Connecticut College Magazine · Fall 2013


Corrie Searls '14, an art history major from Minneapolis, at the site of her dream internship last summer, Christie's auction house at New York City's Rockefeller Plaza. Photo by Karsten Moran

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The inside story on Jonathan McBride '92, Carolyn Fuchs '96, Adam Rogowin '03, Jessica Soffer '07, Oscar and Edgardo Monteon '09 and Zoe Madden '12

PR director had premonition about wild Stanley Cup win

On the road, down a goal with a minute and a half to play, the Chicago Blackhawks appeared certain to lose Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup finals.

That is, until they tied the game on a goal with 1:16 left to play and scored what proved to be the game (and championship) winner just 17 seconds later.

No one saw that coming, except possibly the NHL team's public relations director, Adam Rogowin '03. He had a premonition from, of all things, his hotel room number.

Rogowin says 17 is his favorite number. It's the number he wore when he played hockey for the Camels for four years, 1999-2003. He had traveled with the Blackhawks to Boston for Game 6 of the best-of-seven finals series, which Chicago led three games to two.

“Every time I see a 17 I think it means something great,” he says. “And at the team hotel I just happened to notice that my room number, 1169, if you added up the digits they made 17.”

To prove he didn't make this story up after the two goals in 17 seconds, Rogowin says he joked about the room-number sum in a phone call to his wife, Jen, before the game.

“She told me to get a life.”

Rogowin, 33, grew up in Chicago rooting for the Blackhawks and has been a great-luck charm since joining the organization as a member of its media-relations department in 2008. In 2010 the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.

An English and sociology major at Connecticut College, Rogowin completed a College-funded internship in New York City after his sophomore year, working in the office of Stan Fischler, a longtime print and TV hockey analyst and publisher of The Fischler Report. He followed that up the next summer by interning with the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves.

After college Rogowin eventually landed a full-time job with the Wolves and spent four years with the minor-league team, the last two as director of media relations. The Wolves won the AHL championship his last year with the team.

The alum says one of his favorite parts of the championships has been sharing the experience with friends and family in Chicago.

“It's hard to go anywhere and not be reminded of how fortunate I am to have such a great job.”
—Ed Cohen

Rave reviews for alumna's debut novel

Jessica Soffer's '07 debut novel, “Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots,” published earlier this year by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is being called “extraordinary” and “a work of beauty in words.”

Set in New York City, the story features a protagonist duo: a self-harming teenage girl who wants to attract her busy mother's attention, and an octogenarian Iraqi-Jewish cooking instructor who is mourning her dead husband. The book fits snugly into the food-centric fiction genre, but it's also a story of love, grief, family and acceptance.

The same New York Journal of Books reviewer who called the novel a work of beauty declares Soffer to be “a master artist painting the hidden hues of the human soul.” The Atlantic described the book as “Beautifully written … moving, extraordinary.”

Soffer, 27, studied under Blanche Boyd, the College's Weller Professor of English, writer-in-residence and mentor to many future novelists. Boyd was so impressed with the short story Soffer wrote for her honors thesis — about a young woman at the beach with her dying father — that she reads the piece to students every semester.

“Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots” grew out of a short story she wrote while in the graduate program at Hunter College, where she studied under author Colum McCann, a National Book Award winner. That story, “Pain,” chronicled a woman's lifetime addiction to pain. The character was the seed for Lorca, the young protagonist of “Apricots” who cuts herself.
Soffer is open about the fact that she has never been a cutter herself, but she says she's fascinated by addictions and the ways people find to cope with the world.

Writing in Time magazine, McCann picked “Apricots” as his favorite summer read of 2013, describing it as “a love song to both American and Iraqi culture, a sly political allegory and a homage to loneliness.”

The book's title is an Arabic phrase: Bukra fil mishmish, which, Soffer says, means, in essence, “Don't put off to tomorrow what you can do today,” as the apricot season is a very short and fickle one.

“And it means that good things might come tomorrow.”

Soffer, who taught creative writing at the College last fall, was scheduled to embark on a 16-city promotional tour in October. —Whit Richardson '02

The president's chief headhunter

Jonathan McBride '92 has a temp job filling temp jobs in one of the highest-profile, if temporary, organizations in the world.

Earlier this year, the former economics and history major, 43, was promoted to director of presidential personnel and assistant to the president at the White House. He had been deputy director and special assistant to the president since 2009.

McBride and his team are responsible for recruiting people for presidential appointments within the executive branch. These are the positions that presidents get to fill with people who share their vision on policy and operations. They serve at the pleasure of the president, which means they usually leave or are replaced when a new president takes office.
About a quarter of the roughly 5,000 presidential appointments are to high-profile jobs like secretary of an agency. The rest of the appointments include executives, subject-matter experts and confidential support staff. It's a small army of people but dwarfed by the roughly 2.1 million civil servants in the executive branch. Those are the career professionals whose hiring goes through normal government hiring channels and who often remain at their posts through presidencies of either party.

McBride says he meets with the president to discuss matters such as high-profile hires. In addition to recruiting and vetting potential new appointees at the direction of the president, his office also spends time ensuring that the administration is “investing” in the people working for the administration and working to identify and grow young internal talent into future leaders, he says.

Before working in the White House, McBride was chief strategy officer for Universum, an employment branding company. In 2000 he co-founded Jungle Media Group, an award-winning media company. He acknowledges that he took a pay cut (his salary is public record) to serve in the White House but that he considered it the opportunity of a lifetime.

The alumnus insists he has no interest in running for political office but that it wasn't a hard decision to remain with the Obama administration for a second term.

“When I thought about what else I could be doing with the next couple years of my life,” he says, “there was not anything that could be more important than working for this president, at this time, trying to get the best people in place but also then trying to keep the very best of those people for as long as possible.”

The artist in the lizard's house

Carolyn Fuchs' job title is exhibit specialist, but she could be a called an interior decorator for zoo animals. Her mission is to make them feel at home in a world made largely of man-made materials.

A photo with an article in the July 15 New York Times showed the 1996 art graduate at work on an enclosure for a blue tree monitor, a lizard native to Papua New Guinea. Seated on the root of a strangler fig tree, which she sculpted, she paints the bark of the predatory plant, which survives by wrapping itself around existing trees and growing upward to get to the sunlight above the dense rainforest canopy.

The photo was taken at a new Komodo dragon (a large lizard) exhibit being built at the Bronx Zoo. Fuchs is an employee of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo and other zoos around the city, an aquarium in Brooklyn and about 500 conservation programs in 60 countries. She's been with the organization since 2002 and does new habitats and exhibit maintenance at all the NYC locations.

The alumna says that after earning her degree in art — a self-designed major she called “ceramic collage” — she worked as a research assistant for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan and then as an artist for Tower Records. Returning to her hometown of Boston, she landed an internship with the New England Aquarium and was then hired as an exhibit fabricator. Her work there included painting artificial reefs fashioned from molds of actual reef material.
Fuchs explains that artificial trees are necessary in zoos not just because of space limitations but because some of the tree varieties seen in new exhibits would take 25 years to grow to maturity.

One of her favorite and more gratifying recent projects, she says, was the zoo's Madagascar! exhibit. One of the enclosures she was assigned was slated as a home to day geckos and bright red tomato frogs. Through research Fuchs learned that the small frogs were “sit-and-wait predators,” that patiently wait in nooks and crevices for wayward crickets. So she sculpted many such features into a hollowed-out artificial tree.

“When they first put the animals in, I went by to take a look, and they were in all of them,” she says. “The best part of my job is seeing an animal living happily in a habitat I've created.” —Ed Cohen

Identical twins now visualizing online battles

Identical twins Oscar and Edgardo Monteon '09 not only chose to attend the same college (ours) and study the same subject (fine arts), they now work only a few desks away from each other.

Having earned certificates from the College's Ammerman Center for Arts & Technology, the Monteons have turned their interest in art and design into a job many video game players probably dream of: creating game characters.

The Monteons work in the seaside Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica at Riot Games, one of the country's top video-game companies. Both are character artists, which means they use 3D modeling software to bring fantastical creatures and champions to life in Riot's award-winning online video game, League of Legends.

Oscar created the in-game visuals for a character called Fizz, a small aquatic creature who wields a magic trident. Edgar has worked on characters such as Ahri, a seductive half-fox, half-human enchantress; and Cho'Gath, a nightmare beast.

Originally from central Mexico, Oscar and Edgardo moved to the United States when they were in second grade and grew up 30 miles east of L.A. in Pomona, Calif. They attended the College with support from the Bright Prospect Scholar Support Program, which assists potential first-generation college-goers from seven Pomona-area high schools. Oscar says the program was a “big brother” to him during his college experience. Bright Prospect has sent 14 students to the College over the last 10 years.

The 26-year-olds say the courses and equipment they experienced here — especially “Introduction to 3D Modeling Software” and various art principles they learned — helped them get to where they are today. Oscar says he was no more of a gamer than the average kid growing up, but in college his interest shifted from traditional art to film and games because of the potential of new media to share ideas on a massive scale.

Oscar was the first to go to work for Riot Games, about two years ago. Edgardo was hired not long after on his brother's recommendation. The tag-team character artists also live together in L.A.

“My brother and I have long been each other's competitor,” Oscar says, “as well as the best supporter.” —Whit Richardson '02

A young alum gets kids to eat their veggies

A year after heading up Sprout!, the college's student-run organic garden, Zoe Madden '12 is fighting childhood obesity by, among other means, introducing kids to the joys of eating the vegetables they grow themselves.

As director of coordinated school health for the Norwich Public School district, about 10 miles north of the College, Madden has developed several health-education programs for children in the district's 10 elementary and middle schools. This spring, she led the creation of a 4,000-square-foot garden, roughly the size of a basketball court, at one of the middle schools.

In the Bridges Extended Learning program, Madden teaches gardening to elementary-schoolers. She knew it was hard to get kids to eat vegetables. But that has not been the case with the snap peas, radishes, tomatoes, kale, lettuce and edible nasturtium flowers the children have been growing under her watch, she says.

“One of my favorite experiences on the job so far was introducing a group of students to kale. They loved it. Whenever I take them out to the garden, they enjoy picking leaves off the plant and eating them raw,” she says. “There is something about planting a seed, nurturing it, and seeing it grow that really inspires my students to want to try new foods and enjoy the harvest.”

In another program, Madden teaches middle-school students about exercise, healthy eating and how to calculate their body mass index, a ratio of weight to height that is used in gauging if someone is overweight. Children also learn how to monitor their weight and blood pressure, allowing them to see
their progress.

Madden was hired in response to an epidemic of childhood obesity in Norwich. A study by nurses at the school-based health centers found that nearly 40 percent of students were overweight and about 20 percent obese, she says. Madden, who joined the school system in January, says one group of 16 elementary students who participated in an after-school fitness class lost an average of half a pound each over four weeks.

“This is a significant weight loss for this age, as it is often a goal for overweight children (just) to maintain their current weight so that they can 'grow into it,'” she says.

A botany and environmental studies major, Madden spent several summers on campus doing research with Associate Professor of Botany Rachel Spicer and Peter Siver, the Becker Professor of Botany.

As president of the Sprout! Garden club, she was one of a group of students who helped secure administration and grant funding to expand and relocate the garden from its original location — at the north end of campus near the student residence 360 House — to a more prominent location behind the College Center at Crozier-Williams. The expanded garden has raised beds, more planting area, and a hoop house to extend the growing season. And it's now featured on the campus tour for prospective students.

In Norwich, Madden's fundraising experience has come in handy. At one point, her position was in danger of being eliminated because of a lack of funds. She successfully applied for grants to support it for another two years. —Devon Gay

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