Beyond Garden Hill

Winter 2016

Greetings from the Alumni Committee!

At our bi-annual meeting in October in New York City, we continued to explore ways to bring alumni together, both in person and across various online platforms. We are working to make it easier for alumni across semesters to interact, network, and get to know each other. With that in mind, please stay tuned for an announcement later this spring about the launch of a new alumni website and communication platform that we hope will simplify and begin to move forward many of the goals of the Alumni Initiative.

In the more immediate future is the spring round of the Garden Hill Fund grants. Proposals are due February 15th, and there's still time to get more information and apply online.

The Committee is also seeking applications for new members. To apply, please email Beth Sigman Somerset s97, Alumni Coordinator.  

Best wishes for 2016, and stay in touch! 

- The Alumni Committee

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In This Issue

Last October, alumni came together to talk about what values from TMS they still hold on to, and those they have let go of.

Upcoming Dates & Events 
February 15: Garden Hill Fund applications due

April 8-10: Alumni Committee spring meeting

(Strafford, VT)

May 7-8: Mountain School Where You Live

June 10-12: Reunion for 5-10-15 years 
Fall '00, '05, '10 & Spring '01, '06, '11      

August 5-7: 20-year Reunion
Fall '95 & Spring '96

August 12-14: Reunion for 25 years & over
Fall '84-Spring '91

Fall 2015 Garden Hill Fund Grants Awarded 
Three years since its launch, the Garden Hill Fund (GHF) continues to evolve. The most recent grant round gave the students the most ownership in the selection process thus far: after the Alumni Committee narrowed down the list of proposals to a maximum of ten, the student committee had the final say on who received grants and for how much.  
Over the past few semesters, student and faculty feedback about the GHF decision-making experience has been overwhelmingly positive. With that in mind, for the spring 2016 round and going forward, the GHF process will become part of the coursework in Jack Kruse's Humanities class.

Ultimately, in this past fall's round, five graduates shared $20,000 in grant money generously donated by alumni. Their projects are, as expected, ambitious and admirable with potentially far-reaching effects.

Fall 2015 grant recipients are as follows:

Andrew Sloat f93 ($4000)
Printing and distributing an educational income tax poster for migrant farmworkers in PA

This grant will support Andrew's work on an educational poster that helps migrant farmworkers understand how to file an income tax return. The project-a collaboration between Andrew, illustrator Michela Buttignol, the Pennsylvania Farmworker Project, and the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)- helps the migrant farmworkers, who are a critical part of America's agricultural economy, navigate the laws that affect them. Andrew states, "When farmworkers fail to file they may lose the refund payment they're entitled to, risk having their wages seized by the IRS, or jeopardize immigration opportunities for themselves and their family members. To address this issue, we are designing a visual guide (in Spanish) that helps farmworkers across Pennsylvania (and nationwide) understand: how the tax system works, how to prepare for the tax filing process, and how to access free assistance." The grant will allow for printing of up to 5,000 extra copies of the poster for wider distribution to migrant farmworkers in Pennsylvania.

Becky Maden f93 ($2500) 
Hosting agriculture information workshops for a community farm Colchester, VT

Becky will be working with the Pine Island Community Farm in Colchester, Vermont hosting workshops on soil fertility, pest and disease management, and cover cropping for Pine Island's seven-acre community farm. Becky explained, "The group of farmers are New Americans with over eight languages spoken and a variety of farming techniques. There is no comprehensive plan for the seven acre farm plot, nor are there any restrictions on the products the farmers can use. During the first year of production in 2015, a spectrum of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides were applied to the community farm. Furthermore, the land is on a vulnerable flood plain along the Winooski River, just a few miles from the mouth of Lake Champlain." Becky plans to host a series of informational workshops this winter that will help the farmers "develop a comprehensive management plan for the land, to help them source organic materials, and to understand the climate in which they now farm."

Lara Bazelon s91 ($1500) 
Writing a book about restorative justice

Lara is writing a book about "the nascent movement to apply restorative justice principles to wrongful conviction cases and the movement's potentially transformative effect on the criminal justice system." Her Garden Hill Fund grant will help support her travel and living expenses while writing the book, proposal for which is based on Lara's recent article in Slate Magazine, " Justice After Injustice: What happens after a wrongfully convicted person is exonerated-and the witness finds out she identified the wrong man." Lara says, "I have interviewed more than two dozen people already-crime victims, the men who were falsely convicted of those crimes, their families, the lawyers, and restorative justice practitioners. Over the next six months, I plan to interview many more in cities and rural communities across the United States. Broadly conceived, the book will closely examine three wrongful conviction cases: one in which restorative justice was not applied, one in which it was applied, and one in the very beginning of the healing process. I will tell these stories through the lived experiences of the exonerees, the original crime victims, and the concentric circles of family members, friends, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, detectives and others who were deeply affected by the false convictions. What I hope to show is that restorative justice principles, when applied with great care and thoughtfulness, can bring about personal healing and social change in ways that would have otherwise been impossible."

Matti Sloman f01 ($6000) 
Developing an art and textile program for developmentally disabled artists in Chicago, IL

The Garden Hill Fund grant will fund the development of a six-month art and textile education program for artists with developmental disabilities. In collaboration with Envision Unlimited, a Chicago social services agency, Matti and her partner, Emily Winter, are creating textile skill-building workshops that will support Envision's art program. Matti and Emily have also begun revitalizing an industrial weaving mill (aptly named, The Weaving Mill) at Envision's Westtown Center. Matti says, "Our education program will bring the Envision Art Program and The Weaving Mill into close collaboration, preparing Envision clients to work more independently in the art studio or to take on paid production work with The Weaving Mill. Clients will learn how to use sewing machines, cut pattern pieces, and design, cut, and print with stencils for silkscreen. These workshops will encourage participants to be self-directed and to turn to their peers when they have questions, recognizing and utilizing the skills of others, creating a strong classroom community. By the end of the six month cycle, we will have cemented the workshop curricula, identified individual strengths of Envision clients, and laid the groundwork to start employing Envision clients at The Weaving Mill.... We want to see Westtown become a hub of creative productivity and the Garden Hill grant will allow us to jumpstart an innovative, art-based workshop program."

Shahbaz Soofi f08 ($6000) 
Launching Blackseed Farmers Market in Worcester, MA

This Garden Hill Fund grant will provide seed money for a new farmers' market in Worcester, MA. Working with Muslim Community Link, "a nonĀ­profit information and referral agency that connects the Muslim community to their community at large," Shahbaz will help develop Blackseed Farmers Market, which will bring access to fresh organic produce and local, organic halal meat, and in particular will serve Worcester's refugee, Muslim, and elderly communities. The market will be located at a local masjid (mosque), across the street from a senior living community and a church. Much of the produce will be supplied from a local farm run by refugees from Nepal, Iraq and multiple African states, which will in turn support their livelihoods. Shahbaz writes, "We hope that by bridging the gap between the farmers, the masjid, the refugee community, the elderly community, the church and the community at large, we will be fostering a community of empowered and educated citizens who will be able to make better decisions for their wellness and local economy."


Stereotypes of the financial world--big banks, Wall Street, suits, impersonal corporate culture--may seem like the farthest thing from the Mountain School experience. Some alumni within the industry have shared that they feel they have strayed from a 'Mountain School-type' path since graduation. But it's clear to the Alumni Committee and the faculty that there is nothing un-Mountain School about a career in finance.

For this issue of Beyond Garden Hill, we profile a handful of graduates who challenge such perceptions and, upon closer inspection, found a common ground between their work and the lessons learned in Vershire

Charles Robson f89 is the Director of Strategy for the Amboy Group, a specialty meat processing company in central New Jersey that specializes in Irish food products , which it sells under the Tommy Moloney's brand, among others.

At Amboy, Charles oversees the company's marketing, IT, HR, finance, new business, and new product development. Since joining, he has helped expand the company from a 16,000 square foot manufacturing space in Queens to a 125,000 square foot facility in New Jersey.
Before moving into his current role, Charles spent 12 years in IT and Project Management in the financial industry, with stints at Solomon Smith Barney, Citibank, Credit Suisse, and two hedge funds. Charles said that he learned a lot during his time working with these financial giants, but eventually became unhappy with his work after realizing, he said, "that I wanted neither my boss's job or my boss's boss's job".
For Charles, there certainly wasn't a straight path through finance and into his current role. Prior to working in the financial industry, Charles studied small craft naval architecture in Maine and became a sailor and boat builder in Rhode Island, where he helped to build three defenders for the America's Cup in 1995. Later on, he started a company remodeling houses and doing garden sculptures, and at one point he joined a tech company that worked on high speed wireless access.
Charles attributes his non-traditional career path to his time at The Mountain School. "I've always been half a city boy, and half country," he said. "I love the woods, the fields, the isolation and the satisfaction of a hard day's work with your hands." This split approach led him to jump between office jobs and more hands-on roles, like food production and ship building.
For now, Charles is satisfied with his move away from the financial industry and into running a food business. "I'm busy, but I actually make an impact," he told me.
He also likes how his current role reminds him of his time at the Mountain School, especially since he spends much of his time thinking about food production and its environmental impact. "I've always liked the feeling of teamwork for a greater good that we had at TMS, and I'm trying to replicate some of that with my current position," he said. "At work, we create more waste on a daily basis than I am able to recycle in a year at home, but I spend a lot of time working to reduce or reuse that waste. I'm also trying to move a lot of our product to a 'clean' label, meaning no artificial ingredients, and to work with our customers to use more antibiotic free and ethically raised meats."
If Charles could pass on one piece of advice to younger Mountain School alumni, it would be to "constantly learn new stuff, carpentry, electronics, welding, whatever. Don't ever stop asking questions of anyone who will answer you. Try to find a room where you are the dumbest, or at least the most ignorant, and then move on when you aren't."
And for any alumni who are interested in learning more about food production, Charles says, "call me, and I will be happy to show you figuratively and literally how the sausage is made."

Jim Ziglar s87 leads the U.S. Infrastructure Advisory and Project Finance efforts at Deloitte, which is a large accounting, financial services and consulting firm. He helps governments develop, raise funds for, and implement critically important infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, transit systems, municipal buildings, hospitals, and schools.
Jim has always been interested in how the public and private sector can work together to solve what he calls "public goods" problems- public goods being necessary services or infrastructure not usually provided by the private sector because they don't produce money directly. He credits both his dad's career in public finance and what he learned at TMS with sparking this interest.

More specifically, Jim recalls Mountain School discussions about the "tragedy of the commons" and the roles that individuals, corporations, and government play in balancing development with the needs of the environment. He states that his time at TMS illuminated the challenges that he wanted to address in his career, including the improvement and/or reduction of the environmental impact of our infrastructure. He also credits the Mountain School with teaching him that all fields of study and work sectors are connected, inspiring him to think beyond finance in crafting solutions that serve a diverse set of interests.

Jim describes his work at Deloitte as fast paced, with interesting and diverse projects that both teach him something new and serve a client need. He appreciates that his colleagues are smart people who are passionate about the quality of their finance work alongside the positive impact that it has on society. These things are worth the trade-off of the long hours and constant connectedness, though Jim has done a good job of creating work-life balance working in the Federal government practice.

Jim offers the following advice for alumni who are looking at a career in finance that has impacts beyond the numbers:

1. Get smart on what you want to do and why. Study who's doing good work in the space and have a good story about why you want to work with them on what they do. Take the courses you need to have the basic skills to do the job successfully from Day 1. We get tons of resumes and the people who can demonstrate passion and knowledge of the space are the ones who distinguish themselves.
2. Try to get to know some people at the companies you want to go to. Alumni networks are really powerful to figure out if you know someone who knows someone. LinkedIn works too. Just sending a random e-mail to someone you found on a website isn't usually effective (unless your resume and cover letter are perfect for what they want). Try to meet someone at a presentation or get introduced to someone by a friend of a friend.
3. Become great at one thing before moving on to the next. This is one thing I wish I had done differently. I have spent my career moving around to different areas of the industry as interesting opportunities have popped up, without worrying about title or promotions. I've been exposed to a lot of different things as a result but have found that this movement has actually slowed down my career progression. Colleagues who stuck with one thing, quickly rising to senior leadership positions in their respective areas, have now been able to branch out in much more interesting ways than I have because of it.

Jim's post-Mountain School education and career path included study in economic development, finance, and strategic management and experience in the investment banking side of the busi ness before settling into the advisory work he does now.

Nola (Riedel) Kopfer f93  Ask Nola about her work at Goldman Sachs and you are likely to get an answer tailored to your understanding of markets. While initially she will say electronic trading is about providing access to the marketplace, further questions soon reveal that for Nola this means selling and providing design input on complex technology and algorithms that enable mutual and hedge fund clients to efficiently buy and sell securities.
Consulting with clients about using these algorithms requires a thorough understanding not only of the mathematics applied, but also the intentions behinds clients' investing and trading decisions, macro-economic factors, and the market structure and regulatory frameworks under which trading must occur, all providing a dynamic and challenging work environment Nola has enjoyed for the past fourteen years.

Although well settled now, Nola's path to her current job was far from conventional. Following high school she initially attended acting school at the NYU Tisch School of Arts where people constantly told her, 'if there is anything you can do besides acting, do it.' So Nola decided to leave NYU to gain work experience before returning to school--this time studying Economics at Columbia. In her studies Nola became fascinated by market structure, specifically the way the general public consumes financial information and the resulting asymmetry of information in the markets. This passion and interest continues today and has led directly to her work at Goldman Sachs.

For a time Nola was unsure about her job's relationship to the Mountain School, given how different the capital markets seem relative the community and environmentally based academic environment associated with TMS. Yet nowadays, she is beginning to see parallels between the Mountain School and Goldman Sachs communities, both groups of motivating and talented people collaborating toward a common goal, where intellectual curiosity, creativity and hard work are core values.

Nola is happy to chat with TMS alumni considering a career in finance (feel free to email her) and has a few pointers to get you started. First, determine whether you have a genuine curiosity about or interest in markets, investing or banking, and be able to express why. Second, learn more!
Don't feel intimidated about using your alumni network to ask questions; many of us enjoy spending the time. Finally, and this is another link to TMS, do not feel entitled to the opportunity, be ready to value and enjoy the hard work of pursuing excellence in your field.

Tanya (Tarar) Oblak s91 
From environmental studies to business school, and from cartography to private equity, Tanya Oblak, S'91, took a circuitous, Waze-less path to her role at Rockpoint Group in Boston.
She joined Rockpoint just last September after spending the past 15 years in a similar capacity at Lehman Brothers and then Silverpeak Real Estate Partners, a spin-off of Lehman post-bankruptcy in 2010. 

Tanya graduated from Middlebury in 1996 with a geography and environmental studies double major. She worked as a cartographer for a few years, spending some of that time mapping protected areas in South America for a DC-based non-profit. She says it was a "grass is always greener" moment that sparked her interest in the "traditional office experience." She enrolled in business school at the Kellogg School of Management with the intention of shifting over to urban planning.
And the circuitous route to Rockpoint was just beginning. An advisor at business school suggested to Tanya that she spend a summer at an investment bank to learn "the numbers side of things (public and corporate finance, commercial real estate basics, etc.)." She tried out the real estate group at Lehman in the summer of 2000 and ended up working with that same team for 15 years.
At Rockpoint, Tanya focuses on investor relations and capital raising for the real estate private equity firm. The firm " sponsors both opportunistic and lower-risk real estate funds, targeting office, residential and hospitality properties in major coastal markets in the United States," in Tanya's words. Tanya's current role encompasses two main functions: to serve as a primary contact for investors in Rockpoint's funds, delivering information to them about their investments, and to oversee the fundraising process as part of the team that brings new investors into the funds.
Like many people who are successful in their field and love their work, this profession wasn't really in Tanya's original plan: she says she "didn't even know what banking or private equity was until [she] was doing it." She enjoys "the mental sharpness" her job demands of her, along with the constant activity and the fact that "no day ever really looks the same." A far cry from the drudgey "traditional office experience" one might imagine!
As far as a connection to The Mountain School, Tanya can list out a number of things from TMS that she says are "part of [her] every day": "personal accountability, having conviction about my beliefs, blowing through comfort zones, being a decent human," all of which, she says, make her better at her job and (she hopes!) her life, too.
Tanya has two pieces of advice-one practical, one admonitory-for alumni aspiring to jobs in private equity. The first is that it usually requires the completion of an investment banking analyst program. The second is that such a program requires the ability to put everything in your life on hold for two years so you can focus on the constant work. "Sounds pretty dire," she says, "but I'm definitely grateful for my early years in banking, which I think made everything else in my life (including motherhood) seem easy by comparison."


Big Idea Day 2015
Living The Mountain School...Away from Garden Hill 
For many alumni, Mountain School experiences--formed, in part, by the values and principles that guide how the School operates--ultimately shaped choices made after leaving Garden Hill. The Alumni Committee wanted to know what values alumni reaped from TMS, the challenges graduates face in incorporating and maintaining aspects of the school in their lives, and if they ever feel their individual values are at odds with other facets of their lives. The topic was inspired by The Mountain School's continuing efforts negotiate the challenges of fulfilling its Food Values Statement, which emphasizes "food from here".
With "food from here" in mind at the outset, alumni in 15 different locations across the U.S. and the U.K. approached this year's Big Idea Day from numerous angles. The topic prompted as much self-inquiry as it did conclusions. Here are some excerpts:

Brooklyn, NY:  Do the 'TMS values' come from the school, or the self-selective students who apply?
Santa Monica, CA:  An alumna in advertising battled doubt in her career by considering how good and trustworthy her boss is (in an industry where a lot of people take advantage of others). And she felt really good about creating work for actors and others, and treating them well...

Pittsburgh, PA:  We talked about the difficulty of holding values without structure in place. Example: composting programs and how to do it on your own. 
Manhattan, NY:   Discrete bounds at TMS vs. less bounded life outside Vershire. TMS itself was so clearly defined. There are challenges of where to invest your time a s an adult outside TMS.

In our Summer 2015 E-Bulletin we mistakenly stated that Eden Trenor s99 founded Shakti Rising, an organization that facilitates talking circles and community programming for youth and adults. Eden in fact works for Shakti Rising, while Shannon Thompson founded the organization in 1999.

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.  

Got feedback? Email Beth Sigman Somerset s97 , Alumni Coordinator.