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Learning to Learn

Career Twists and Turns of Knox Alumni

By Cheri Siebken

It's Knox. A student graduates with a major in English literature and goes on to be a doctor -- or majors in physics and becomes a pastor. Why do the lives of so many Knox graduates take such interesting twists and turns?

Sue Blew '74From Theatre to Technology
Sue Blew graduated from Knox in 1974 with a major in theatre and then worked as a VISTA volunteer in legal assistance for two years, thinking she wanted to be lawyer. She didn't. With $700 in her pocket, she headed to California.

A computer science course she took her first year at Knox got her in the door at Pacific Bell, where she updated reports. "I learned enough to turn the temp job into a full-time position. That's when my theatre training took over," she says. "Working on character and motivation helped me understand people better and running theater productions taught me how to manage a project."

Blew easily moved through the ranks at the company, and she found that as she "climbed the corporate ladder, it was very easy to move into new areas, assess what was going on, and provide leadership." After 17 years at Pacific Bell, she accepted a position at Wells Fargo, where she worked for 11 years. For the last year, she has been vice president, technology infrastructure programs, at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California.

"I've moved from telecommunications, to financial services, to healthcare. I've been a technologist throughout but was able to quickly figure out the different disciplines I was supporting," Blew adds.

Vernon SpencerFrom English in Japan to an Archeological Dig in Egypt
While most Knox graduates had a choice when it came to their vocation post-Knox, Vernon Spencer's path was chosen for him soon after receiving his degree in 1953. He was drafted by the Army and sent to Japan.

Spencer fell in love with the country and the Japanese people and decided to stay and explore the region further when he was discharged. That was 54 years ago. He taught junior high and high school English and, whenever he had the opportunity, traveled throughout Southeast Asia. "It's not an easy area to get around in, and I don't go to the tourist places. I like to meet people," Spencer says. "Nepal was the first country I traveled to and is still my favorite. It's easy to make friends, the food is great, and the landscape is beautiful." Spencer has also been to Korea, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Burma (Myanmar).

In the early 1980s, Spencer was approached by archeologists from a local museum, who had developed maps of a site in Egypt that they had been excavating for 10 years. They asked Spencer if he could review the English translations of their 10-year report and the information found on the maps.

Spencer did much more than edit spelling and grammar. His minors in history and art and his interest in architecture came in handy as he studied the maps and reviewed the report concerning the work at the site, seeking clarification and sometimes questioning their findings. His critical evaluation of the information impressed the group. The next year, they asked him to join them at the site in Egypt. He's been back five times.

Spencer was put in charge of the identification of pottery shards as well as complete pieces, some dating back more than 3,500 years. "Working seven hours a day in 115 degree sunshine on sand too hot to touch is fatiguing but very enjoyable," he says.

Kelly ArnemannFrom Real Estate Management to Counseling Psychology
When Kelly Arnemann '91 graduated from Knox with a major in anthropology and sociology, he didn't know where his college education would take him. He graduated with average grades and wasn't sure he could get into graduate school with his GPA.

Arnemann headed back to Southern Wisconsin to work in real estate management with his parents. He managed multiple apartment complexes in Milwaukee and Madison, then Washington, D.C. After eight years, he was ready for a change.

He moved to Miami in 1999, where he was employed in a fair housing agency working to desegregate public housing in Miami-Dade County. His real estate savvy, combined with his communications skills, allowed him to successfully recruit landlords into the Section 8 Program, giving minorities more housing options. "My work in civil rights connects me to the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist history of Knox, which is something in which I take great pride," he says.

Arnemann wanted to do more to help others so he continued his education, completing a master's, then a doctorate, in counseling psychology.

Today, Arnemann works at the San Antonio VA Hospital treating veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, serious mental illness, and other psychological issues that are keeping them from leading fulfilling, productive lives.

"I didn't know where going to Knox would lead me, but it helped me learn how to learn, how to write, and how to think broadly," says Arnemann. "In my current work, I strongly encourage education. I am trying to make sure that every veteran I work with gets an education."

Arnemann says that education remains the great equalizer and only through education can one truly be free. "Knox College is a shining example of that," he adds.

Anne BarkerFrom Nursing to . . . Nursing
The opportunity to travel took Anne Barker's life in a very different direction than she had envisioned, then brought her full circle.

Anne came to Knox from Alaska with an interest in nursing, but she didn't enjoy her science classes. "I was less than focused that first year at Knox," she says, "and boy did my results reflect that!" The opportunity to travel and do research in Mexico then Tanzania early in her Knox education sent her on a different path, and she graduated in 2007 with majors in Black Studies and anthropology and sociology.
After a summer working and saving money, she returned to Tanzania to further explore the area and its neighboring countries, as well as the Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh. Now she's back in the United States -- and taking courses to become a nurse.

"The idea of health through nutrition -- be it in the refugee camps I saw through the Rwanda Burundi Congo border area or here in small town rural America -- is what really sets my focus in continuing my education," she says.

Her life now revolves around anatomy and physiology flash cards, "and I love it," says Barker.

"What I have learned from Knox and subsequent experiences is that if you follow your interests and leave yourself open to opportunities, they will present themselves. Doors will open that you could have never planned for," she says. "It is only a matter of giving yourself the opportunity to take them."