New York State of Mind
By Martha Hunter Shepard ’66
January 2, 2007. Winter break is coming to an end, and Rhodes students across the country are stirring from their holiday hibernation, preparing to return to campus. Not so at Memphis International Airport, where on this new year’s morning several students and their advisers are boarding planes to New York City, eager to expand their horizons and, perhaps, meet their futures.
Like all Rhodes students, economics and business administration students at Rhodes are inherently smart. They’re even smarter when they graduate. Highly recruited, they’re famous for passing professional exams in the first sitting and landing the best jobs. Witness several New York Rhodes alums in the international financial world: Bill Michaelcheck ’69, founder and chairman of Mariner Investment Group; John Sites ’74, founder of Daystar Special Situations Fund; Tom Flexner ’76, vice chairman of Bear Stearns.
The list also includes many who graduated in the last decade, now making their mark in the international markets in New York. For several years, Deborah Pittman ’71, chair of the Rhodes Economics and Business Department, has worked tirelessly to maintain contacts with alums and locate internships and work experiences for business students. Thanks to her and the work of recent alums, a clutch of current students had a rare opportunity during winter break to see firsthand how things work—and what it takes to succeed—in the financial capital of the world.
The journey to New York began when Pittman attended a summer 2006 meeting of the New York Chapter of the Rhodes College Alumni Association. In a discussion of how the group could involve students in the vast opportunities New York offers, the answer came in a flash to Leslie Curry ’98, director of marketing at Kaplan Inc. While earning her M.B.A. at the University of Virginia’s Darden School, Curry participated in a “Week on Wall Street” tour. “Why shouldn’t Rhodes students do something similar?” she asked.
The chapter accepted the idea by acclamation, and Curry took charge. Pittman and John Planchon of the Economics and Business Department worked with Curry to select alums to meet and businesses to visit. Director of Career Services Sandi George Tracy and associate director of Alumni Relations Holly Hilliard also coordinated with Curry, who arranged itineraries, set up information sessions with various alums at their businesses and helped plan two receptions with alums. Curry, in addition, shepherded the students everywhere. Hosting one reception were Rockefeller University vice president and graduate dean Sid Strickland ’68 and his wife, writer Carol Colclough Strickland ’68.
In October, with plans in place, nothing short of a preview would do. Curry and Ben Gohman ’97 of Credit Suisse First Boston’s Sponsors Coverage Group visited campus in the fall, meeting with students, answering questions and giving them résumé advice. Frank Byrd ’90, founder of Hawkshaw Capital, made a separate trip to advise Rhodes students.
By January, the students were ready for New York, and New York alums were ready for them. On the morning of Jan. 3, members of the group trekked several blocks north from their hotel to Bear Stearns’ world headquarters on Madison Avenue. This wasn’t a cold call. On hand to greet them were senior managing director Jason Howell ’92 and a host of the firm’s employees—from new hires, including Philip Ruppel ’06, to old hands—who for the next hour and a half told them everything they needed to know about the New York financial job market.
After lunch, it was on to Hawkshaw Capital and Frank Byrd ’90, who greeted his now old friends and filled them in on the hedge fund market.
Tired but exhilarated, the group finished the day with James Ray ’05 at the Royal Bank of Canada’s Investment Banking Group before attending an evening alumni/ae reception.
The next morning took them to Frank Pinkerton ’96 and John Wood ’02 at Bank of America’s Equity Research and Investment Banking groups and to Anne Bragg Warren ’00 at D.B. Zwirn for more information on hedge funds. Dow Jones was the first stop after lunch, where Kelly Leach ’92, vice president, Strategy and Planning, Consumer Media Group, gave a presentation on the company and the industries it touches. Afterward, she answered questions about the firm’s strategy and gave students tips on interviewing and entering the field of marketing. Late afternoon found the students at Credit Suisse First Boston’s Investment Banking Group, arranged by Ben Gohman ’97. A reception with young alumni/ae ended the day.
For the intrepid who wished to stay over, the next day offered opportunities to visit the likes of fashion houses Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and BCBG, along with Zagat and the National Broadcasting Company.
In a three-day period, the students probably walked more than they had in their entire lives. More important, they met for three days with Rhodes alumni/ae in the New York business world, networking with representatives of various businesses and financial institutions, interviewing and learning all the way. They talked with alums and their colleagues, asking questions and getting answers as well as generous advice and referrals, all of which will serve them splendidly in their future careers. They came away with eyes and minds opened to the infinite possibilities of putting their knowledge to work in the Big Apple. It was the chance of a lifetime.
When it comes to New York learning trips, the “arts” beat the “markets” by a year. In January 2006, eight students spent three days in New York soaking up the arts scene and networking with alumni/ae who are involved in theater and music. In January 2007, the group made a similar excursion to San Francisco.
The students were fellows of CODA, the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts, a program established at Rhodes with a six-year, $4.9 million grant from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust of Wichita Falls, TX. The program fosters leadership, vision, communications and innovation for future leaders in the arts.
While no academic credit is offered to CODA fellows, they receive an annual scholarship of $12,500 and participate in a 10-hour per week mentored leadership and development program and practical internship in the fine arts. They don’t have to be art majors, but must maintain their commitment to the arts. Tim Sharp, chair of the Music Department, heads CODA. John Weeden ’97 is assistant director of the program. Weeden, who holds a master’s degree from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London, accompanied the group to both cities.
In New York, they met with Amanda Sisk ’98, a writer/director/actor at the HERE Arts Center in SoHo, and musician/composer Hayes Biggs ’79, longtime faculty member of the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. They also dropped in at Carnegie Hall for a performance by the Rhodes MasterSingers directed by Tim Sharp.
The HERE Arts Center is known for its multidisciplinary work in producing cutting-edge drama. It has developed numerous acclaimed works including Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” and picked up 10 OBIE (Off-Broadway Theater) Awards in 13 years.
“We met at HERE, where we took part in a question-and-answer session with Amanda and two other members of the center,” says Andrew Whaley ’08, a theater and religious studies major from Knoxville, TN. “Amanda discussed with us the relevance of theater today, something with which she credits professor Cookie Ewing, who continues to ask students, ‘Why are we doing this play now?’
“We learned about the challenges of being an artist in New York and the extreme competitiveness among the many theaters. For instance, to gain an audience you must be creative. What this teaches CODA students like me is that even when you’re a small organization competing in a city saturated with your product, you can find your audience if you act creatively. Amanda is also ‘living the dream’ in many ways. This is a testament to Rhodes—that it will prepare you to take on difficult challenges and equip you with the ability to think creatively to achieve your goals.”
Says art history major Christine Zhu ’09 from Plano, TX: “It was impressive listening to how they came out of Rhodes and into the real world. They had a vision and they did it. It’s kind of like the fulfillment of the American dream.”
At lunch with Sisk and Biggs, the students heard Biggs speak about his career in music, particularly as a composer.
“His success in the world of music is amazing, considering he didn’t attend a conservatory for his undergraduate education,” says Whaley.
The students took in some Broadway plays and visited the major museums and smaller art galleries, whose owners spoke with them on a wide range of topics, from the work that goes into mounting a major installation and running an exhibition, to the struggles and successes of establishing a new gallery in the New York art district.
“Touring the museums gave us more exposure to thought-provoking and envelope-pushing art, but the discussions with artists and owners were the most beneficial,” Whaley says. “Everyone provided wonderful insights into organization, learning from failures and remaining one step ahead of the ‘other guy’—lessons we can use in future CODA projects.”
With New York no longer a dream, the CODA fellows took on San Francisco in January 2007. Weeden assigned each student a task in organizing events there, such as setting up interviews with staff of the famed American Conservatory Theater and Magic Theater.
“We learned how these theaters make themselves known in San Francisco, how they get an audience,” says Zhu. “They market through word of mouth, fliers, postcards, ads in community newspapers. They also present an entire evening event, not just a show, and both theaters put a strong emphasis on educating audiences.”
Whaley adds, “The artistic director at the Magic Theater told us about the challenges that a small theater faces in producing only new works, although playwrights like Sam Shepard have written for the Magic. The theater tries to attract playgoers who want to see the ‘next big thing’ before a big-time producer discovers it.”
Says John Weeden: “What was wonderful about both trips was the willingness of the arts workers themselves to open up their time, knowledge and conversation and really engage the students. They said things like, ‘I wish I’d had this when I was in college—it would have been amazing.’ It’s good to know we have friends all over the country.”
All the Rhodes students who walked the endless blocks of Manhattan came to know the streets quite well. Few, though, know those streets and the souls who inhabit them better than the 16 students who traveled to New York in January 2007 under the banner of the Kinney Program. For a week, they immersed themselves in learning about international social justice and community service, New York-style.
The group leader was Memphian Kristin Fox-Trautman ’98, currently director of youth development for BRIDGES, who in January was working part time in the Rhodes Chaplain’s Office. The idea for the journey belongs to Ginny Davis ’07, an international studies major and business minor from Baton Rouge, LA.
Three summers ago in New York, Davis had an internship at V Day international headquarters, whose mission is to stop violence against women. During the academic year, she worked in the Chaplain’s Office, where she often had to turn away students from service programs that quickly filled with volunteers. She says she was always looking for new opportunities for student service.
A month or so into Davis’ internship at V Day, then-chaplain Billy Newton ’74 was in contact with the Presbyterian Church (USA) United Nations Office, which was offering a new program for undergraduate students to learn about international peacemaking. That’s when Davis “put two and two together” and immediately began organizing the January trip. She determined that the journey would encompass education and service components. Participants did not have to be part of the Kinney Program, but they would have to apply for the trip and write an essay beforehand about how they related to peacemaking.
In New York, the group sheltered in the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church on the Upper East Side, sleeping in the sanctuary, reflecting on their experiences and worshiping with the church’s diverse parishioners on Sunday.
For two days at the Presbyterian U.N. Office, the students attended a series of seminars on global homelessness that focused on refugees, sex-trafficking and child prostitution. Also included was a grand tour of the U.N. Two other days were devoted to service at soup kitchens on the Lower East Side—Trinity Lutheran Lower Eastside and Maryhouse and St. Joseph’s House, both Catholic Worker Houses—and the Yorkville Common Pantry and El Museo del Barrio on the Upper East Side.
In their free time they went to museums, Broadway shows, a club specializing in swing dance. Some students even heard a reggae/rock band from the U.K. that they deemed “really good.”
Says Fox-Trautman regarding community service work in New York: “One of the things the students learned was that New York City doesn’t have a special or better way than Memphis of doing things—both cities have common struggles.”
They also learned about careers at the U.N. and about the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“The trip changed my ideas about the church,” says Leonard Curry ’07, a religious studies major from Cleveland, OH. “The fact that there is a church office next to the U.N. said a lot to me. Sometimes you get a bad idea of church—people who just go there week-to-week without a call to social justice. It was good to see there are people working toward it. What I brought back was that we can’t abdicate our relationship to power, our ability to make social change. I think sometimes that we get caught up in the myth that we’re not connected to other people and when something happens we can’t do anything about it. I don’t think that’s true. I think that one voice, though it’s only one voice, is a big voice if it’s willing to speak up. One voice can stir to action other voices, and that’s how movements are founded.”