Beyond Garden Hill

  Winter 2015

Greetings from the Alumni Committee! The Alumni Initiative is going strong with a slate of annual happenings: Big Idea Day in early October; The Mountain School Where You Live in early May; summer and winter E-Bulletins; fall and spring rounds of Garden Hill Fund grants; and occasional alumni social and networking events throughout the year as interest arises.  

This spring we'll bid farewell
to five great Committee members: Jake Upton s88, Megan McJennett f89, Shay Lawson f00, Sidra Smith s87, and Steve Lee f91. We are very grateful for their service, as they all made valuable contributions to the Alumni Initiative, including helping to launch the Committee.  

At our spring meeting coming up in mid-April, the Alumni Committee will welcome new members, whom we'll announce in the summer E-Bulletin. We're thrilled that we have received notable interest for joining the Committee. Click here to learn more about all current members of the Alumni Committee.
We hope you'll stay in touch with The Mountain School and alumni via our Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
Enjoy the rest of winter!  


The Alumni Committee

In This Issue

    Upcoming Events
March 1  
Alumni beach picnic in Santa Monica, CA:
May 2-3 
Mountain School Where You Live
June 5-7 
Reunion for 5, 10, & 15 years (
f99, f04, f09; s00, s05, s10)     

July 31-August 2 

Reunion for 20 years (f94 and s95 )

August 7-9 
Reunion for 25+ years (f84-f89 and s85-s91)

September 14 
Fall 2015 Garden Hill Fund applications due 
          October 3-4 
          Big Idea Day 

BID2014Big Idea Day 2014

Mountain School graduates have a tradition of not shying away from complex topics, even ones that involve some inspection of our personal assumptions. It was in this spirit that alumni gathered in living rooms and cafes nationwide and across the Atlantic on October 4 and 5, 2014, to examine issues related to class and access disparity within past and present semesters
. This year's topic, "Wealth & Two-Day Delivery: A Conversation about Belonging, Privilege and Access", drew varied perspectives and a notable response overall from alumni.

Participants shared their own experiences with markers of wealth on campus, and deconstructed the different meanings of privilege. The event concluded with alumni offering recommendations on how The Mountain School can further broaden its atmosphere of inclusion for all students, especially in this era of online ordering and two-day delivery to Vershire.  


In the weeks that followed Big Idea Day, alumni who hosted gatherings submitted an avalanche of thoughtful and wide-ranging responses to the topic. The enthusiastic feedback, which ultimately was sent to TMS, revealed that alumni participants were highly engaged in the conversations and that the topic deeply resonated with many involved. The topic was also used for both student- and faculty-lead discussions on campus. 


Below is a sampling of insights and recommendations from alumni.  


  1. Students and alumni should be grateful for having attended TMS. You have intentionally entered a very privileged (in the sense of having having special rights and advantages) circle: peers, alumni, staff, and successor students who will be willing to listen, engage, and help you.
  2. The culture of being "outdoorsy" is inherently a privileged one. Gear, access to nature, and prior experiences (camping, climbing, skiing, summer camp, outdoor leadership programs) are more out of reach for low income kids from cities.
  3. Discussing privilege can be alienating, divisive, and complex: some people want to hide their own privilege from others, some people want to expose their own, while others aren't sure what to do with it.
  4. Those in the majority culture don't always notice how homogenous and alienating the Mountain School can feel to others who are not part of the majority culture.
  5. Diversity should not be about importing "diverse" voices to inform/improve the educational experience of the more sheltered kids. Unfortunately, alumni didn't come up with an improved alternative approach.



  1. Develop a program as part of the TMS curriculum that helps students get to know each other well while helping them understand and appreciate their own privileges in a safe forum. 
  2. TMS curriculum could include readings and discussions re: social structures, communities, and economic mobility across the US and in different cultures.
  3. Talk about the many lenses of identity to get talking about privilege. (Idea sourced from an Anne Steven's humanity class exercise that talked about the many layers of identity that each person has: boy, student, New Yorker, etc.)
  4. Give students tools and opportunities to work through what to do with awareness of privilege. What does it mean? What does it obligate you to do? How does it play out in day-to-day situations for you at TMS and elsewhere? What problems does it create?
  5. Each semester could form their own rules and guidelines regarding ordering/receiving packages--and, ultimately, decide how consumerism in general, influences from the outside world, and issues of sustainability--should or should not impact their TMS experience. 
StartupsStart-ups & Disruptors:
Mountain School Graduates in Technology
The Alumni Committee set out to learn about some of the many Mountain School grads who are innovators creating positive change. We chose to focus on alumni whose work in the tech sector is changing how other organizations operate or the way we experience our day to day lives. We asked folks to tell us how their businesses serve users or their audience and what consumer needs or desires they address; what makes their work meaningful; how their platform/service is "disruptive" in the space that it serves or operates; how their outlook on their specific field or industry has evolved over time; where they think the field or company/organization is headed; and how, if at all, TMS influenced or affected how they think about their jobs.  
If you are an alumnus/a working in the tech industry, please let us know! We would love to add you to our list of tech professionals for alumni networking purposes. 

Elsie Kenyon s06 - Product Manager, Nara Logics, Inc. 

Elsie Kenyon s06 is a product manager at Nara Logics, Inc., an artificial intelligence (AI) start-up based in Cambridge, MA, where she has worked for the past two-and-a-half years.


Nara is working to build the world's first general-purpose recommendation engine, using a new kind of AI based on neuroscience. Nara's algorithms construct brain-like networks from data to uncover connections between places, people, products, and other entities in order to generate personalized recommendations for consumers and enterprise clients.


"Nara is, in the spirit of the Mountain School, interdisciplinary. While other recommendation engines, such as Netflix or Pandora, are 'domain-specific' (e.g. movies or music), Nara can find connections within and across many different domains. The value in Nara's recommendations stems in part from the diversity of inputs to Nara's algorithm, but more significantly from the neuroscience principles guiding the algorithm itself, which allows data from these inputs to connect organically, much like information does in the brain."


As a product manager, Elsie helps to build products that showcase Nara's technology and surface relevant content on, which delivers movie, restaurant, and hotel recommendations to users based on their tastes.


"Nara can also explain why a particular recommendation has been made, by exposing the connections between recommended entities and known preferences," Elsie noted. 


She also works on products for enterprise clients, who license Nara's technology to provide personalized recommendations to their users or to identify hidden connections in their data sets.


"Nara's artificial intelligence technology has many different applications for sales and business operations. Most broadly, Nara's algorithm is a match-maker whose insights can be deployed across a variety of channels from backend systems to email, web and mobile applications."


While Elsie was an American Studies major in college, she has found that a liberal arts background can be an asset rather than a barrier to working in technology.


"Being able to draw connections between disciplines is important in product development. Our team members come from a variety of professional backgrounds (neuroscience, consumer business, design, technology). It's been exciting to see how different perspectives have influenced the company's growth."

Gwyn Welles s95
- Manager of Creative Strategy, YouTube Lab Channels

"I've always been interested in telling stories and helping others tell their stories." This is how Gwyn Welles describes the arc of a career that began with producing documentaries--most notably, her award-winning 2010 "Welcome to My World"--and has landed at her current job leading a team that creates some of the most watched channels on YouTube.

Over lunch at Google's cafeteria in New York City--imagine fresh squeezed juices and curated dishes by star chefs--Gwyn reveals that despite loving the craft of documentary film making, its solitary nature left her wanting to be part of a bigger company or organization. She had always been drawn to leadership roles, and after nearly a decade in the creative field, she yearned for some "real hard world skills". This self-reflection and desire convinced her to pursue a MBA degree at Columbia. Gwyn confides that she did know what she would do after graduation but had faith that her film background with her business background would lead to something interesting.
Indeed it did.


In the June of 2013 YouTube hired Gwyn to oversee Lab Channels, a creative team that produces a handful of shows that are owned and operated by YouTube itself. These shows are an anomaly in that the majority of the platform's content is generated by its users. The channels include the comedy series "Barely Political", the explainer show "VSauce" and the DIY how-to "Threadbanger", all of which boast viewership in the millions.


Gwyn calls her production team of around fifteen people a "creative R&D group" tasked with developing broadcast quality shows that serve as "lighthouse models" of what works best on YouTube. The channel creators teach classes such as "Comedy Writing for YouTube" and "Production on a Shoestring" with the goal of sharing technical expertise with aspiring video producers. She and her team also deliver feedback to YouTube engineers and guidance to brands and nonprofits, entities that recognize the media landscape is quickly evolving to all things streamed.


The educational component of the job and the support she receives to create innovative content were what drew her to Lab Channels, Gwyn says. "We don't run these channels to make money off them. They are here for us to try to experiment so that we can coach others on how to also be successful and creative on YouTube."  


This investment in better content is a recognition by the company that younger audiences are increasingly skipping legacy technology like television altogether and finding their shows exclusively over the web. This trend was not lost on the White House during its campaign to boost health care enrollment among Millennials last year. It was such a priority that President Obama made room in his schedule to meet with Gwyn and her team in the Oval Office to discuss how better to connect with the "young invincibles".


As we take in the hum of conversation among creatives and engineers back in the cafeteria at Google, Gwyn remarks again about her path from indie filmmaker to business school, and now here at YouTube.


"If you are someone who knows exactly what you want to do when you are eighteen and still want to do that when you are thirty, then you are lucky. I was not somebody like that. You have to be open to following your own process and trust the power of experiences, and trust you will piece together a picture of what you want to do and what's important to you."


Her advice to the next online video star, "Just start making some videos and upload them to YouTube. There is no barrier there."

Isaac Souweine f94 - Product Management, Frank and Oak

Isaac Souweine f94 heads up the Product Management division for Frank and Oak, a technology-powered mens fashion company that designs its own clothes and sells them online. Frank and Oak markets its clothing line to the 18-34 demographic with a price point between H&M and Banana Republic and an aesthetic that might be called "hipster for the masses". Isaac focuses on using technology--the company's web site, iPhone and Android apps, marketing automation technology (a.k.a. "email")--to deliver the ideal customer experience.


It's hard to get people to buy clothes online, says Isaac, so Frank and Oak offers incentives with its Hunt Club program, which charges an annual flat rate fee and in return provides free shipping, cash back on purchases and "risk-free home try-on". Think Amazon Prime for mens shirts. Today's department stores are organized with the female shopper in mind, so Frank and Oak works to attract men with a web site geared toward their sartorial interests, not to mention the ease of buying clothes without driving, parking, and shuffling through racks.


"We are trying to disrupt the traditional clothes-buying experience by delivering it online," says Isaac. "To me, disruption is when there is an established way of solving a problem, and then someone thinks up a new way of solving that same problem and switches people over to the new way." and, of course, hundreds of other web sites have mastered the solution with e-commerce, but Isaac says fashion sales online will progress more slowly, since people are used to seeing themselves in a mirror and touching the garments before they commit. Isaac's job is to accelerate this process by using a mix of branding, product design and data on how customers use the site to deliver a more pleasant and effective online experience.

Ralph Acosta s97 - Co-founder, SkuRun 

Ralph Acosta is co-founder of SkuRun, publisher of Retail Mapper, a mobile application that helps brands and retailers connect visually to make more efficient use of their physical space. Consumers end up benefiting from Retail Mapper with better in-store promotions and a more consistent shopping experience. 


With a background in venture capital and business development, Ralph partnered with a college friend, who had experience in brands and retail, to establish SkuRun.


"We noticed how disconnected brands and suppliers could be with the long tail of their retail spaces. Particularly in Convenience Retailing, which fascinates me because it offers the 'last mile' of retail to consumers."


Ralph highlighted how developments in technology and adoption of mobile computing offer a promising future for his industry with billions of connected smartphones coming online.


"Mobile technology has the potential to make existing offline resources more productive, which means building less new stuff. The world is shrinking before our eyes."  


When asked for his best advice to those starting in his sector, Ralph described the value of adversity and learning from mistakes early in a career.


"My advice would be to fail early. Take big risks early that are likely to lead to failure. Virtually everybody involved with technology fails commercially, at some point, if they stay involved with it. The earlier you fail, the longer you can put your hard won learning to work."   

Scott Belsky s97 -
Co-Founder/Head of Behance; VP Products, Mobile & Community at Adobe

Spend a few minutes perusing Scott Belsky's website, Behance, and you will surely be surprised and impressed by the wide variety of creative projects showcased. From an artwork piece called "Collapsing Architecture" to a cartoon titled "Jolly Roger," and a photography piece on Utopia, the breadth of work exhibited reminds one both of the diversity of creative interests, and the sheer number of artists producing work around the world.


Behance, purchased by Adobe in 2012, has been called "the LinkedIn for the creative industry," allowing members of the creative community to receive more exposure, feedback from their peers, and opportunities from prospective clients. Scott Belsky co-founded the website in order to address friends' frustrations regarding the many obstacles in the creative world. In his own words, "we were just trying to solve a problem...Behance was a series of experiments to solve these problems."


Founded in 2006, Behance has changed the way creative individuals promote themselves. While previously "Creatives" had to build and maintain websites, print and distribute portfolio books, etc., Behance "offers a platform to streamline this entire process and dramatically increase the efficiency and efficacy of an online portfolio."


Looking to the future, Scott sees Behance and the industry of online communities as a whole developing into marketplaces with transaction capacity. This development will further transform the creative industry by allowing Creatives to work independently, free of agents and agencies that take a portion of their revenue.


Scott's advice for individuals looking to start a career in his industry, or really any industry, is twofold. First, "Don't start something because you want to start something. Start something to solve a problem you care about deeply." His second piece of advice is quite interesting and extends to one's personal life: "Strive for brutal honesty with yourself about your flaws, your strengths, and when you're wrong. It turns out that self-awareness is the only sustainable competitive business, and probably life as well."



GHFfall2014Fall 2014 Garden Hill Fund grant recipients share $20k

The Garden Hill Fund is a program initiated to support the good work of Mountain School graduates in the world. Now in its second year, the program is off to a great start. For the fall 2014 round, there were thirteen proposals to the Fund representing a range of professions and projects. They were reviewed and rated by two committees, one made up of Alumni Committee members and the other comprised of current students. The committees came together to recommend the awarding of four new Garden Hill grants and one mini-grant, totaling $20,000, to recipients covering a 25-year span of Mountain School semesters. The Fall 2014 Garden Hill grants were awarded to the following graduates:
Colorado Springs Food Rescue Grocery Program (Addis Goldman s09):
Addis writes that he left TMS in spring 2009 "imbued with a Jack Kruse sentiment, 'Do something,'" and he joined fellow Colorado College students in launching a new non-profit last fall. Their mission is to intercept perishable food that is being thrown away and sustainably transport it to charities and non-profits that serve at-risk or hungry individuals. This proposal was an overwhelming favorite among current students.

Shanti Bhavan Children's Project
(Meg VanDeusen f08):
Meg will bring a taste of Mountain School education to the school in India where
she teaches. Shanti Bhavan has the unique mission to develop children from India's lowest socio-economic groups into leaders of the next generation. Garden Hill funds will allow Meg and her colleagues to take two different groups of students on outdoor field trips, "to use an experiential education model to instill social and environmental ethics." She wants children to "get their hands dirty--literally and figuratively--with education.
Her Birthright (Jasmine Victoria f98):  
Jasmine is founding Her Birthright, which is dedicated to the development and support of innovative programs that prevent and treat obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa. Joining forces with on-the-ground organizations, Jasmine is creating an online campaigning and fund-raising platform and finalizing the in-country partner agreements that will allow Her Birthright to help combat this devastating childbirth injury that currently affects two million women around the world.

Cooking and Food Education Workshops for Students (Kara Hamilton s98): 

Kara will facilitate ten one-hour cooking and food education
workshops for students at the Urban Assembly School for Collaborative Healthcare, a new public high school in Brooklyn, NY. Kara is the Partnership Coordinator at the school and is responsible for developing and managing the school's enrichment program during this its inaugural year. She wants to "debunk widely-held myths and fill critical knowledge gaps related to food and nutrition." (mini-grant)
"Stop Selling Girls Short" (Julie Mann Simons f84):  
Julie will continue a media and advocacy program sponsored by the nonprofit she founded in 2009, Independent Girls, Inc. and its program GirlFuture. Atop choice of the alumni selection committee, this social change effort will  impact 9-12 year-old girls (tweens)--and, Julie hopes, "truly all girls and  women"--by raising awareness of the early sexualization of tween girls by clothing companies and retailers and bring national pressure on them to expand clothing choices for tween girls. 

About Us
The Mission of the Mountain School Alumni Initiative is to support a dynamic community of Mountain School graduates by connecting them to each other and helping them to carry forward the intellectual curiosity, celebration of place and commitment to service we associate with the Mountain School.  

Meet the members of the Alumni Committee.   

Got feedback? Email Beth Somerset, Alumni Coordinator.