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The College of William & Mary

Alan Williams ’92 and his path to the NFL

Alan Williams ’92 wanted to be a teacher. He planned his entire life out step by step based on that one known fact. After graduation from the College, he started teaching at Norview High School in Norfolk, Va. Then he started helping out with the school’s football team. He planned that eventually he’d become head coach and someday he’d make his way into school administration.

But then the NFL got in his way. 

Williams recently was a part of something that approximately 100 million Americans watched a few weeks back. Williams is the secondary coach with the Indianapolis Colts and his franchise won its first Super Bowl title in decades. 

“It was a great feeling,” said Williams. “I hate to say that it was anti-climactic, but it was. Just to get there, and we had fallen so short the three years before. To beat New England at home to get to the Super Bowl, that was really a big deal. To win the Super Bowl for (head coach Tony Dungy) and as well as just the personal satisfaction to get over that hump after falling short for so many years.”

“And really proving the critics wrong,” he added.

Williams and Dungy had been criticized all season long because of the team’s perceived under-performing defense. Williams’ defensive secondary — which is usually comprised of four to six players who cover the wide receivers and tight ends and defend passes from the quarterback — was a part of the overall problem. But as soon as the playoffs started his squad was a big part of the Colts’ ascension to the championship match-up against the Chicago Bears.

“(Our secondary) was just coming around to getting healthy,” said Williams. “I think the players did a better job of taking ownership of what was going on. They were not happy for sure with how we were playing and I think that they took it upon their shoulders to be more responsible for what was happening on the field. And we as coaches I think did a better job of mixing up what we called.”

Williams thinks that it may all have been great timing for his team — and great teaching. He believes that there is much more to the game of football than most understand, and that it requires a great teacher to get players in position and help them understand its complexities. Perhaps that is why this former teacher has been so fortunate in his young NFL career thus far.

“(Football) is so different in terms of what you do and how you do it,” said Williams. “You’ve got to understand what other people teach you and convey that to your players. If you’re a good teacher, you can coach football.”

And Williams credits many of good habits and abilities to days spent learning at the College. Not just on the field, but in the classroom as well.

“When you’re a William and Mary student, you have to do a lot of things at a high level in competition with a lot of people,” said Williams. “It makes you multi-task. It makes you prioritize your time. It sets you up for whatever you do — to do it at a high level. 

“Coach Laycock demanded that we go to class and that we represented the football team in a good way,” said Williams. “You’re there to play football but you’re also here to be a student athlete. You also had to perform in the classroom at a high level. Not everyone is subjected to that. So when you come out of William and Mary you have a leg up when you enter the workforce. 

“When I taught, I felt better prepared than the people I was teaching with,” said Williams. “And it was the same with football. As a coach, the day isn’t done until you finish with your work. You’re not governed by a time clock. That’s how W&M was. You keep doing it until you get it right until you’re done. Not just finished with it, but the product is a good product. That is a lot like what the real world is and a lot like what coaching is.”

Williams feels that his time on campus was special, and makes a point to stop by for a visit at least once a year. He remembers fondly the nights when he was up late at night at Millington 101 and up on the third floor of Swem Library.

“I also liked walking down DoG Street and getting a smoothie from the ice cream shops,” laughed Williams. For now, Williams and his wife Lisa do their walking with their three boys. 

Now that he’s been a part of a Super Bowl-winning team, the future is bright for Williams — though his first focus is helping to guide his Colts back to the playoffs and possibly win it all again. Though Williams has been rumored to be the next defensive coordinator or the Vikings, he’s making sure that all doors of opportunity are left open.

“I want to have my squad perform at a high level on a consistent basis,” said Williams. “I think that what people are looking for is consistency. They want to know can you do that next year and the year after. That’s the testament of a good coach. If you can put a good product on the field and have them perform on a consistent basis. Right now it’s just to be the best secondary coach that I can possibly be. If that turns into possibilities like a coordinator or a head coach – that would be great. I’ll welcome those when they come. As of now, it’s to do what I do and to do it well.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Ashley Edward Miller ’94: Writing and Living His Dream

Theres’s an old cliché that college graduates often hear: “May you avocation become your vocation.” For many young people, life gets in the way. But for screenwriter Ashley Edward Miller ’94, his dreams truly have become reality.

Two of his films — Thor and X-Men: First Class — debuted within a month of each other this summer and are box-office blockbusters. Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Richard Roeper called Thor “the most entertaining superhero debut since the original Spider-Man.”

Miller’s experience is an example of how an education at the College of William and Mary can change a person, allowing them to point their career and life in any direction. For Miller, his direction is quite literally with the stars.

A page from the Ashley Edward Miller’s story
A page from the Ashley Edward Miller’s story

“I graduated in 1994 with a degree in English and government,” says Miller “I had kind of a winding road into screenwriting.” Miller’s first job out of school was a middle-school English teacher for a year. Then for the next seven years, he worked for a defense contractor. All the while he spent his free time fine-tuning his writing skills. He met his wilting partner, Zack Stentz, back in 1997, and thanks to a twist of fate, met a producer of the television series Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, who bought five scripts from the duo in 2000.

Later Miller and Stentz worked on the revival of The Twilight Zone. In this time, they had been working on a few spec scripts that eventually got them the job with the new television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

“We were the first writers who were hired for that show and we were there for its entire run,” says Miller “It was one of the best professional and creative experiences that I’ve ever had.”

Though Sarah Connor was well-liked by many and critically acclaimed, the show was canceled after two seasons. The parent network of the show, sensing that they could lose a talented writing team, immediately transitioned Miller and Stoltz to the show Fringe. It was just before the end of Sarah Connor and at the start of their run with Fringe that a new opportunity struck them like a bolt of lightning.

Thor happened while we were in the middle of writing a two-part episode in Sarah Connor. We had just realized that it would need to be a two-parter and we were heavily re-writing an episode of the show which basically didn’t work,” says Miller.

“We were in the middle of post [production] for another episode. There were a ton of things that were happening on the show that would have made it nearly impossible to function.

“I was particularly excited, because Thor was always one of my very favorite characters and was one of the first comic characters that I truly collected. I could speak chapter and verse about Thor.”

As fate would have it, Miller was working closely on the Thor project with the film’s director, Kenneth Branagh. It was this man who helped refocus Miller’s life while he was a student at the College.

“I was a government major initially because when I showed up to the College, I thought that I’d want to do something with that,” says Miller “But I was always a writer; I was always a reader. I resisted becoming an English major. I had it in my head that I did not want to be told what to read, or what to think about what I read.

“But one night, I sat down with some of my friends, and I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. I was blown away. After that, I started taking English classes. I took basically every Renaissance literature class that Professor Peter Wiggins taught. And what I realized taking those classes was that Shakespeare wrote for the cheap seats. He wrote action and he wrote passionately. You realize that Shakespeare’s first objective, his primary goal was to entertain his audience — and he was funny, exciting and insightful. Shakespeare opens up your mind.”

Miller and his partner worked through five drafts of the Thor script, all of them revisions based on that first version. He feels that the studio looked to his team because they had a reputation for working collaboratively with others, and they were able to get quality work done in a hurry.

“Marvel needed writers who had worked in the genre before, understood comics — and maybe, just maybe, understood something about Thor;” says Miller.

“I can tell you that the intersection of all of those sets on the Venn diagram, who meet those conditions, is very small. So we just happened to be in the right place in the exact right time.”

After they completed Thor, Miller and Stentz went back to work on Fringe, as well as working on a few new projects for Disney. Then in April 2010, the team got a call from Fox, who called them in to give their opinion on another comic-book franchise that was headed back to the big screen.

“Out of the blue, we got a call saying that they want us to look at something” says Miller. “We read the draft that they had of X-Men: First Class. They said that it needed to be re-worked, and asked us what we could do. We didn’t realize that we had 10 days to make X-Men work.”

Much like when they tackled the Thor project, Miller and Stentz pushed into the world of mutant heroes, working 20-hour days until they had completed the script. “We turned in [the script] and got the green light, probably the fastest turnaround from not having a script to green light in studio history,” says Miller.

“We did a second draft over a period of another 10 days. We did a little work here and there as required over the summer: And then magic happened and they finished shooting the movie, and it was out 28 days after Thor.”

Miller laughs at how two projects started and worked on so far apart hit the screen so close together. But due to the difference in the studio schedules, post-production and a writers’ strike all thrown in, the two films that Miller and Stentz wrote two years apart debuted almost back-to-back this summer: Thor opened on May 6, followed by X-Men: First Class, which opened on June 3.

Even through all of his successes, Miller often stops to take a look at what he’s accomplished thus far. He and his wife, Jennifer Munro ’96, along with their son Caden, who is just under 2-years-old, make a point to enjoy all that they have been through together on their way to Hollywood.

Miller will point to an exact moment where the thought actually crystallized in his mind. “I was in the middle of Agent Cody Banks’ pre-production in 2002,” says Miller.

“The studio and the director and the producers and everyone were talking about a change to the script, a major story point. And I was not too happy. I got in my car and I was driving and thinking about these things.

“Then I had this moment of self-awareness — I said, ‘You know what, dude? There are tens of thousands of people in this town alone who would kill to have the bad day that you’re having. And you are having this bad day because you are doing what you’ve always wanted to do since you were a child. So do yourself a favor and shut up. Do your job, enjoy it and have fun.’”

For some, the amazing résumé that Miller has compiled thus far would be enough subject matter for a memoir. But Miller confides that there is far more ahead.

“In the last year, we’ve written a project for Paramount and something else for Disney,” says Miller. “We did X-Men for Fox. And we started work on a project for DreamWorks, which has turned out to be an amazingly awesome experience. This movie is going to surprise people.”

Miller also says that at some point in the future, he’d love to work on a Batman, James Bond or Star Trek film. And that he and Stentz are currently transforming a script idea into a novel for young adults, which will be a real departure from the world of Thor and the X-Men.

“There are other things, but I kind of hesitate to talk about them, because in a way, if I talk about them that makes them less real, until they are going forward,” says Miller. “We are working on all sorts of ideas. We are just getting started.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Nekisa Cooper ’99: Taking her knowledge from the basketball court to Hollywood

“It happened by accident,” says Nekisa Cooper ’99 about her career as an independent film producer in Hollywood. “If you asked me five years ago what I would be doing today, I would have had absolutely no clue that this would be it.”

For Cooper, who played four years of basketball at the College and continued in the field of athletics as an assistant coach, the way she fell into the film industry was ultimately partly because of her yearning to tell those stories that are not often told in popular media. But it was ultimately her keen organization skills that made her career in independent film possible.

“I feel like everything that I’ve done has led me to producing,” she says.

While she was studying at the College as a government major, Cooper said that her experiences were filled with “growth.” She feels that the time at William and Mary forced her to be more well-rounded, as she dealt with both her studies and basketball.

“I had to persevere,” says Cooper. “Coming out of high school and being highly recruited and stepping onto the William and Mary campus — I don’t think I was prepared for what I encountered. That lesson was reinforced through academics, and through being on the basketball team, and through my own internal struggles.”

After graduation, Cooper stayed within the realm of athletics and served as an assistant coach at Christopher Newport University and the University of Richmond. But her abilities caught the interest of people around her at Richmond, and her career path suddenly started taking a new shape.

“In addition to my on-the-court duties, I also put together our community outreach events as well as managing our travel,” says Cooper. “Some of the people in the Richmond athletics department noticed my skills at organizing and finding resources and thought that it would be great to talk to me about business school.”

At the time, Cooper thought that she might want to be an athletic director, but ultimately she did decide to go to business school. 

“I didn’t really know what business school meant, other than I was going to go there and learn a skill set that I could bring back to the athletics world,” says Cooper. “Eventually I thought I could work my way up to becoming an athletic director somewhere.”

She wanted to combine her passion for athletics and an emerging talent for making sound business decisions. Cooper decided to attend Clark Atlanta University to get an M.B.A. During her studies at CAU, she focused on brand management and marketing, which led to a job at Colgate-Palmolive in New York. For the next five years, Cooper worked in one form of brand management. It was during this time that she met a good friend, Dee Rees, who left Colgate to attend graduate film school at New York University (NYU). 

“It was sort of a strange thing to do at the time,” says Cooper jokingly. “All of us were making good money, living in New York… and she left all of that to become a poor artist.”

Cooper stayed in touch with Rees and lent her organizing and logistics assistance on her second-year film project. 

“Putting together a film is like running a business,” says Cooper. “I realized that what I was doing with that film was very similar to what I was doing in brand management. Instead of toothpaste and bodywash, the product was something that I felt much more passionate about.”

It was at that point that producing became a real option. She started sitting in on a few classes at NYU to get more acquainted with all of the steps involved when a film is created. When she left Colgate to work for L’Oreal, she took a three-month break to produce a short film. From L’Oreal she was lured over to work at General Electric and she took another break to work on a short film. In the summer of 2007, Cooper left GE to pursue her dream of working in film full-time as a producer.

“An independent film producer a lot of the time has a broader role than a producer of studio projects,” says Cooper. “I am involved in getting the financing and crystallizing the [plot] ideas and concepts. I collaborate with the director to make sure all of the elements are in place. 

“I am also responsible for seeing the whole process through from the beginning to distribution,” says Cooper, which is beyond what a studio producer is responsible for. “It’s very much like running a little business, and bringing a product to life. They are not much different than the process that a new toothbrush would go through — from concept to distribution.”

Cooper’s business skills and savvy have helped her realize a dream to create films about people who are either misrepresented or underrepresented in cinema. The most notable being her short film PARIAH, which made the rounds on the independent film festival circuit. PARIAH, which is a short film that details the changing life and challenges of a African-American teen who is adjusting to life as a lesbian, is now part of the prestigious Netflix “Find Your Voice” film competition, which could net the winner $500,000 in prizes. If all goes as planned, PARIAH will be reborn, starting in the next few months as a full feature-length film.  

Other projects include Eventual Salvation, a feature-length documentary that chronicles the journey of an American-born woman to Liberia to rebuild her life after the devastating Liberian civil war. Eventual Salvation will air on the Sundance Channel in fall 2009. She is producing La Muneca Fea (The Ugly Dolly), a feature documentary that won the Creative Promise Award at the 2009 Tribeca Institute All Access Program. At the same time, she is currently in postproduction on a short narrative film, Colonial Gods, about the displacement of the African community in Tiger Bay, Wales. The film was shot both in the United States and on location in the United Kingdom.

Working on many projects at the same time might seem like it makes the process more difficult or complicated, but working on multiple projects is essential. Cooper says that her production company, Northstar Pictures, takes on only as many projects as she feels that she can handle, but she also keeps an eye out for new ideas 

“You want to always have projects in different stages of development,” says Cooper. “It’s very much like brand management. You always want to have something in the pipeline that is about to go and something that is a little more long-term and even something just as a concept. That is the same philosophy that I take with filmmaking.” 

And though her successes have come early, she cautions those who would follow in her footsteps into the world of filmmaking. It is a difficult business that requires multiple skills beyond just the ability to tell a story by way of motion picture. Her advice is simple.

“Make as many films as possible,” says Cooper. “Find things that mean something in life and document them. Making films is the best film school money can buy.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Mark Shriver ’71: Bringing Out The Best In Kids

Getting involved with service organizations can be a great way to give back to the community, as many William and Mary graduates know so well. And if you are the one who keeps on having great ideas, you might find yourself in a new office. That is exactly what has happened to Mark O. Shriver IV ’71, who was just elected to become the president of Optimist International, the fourth-largest service organization in the world.

Optimist is composed of over 3,000 clubs throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean with some in Europe and Africa. In existence for 90 years, and with a membership of more than 100,000, the Optimist clubs’ collective mission is to put on activities and projects for children — the slogan being “Bringing Out the Best in Kids.”

Each club runs their own activities and events, which include a junior golf program, oratorical and essay contests and communications contests for the deaf and hard of hearing. Many of these competitions include college scholarships as awards, and the fundraising activities for each club are conducted in their local community.

As president, one of Shriver’s goals will be to launch a new initiative, which he has been preparing for the past few years. 

“We have a new program that we are rolling out this summer involving Internet safety,” says Shriver. “We are educating parents as to what they can do to help their kids be safe online. We recently completed the production of videos that will be distributed to the clubs to take into their communities.”

The move to president is a natural one for Shriver. Over the past quarter century, Shriver has served in numerous roles for Optimist, including club president, task force committees, vice president and other roles. He has had the pleasure to work along with hundreds of dedicated volunteers, including Carrollyn Cox J.D. ’79 and Dee Rushforth M.B.A. ’72.

Shriver runs his own law firm, based in the suburbs of Atlanta. In his day-to-day business, he deals with family litigation and adoption cases, so the transition to the Optimist club is an easy one, where his expertise in the legal world of children is extremely insightful.

“The main focus [when I take office Oct. 1] to encourage clubs to do more activities for more kids, because the programs we offer are needed more than ever,” says Shriver. “Also, we’d like to add members and to add new clubs in new communities, because with more members we can provide additional services to even more children.”

Shriver has been a member since 1981, and feels that his Optimist experience is among the most rewarding experiences that he has been involved with.

“What the Optimist clubs provide, nobody else provides,” says Shriver. “I get a real satisfaction from knowing that Optimist clubs throughout the world are providing opportunities for children that otherwise are not being provided.”

And though he is on the crest of success at his firm and through his volunteer activities, he makes a point to say that young alumni and current students should be prepared to work extra hard as they enter the workforce, especially under today’s difficult economic conditions. His advice to those who are just entering the workforce or preparing to finish law school, ironically is, one of optimism.

“I suggest that they try to find a middle to small-sized firm to work for and if that doesn’t work, then don’t be afraid to go out and set up your own practice,” says Shriver. And he would know, as that is exactly how he started his own law firm, under similar economic conditions. It may be providential that the Optimist organization has such a seasoned leader at its helm, one who lived abroad and has created a successful business even in lean times. 

Shriver went to high school in Toronto, and while not the most exotic of locations to grow up, when he came to the College, he admits that he felt like an exchange student at first. He soon shed that and got down to the hard work of being a William and Mary student.

After graduating from William and Mary, Shriver moved to Atlanta to attend Emory Business School, and eventually received a law degree from the Emory Law School as well. 

“The academic challenge that William and Mary offers, I developed both knowledge and confidence that I could do almost anything,” says Shriver. “That was reinforced when I went to Emory with other students from Harvard and Yale. I felt equal to, or stronger than they were.” 

It was in Atlanta where Shriver met his wife, Patricia McKay, and they settled down with their family of five children. Though Atlanta is his home, he makes the trek back to Williamsburg as often as possible, including the five-year class reunions during Homecoming weekend. 

“The College makes you work for it and you really earn [the degree],” says Shriver. “You benefit for the rest of your life as a result of that and that is ideally what you want from a college. And you really get that from William and Mary. I can remember sitting at graduation thinking that ‘finally, they can’t take it away from me.’ That was a real sense of satisfaction in having met the task. I have been able to take on whatever I wanted to take on.”

For more information on Optimist International, please visit their Web site at www.optimist.org

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Young Guarde Profile: Brian Chiglinsky ’08

Brian Chiglinsky ’08 has a great thing going — working for the Governor of Virginia on constituent issues, and helping redistribute used state computers to children as a part of the Virginia STAR program.

We caught up with Brian at Young Guarde Weekend 2009 and chatted with him for a while about what exactly he does for the governor’s office, and about his experience at the presidential inauguration a few months ago.

Tell us what exactly you do for a living.

I am a special assistant for constituent services in Governor Kaine’s office. In our office, I interact daily with the voice of democracy, and sometimes I put it on hold and transfer it. Basically our constituent services office is on the other end of the phone to help with any concern, question or issue a constituent has with state government. Sometimes it’s frustrating, it’s frequently exhausting, but it’s a position that’s bolstered my faith in the democratic process. Thanks to the flexibility of this job, I can also take on a number of other responsibilities.

Twice a week I work as the governor’s confidential assistant and whenever I can grab a free moment I try to make some progress on a project called the Virginia STAR program.

How did you get this job?

My senior year at William and Mary I applied to the Governor’s Fellows Program — a program in the Governor’s Office modeled after the Presidential Fellows program in which recent college graduates partner with a member of the Governor’s cabinet, his press office or constituent services office for two months. Fortunately, I was accepted, and with a William and Mary stipend behind me, I set off on the two months of work with the secretary of technology.

As the internship was coming to a close, and my frantic search for a post-fellowship job was heating up, I heard of an opening in the constituent services office. I applied, interviewed and was accepted. I didn’t know the outcome until the last couple of days of the fellowship and the wait added a bit of stress to the workload, but it taught me a lot about networking and the benefit of unpaid internships. I think many of the connections I made as a Fellow helped me with the application process for Constituent Services. Even though the internship was unpaid, the hours I put in as a Fellow certainly paid off as I came into work my first day as a paid employee of the governor’s office.

Do you interact with the governor on a daily basis?

Sometimes. Since December I’ve been helping out twice a week as the governor’s confidential assistant. So for those days I work directly outside of his office handling administrative duties and making sure that his insanely packed schedule moves smoothly. It’s been a great challenge and opportunity, and I am really fortunate to be working with such a great boss. For someone in such a position of power, I’m constantly amazed at the governor’s modesty and his character. Even as his national profile has grown over the past few years, he still singles out the shy people in the back of town hall meetings, takes time to visit with the wait staff of a restaurant in Spanish and doesn’t hesitate to make a strong personal connection to his staff. In a profession that often trends toward strategy and gamesmanship, Gov. Kaine keeps us focused on the fact that we are first and foremost public servants. I really admire him for that.

What would you say are your favorite moments of your job?

There are two that stick out: The first happens in constituent services. It’s rare, but every once in a while, a constituent who we worked with will contact our office to let us know the outcome. When they do, and when we were able to fix their problem, constituent services usually sends it around the office. There’s nothing quite like knowing that someone is breathing a little easier because of our work, and I think everyone takes a moment to savor that satisfaction before picking up the phone and getting back to work to tackle the next issue.

The other moment happened this summer as our department of general services agreed to provide 1,000 state surplus computers for an educational program I had developed with the secretary of technology. This program, which we called the Virginia STAR program, would provide kids with IT repair certification while connecting schools and low-income families with refurbished computers free of charge. With the announcement of 1,000 computers for our program, I was ecstatic, because I realized we had the means to create a program that could provide some Virginia students one more avenue to a successful career and a secure future.

Despite what cynics might claim, I’d venture to say that the vast majority of individuals commit to public service out of a sense of philanthropy. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your efforts improve another person’s quality of life. That’s the best part of my job.

What are your plans for the next step? What do you foresee yourself doing in the near future?

This job is an unparalleled point of observation, and the observations I’ve made have proven to me the value of public service. So I’m sure that my future will find me coming back to public service in some way. I’m still trying to decide if a master’s in public policy or a law degree would help me serve that end in the best way, and I’m going to take some time after the General Assembly session to figure that out. The great thing is that I don’t necessarily have to have it all figured out just yet. I’m young enough that I can afford to follow the administration to its conclusion, be the guy on the last day to turn out the lights and take some time to find the next step. The political field is great for young professionals, as the hours are long, the work is intense and the turnover is quick, but we young people can quickly absorb those costs and appreciate these priceless experiences.

Do you run into many W&M people at the Capitol in state government?

There is a great William and Mary network in Capitol Square. Thomas Gates ’05 was my mentor for the Fellows program, and I currently work with a few William and Mary grads. William and Mary alumni seem to have this ingrained sense of civic engagement that leads them towards fields like public service. It’s one of the greatest values I took from the College.

Tell us about the presidential inauguration, and what you were able to do.

Inauguration was a whirlwind. The governor’s former deputy press secretary, who had gone to work for the Obama campaign and then for the presidential inaugural committee, contacted a number of people from the office to see if we’d be interested in helping with press at an inaugural ball. With two other friends, I left Monday night for DC. Tuesday we hustled out to the Mall — realized there was no possible way to get out there in time, and started frantically looking for a radio or some way to hear the inaugural address. Finally, by pure chance, I turned around and some guy behind me pulled out a small, handheld radio.

So a group of about 10 of us, total strangers, huddled around this guy and his radio and listened to the inaugural address of a President who would not have even been considered a citizen at this nation’s founding. It was a moment I’ll never forget. That night I helped with the press at the Mid-Atlantic States Ball and worked most of the night outside in the 20-degree weather. Luckily I got back in just in time to see the appearances of the vice president and his wife, and then very shortly after, we saw the president and first lady.

As the night ended, I remembered looking around and seeing the trash-covered dance floor thinking of the first time I saw Barack Obama at a rally in Richmond in 2007 contrasted with this night, and I really took a breath and soaked in the history of the past two years. We may never see as exciting and exhausting a presidential campaign as 2008, and I was really privileged to be a fly on the wall in the early days and on the last evening.

What sort of advice would you give to a recent graduate or a student who is looking to get into government for a career?

Do it. At the very least, give it a try. There are few moments in your life that you’ll be able to take on such a high-paced and challenging position. Even if you’re a cynic of the current state of American democracy, take an internship and experience the democratic process for yourself. I know that if you run into even one of the countless incredible and admirable public servants I’ve met in the Governor’s Office, you’ll feel differently. Ours is not a perfect system of government, but the more motivated and honest people who choose to contribute, the better it will get.

At the 2007 commencement, I managed to snag a ticket and sit in as Secretary of Defense Bob Gates ’65 told the audience the following, “if America is to exercise global leadership consistent with our better angels, then the most able and idealistic of your generation must step forward and accept the burden and the duty of public service. I promise you that you will also find joy and satisfaction and fulfillment.” From experience, I can tell you his promise was spot-on.

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Two former William & Mary roommates find a new kind of home

A pile of rubble at the end of a dirt road in Gloucester County, Virginia is all that is left of Fairfield, one of the grandest plantation houses of the Colonial era. It is around this place that David Brown ’96 and Thane Harpole ’96 have created a non-profit archeological foundation, currently to guide the preservation process and hopefully will one day oversee its rebirth and recreation as a historical preserve and learning center. 

Thane Harpole ’96 and David Brown ’96
Thane Harpole and David Brown

Fairfield’s incredible history started 45 years before the College of William and Mary was chartered, is one full of multiple owners, tenants and change. The 2,350 acres of land for the plantation was patented in 1648 by Lewis Burwell, and the house was erected by 1694. The home was in the Burwell family for a long time, which helped the massive property grew to 7,000 acres, and the family became involved with the American Revolution.

The patriarch of the Burwell family died while the American Revolution was underway, and within a few years the plantation and house were sold to a man named Robert Thruston, who upgraded the style of the exterior, making the mansion more fashionable for the late 18th Century. The Thrustons left in the 1830s, and Fairfield was leased to various tenant farmers, who live at the property from the 1860s until a fire destroyed everything in 1897.

That is the puzzle of this once-great place. What happened during all those years? The manor and plantation spent its decades as the home of the prominent and powerful Burwells and later became the home of African-American tenant farmers in the 1860s. This story, they say, needs to be told. And there might be no better team to do this than Brown and Harpole.

Harpole and Brown met at the College as roommates, and knew then that they would work together on some project in their field. Before they entered the College, their lives were dominated by military-related moves. Brown’s family settled in Poquoson, Va., wheras Harpole’s moved more often. One of those stops was in Gloucester, where Harpole recognized there was a wealth of history waiting to be discovered, decoded and cataloged.

While at the College, as their fellow students worked at digs in Jamestown and for Colonial Williamsburg, Brown and Harpole made their way to Gloucester, where few paid any attention to its rich history, and there was much to be learned. It was here that they returned after they earned their master’s degrees to set up shop and uncover Fairfield’s mysteries. 

During the spring, summer and fall, Harpole and Brown literally dig through the layers of history to discover what happed to the house and its people. To do this, Brown and Harpole are piecing together the house’s remains and the few scraps of newspaper or legal papers that survived the centuries in Gloucester.

“We don’t have many specific documents — this is where it’s so wonderful to see archaeology, because essentially you have this small area around what you see now that does not get farmed, that is where we do most of the archaeology throughout the summer,” says Brown.

Much of what the duo have uncovered is based on linking the era to a discovery. It’s not just important to find something buried at the site, but to be able to figure out the  relevance of each item and how it helps tell the story of Fairfield. Scientific and labor-intensive excavations undertaken by Brown and Harpole since 2000 are putting these pieces together.

This isn’t the first time that these two have struck gold — it was Brown and Harpole who played a major role in identifying Werowocomoco, which is widely agreed to be the home of Chief Powhatan. As part of the Werowocomoco Research Group, they work alongside other scholars and interact with the Virginia Indian community.  

As the directors of excavation at Fairfield from the start, they take the lessons learned at Werowocomoco and can focus on all of the layers of the Burwell plantation, and not just about the wealthy and elite who called the place home.

“With Monticello or Mt. Vernon, they focused on the house for so long, and then they last 15 years they have been playing catch-up in terms of the [history of the] slaves,” says Harpole. “Because we are starting from scratch, we can just start everything from the beginning and see if we can figure it all out at the same time.”

For now, these young researchers are focused on the task at hand, which is working with volunteers and interns from the College to catalog all finds from the site, and they readily admit that the ‘foundation’ portion of their job is the most challenging. Fund raising and marketing aren’t exactly staples of an archaeologist’s diet, but Brown and Harpole are making it all work.

“It seems that everybody forgets things after the Civil War in Virginia,” says Brown. “Yet, we’ve got 150 years of dynamic history that needs to be further explored. We are interested in where [the Fairfield artifacts] came from and how they were used and the life stories of the people who were using them.”

For more information, visit the Fairfield Foundation at www.fairfieldfoundation.org.

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Charlie ’01 and Sarah Park ’01: Alumni pair can help get your finances straight

For Charlie ’01 and Sarah Park ’01, their new business started out as a way not to make money, but to help themselves get their finances in order.  But what once was a simple Excel spreadsheet has blossomed into PearBudget, which has put them on the same footing as software juggernauts Microsoft and Intuit.

When Charlie graduated from the College, he was full of great ideas, and for a while he went to work cultivating ideas at a company called PLAY, based out of Richmond, Va. His position was an idea-incubator — someone who took the problems of a company, and attempted to come up with creative solutions to them. 

The Parks

“It was a great job, I didn’t make a lot of money,” says Charlie of those early days. “It became apparent that if we weren’t careful, we would quickly run out of money. We began to develop a budget.”

Because of this lack of funds, Charlie and Sarah looked for a simple way to manage their budget, and they used Excel to create a spreadsheet, which they designed for both ease of use and simplicity. Not exactly programmers, Charlie (a religion major) and Sarah (an art history major), worked together to come up with something that didn’t make the user “stare at a screen full of numbers.” Eventually they posted their spreadsheet online so that others could use their method to get their own finances straight. 

“At that point, it was just a thing that I had made,” remembers Charlie. “It didn’t strike me as this terribly special thing.”

But based on the feedback and the 150,000 people who downloaded the file and used it and gave them very positive feedback on the way that the file operated, calculated and streamlined the chore of balancing the books.

“Anyone can create a spreadsheet for their finances, but we’ve done so many revisions that we thought that this might be something,” says Sarah. 

Part of what made their solution “something” was that it answered the question for people who know that they need a budget, but have trouble finding a place to start. The spreadsheet featured a wizard and categories based on income, and the computer did all of the heavy lifting. 

Along the way, the Parks’ spreadsheet garnered the attention of some pretty influential bloggers and technology Web sites, which promoted the spreadsheet to all of their readers. And, after a mention in Popular Science, it began to get a great deal of momentum — many more people were now downloading the spreadsheet, leading the Parks to wonder what could happen next. 

“At this time, we read how all of these people were loving it, and all of these people were getting helped out,” says Charlie. “But we were very frustrated by it. It was simpler and more effective than anything else we had seen, but it still wasn’t quite as effective or as simple as we thought it could be.”

“The only way that we felt like it do that was for it to break past the limitations of the spreadsheet and of Excel,” says Sarah. 

The way for their spreadsheet to grow into something more was to make it a Web-based tool. The Parks started redesigning their product as an Internet application. The process took them over two years of revising and refining everything from the interface to the back-end and guts that operate the software. 

As with the development of the spreadsheet, their differing interests helped shape what has become PearBudget. 

“I would come up with something that I thought was so effective and so clear,” says Charlie.

“And I would look at it and say that it was still too busy,” says Sarah. “There is still too much going on, and it’s still too distracting. We wanted people to interact with this in a way where they are enabled to focus.”

“Yeah, if you look at a screen of numbers, and you don’t understand what you are looking at, then it becomes worthless, or just eye candy,” says Charlie.

The mix of ease and utility was important, and the Parks geared PearBudget for a user who is motivated to get a handle on their finances, but at the same time may not be good at math or for someone who is intimidated by numbers. Much of the programming in the beginning of the site’s creation was done with outside help, but slowly Charlie began to take the reins, to where now he is the sole programmer. They started working on PearBudget full time in October 2007, and the site opened for business in April 2008, and was profitable within the first year of operation — quite a feat for any business. 

PearBudget has grown into a site where users can get the same sort of slick interaction that Microsoft Money or Intuit’s Quicken provides, at a fraction of the cost. And the Parks believe that their product provides a cleaner user experience and better results — although they will say that those services are not their competitors, just other “generals in the war against bad finances.” Because PearBudget is an Internet application, it can be accessed anywhere the Internet is, even on new mobile Web-friendly devices like the iPhone. 

“It’s really cool when we get e-mails from people that validate our effort,” says Charlie. “Retirees e-mail us to tell us how PearBudget helps them get by on their fixed budget, and we’ll get e-mails from young couples who were just like we used to be — just married and in need of some way to watch the spending.”

The Parks won’t say exactly how many people have signed on to their service, but they will reveal that more than 30,000 have taken a trial membership on the site. Many of them roll into the paid service.

“There is nobody out there who is doing what we’re doing,” says Sarah. “We’re definitely meeting the needs of a certain niche.”

“Ultimately, our goal is to help people get their finances in order and to pay for a mortgage,” says Charlie. 

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Jan Donatelli ’82: Former military pilot on new mission to clean up Illinois politics

In running for a seat in Congress against more than a dozen others contenders, Jan Donatelli ’82 is preparing for a new journey and faces incredible odds. But, she won’t have to wear any protective gear to go to Washington, D.C., which means that getting into politics may be less dangerous for the former aviator.

This 5th Congressional District seat was vacated by Rahm Emanuel, who left Congress to serve as President Obama’s chief of staff, and is now up for grabs in a special election to be held on March 3. Donatelli is hitting the streets of Chicago for this compressed campaign, as she faces 11 others who are vying to win in Democratic primary and face their Republican opponent on April 7.

“At the moment, there are 12 Democrats, six independent Greens and seven Republicans running for the seat,” says Donatelli. “It is a completely wide-open race.”

Even though this campaign may be among the shortest in recent memory, a campaign mythos has grown around Donatelli, one that she embraces and is willing to tell. Her staffers say that she was ultimately motivated to run for office after volunteering for the Obama campaign. She also felt the urge for change as she volunteered for the campaign in nine states. 

“I have an awful lot of people who are helping me out who were excited about President Obama,” says Donatelli. “I was lucky — I was able to put my job on hold — and said ‘now is the time.’”

She has structured her team much like then-candidate Obama did, squeezing many of the lessons that she learned on the national stage to her Chicago-area run — including her own “D” logo, which is similar to Obama’s “O” campaign logo. But this opportunity also will give her the chance to do something about the problems that have been plaguing her state in the last few months. 

“I’m fed up with being fed up,” says Donatelli. “Most people in the nation and, in fact, around the world have heard about all of our political troubles here in Illinois. We went from having the best of the best on election night and, barely a month later, we saw our governor taken away in handcuffs.

“So many people here have urged me to run to basically bring a fresh voice to politics. Illinois politics is usually is full of entrenched politicians who have a strong powerhold — and there is a strong desire from the voters for something different.”

Righting the Illinois political ship is one of her motivations, but she is also ready to work with a work and for with a constituency that she feels is underrepresented in the government — military veterans. After graduation in 1982, Donatelli joined the Navy where she became a pilot, and eventually a mission commander at the Strategic Command Network for Intercontinental Missiles. 

“Being the only veteran in the race, it’s just kind of easy to have [my] story stand out,” says Donatelli. “I personally feel that we need more veterans in Congress. I think that they have a better idea of what questions to ask. I firmly believe that we may not have gone so blindly into Iraq if we had more veterans in Congress and we certainly would be treating our veterans better.”

After her military career, Donatelli flew commercial aircraft and has worked as a professional consultant in the interim. Through all the stages of her career, she has been someone who wasn’t afraid to push to make things better. She credits that to William and Mary.

“My time at the College taught me to ask questions,” says Donatelli. “It taught me not to blindly accept [the given answers] and to always be curious. I’ve had a very eclectic career and I’ve been a policy advisor from everything to solar [power] to aviation infrastructure, but it is that wonderful approach that William and Mary taught me to never accept anything less than your full best effort.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Chris Gessner ’89: The best healthcare possible

Ask any parent, and they will tell you that the most stressful time to be a mother or a father is when a child is ill or sick, and there is nothing that they can do for their own. To hand their child over to a stranger for expert treatment is something that can sometimes be excruciating. But in the hands of qualified experts and specialists, there is no better place than in one of the many children’s hospitals across the country.

Managing this process is another matter. One must have the wisdom to understand the intricacies of the medical arts, while at the same time, walk the tightrope between a nonprofit and fundraising research institution. In the case of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Christopher Gessner ’89 is that person, is able to ensure both world class care and with a sustainable business model.

Growing up the son of a pediatrician, Gessner was exposed to the medical field at a very young age. His brother even became a physician, something that he considered as well. But somewhere along the line, he decided to take a different route.

“I spent some time at a community hospital between some of my College years, working and doing some odd jobs,” says Gessner. “I got to know the administrators and I really appreciated the complexity of the management challenge. Health care in the United States is a social institution, but is also a business — a real mix between both. I like the blend of a service organization, but with the discipline of running a business.”
Before Gessner ascended to the top position at Children’s Hospital, he served a dual role as the chief operating officer and vice president of ambulatory services and president of the Community Care Pediatrics practices. These jobs prepared him well to take that next step up the management ladder, but a genuine appreciation for the people who work in the medical industry is something that makes everything easier for him as a manager.

“I just love working with physicians and clinicians — I think that if you want to run a hospital, you have to enjoy physicians,” says Gessner. “They are challenging and independent-minded — getting them to understand a corporate view of the hospital is a real challenge. I like working shoulder to shoulder with physicians, doctors and other specialists who have expertise that is very different than mine, but I can add a lot of good questions and get a difference in opinions to help drive our direction.”

That direction, in May, will be on an entirely new $600 million campus for the Children’s Hospital, which will represent the bleeding edge of technology, including a paperless patient records system — a first for a children’s hospital. And as it breaks with the longtime location of the hospital, much of the equipment and research will be funded by private means.

Gessner sees a parallel with what the College is facing and what he will have to do in leading his institution into the near future. He’s quick to bring up the quote from Taylor Reveley’s — the daydream wish for a $2 billion unrestricted endowment for William and Mary, which would help solve so many of the budget problems faced by Gessner’s alma mater.

“He took the words right out of my mouth,” laughs Gessner. “For pediatric hospitals, 40 percent of our services come from the Medcaid population, which is [tied] to the state budget. In order for us to continue to compete and to invest in our people and our programs and our equipment, we really need to fundraise. We have an advantage because our cause is so noble — but it’s challenging because of the number of organizations out there who are also competing for the same dollars.”

Gessner has his work cut out for him, as he points out that his peer institutions across the country have much larger endowments to dip into when times are lean. These funds are often used for services that will not be reimbursed or paid for in other ways, such as pure research and equipment. And because the hospital is a teaching institution as well, that soaks up extra funds.

Because of all of these factors, and because of the fact that Children’s Hospital is dedicated to helping young people, a special type of clinician is required to nurture the special needs of their little patients and their nervous parents.

“We are a very sub-specialized institution,” says Gessner. “All of our physicians have very focused training in pediatrics. But what really makes them special is that they are very collaborative and open minded. We try to put ourselves in the parents’ shoes, and we try to view it from their perspective as it is a very stressful time in their lives.”

Gessner makes a point with all the members of his team that this sort of collaboration is essential to giving the patient a superior experience. He also believes that working together is the true key to success in any endeavor, beyond the health care industry.

“One of the things that I think hold organizations back, and therefore people back, is turf,” says Gessner. “It is the one thing that drives me crazy. I am very fortunate because in my career, I’ve always been in a management role. I didn’t come up through the ranks, so I don’t have any ties to the turf. I only see the whole and I only see the work process as it flows through the organization. Avoiding a turf mentality is absolutely imperative these days to be successful.”

Though he professes that turf is a bad thing, as a student, Gessner was always involved with the turf wars on Saturday afternoons at Zable Stadium. Gessner played cornerback for the Tribe and has been involved with sports ever since, now mostly as a youth coach with his two sons and his daughter. But living in Pittsburgh makes it almost a given that he will root for the black and gold, and he admits that he and his family are “huge” Steeler fans.

Interestingly enough, Gessner could have spoiled the Super Bowl XLIII celebration that Pittsburgh just enjoyed. In a chance meeting a few years after he graduated from the College, Gessner and his wife, Jane, bumped into Mike Tomlin ‘95, who was wrestling with the idea of law school.

“My wife swears that I told him to go to law school,” laughs Gessner. “I don’t believe her. It’s funny because she tells everyone this story now — and I keep saying that I don’t think that I was that specific on telling him to go to law school.”

For everyone’s sake, Tomlin didn’t take Gessner’s advice, and now the rest is Super Bowl history. But they may have a meeting in the near future. The two former Tribe football players at the top of their professions in Pittsburgh could join forces.

“I’m trying to actually have lunch with him after the season, because the Steelers are very good to Children’s Hospital,” says Gessner. “A lot of their players come here a lot and see our kids and patients. I’m trying to touch base with him and see if we can become his favorite charity in Pittsburgh.”

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

The College of William & Mary

Back Story with Sallie Marchello

Colleges Attended: Bachelor’s at Knox College, (Gailsburg, Ill.) and Master’s at University of Chicago

Family: Husband, Tom Morehouse, daughter Libby, 13.

Where are you from?

I grew up in College Park, Md. I’m an academic brat, and I’ve only known higher education. My dad, Joseph Marchello, was a professor when I was born. Then he became an administrator and eventually the Chancellor of the University of Missouri at Ralla, that’s where I went to high school. It ended up being a great small town high school experience. That’s why I went to college and graduate school in the Mid West.

By the time I finished grad school, my dad was the president of Old Dominion. I then moved to Hampton, and I will have lived in Hampton for 22 years this summer. I love Hampton. I’m a transplant, but like Harriet Storm ’64 says “I wasn’t born in Hampton but I got here as soon as I could.” So that’s what I say, too. 

How did you get to W&M?

When I moved here, I started working in higher education. Then, my first full-time professional type position was in admissions at ODU, and later as an associate director running the operations side of academic advising. I did that for a couple years, and then I worked at Thomas Nelson Community College for nine years in various titles. At the end of the day, I was always in charge of enrollment services. I left there to go back to ODU to run the Virginia Beach center for two years. But when this position came open it was a great, great opportunity.

In a lot of ways, William and Mary is like the educational experience that I had as a student. One thing that was wonderful about getting here at the time that I did, was that W&M was very interested in growing its transfer population, especially from the community colleges. I had spent 15 years working with the community colleges, it worked out very nicely. I like the overall mission here at W&M as well, but that was an unexpected bonus.

Tell us exactly what your office does?

We serve the student from the time the student accepts the admissions offer, for the rest of his or her life. Meaning that we schedule and register classes, report the grades, make sure the student is making, certifies students to graduate, prepare diplomas, we provide academic transcripts and enrollment verifications whenever they need them. For a lot of what we do, alumni are our chief customers. We are taking good care of their records.

That list doesn’t capture the spirit of what we do. Every single person in this office loves it when we get a challenge — when we have to go back to the archives from 1936 and pull the catalog and figure out what the grading system was at that time. It’s fun and people really enjoy it and we love hearing from our alums all over the world. We get calls from France or Africa or e-mails from wherever people live.

What sorts of things do you do with your free time?

My two main hobbies are gardening and reading, but I am also a recreational cook. I don’t have a ton of free time because parenting a 13-year-old is a second full-time job, and because she is very active as a swimmer and a field hockey player, which I really enjoy. But gardening is mainly of the edible variety. I am contributing to the local grown movement by growing veggies and things. I love that. I have a garden sized to the amount of time I have to put into it. Tomatoes, bok choi (Chinese cabbage), parsnips, collard greens, broccoli… and last summer I grew garlic, shallots and leeks. The weirder the better — because if I can go buy something at the grocery store for 39 cents a pound, I’m not going to grow it in m garden. So I try to grow interesting things.

What did you want to be when you were little?

The first thing I wanted to be was a criminal laywer — I didn’t even know what that was. But Nancy Drew’s father was a criminal laywer. I didn’t want to be Nancy Drew, just her father. But when I went to college, I figured that I would be a professor. I expected to get a Ph.D. and teach, but I ended up on the Dark Side from the very beginning, which is how my academic friends refer to college administration. 

What is your secret passion?

I’m a big baseball fan, but I can’t explain why. I don’t really have a team — I’m pretty ecumenical. I like it all. I am definitely a National League person versus the American League, because I want the pitcher to bat for himself. Other than the Tribe baseball team, I’d have to say that I am a fan of the Peninsula Pilots, a college summer league team. They play at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton.

We hosted their hotshot pitcher at our home last summer — it was like a rock star living at our house. He spoke at a Rotary Club meeting and told them that I make good crab cakes. You wouldn’t believe how many people in Hampton see me now and ask when we’re going to have some crab cakes.

I’ve been going see the Pilots for 22 years, but my peculiarity is that I keep score. I’m really not comfortable watching the game unless I have a pencil and a score sheet in my hand. The most recent non-fiction book that I read was Yogi Berra’s memoir. I have been keeping score since I was the manager for my junior league baseball team in Maryland. 

This was originally written for The College of William & Mary.

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