me to a completely new set of literature,” she says. Narayanan took another English class, then another—then added an English major. “I liked that we had a mix of traditional ‘English literature’ texts like a Tale of Two Cities and Huckleberry Finn, and then also novels like Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood,” she says, also mentioning a class with with Dr. Anissa Wardi that changed her understanding of what “World Literature” means.

Narayanan took biology and immunology classes with Dr. Pierette Appasamy.  “Dr. Appasamy introduced me to some of her colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh and helped me get involved in large-scale academic research. I developed an interest in that, and decided to continue.” At Pitt, Narayanan worked in the Finn Lab, studying tumor immunology. “We looked at how you can use the immune response to fight off cancer or stop it from developing. It’s really blown up in recent years as one of the mainstream modes of treatment for quite a few cancers, and they’re trying it out in a number of other ones as well.” Double-major aside, she still had time to play tennis for a couple of seasons, sing with Chatham’s choir, and serve as a Resident Assistant during her senior year.

“I think the professors here are the biggest asset of the institution. They go above and beyond for you if you are willing to put in the work. So if you’re motivated and interested, let them know and they will get you the rest of the way there.”

Narayanan says that she wasn’t aware of the existence of dual MD/PhD programs until she met someone who was doing one at Pitt. “There aren’t many people in those programs, so they don’t get talked about a lot,” she says, but she found that it aligned closely with her interests. She worked with Chatham’s Health Professions Advising Committee who advised her at various stages of the process of applying, put together her letters of recommendation, and conducted a mock interview.

Narayanan tries to travel to a different country each year. This year, she visited Thailand and Cambodia, and in years past, Belize, France, and Canada. She plans to go to Romania and Namibia next.

What did she think of Student Research Day? “It’s far more than what we had when I was a student,” she says. “There were maybe three or four of us, but today, six students presented and 20 more did posters. It was really good to see that expansion. And the variety of subjects that they’re presenting on are really pretty diverse.”

Being back on campus back seems to be its own reward, too. “I love coming back to visit,” she says. “Almost every time I’m in town, I make an effort to stop by and take a picture and send it to my old roommate like ‘Guess where I am!’ She gets quite jealous when I send her those photos!”

 

 

Alumnus profile: Hal B. Klein, MAFS '12

Photo by Annie O’Neill

Like many, Hal B. Klein set out to become an actor. Like fewer, he did. After earning a BA in theatre in California, he headed to New York (to work) and to London (to pursue a post-graduate certificate in classical acting). Roles followed in a few independent films, in commercials, and at Shakespeare festivals around the country (“I usually got comic roles,” he says. “Played a bunch of clowns.”). In 2005, after seven years in New York, he moved to L.A. for a role on a PBS children’s TV show called “Lily’s Lighthouse”.

But the ship did not quite come in. “Lily’s Lighthouse had a message; it was well produced; everything about it was wonderful, and then I learned the hard lesson of L.A., which is that there are a lot of well-intentioned promises, but things fall through for all sorts of reasons,” Klein says. Then the economy crashed, roles dried up, and he started thinking about what else he might like to do, a train of thought remarkably birthed by a piece of fruit he had eaten five years earlier.

While stationed in Santa Cruz for a Shakespeare festival, Klein had stopped by a farmers’ market. “I remember very vividly eating a strawberry and going oh, whoa, that’s why people like strawberries,” he says. “And that ended up forming in a long-term way my path to Chatham, in that it sparked a realization that the stuff we get in the grocery store, in the conventional system, isn’t very tasty.”

Growing up in the 1980’s in New York and California, Klein had been a picky and unadventurous eater, eschewing vegetables in favor of pizza and hamburgers. “The 80’s were the worst time for food in a lot of ways,” he says. “What you found in grocery stores was terrible, in terms of quality and selection.” As an undergraduate in San Diego, Klein was open to the concept of good food—adding his own herbs to Prego spaghetti sauce cooked on his dorm stove, for example—but lack of familiarity (and, one presumes, funds) hampered his ability to really delve into it.

Photo by Annie O’Neill

Still, he was getting more and more into it. “I realized that at least part of the reason that I was so picky was that I didn’t understand how flavors were put together, and also that I was relying on the conventional food system,” he says. “So I thought Oh, if I cook, I’ll understand this more, and I started going to farmers’ markets more frequently. In New York, I was buying stuff at the Union Square Green Market, but it was really in California, going to the Hollywood and Santa Monica farmers’ markets that it was like holy cow, there’s all this…

Thus it was that food made the short list of new career directions for Klein. “At that point,” he says, “I was thinking I would probably do cooking, culinary instruction, maybe cookbook writing, with the idea that there are probably thousands of people like me who grew up in the suburbs and weren’t really in touch with what you might call food systems, how to navigate farmers’ markets, how to go to the grocery stores and find things that are inexpensive but maybe better grown or more delicious–it’s such a vast world. I started thinking about how I could get an education, looking around, and thought: Food studies? What a strange and esoteric thing this is.”

Intrigued, he applied to Boston University, New York University, and when a Google search turned up Chatham’s brand-new Master of Arts in Food Studies program, he figured he might as well apply there, too. Klein came out and met with Alice Julier, Ph.D., MAFS program director. “She was great,” he says. “Very up front about how it was the first year of the program and about the opportunities and risks that went along with that.” It sounded good to Klein: “I knew it was a big risk to jump into the program, but I had a good sense of who I was, what I needed, and what I wanted to do, so I figured why not? Plus, I was sick of living in these big cities and Pittsburgh seemed really interesting.” Klein moved to Pittsburgh in 2010. He says it was the best decision of his life.

Being in that first cohort was “at first really like the Wild West,” Klein laughs. “I talk to people in the program now, and it’s very structured and there are a lot of choices. For us it was a lot more limited, but in a way that gave rise to flexibility. I was like, I want to be a better writer; can I take a nature writing class in the MFA in Creative Writing program? and Alice was like Sure, go for it. I wanted to do an independent study on Italian-American foodways in Pittsburgh, and I got to do that too. My thesis was a short film that I did in conjunction with a student in the film program at Chatham.”

If Klein’s interest in cookbook writing was beginning to drift toward journalism, it was cemented through a Food Writing course he took with Sherrie Flick. “I don’t think it’s possible to give Sherrie enough credit for mentorship and influence. Of all the people that I met at Chatham, she’s the person who I really think helped change my life. You meet people during your career who are so generous with their knowledge and connections and so confident in the work that they do that they can be that generous – to think oh, you’d be great for that and make that connection.”

Photo by Annie O’Neill

Which is what happened: Klein was visiting friends in L.A. when he got an e-mail from Flick saying that Pittsburgh City Paper was looking for a new “drinks” writer. “She sent it to three of us and said she thought we’d be a good fit and to let her know if we were interested. And so immediately I was like Sorry friends, I know we were going out but I gotta write this pitch.” He wrote the column for three years.

Klein graduated and started freelancing for local and national media, drawing on what he had learned and researched at Chatham, including stories on whole-animal butchery at restaurants and Italian immigrants who bury their fig trees in the winter for National Public Radio. A story about permaculture that he wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette won a national award from the Association of Food Journalists.

Klein was approached to become the restaurant critic for Pittsburgh Magazine, and was later brought on full-time and took over the food section. He’s currently the associate editor and restaurant critic. “I just wrote a story on people who are in recovery from addiction or were previously incarcerated – it’s hard to find jobs and build a new life when you’re doing that. And the restaurant industry is one of those places that doesn’t really ask a lot of questions, but it’s also fraught with peril, because if you’re working nights, there’s a lot of partying,” he says. “But I also did a big feature on hamburgers last year because I thought it would be fun, which it sort of was, but also it wasn’t after a while,” he laughs. “Writing for a magazine is about finding that balance, between features and hamburgers.”

As a restaurant critic, Klein is more than capable of producing nuanced statements on the fly (they use a little bit of crunchy salt along the outside which pulls out the bitterness of the char but also enhances the creaminess of the cheese is a sentence he uttered in the course of describing Japanese pizza). But he is far from shy about considering food from a systemic perspective.

Photo by Annie O’Neill

“I just wrote a review of a restaurant downtown that’s amazing but also really expensive, at least in part because more than any restaurant in Pittsburgh right now, they’re walking the walk with sourcing ingredients. We say all the time that you should pay more for beef and pork when it’s being sourced in a more environmentally friendly, sustainable way, but what does that do as far as price structure; who is this restaurant space for now? Suddenly when you have a $125 steak, you’re excluding a lot of people from the conversation.”

Nola the Nurse and Scharmaine Baker-Lawson, DNP '08

It’s a drizzly morning in Shreveport, LA, but big band jazz pours from the loudspeakers inside the Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church, and look—a giant mascot dressed as a nurse in a white uniform with a huge afro and long felt lashes is dancing up the aisle. Bodies in puffy coats and sweatshirts twist on the pews to get a good look—hundreds of them, girls and boys in third, fourth, and fifth grades, chanting NO-LA! NO-LA! NO-LA!

Waving to the crowd, Nola the Nurse® reaches the front of the church, and starts to dance with her creator, Dr. Scharmaine Lawson-Baker, DNP ’08. They sway, bump hips, clap. Soon the music settles down and so do the kids, which is good, because Nola and Baker are up from New Orleans to do some educating.

“Have any of you heard of a nurse practitioner?” Baker demands of the crowd.

“NO,” says a little boy in the front row.

“NO?” says Baker, feigning outrage. “Well, see, that’s what I’m here to change.”

Photo by Reginald Dodd. Baker is on the right.

Baker was born in New Orleans, where she was raised by her grandmother. She discovered nursing in high school, and quickly recognized how closely it fit her interests and abilities. Baker earned her BSN from Dillard University and soon moved to Washington DC, where she worked up and down the east coast as a travel nurse. After her grandmother passed away, Baker moved to Nashville, where she earned her MSN on a full scholarship from Tennessee State University and became a family nurse practitioner. Short stints followed as a missionary nurse in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but missing New Orleans, she soon moved back home.

In 2004, she took over a physician’s house call practice, and liked it. The following year she incorporated her own house call practice, Advanced Clinical Consultants. That spring, ACC had about 15 patients. When Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, her practice had grown to 100. Baker evacuated, returning in October. By January, her patient roster had quintupled.

“It was just unbelievable,” she says. “I was seeing 20, 25 patients a day. A normal house call schedule is around 10 to 12. But after the hurricane, the community that I was serving just didn’t have anyone else to provide primary care, so I kept going.”

Outraged by the slow and paltry government response, Baker became something of a spokesperson for the state of healthcare in New Orleans after Katrina. “I felt as if we were being ignored down here. My friend and I began calling media outlets. Katie Couric was coming to do a kind of whereare-they-now on New Orleans post-Katrina for CBS Evening News, and the producer said to me ‘Not only does she want to meet you, she wants to do some house calls with you.’” Coverage by other national and local media followed, including The Washington Post and Forbes.

And still she saw patients. Being a primary care provider post-catastrophe was a crash course in environmental, social, and psychological factors that can affect physical health. “I had a patient in his 70’s who was living above a garage because his home had been devastated in the storm,” Baker says. “I was seeing him for months, and his blood pressure was just uncontrollable. He was on like five medications for it.”

“I was thinking about whether I should refer him to cardiology, but there essentially was no cardiology—so few specialists had returned to the city. So I was like ‘You know what, I’m it. I have to figure this out.’”

“Once I started digging into it, I found out that he was panicked that he didn’t have the keys to his FEMA trailer (temporary housing provided to residents whose homes were lost in the storm). He had finally gotten this trailer, but it was useless. Somehow I was able to get that key from FEMA delivered to him, and his blood pressure stabilized. That was a profound experience for me.”

Photo by Reginald Dodd

Back in Shreveport, groups of kids file into a large room to sit on the floor in front of a projector. Baker is up there perched on a chair, and she reads to them from the first Nola the Nurse® book while illustrations from the book display on the screen behind her: Nola chasing her dog Gumbo in an attempt to put a bandage on him. Watching her mom examining a patient at the hospital. Seated at a dining room table with her friend’s family, the mother resplendent in a traditional Kenyan dress.

 It’s an interactive reading, which means Baker peppers it with questions for the audience. One that doesn’t always go the way she wants is the question of what Nola “stands for” (the answer is New Orleans, LA).

“Caring!” says a little boy in a puffy black jacket.

“That’s a good answer, but not the one I’m looking for,” says Baker. “Someone else.” A girl with a big white bow in her hair suggests that Nola stands for helping people get better.

Photo by Reginald Dodd

Nola the Nurse is the 7-year-old star of a series of children’s books that Baker writes. “I could not find any books that would give my daughter an idea of what her mommy does,” she says, also noting the dearth of books featuring African American advanced healthcare practitioners. “And again, coming from my DNP at Chatham—I see a problem; I need to fix it.”

Nola wants to be a nurse practitioner like her mom, and she cares for sick baby dolls in her neighborhood. In each book, she discovers a new culture through traditional foods. There are Nola the Nurse workbooks and activity books, and Baker is working on an animated series. The first book has been translated into French and Spanish, with sales of the Spanish translation on track to surpass sales of the original English version. There’s also a Nola the Nurse doll, complete with dress, head gear and a nurse practitioner bag.

“I started thinking about getting my DNP after Katrina,” says Baker “I knew I needed to have more knowledge about systems and how to effect widespread change. A DNP would allow me to make a bigger impact in the healthcare arena.” “Chatham was the best fit for me because I couldn’t leave my area – we were still dealing with the ground zero catastrophe. I could take classes and still be able to meet the needs of my family and my community post-Katrina.”

At Chatham, her capstone project was on the efficacy of group visits for patients with diabetes. “The outcomes were amazing,” she ways. “Group visits can work really well. People feel good when there are others around them who are going through the same thing, and are often more likely to speak up.”

Baker was fast amassing expertise in house calls, and the requests for consults from other practitioners became overwhelming. In 2008, the year she earned her DNP, she created “The Housecall Course,” a two-day experience encompassing theory and practice (it has been since trimmed down to one day) for nurse practitioners interested in starting their own house call practices in mostly rural areas. Baker has trained over 500 nurses from across America. In 2008, she received the Entrepreneur of the Year by ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners magazine, which featured her on the cover. Baker has also been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (2017) and a fellow of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (2012).

Baker speaks at conferences across the country, often to groups of nurse practitioners, and often about nurse entrepreneurship. But another topic close to her heart is health information technology (HIT). During Katrina, the office space that she had moved her house call practice into was flooded with water up to the ceiling.

“The miracle is that because I didn’t want to drag my patients’ charts into their homes, I’d been using my Palm Pilot to keep track of simple stuff, like their medicines, emergency contacts, whether they’d had a mammogram. It blew my mind that I had all that data and it solidified my belief in HIT. Hospitals couldn’t start because they’d lost their patients’ data, but I had it all right there.”

While Baker still makes some house calls, her primary job today is chief medical officer at Common Ground Health Clinic, a federally qualified healthcare clinic. “Most of our patients are low-income residents who may or may not have insurance or be able to pay,” she says. “I’m still serving my community, but now I have funding and structure. I have other leaders around me and we put our heads together. It’s nice to have that collaboration to effect greater change in this impoverished community.”

Alumna profile: Celeste Smith '13

Photo by Joshua Franzos, 2018, for The Pittsburgh Foundation

You might say that Celeste Smith’s take on the arts is supported by two pillars. One is discoverable the minute you ask her about “the arts”—dollars to donuts, her answer begins by requesting that the conversation be about “arts and culture” (she counts watching her mom bake and choose home décor among her earliest experiences of “the arts”). Art blossomed in Smith’s family: Not only is she herself a writer, artist, photographer, filmmaker, fashion blogger, and stylist, her grandmother was a writer, and her sister is a novelist, as yet unpublished. “If we don’t receive support or encouragement, we’re still artists,” she says, “just not ones that have been strongly supported.” That’s the other pillar. And as program officer for Arts and Culture at the Pittsburgh Foundation, she’s well-positioned to use both pillars to elevate the experience of art for creators and audiences across the region.

Smith grew up in Chicago. She started working as a shampoo girl at the age of 12, worked in an ice cream store in high school, and ended up taking the civil service exam. “I was raised Jehovah’s Witness and we thought the world was going to end, so I figured I would just learn to type,” she says. Smith spent several years rising through the ranks in several government agencies. Then her partner, artist and activist Jasiri X, proposed and they moved to Pittsburgh, where X grew up.

In Pittsburgh, Smith continued working in government while X worked in Pittsburgh Public Schools and got more into both activism and performing hip hop. “One day Justin Laing, who was a program officer at the Heinz Endowments, called Jasiri and said ‘You know you can get funding for the type of music you do, right?’,” she says. “So Jasiri came home one day with a grant application and said ‘Hey, you think you can write one of these?’ I was like ‘I don’t know; I’ll try!’ And we started getting them.”

In 2008, Smith decided to leave her day job to focus on managing her partner’s ascendant career and on being CEO of 1Hood Media, which grew out of an organization that X had co-founded in 2006. That was the year that a group of men, including X, came together to address violence within and against their community. The scope expanded quickly. “It’s an intergenerational arts/activism/social justice/entrepreneurial hub with all these different facets and I’m so proud of it and all the people we work with,” says Smith.

After a few years of managing X and leading 1Hood Media, “I was like ‘Yo!” Smith laughs. “I took German for eight years in grammar school; how does he get to go to Germany! I grew up reading about all these Biblical lands, and he finds himself in Israel and Palestine! Then I heard this voice—you could say it was God or whatever, but I say it was my baby I was pregnant with—whispering to me, ‘You can live your life and support others, too.’”

Photo by Joshua Franzos, 2018, for The Pittsburgh Foundation

Smith realized that she was one class short of completing her Associate of Arts degree at Community College of Allegheny County. She did that, then turned to Chatham’s Gateway program for adult students for her bachelor’s. “Chatham had the dopest teachers ever,” she says. “(Adjunct Professor) Deborah Prise was super helpful and looked at me with eyes that I did not look at myself with. She had me write prior learning assessments for life experience that I myself did not celebrate. (Adjunct Professor) Deborah Hosking used to let me bring my baby to her media literacy class, and that was how I got through Chatham.”

Smith had been pursuing a degree in Film and Digital Technology, but, she says, “one day I went to a job fair at CMU and saw an arts management booth, and I was like ‘There’s a title for this thing I’ve been doing all along?’ So I shifted my major, because I had been doing the videos to help my husband with his videos, but if God forbid something should happen to my marriage, I’m not making videos.” With prior learning assessments and testing out of courses, Smith was able to earn her B.A. in about a year and a half, with, she says, “three kids, a business, a husband who travels, and a 3.6 GPA.”

Smith graduated in 2013 and started “running 1Hood not in the shadows, but really up front.” She handled marketing, fundraising, staff management, budget management, public relations, and program development while continuing to involve herself in Pittsburgh’s artistic and philanthropic communities. “Just by being in spaces and taking opportunities, I ended up on the radar,” she says, noting a consulting job at the August Wilson Center she did in 2017. “Then the Heinz Endowments invited Jasiri to speak at an event around moral leadership, but he was going to be out of town. So they asked if I would speak, and I did. I got so much love from that speaking engagement. I’m still getting emails about it.” Maxwell King, the president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation was in the audience that day. When he interviewed Smith for her current position, he told her how impressed he was.

So what is it like to be a program officer for Arts and Culture? “People think that program officers can just write checks but it doesn’t work like that,” Smith explains. “My job is to make sure artists have what they need to apply for grants, then review their proposals, and advocate for them. When I was a grantee, I had support from program officers, and a big part of my job is to pay that forward. And mentoring young women–that’s part of not only my work with the Pittsburgh Foundation but also my life’s mission, to share what I know.”

As for her goals for her new role, “I want to see more equity in Pittsburgh’s arts and culture landscape,” Smith says. “So many reports show that funds are distributed in an unequitable way, and I see part of my role as bringing attention to that. We support smaller arts organizations, but also ask people in large arts organizations to look at their programs and see if they align with racial equity and equality of voice, and holding them accountable if they are not. I can’t make anyone do anything, but I can ask what they’re doing to help advance our initiatives.”

“We need to listen to the field, because the field talks all the time. Whether it’s a Facebook post or a sigh. The field is always telling us what we need to do.”

While Smith has devoted her professional life to helping others get the recognition they deserve, the pendulum is swinging the other way. She was a Walker’s Legacy Power 50 honoree in 2016, an Artist in Residency at The Art Institute of Chicago in 2016, a Coro Individual Leadership Nominee in 2017 and 2018, a Coro Organization Leadership Nominee in 2018, and a SXSW Community Service Awards honoree in 2018.

Smith maintains ties with Chatham, both as an alumna and as a program officer. She spoke at Hosking’s Media Arts class (“Deborah said to me, remember that presentation you gave? Can you update it and come back?”), has a meeting scheduled with the MFA in Creative Writing’s Word Without Walls program, and plans to meet with some others, too. “If I’m going to be there, I try to reach out to the professors who have helped me, because there might be other ‘me’s’ there. There might be a sister who needs encouragement.”


We asked Smith to tell us about five underrated Pittsburgh arts and culture organizations. Here’s what she said: 

Kente Arts Alliance 
“They are a husband and wife team on the North Side, doing jazz, on the ground work, mentoring, that we need to pay attention to.”

Staycee Pearl Dance Project
“They really do great work, traveling all over the place. So innovative, so on point, so in touch with the younger generation.”

The Flower House
“They are doing so much in terms of opening space for artists. What with the entire city being gentrified, affordable places for artists to present are so scarce. Very socially conscious, very open.”

Yoga Roots on Location
“I think the work that Felicia is doing is incredible in terms of putting people in touch with their own bodies and their own minds…I think a lot of the stress management that she offers is absolutely essential in our field.”

The Legacy Arts Project
“If you’re an artist but you don’t have a 501c3, you can’t accept grant money directly, you need a conduit. That’s what Legacy Arts did for 1Hood before we got our own non-profit. They host Dance Africa each year, which is so dope and incorporates an intergenerational approach to the arts.”

Alumna profile: Abigail Gambino-Walker ’16

Tell us a little about your history and how you came to find Chatham’s program.

I am currently employed as a high-end residential interior designer here in Pittsburgh, and I graduated from Chatham’s Bachelor of Interior Architecture program. Over the course of a few years, I have worked on numerous scale renovations, new build constructions, and showhouses for Traditional Home Magazine across the United States. I am proud to have won first and second place in three international interior design competitions. Prior to my undergraduate education, I ran an online art business that I started in high school. So, I’ve been busy!

I came to find Chatham through my wonderful mother, Dr. Nancy Walker. When we were children, my mother would take us to play on Chatham’s campus in the summer. Applying to Chatham was a no-brainer because it was so familiar to me and the opportunity to complete the Interior Architecture program in three years was too good to pass up.

How was your experience in the program? 

I am not going to lie… The three-year Interior Architecture program was hard! It took a lot of dedication, even when all you wanted to do was anything but AutoCAD.

The coursework was rigorous, and professors were demanding, but the trials and tribulations were completely worth it in the end.

The handful of ladies that I graduated with were so incredibly talented and professional. From my dedication and instruction, I even landed a job before graduation and soon thereafter graduated with both confidence and peace of mind.

If I were to recommend anything to current students, it would be to first absorb as much information as you can and go the extra mile. Do extra brainstorming and research–a competitive edge never hurts. Second, the staff at Chatham are there to help you succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or extra critiques. They also become great connections after you graduate. Third, and probably most importantly, is to go to events and network! I have my current job because I was in the right place at the right time and got my name out into the community. Trust me, it is so worth it!

Tell us about your professional experience today. Do you find yourself thinking back on what you learned at Chatham? 

Many of the skills I use daily are from a strong foundation that I built while at Chatham. When I began my undergraduate degree, I possessed an already strong customer-service background and wildly creative and curious mind. The formal education I received honed my existing abilities but also shaped new skills such as understanding building systems and codes; cultivating design concepts; and delivering knock-out presentations. Being a successful designer is all about being well-rounded and Chatham helped me to achieve a holistic approach to both work and life.

What would you say to a student considering the program today? 

I would say “just do it already!” Since being in the field for a few years, I have noticed that Chatham has a notoriously good track record amidst the interior design community in Pittsburgh.

In fact, my boss says she only wants interns from Chatham now because of how prepared the students are for real-life design application.

As a whole, the University is very progressive and tightly-knit, which is by design and to your benefit. There are so many ways to be involved, volunteer, perform, compete, explore, and engage locally, nationally, and globally as a Chatham student. If you have big dreams and aspirations or need help in understanding your best future and career goals then Chatham is the place for you.

Visit Abigail’s website

Chatham’s Bachelor of Interior Architecture is a professional interior design program that prepares students for practice in an interior design or architecture firm. The Bachelor of Interior Architecture was most recently accredited by the Council for Interior Design (CIDA) in 2017. 

New Beginnings for the Penguin Whisperer

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(This story first appeared in the Fall 2017 Recorder.)

Katy Wozniak, neé Antkowiak, grew up with three older sisters and a menagerie: six dogs, “four or five” cats, birds, guinea pigs, and rabbits. It was a bustling life, filled with trips to Sea World and to zoos, that stoked her desire to work with animals. “I always said I was going to be one of those trainers one day,” she says.

Wozniak’s family lived in Oil City, PA, which she describes as a very small town. “I liked the small, close-knit atmosphere,” she says. Later, she got to know another small, close-knit atmosphere on trips to Chatham College, where she visited her older sister Jessica.
“I loved how you were in the city, but once you drove up that driveway, and you were in another world,” she says. She loved it enough to enroll the following year, intent on pursuing her desire to work with animals through studying biology.

At Chatham, Katy fell in love with a psychology class in animal behavior. “It was the professors that made the class,” says Wozniak. “Dr. (Thomas) Hershberger and Dr. (Joseph) Wister. They helped me decide to change my major to psychology, focusing on animal behavior, with a minor in environmental science.”

Wozniak calls a study abroad trip to Belize led by Dr. Wister “the most amazing experience of my life. One morning we got up at 5:00 a.m., made our way through the jungle with flashlights and climbed a Mayan temple in the dark so we could be there for sunrise. I can’t even describe how beautiful it was. You’re sitting on top of this temple as the sun rises, you hear the toucans waking up, the howler monkeys waking up, you’re at the canopies of the trees, as far as you can see, rainforest and beautiful jungle. It happened over 20 years ago and I can still picture every moment of it.”

During her sophomore year, Wozniak interned at the Pittsburgh Zoo, doing observational research on orangutans and rhinos. A couple of years later, she went back to the zoo to work on her senior thesis: comparing elephant foraging behaviors in the wild and in a zoo setting.

“A lot of people think that animals in zoos are forced away from their natural behaviors, but they’re not,” she says. “For example, penguins in the wild spend about 90% of their time in the water, really just coming onto land just to breed and molt (lose feathers). So they have to eat and eat and eat in the water, to store energy for the time when they’re stuck on land. Here in the aquarium, we can just go up to them and feed them on land, but they don’t want it. They retain those natural behaviors. So we try to make their environments as natural as possible, so that people can see these natural behaviors.”

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After graduation, Wozniak returned to the zoo to intern in the aquarium for a year, and had opportunities to work with other animals, too. When a full-time job for an aquarist (“that’s like a zoo-keeper for aquarium animals”) opened up, Katy applied and got it, beating out more seasoned aquarists across the country. She started working full-time at the aquarium in 2000.

“The ‘penguin guy’ was close to retirement age, and he wanted me to work with him,” she says. After two years, he did retire, and in addition to routine care, here’s something that became part of Wozniak’s unofficial job description: Think about ways to make a penguin’s day better (the technical term is ‘enrichment’).

“My penguins love bubbles, so we’ll put a bubble machine in the exhibit, and they’ll chase the bubbles around and pop them with their beaks,” she says. “They have exceptional eyesight, and they’ll follow a laser light. When kids run across the exhibit with those light-up shoes, you’ll see this whole group of penguins chasing this kid back and forth, watching that light light up. Then when we get a really nice snowfall we’ll take them outside to play in the snow early in the morning. They’ll get on their bellies and toboggan and eat snowflakes as they fall.”

“Our penguins’ names come from all over the place,” says Wozniak. “They might be named after a Pittsburgh Penguin, or a little kid from Make-a-Wish might name one — that, for example, is why we currently have one named Cakey-Wakey and one named Letang.”

katy

Wozniak rose in the ranks, and formalized the aquarium’s internship program in 2006. She attended career fairs and reached out to colleges including Chatham, Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, and Slippery Rock University.

For the past 14 years, Wozniak has been taking her dogs to Twinbrook Animal Clinic for care. “During a routine visit, the owner and head vet told me that she was looking to bring someone on board who shared her passion for animals, programs, and reaching out to the community,” she says. “We met a few times after that, and then the offer to become the clinic’s practice director was on the table. It would involve not only managing the clinic, but moving their programs forward and expanding their offerings.”

“It was a tough decision,” she says, “but I love the staff, and I love the vets, it’s near my house, and I felt ready for a new challenge. I also wanted to give back to them for all the years they’ve been here for our animals.”

Wozniak is excited to bring Twinbrook out into the community. She envisions visits to schools, and bringing animal care to homes, for people who maybe can’t come to a clinic. Right now, Twinbrook focuses on dogs and cats, but Wozniak thinks that can
be expanded too. “There are so many areas around here that have farms with horses,” she says. “I think it would be awesome to expand the practice in that way.”

“In college, I loved my child psychology courses too,” says Wozniak. “And there’s real potential in using animals therapeutically, for anyone from geriatric populations to kids who may have issues. I’ve seen this with kids that come through the zoo on tours, how maybe they have a hard time focusing, but they can just focus on a bird and feel how soft it is—you can see it’s therapeutic for them. I have so many ideas, but I know I need to focus and prioritize,” she laughs. “But in the end, my goal is always to help.”

“It’s a little scary to be leaving this job that I’ve loved for the past 20 years, that has supported my life and my love of animals. But I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut, and I’m looking forward to this new adventure.”

Wozniak considers herself to be starting anew not just in her professional life, but also as a parent: her daughter Antonia is in college, and her son Joey is in second grade. “I’m going to a whole second round of sports events and elementary school plays,” she laughs. “And getting used to a new job. It’s like going through life again.”

Alumna profile: Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14

Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14
Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14

When Rita Armstrong started researching online Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, she did not see herself in Sweden presenting work on diabetic education and self-management to a global audience. “Never in my years did I think I’d be doing that,” she laughs.

Nor did she expect to be speaking at the same conference in Amsterdam in 2018, but she will. Those are just a couple of twists her life has taken since earning her DNP from Chatham in 2014.

Dr. Armstrong started her nursing career in 1994. She received her BSN in 2009, her MSN in 2013—and decided to continue her education. “I knew I didn’t want to do a PhD. I wanted something more in line with evidence-based training,” she says. “That’s the direction healthcare was moving in. I found Chatham online, and decided to apply.”

Dr. Armstrong enrolled in Chatham’s DNP program in January 2014 and graduated in December of that same year, studying full time and working full time.

“I really enjoyed it,” she says. “The first semester was a little strenuous, because I was getting used to studying and working full time, but I liked the way it was structured. It took you through the material in steps, so you weren’t trying to do everything at the last minute.” She has referred five people to the program.

The level of support from the faculty at Chatham really stuck out,” says Dr. Armstrong. “My instructors even initiated contact with me, just to make sure I was on the right track.”

Post-DNP, Dr. Armstrong was teaching nursing at a community college in San Antonia when she was approached to write a proposal for a nursing program at the University of Texas. While writing it, she accepted a position with the Dallas Nursing Institute, where she taught and served as the director of the RN to BSN program. Today, she is the Dean of Nursing at the Fortis College Nursing Program.

 

She has received the National Institute of Staff & Organizational Development (NISOD) for Excellence Award in Teaching. She is also the recipient of the Friends of Texas Award 2013 from Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for her endless community service dedication and contributions.

In August, Dr. Armstrong spoke about communicating and interacting with people with dementia at the Geriatric Symposium in Austin, TX. “Nurses tend to be in a hurry a lot of the time—we’re very busy—but patients with dementia really need to take time to think about what we’re telling them or asking them. The way we present information really makes a difference,” she says.

In the future, she plans to start a free mobile clinic that will provide wellness checks to college students across Texas. “A lot of conditions like diabetes can be managed, but college students don’t always take care of themselves the way they should,” she says. “With some education and training, we can get them to pay more attention to their blood sugar and blood pressure.”

One of the things I love about having my DNP is that I get to see what’s out there in a way that I couldn’t with just my MSN, because I can teach in a graduate program. A DNP is also required for management positions. I consider myself a leader, very much so. Being able to do that, oh yes, that’s a plus.”

Chatham’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is a 27-credit program offering meaningful, sequential courses that provide practical knowledge for the advanced practice RN. It’s one of the shortest-to-degree clinical doctorates in the market. 

Alumna profile: Hallie Dumont, Master of Interior Architecture ‘16

hallie

It was while working in home remodeling with her partner Jodi that Hallie Dumont’s eyes were opened to the unhealthy relationship that some people have with their homes.

“Big houses tend to be a burden, I think, for people,” she says. “They lend themselves to people holding on too too much stuff. My partner came in one day and found a homeowner lying on the floor one day curled up in the fetal position.”

Dumont and Jodi were working on a particularly big remodeling job. “It was a house for two people that was about 22,000 square feet—that’s about the size of a Walmart. It really flipped some sort of switch for me. The project just seemed so unsustainable. They probably had four air conditioning units for this one home for two people, and the material choices were just not intelligent as far as health or environment. I became very interested in the opposite end of the spectrum, which is the tiny house movement, micro-apartments—everything we call alternative housing.”

That brought her to Chatham. Dumont enrolled in the Master of Interior Architecture program, with the goal of concentrating on alternative housing.

‘From the beginning at Chatham I was interested in creating intelligent, smart, efficient residential spaces,” says Dumont. “So my thesis here was on pre-fab interiors, which isn’t really a thing but I made it a thing. I got an internship in Shadyside with an architect named Eric Fisher. I loved working under him; I learned so much. It was like having another studio course. I asked him if I could stay on and if we could design a tiny house (which I called the Nanohouse) over the summer. So I got to do that with him, which was awesome.”

“My goal was to build the Nanohouse, but when I tried to find funding, I realized that it was going to be really expensive. And building tiny houses for rich people wasn’t my goal.”

Eric Fisher had opened his studio space to all sorts of creative people working in Pittsburgh, and fortuitously, that’s where Dumont met her future business partner, Brian Gaudio, an architect recently returned to Pittsburgh from Central and South America. Brian was working to get his start-up, Module, off the ground. In Dumont, he found a kindred spirit and, what’s better, his future Chief Design Officer.

Tiny houses aren’t that new, but Module has some new takes on the idea. For one, they’re designed to be urban. “Normally when you see a tiny house, there’s all this open land around them,” says Dumont. “These are designed to be taken off a trailer and sat on a concrete foundation.” They’re also stackable. Second or third floors can be added, and additions can be added to the side or rear.

“What we’ve found is that the idea of a starter home—a home that you buy when you’re first starting out and then sell once it no longer meets your needs—isn’t really resonating with a lot of millennials. So Module’s solution is to offer alternative housing that can grow with you.”

“Module designs adaptable housing that changes as your needs do. Through a patent-pending wall system and design platform, Module provides first-time homebuyers with just the right amount of space at the right time.” – from Module’s website

What might that look like? There are a couple of prototypes.

One incorporates a built-in Air BnB unit, with a separate entrance and bedroom/bathroom that is totally cut off from the house. “It can help help supplement your mortgage payment at the beginning,” says Dumont, “but over time, the house can absorb that unit, so it can become a half-bedroom, maybe a workspace or a nursery, and the exterior entrance can be removed.”

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Another design starts as a co-living space, but over time, as the owner makes more money or the family grows, the house can split. “You insert a party wall, and you get what’s basically a duplex. Each can have their own separate single family unit,” Dumont explains.

“I think the coolest thing is how excited people get about the idea. Everyone from baby boomers to millennials. That’s been really cool to see.”

“We designed and built a demo unit that would be attached to a larger house for a ‘faux client’,” says Dumont. “He likes to entertain and have family members over to stay, and he’s also a workaholic. It’s a space where he can play board games and have movie nights. A local furniture maker called Bones and All made a coffee table that can flip out into a card table, and there’s a Murphy bed that transitions into a desk unit.”

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module-demo
“That unit was the first time I started with a blank piece of paper and a blank space and then made something real,” says Dumont. “In smaller units, every bit of space—down to a sixteenth of an inch—has to be accounted for. In this case, the furniture and the building were being constructed at the same time, so we had to hope all the measurements worked out. It ended up being really close. I had space under a window where we wanted to put in a bench seat, and we had to rip off an edge banding and trim down an outlet. I learned a lot on this project,” she laughs.

The unit will be on display throughout the summer on the North Side, and Dumont is excited to have people walk through it. “We’ve partnered with Comcast for it, and the unit incorporates their smart home technologies—integrated home security, automation, and energy management controls,” she says.

Chatham University’s Master of Interior Architecture is a first professional interior design program that prepares students for practice in an interior design or architecture firm. The program, accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), is geared toward students with undergraduate degrees in fields other than interior architecture or interior design.

Alumna Profile: Nicole Stout, DPT ’98

Dr. Nicole Stout
Dr. Nicole Stout

Chatham Doctor of Physical Therapy alumna Nicole Stout (’98), DPT, CLT-LANA, FAPTA was the recipient of a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the highest award membership category in the APTA, with only 250 Fellows among the roughly 95,000 members. The Catherine Worthingham Fellow designation honors individuals whose contributions to the profession through leadership, influence, and achievements demonstrate frequent and sustained efforts to advance the physical therapy profession. The award was made based on the contributions that Nicole has made in changing the landscape of the physical therapist practice in cancer rehabilitation. A renowned health care researcher, consultant, educator, and advocate, she is the chief executive officer of 3e Services, an information technology consulting firm.

In a recent interview, Nicole gave Chatham University some insight about her Chatham and life experiences.

Q: What brought you to Chatham?

A: I had applied to a number of graduate programs for a master’s in physical therapy and the admissions were quite selective. I was wait-listed at Chatham and was accepted into other programs in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh so my desire was to stay in my hometown. So when I was accepted to Chatham, it was a definite for me.

Q: What is a typical day in the life of Nicole Stout?

Nothing is typical about my days. It is rare that I string together more than three or four days that are even similar. I might start my day on a call with the Chief Data Officer’s office at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA…yes, airplanes) to touch base on how our Enterprise Information Management project is running, review status of deliverables that my team is responsible for and discuss strategy for expanding the data management and data analytics services. I might then be running to the airport to catch a flight to…pretty much anywhere. Recently it’s been to Buenos Aires to speak at an International Rehabilitation Medicine Conference on a Global Initiative in Cancer Rehabilitation, Kansas City to teach a continuing education course on cancer rehabilitation, or Rockville, Maryland to participate on a health IT expert panel to talk about wearable sensors and personal health analytics on behalf of Zansors LLC, a start up company to which I provide Medical Affairs consulting services.

I’m usually working on several projects all around cancer rehabilitation, health IT and wearable technology, and various enterprise data strategies. As I move between client calls and meetings, delivering webinars, and writing, I am also pretty keen about keeping up with communication and engagement on Twitter (find me at @nicolestoutpt).

I might also be working, on a given day, on the family foundation that we established after the death of my father. Our memorial fund raises money to support community projects in Pleasant Hills and Jefferson Hills communities in southern Allegheny County. We are currently working to fund and kick off groundbreaking for a walking and fitness trail in my hometown of Pleasant Hills.

If it’s a really good day, I get to play 18 holes of golf with my ladies league or with my husband at our golf club in Sarasota, and the best days are when I am cooking dinner and sit down to have dinner at home with my husband and get to sleep in my own bed.

Q: How did your Chatham education inform your work today with your company 3eServices?

A: Interestingly, the Chatham influence was very indirect on the business that I am currently running. 3e Services is a technology consulting firm, helping clients solve their problems through better use of technology. The most important thing I learned at Chatham was how to hone my skills in problem solving. In fact, I might argue that there is no greater skill set.

I deal with the process problems and the problems are very similar regardless of whether we’re talking about airplane data, or patient co-morbidity data; people have a lot of data, they need to understand how to bring it all together, analyze it, and learn how to change operations or improve based on the findings.

This is what we do in Physical Therapy every day! We try to bring together all of the relevant data, analyze it and make improvements based on the findings. If we miss the relevant data, if we work from flawed assumptions, or if we fail to execute (or execute incorrectly) based on our findings, we don’t succeed. Being able to step back and really identify the problem and recommend ways to fix the root of the problem are how my learning at Chatham has informed my work today.

Q: What advice would you give to our current students or students considering starting their higher education at Chatham?

A: When I graduated from Chatham our commencement speaker gave us this message “Go For It”. I say that often when I speak to graduating classes. Go For It, do something different, create something, take a risk and go all in. Have the wherewithal and grit to do the unglamorous work because that is the only way people succeed and sustain success. You can get lucky once, maybe even twice, but a strong work ethic and an open, exploratory attitude will keep you on positive growth trajectory.

Q: What is the best advice or experience that you have gained that prepared you to do what you are doing now?

There has been a lot of good advice along the way, but my own personal advice to myself is always “There is never a reason to be mean. Ever”

But, I have to say that the best advice that I received came in the way of actions that I saw in my mentors. Senior researchers sitting on the floor with me at 9 p.m. on a Friday night going through medical charts in a data validation exercise because our back up computer crashed and we had to guarantee the data integrity (this was before everyone had a cloud and 15 forms of back up). How easy would it have been for them to walk out the door at 5:00 and leave me (the junior) with all of that work? I saw my research mentor asking thoughtful questions to a young researcher with very flawed results at a national conference presentation. How easy would it have been for her to slam this youngster for the inadequacies in his methodology? But they always took the time to do the right thing. The actions that I saw from my mentors are the behaviors that I have come to replicate and I am so grateful that I was exposed to such stellar experiences.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?

A: Spend time with my husband is first and foremost on that list. We love every minute of every day together. I enjoy golf, yoga, travel, museums and breathtaking art, music…I can’t live without music. I love to cook as it’s almost therapeutic for me to cook at the end of a crazy long busy day. My paternal grandmother was Italian and taught me to make pasta, sauce, literally everything from scratch. Veggies came from our garden and wine was what she made in the basement.

Q:  Anything else to add?

A: I think one of the most important things that I have learned about professional growth and success is to find way to find gratitude in all situations. Be grateful for opportunities that arise, appreciate that there was a really good reason that you chose not to take that job, even if you can’t fully put your finger on exactly why. Appreciate that not everything works out the way you want it to and that you don’t always win and you certainly don’t always get recognized. You have to be happy with your work and your choices and that has to come from within. Appreciating yourself and the hard work that you do is a huge first step in finding self-fulfillment. Until you love yourself and your work, it’s hard to truly appreciate much of anything else.

 

 

alumna profile: Allie Frownfelter ’17

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Bottle Thread logo, designed by Allie Frownfelter

“I knew I wanted to start a business,” says recent Chatham graduate Allie Frownfelter, “but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Inspiration came little by little. In one of her sustainability classes, Frownfelter (who majored in Sustainability) was shocked by an image the class was shown. “It looked like a bunch of pixels on the screen,” she says, “but the professor said that it represented the number of plastic bottles that gets thrown out every second.”

Later, she overheard a woman expressing interest in starting a clothing line. Sustainable fashion was something that had interested Frownfelter, because it struck her as an untapped market, and because it tapped something inside of her.

“I wanted to study abroad after my bachelor’s degree, and have the least amount of clothing that could be turned into the widest array of outfits while I traveled,” she says.

“Say goodbye to wrinkles and ill-fitting shirts forever.  Our sustainable blouses are constructed with a proprietary blend of fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. The high-quality fabric is UV protected, Anti-pilling, breathable, and moisture-wicking. You could comfortably wear this shirt backpacking, though it looks even better at the office, or writing at a coffee shop in Barcelona.” – from the Bottle Thread website  

The idea of making a button-down shirt for women particularly resonated. “They’re often baggy, uncomfortable, and need to be ironed,” says Frownfelter. “I wanted to make a shirt that you could wear to work, while traveling—something that has that versatility.”

Frownfelter found a manufacturer in Southern California called Indie Source that offers a sustainable fabric partially made from recycled plastic bottles. Her sustainable clothing line—called Bottle Thread—will launch with a women’s shirt, a men’s shirt, and a dress. The clothing will be designed by Indie Source to Frownfelter’s specifications, and she will approve the fabric, cut, buttons, colors, and other elements of the clothing line. “It’s all online,” she says, “so other than the samples, I don’t have to touch anything.”

A white female with long brown hair wearing a denim jacket and sunglasses on top of her head holds up two cardboard sheets with gray fabric samples stabled to them.
Allie with fabric samples

Frownfelter came to Chatham as a transfer student from Millersville, on the eastern side of Pennsylvania. “I just fell in love with the Sustainability program,” she says. “It starts by showing all these problems we have, but also introduces ways that we can start to fix them.”

A young woman in a blue hat and olive green overalls holding a shovel stands in a stream. She is laughing, and there is snow all around.
Allie collecting stream data for one of the qualitative ecology labs.

She credits two courses in particular: Sustainable Transition Management and Sustainable Systems. “Those courses combined opened my mind to possibilities,” she says. “What they taught me was that things take time, and that you can change things incrementally.”

“You can start a business, change a system slightly, direct it into a new kind of way to go somewhere else. That’s what I’m doing with Bottle Thread.”

“During my last semester, I took a quantitative ecology class that focused on environmental statistics,” says Frownfelter. “I was never a math person, so I procrastinated taking that class.  But the timing was perfect, because I was able to overcome my math inaptitude and actually create reliable projections for investors in Bottle Thread.”

Frownfelter was able to have her company dovetail nicely with her coursework: In her Design Praxis course, she developed a logo and brand identity for Bottle Thread.  And her senior capstone project was the Bottle Thread business plan, written under the advisement of Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Business Thomas Macagno.

“The wrinkle free material saves customers on average $300 a year in dry cleaning and can be packed in your suitcase without worrying about finding an iron…. A single blouse reduces ocean and landfill pollution and is made from approximately 42 recycled bottles. Proudly made in the USA”. – from the Bottle Thread website  

“I knew I was going to write a business plan anyway,” she says. “But having the opportunity to consolidate my work into an educational experience meant that I was able to focus more on how to make the company as sustainable as possible. I don’t think I would have been able to be this environmentally focused if I didn’t have such an incentive. Instead, I probably would have focused on creating the best quality product at the cheapest cost, virtually throwing out a lot of the values I learned through my degree for the sake of efficiency because it was easier. Consolidation of the two projects helped me merge my degree into my company, which is basically the new American Dream.”

Frownfelter is also working with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham. The CWE has been helping her with marketing and connecting her to resources including networking events. As the business expands, Frownfelter expects that she’ll be able to take advantage of more services offered by the CWE, but their input has already proven valuable. “The idea to use bra sizes for the shirts was just an off-the-cuff comment made by someone at the CWE, but I think it is a fabulous idea so I am taking it and running with it,” she says.

Bottle Thread and Company is filed as a benefit LLC, which means that Frownfelter must file an annual report with the state explaining how Bottle Thread benefits people and/or the environment.  “Being a benefit LLC allows my company to focus on things other than purely making money,” she says.

Frownfelter hopes to begin shipping on July 1. As of now, Bottle Thread items are likely to be available in white, black, and steel. And a Chatham purple.