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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: Danielle Burkhart, MFA Film and Digital Technology ’12

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It could not be said that as a student in Chatham’s Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Digital Technology, Danielle Burkhart sat on her thumbs. She took classes and held several part-time jobs, but perhaps most transformative to her career was the time she spent working as a digital video graduate assistant. “My grandfather always told me, ‘you are only in school for a limited amount of time so give your best effort. It will pay off,’” said Burkhart. “Through the assistantship, not only did I become familiar with the applications available to editors, but I also had the opportunity to use these programs while working on productions at Chatham.”

Students who are awarded this competitive assistantship through Chatham get both a tuition discount and real-world experience through filming all events on campus. During the course of their work, they also serve as ambassadors of the Film and Digital Technology program. “I felt a lot of confidence and pride in knowing that Danielle was a representative of our program and of the University,” says Assistant Professor of Film and Digital Technology Kristen Shaeffer. Shaeffer also supervised Burkhart’s assistantship, and Burkhart considers Shaeffer a mentor, calling her guidance invaluable and her role in the community as a young, female, successful communications professional an inspiration.

While the MFA in Film and Digital Technology is offered as an accelerated one-year program, students have the option to complete the program at their own pace. Classes are held on weeknight evenings, allowing students to continue working during the day. “Students graduate with a strong portfolio,” says Shaeffer. “Films made as part of the production classes become a launching pad into the professional world of conferences and festivals.”

Or somewhere entirely different: After graduation, Burkhart worked the Pittsburgh Pirate’s digital video board. “Never did I have two days that were the same, she says. “The majority of my time was spent with Pirates production, where I worked ballpark events, home games, Pirates events in the community, and even spring training. When I was not out shooting these events, I was editing pieces for the Pirates Video-On-Demand channel, social media, or the Pirates official website.” Burkhart was with the Pirates for seven seasons. She is currently Athletics Multimedia Services Coordinator at St. Francis University, where her main areas of responsibility are live webcasting, media for the athletics website, and production for the video board. She still occasionally does work for the Pirates.

To learn more about Chatham’s MFA in Film and Digital Technology program, visit chatham.edu/mfafilm.

ALUMNA PROFILE: AAFKE LONEY, MBA ’11

Aafke Loney didn’t plan for her family’s lifelong involvement in hockey to blend seamlessly with her passion for business; it just happened that way. Aafke, who earned her MBA from Chatham in 2011, along with her husband Troy Loney, are the proud co-owners of the Youngstown Phantoms (youngstownphantoms.com) of the United States Hockey League.  This acquisition marries the couple’s backgrounds, and Aafke has big plans for developing not only the Phantom’s players – but also the team’s fans and sponsors – so that “everyone invested receives a complete experience, a value in supporting the team.”

The Phantoms have enjoyed much recent success: five of the team’s alumni have signed NHL contracts, an additional three players were drafted in the 2014 NHL draft and, this year, one of their players is projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2015 NHL draft. Aafke’s latest venture is a Girl’s Hockey Weekend skills competition and symposium on Saturday, Oct. 11 at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, OH. “We are excited to support the 2014 USA Girl’s Hockey Weekend October 10-12 through providing this opportunity for girl’s youth hockey in Pennsylvania and Ohio,” says Aafke. Chatham University Women’s Ice Hockey coaches, captains and players will present a College Athletics Q & A followed by on-ice skills development during the event.

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ALUMNA PROFILE: GEORGENA TERRY ’72

 You might say Georgena Terry forged her own path, but it would be the only cliché in her story. Georgena earned her first bachelor’s degree as a drama major at Chatham College. “I did lighting and tech. I was always more comfortable behind the scenes. I loved math and physics and all that stuff,” she says. Small wonder, then, that she earned her second bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University which Georgena completed in two years, due to having so many transferable credits from Chatham (Georgena also holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania).

Terry

A lifelong avid biker, Georgena became interested in bicycle frames, and built her first frame in her basement. It was an exact copy of the bike she was riding at the time, and she found herself questioning the choices that were made in its construction. It was a short step from there to hand-building frames for women’s bodies that were in increasing demand among women cyclists in her community. Recognizing an unmet need, Georgena launched Terry Precision Bicycles for Women, which grew to include award-winning components and apparel.

The accolades began to pile up: In 1996, Georgena was named one of four cycling pioneers by Bicycling magazine. In 2002, she was the only woman recognized in Outside Magazine’s list of 11 cycling innovators. In 2005, the Direct Marketing Association of New York named her Marketer of the Year.  And in 2010, Georgena received the Pioneering Woman award from Outdoor Industries.

As Georgena was being recognized, she was also working to engage and encourage women cyclists and to protect the wilderness that has always been so important to her. In 2001, she began to sponsor a women’s road racing team, focusing on developing young female riders. In 2006, Georgena donated thousands of dollars to breast cancer research and to grassland conservation efforts. In 2008, she held the first “Wild Goose Chase,” a fundraiser for the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Georgena sold Terry Bicycles in 2009. “The CEO said ‘Do you want to keep the handbuilt bicycles? We don’t have the expertise’,” Georgena recalls. “So I took that part with me.”

Today, that part is Heart of Steel Bicycles. Georgena notes that contrary to popular opinion, steel is a great choice for the serious cyclist. “Maybe it’s because of the diamond frame,” she muses. “…Tube diameters have increased and tubes that were once round may now be oval or tapered. But the frame is still a diamond.”