On Course

The alumni in your cover story [“Changing Course” spring 2007] captured what drives those of us engaged in major midlife course corrections. It’s not money, power, recognition or other objective badges of success. It’s a simple desire to make our mark by pursuing our dreams and doing what we love.

I did my MBA 15 years ago. After careers in consulting, entrepreneurship and health care management, I’m now in the thick of my own midlife course correction. I plan to complete my doctorate in organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University in the next year or two. By objective standards, I may be starting my fledgling academic career a bit late. But based on my own schedule, I’m right on time.

Gerard Beenen (KSM92)

I’m turning 40 this year, and after 10 years at the movie studios I moved to New Orleans post-Katrina to work in hurricane recovery for Catholic Charities.

Meanwhile, I have been experiencing a renaissance as a performer in New Orleans, singing in the choir and getting solos and acting in Take Me Out and Sympathetic Magic. Sometimes when we follow our hearts, we are rewarded in unexpected ways.

Steve Kubick (C90)
New Orleans

I recently decided to pursue a long-forgotten dream of developing my passion for music. I am a 52–year-old married mother of two children and a former publishing consultant. Last fall I was unexpectedly asked to audition for the vocal performance program at the University of Rhode Island, where in April I made my operatic debut as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus.

It is wonderful to work hard at something you love, see daily improvements and apply your knowledge in performance. What a blessing, in midlife, to be able to explore and develop a gift that brings great joy. I get up each morning excited about what I’ll be learning to improve my rediscovered solo voice.

Kiran Verma Kimbell (C77)
East Greenwich, R.I.

The article "Changing Course" hit close to home. After 20-plus years in human resources, I left corporate America to open a business where I coach people to interview better. I came to this business after seeing so many candidates come through my door so poorly prepared. I knew those folks had something to offer, but they clearly could not express themselves, so they were passed over.

Many of my clients need help switching careers in pursuit of job satisfaction and personal happiness. It is very gratifying to help them define their goals and get what they want!

Thank you for such an enlightening article!

Katherine Dreuth Burik (WCAS80)
Canton, Ohio

I, too, have changed careers a few times. You probably know that most of us will change careers four to five times in our lifetimes. I refer to this change process as "re-careering." I have written and conduct workshops about this topic.

My most personal notable re-career was when, after 25-plus successful years as a human resource professional and executive, I decided to make a major career change that took me to the place where I now am — an educator and a published author of eight mystery novels and two nonfiction works. I am delighted to hear of others who have taken up their passion.

Tony F. Vianna (KSM82)
Carlsbad, Calif.

Sittercity and More

I really enjoyed the story on Genevieve Thiers [“Sitting Pretty,” spring 2007]. It’s inspiring to learn about people who pursue their passions, regardless of whether they fit into a nice, neat categorical box.

Karen Skalitzky’s Purple Prose [“Even Exchange”] on telling homeless people’s stories was a fitting conclusion to an issue devoted to alumni looking to make an impact in others’ lives.

Matt Baron (J90)
Oak Park, Ill.

Fond Memories of Professor Leopold

Richard Leopold [“Northwestern Celebrates Life of Leopold,” News on Campus, spring 2007] taught me how to do history.

His legendary class in American diplomatic history — delivered three times a week at 8 a.m. — required me not only to read his magisterial textbook, original sources and competing commentaries but to come prepared to articulate and defend my own view of the subject as well.

I was also fortunate to have Leopold as my mentor from the end of my sophomore year. I was a bit in awe of him, but his encouragement could not have been more genuine and effective.

Gary Werskey (WCAS65)
Blackheath, New South Wales, Australia

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Dick Leopold in November 2006. I was commissioned from the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program in 1963 and knew of his deep commitment to the U.S. Navy.

While assigned to the Naval Historical Center in 1990 after returning from a deployment during the Gulf War, I had an opportunity to conduct an oral history with Dick about his tour as a naval historian during World War II. His insights provided invaluable lessons learned for training future naval historians.

At the time of the interview we joked about my never taking any classes with him because he was “too tough.” That was my loss, and he will, indeed, be greatly missed.

William McClintock (WCAS63)
Providence Forge, Va.

Rally Round Frank

Tell Dominic Frank [“Mongol Rally,” spring 2007] that I would love to host him here in Venezuela if he organizes a car rally in the Americas.

In order to drive from Venezuela through the Amazon basin into Chaco country, Paraguay, he will need a “duck.” Maybe we can steal one from Boston, as they have many of those World War II vintage amphibious vehicles roving the streets.

Andres Duarte
Caracas, Venezuela

I read with interest Dominic Frank's article, "The Mongol Rally." I am a romantic at heart, and although I'm now 72, I still travel whenever and wherever I can.

I noted at the conclusion of his piece that he is considering taking a "leisurely jaunt" down the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. During my first year of teaching I read a fascinating account of such a journey titled "We Made the 'Impossible' Tour" in the Saturday Evening Post. The author, Frank Schreider, and his wife, Helen, with their 7-year-old German shepherd, drove 20,000 miles from Alaska to the Strait of Magellan in their amphibious jeep. Their trip, in 1955, took them through swamps, mountains and over ox-cart trails, where winches were needed to pull them out of the mud.

Good luck to Dominic in whatever journeys he undertakes.

Nancy Roth Burghardt (Mu56)
Oak Park, Ill.

Doris Johnson’s Influence

I was actually preparing a seminar on improving classroom acoustics for the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association when Northwestern magazine arrived. It was a very emotional moment to read the article on Professor Johnson [“Pioneering Presence,” spring 2007], whose class I took in 1968.

Johnson’s philosophy and methods are still so well respected and widely implemented. It reminded me to thank her for her dedication and excellence in teaching. I plan to acknowledge her contribution to the field of learning disabilities in my seminar.

Michele Drisko Wilson (WCAS68)
Irvine, Calif.

Patty Dowd Schmitz accurately captured Professor Johnson’s grace, vitality and influence. I had the good fortune of studying with and learning from a number of exceptional professors in communication sciences and disorders. Professor Johnson stands out as one of the very best of that group — someone I will always recall with respect and affection.

Ellen Meyer Gregg (C74, GC75)
Greeley, Colo.

Tuition Exorbitant

The article “Ryans Support Scholarships, Research” [News on Campus, spring 2007] reports that Patrick Ryan (EB59), Northwestern’s Board of Trustees chair, and his family made a significant donation to provide undergraduate scholarships for low-income students and student-athletes. One can only applaud the generosity of the Ryan family. However, given the cost of attending Northwestern and the distribution of income in the United States, I suspect that most potential applicants now qualify as low income.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the real median household income in the United States in 2005 was $46,326. Northwestern’s 2007–08 total costs, with tuition, room and board, books and other expenses is about $49,000 a year.

Young people are being crushed between the pressures of exorbitant tuition (with attendant long-term debt) and the prospect of declining job opportunities. The stewards of Northwestern have an obligation to address this issue in a way that goes beyond dispensing scholarships. With an endowment of almost $6 billion, the University may very well be able to afford reducing tuition for everyone.

Reducing tuition could set a trend and bestow upon Northwestern a moral authority and purpose that, for all its good works, it currently seems to lack.

Let the University reduce its price of admission and begin to rediscover its moral purpose.

Bernard Gilman (WCAS66)
Ashland, Mass.

On Location

I read the article “On Location” [winter 2006] and was very surprised to see that one of the most successful movies filmed at Northwestern was left off the list — When Harry Met Sally. The opening scene of the movie was shot near the Deering Library, with Billy Crystal kissing his girlfriend, played by alumna Michelle Nicastro-Stark (C82).

Tracey Samples Deen (Mu83)

Editor’s note: We checked, and it turns out that the opening scene was filmed at the University of Chicago.

A Noteworthy Life

My father, George Biringer (CB36), is 96 and lives in a nursing home with my mother in Sullivan, Ill. While visiting them recently I saw the spring issue of Northwestern magazine. It was filled with articles about graduates who have distinguished themselves in a variety of fields — directors, diplomats, professors, researchers — all of them apparently winners in their chosen fields. I truly applaud them all. It's an indication of the caliber of people who attend Northwestern.

Earlier my father had been anxious for me to read the class note he had submitted that ran in the spring issue. What his blurb mentioned was his and my mother's names along with the information that they get 24-hour nursing care.

I looked across the room at my dad who was enjoying a quick nap after lunch, and I realized that there is so much more to his story. What struck me was that I didn't see people like him profiled in the magazine though a few thousand like him attended the University long ago. They grew up during the Depression, struggled to graduate, endured the effects the Depression had on their budding careers, made the best of opportunities available during World War II and did the behind the scenes work that allowed the high achievers to do just that. They make up the bulk of the "Greatest Generation."

I'd like you to know more about my dad. I have always admired what he was able to accomplish, mostly on his own. It took him 10 years of year-round night school to graduate from Northwestern. I marvel at the magnitude of just that single achievement. For 10 years he worked full time, raised a family and went to night school — no time off for summers and no Easter jaunts to Fort Lauderdale. And to top it off, when he was done, he had not even earned a bachelor's degree. He obtained a certificate of commerce as I understand it. I'm not sure if that degree opened any doors for him, but I'm guessing that as a night student he was below the radar of the recruiters.

My father worked at Libby McNeil and Libby for seven years when Social Security was just beginning. During this time he developed an accounting process that enabled LM&L to report the Social Security wages of about 26,000 workers across the country. No one understood the government regulations, so he made himself the expert. For that effort and others he requested a raise in pay and was rewarded with an additional $2 per week.

After seven years at LM&L he was offered an accounting job at Revere Copper and Brass. They were going to make bullets for the war. My dad freely admits that he knew nothing about making bullets, but he did know how to account for them, to control the money and to comply with government regulations. When the inevitable government auditors showed up, he received outstanding recognition for his personal contribution to the job of supporting our soldiers.

He's got lots of stories, and he is willing to share them with anyone at a moment's notice. It's understandable that most people don't really want to hear them. It's long ago history, and it's really only a footnote in the grand scheme of things. But there are lots of people out there who provided these essential footnotes to history as he did, and it would be great to have some of them profiled too, as proud productive graduates of Northwestern who made an unseen mark in the world we live in today.

Robert Biringer
Anchorage, Alaska

Question of Ethics

I was disheartened by the sidebar article “An Extraordinary Potential to Heal,” [“The Quest for Life,”] in the winter issue. I would have enjoyed reading an exposition of the academic conversation regarding the ethical differences to which Professor Laurie Zoloth refers. Perhaps this conversation occurs between the scientists, the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society and the philosophy department.

Is it not the responsibility of an ethicist to determine whether actions are objectively right or wrong rather than just whether they potentially have extraordinary benefits?

Unfortunately Northwestern seems to have made ethics a footnote in this case rather than a critical part of the academic process.

Philip Fischer (McC98)

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