18 Under 37
Some are investors or entrepreneurs. Some are educators or doctors. Some work in the arts. And some are still undergraduates. Yet all display talent, passion, and ingenuity. Meet a few of the younger members of the Knox community — 18 under 37 (and a few more) — who are finding success in their chosen careers and fields of study.
"I am both a homemaker and a homewrecker," says Katie Bell, "pulling up the rug, opening the closet, and turning up the blinds," and transforming what she finds into paintings, installations, and sculptures. And her ability to construct and deconstruct her surroundings is gaining quite a bit of attention in the art world. Bell was recently named one of the "8 Great Brooklyn Artists Under 30," and her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, from New York to Nashville to London and Rouen, and was featured in FastCompany and Bomb magazines, among other media. Her most recent solo exhibition was at Mixed Greens Gallery in New York. This studio art major from Rockford, Illinois, now ofﬁcially calls Brooklyn home, after a one-year residency at The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in New York, one of the most prestigious residencies in the art world. In between Knox and New York, she attended the MFA program at the acclaimed Rhode Island School of Design, where her work moved from drawing into the large-scale paintings and installations she exhibits today. Bell recognizes that the acclaim her work is receiving is signiﬁcant in the highly competitive art world. "There are so many amazingly talented artists living in Brooklyn, and I feel honored to be in dialog with them," she says.
Katie Bell '08
Studio Art Major, Race & Gender Studies Minor
Ted De Long '00
General Manager, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The plot of Ted DeLong at Knox begins in medias res. "I came in as a transfer student in the middle of junior year," DeLong says. After what he describes as "a somewhat lonely college life," he immediately jumped into the immersive Repertory Term and "the incredibly warm embrace of the Knox theatre community." Likewise he leaped into the middle of things with his appointment last fall as general manager of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He joined the organization -- one of the nation's oldest and largest non-profit professional theatre companies -- just two years ago as an associate producer. Already his massive to-do list encompasses negotiations with Actors' Equity Association and the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, playwright commission agreements and licenses, real estate, construction, play selection, casting, technology and oversight of housing and travel for visiting artists. "I was kind of a 'grind'" at Knox, DeLong admits, spending most of his energy in theatre in one form or another -- lighting designer, technician, and occasional actor. "I particularly appreciated the friendship and kindness and encouragement of professors with whom I spent a ton of time in the classroom, in the theatre, and one-on-one.... One class which I'm grateful for, in a perverse but genuine way, was a figure drawing class with Rick Ortner. I came to understand that being a visual artist was probably not going to be one of my strong suits, and this helped focus my attention in other areas where I was more likely to succeed." Such as earning an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, starting his professional career as a theatre tech, followed by a stint as a management consultant. And now, helping lead the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with its $32 million annual budget, 550 employees, 700 volunteers, and 400,000 customers.
As a political reporter at WBEZ-Chicago Public Media, Alex Keefe ’06 researches, writes, and broadcasts stories on public policy issues, including same-sex marriage and Illinois government’s pension problems. His work has earned awards from the Illinois and Iowa Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, and Alex was named Best Newswriter by the Illinois AP in 2013 and 2011. His stories can be heard regularly in the country’s third-largest broadcasting market, and occasionally they run nationwide on NPR. His Knox education “cultivated a sense of curiosity,” enabling him to teach himself – a skill that he uses every day. "A reporter’s job is to go out into the world and quickly become an expert on something," says Alex, who directed WBEZ’s coverage of the 2012 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit. A creative writing major, Alex was inspired by several Knox faculty members, including Nick Regiacorte, Robin Metz, Emily Anderson, and Monica Berlin. "There were really a lot of people who I have a connection with, and it was deeper connection than just a classroom connection – going to professors’ houses, really learning about them as people." On the job, he wears his media credential on a Knox College lanyard. It’s helped him meet, among others, Chicago Alderman Joe Moore ‘80 and Laurence Msall ‘84, president of The Civic Federation, a government research organization. Radio journalism, he says, satisfies his impulses "to tell stories and to perform them in a certain way. When I left Knox, I was really stressed out about going into radio and not going into fiction writing," he recalls. "Monica Berlin told me: Whichever way you choose to tell stories is the right way." He adds: "At its core, I learned to be a storyteller at Knox."
Al Keefe '06
Political Reporter, WBEZ-Chicago
Creative Writing Major
Vir Das '02
Actor & Comedian
Economics & Theatre Majors
Vir Das ’02 might not be a household name in the United States, but travel to India or Southeast Asia and Vir is not only known as a successful actor but also a well-known comedian. A little over 10 years after graduating from Knox, he’s appeared in nearly a dozen movies—Delhi Belly (2011) and Go Goa Gone (2013) among the most popular—and two television shows, headlined numerous comedy tours, formed a band, Alien Chutney, and started his own consulting and production company, Weirdass Comedy. During his time at Knox, Vir was a vibrant presence in the theatre department, where he honed both his dramatic and comedic skills. “It was a tough acting program and, by the fourth year, I . . . wanted to do something more organic and free,” he told the Bombay Times. Vir turned to comedy. "It was at Knox where he first explored the comic themes in his original and hilarious two-man stand-up show ‘Brown Men Can’t Hump,’ that he revisited professionally early in his career in India," remembers Liz Carlin-Metz, Smith V. Brand Endowed Chair in Theatre Art. Featured in The New York Times in 2011 as a one of a new set of emerging comedians in India, Vir is known for bringing an American style—he recently described himself as "edgy, raw, offensive, vulgar, untruthful, but intelligent"—to topics rooted in contemporary Indian culture. Most recently, Vir headlined the "Weirdass Pajama Festival," sponsored by Weirdass Comedy and touted as the largest comedy festival in India. The festival featured performances by 90 comics in three days and is set to tour in Dubai later this year. "When you look at photos or clips of Vir today, you can still see the impish comic, but you also see the kindness and warmth—the essential Vir," says Carlin-Metz. With such accomplishments in mind, let’s go back to the beginning: Vir Das might not be a household name in the United States . . . yet.
As a sophomore at Knox College, Norman Golar was chosen for the selective Ronald E. McNair Program, which encourages first-generation college students and members of underrepresented groups to pursue careers in higher education. Ten years later, Norman, who graduated from Knox with a degree in creative writing, accepted a position as assistant professor of English and chair of the English department at Stillman College, a historically black college located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “The McNair experience allowed me to know rather than feel that I belonged in higher education, in academia,” he says. Before accepting the position at Stillman, Norman pursued his MFA in creative writing and his Ph.D. in composition, rhetoric, and English studies from the University of Alabama. He was also chosen as a Southern Regional Education Board Doctoral Scholar, a national program that provides support and encouragement for minorities pursuing Ph.D.s and seeking faculty positions. Attending a college that prides itself on its strong community, it’s not surprising that Norman’s undergraduate experience continues to inform his professional career. “I have the same desire now as a faculty member that I had as an undergraduate. I strive to build strong working relations with not only my colleagues and administrators, but also with students and staff members.” In addition to his teaching, Norman is a successful poet, with work featured in numerous poetry journals, including Touchstone, Temenos, and Poetry Southeast.
Norman Golar '02
Professor & Department Chair, Stillman College
2012 Young Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Creative Writing Major
Lucas Southworth '01
Award-Winning Author, Assistant Professor, Loyola University Maryland
English Literature Major
Lucas Southworth doesn’t shy from the strange and the surreal. His narratives include plumbers in love, a woman trapped in a glass coffin on Mars, and a room in which everybody has a gun and is waiting to see who will take the first shot. This last story is the titular piece of his book of short stories, Everyone Here Has a Gun, the winner of the 2012 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. This prestigious and highly competitive award, offered by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), honors the winning writer with the publication of their book-length work. "Everyone Here Has a Gun took me on a roller coaster ride that I’d never been on before," praised Dan Chaon, the contest judge. "There are images and moments in each of these stories that have lodged into my brain like shrapnel." After Knox, Lucas received his MFA at the University of Alabama and is assistant professor of writing at Loyola University Maryland, where he teaches a wide variety of undergraduate courses—everything from essays to screenwriting. "It is my goal to continue to fortify the writing program at Loyola by being a part of the creative writing community and to always be working with students to strengthen it further," says Lucas. In his time at Loyola, Lucas has been true to his goal. He is currently the advisor of the writing department publications The Forum and The Garland. He has published chapbooks with students and encouraged reading events, striving toward creating a better creative writing community. And he won’t stop there. "As a writer and a teacher," Lucas says, "my main goal is always to keep learning, to keep writing, and most of all, to keep improving."
Scholarship, Teamwork, Respect, Intelligence, Virtue, Effort. Or STRIVE. These are the values that Katie Holz-Russell upholds everyday through her work as the chief curriculum officer at STRIVE Preparatory Charter Schools in Denver, Colorado. Katie oversees curriculum development and implementation for a network of eight public charter schools, and her primary role is to help guide young people to educational success in high school and beyond. "My work is appealing because I know that every day I am working hard to help students in Denver go to college," says Katie, who majored in English literature at Knox. "Many of our students will be the first members of their family to attend and graduate from college." Katie decided to pursue opportunities in educational leadership after teaching for five years—two in the Mississippi Delta through Teach for America and three at a public charter school in Denver. She then became education director of Breakthrough Kent Denver, a nonprofit educational program, and taught at Kent Denver School. "Working at Breakthrough was the first time I had the experience of hiring and coaching a staff of teachers," Katie says. In 2008, she joined STRIVE Prep (then called West Denver Prep) and served for three years as principal of one of its campuses. In fall 2012, she assumed her current role for the network of eight schools. Katie credits her undergraduate education with preparing her well for her career. "Knox taught me to read the world both critically and with tolerance," she says. "It set a high bar for me academically, and, because of that I am able to help set a high bar for the students who attend STRIVE Prep. At Knox I learned to work hard, and I learned that working hard can be fun in the right community."
Katie Holz-Russell '01
Chief Curriculum Officer, Strive Preparatory Charter Schools
English Literature Major
Alison Snyder-Warwick '00
Director, Facial Nerve Institute at St. Louis Children's Hospital
"There is nothing like seeing a child smile again—or perhaps for the first time," says Dr. Alison Snyder-Warwick ’00, whose surgical skills help children who have facial paralysis, cleft palate, and other conditions. "Facial expression is essential to communication and to self-perception. Helping people regain confidence is priceless," says Alison, director of the Facial Nerve Institute at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, also in St. Louis. Most of Alison’s medical practice involves pediatric plastic surgery, and she performs some general reconstructive surgery in adults. Her scientific research complements her clinical interests. "I am enamored by the intricacy and fine details of the surgeries," says Alison, a biology major at Knox who earned College Honors for researching olestra, a fat substitute. "I also am inspired by the patients, especially the children, that I work with—so many of them handle adversity and obstacles with grace and a refreshingly optimistic attitude." She has worked with the nonprofit group Operation Smile to help children in India, and she is secretary of the Sir Charles Bell Society, an international organization that aims to improve care for people with facial nerve problems. At Knox, she says, she benefited from the tight-knit community of students, faculty, and staff. "Everyone is so generous with their talents and their abilities, and it is such a friendly community." Knox also provided an "unparalleled" education, she says. "A lot of my medical school classmates had gone to Ivy League schools and larger universities, and I didn’t feel like I was the underdog, in any sense. That was a good feeling."
Drew Diaz has packed a lot into his four years at Knox. A double-major in chemistry and sports medicine (self-designed), he has played quarterback on the Prairie Fire football team and been active in several student groups. He also has pursued National Science Foundation-funded research under the supervision of Chemistry Professor Mary Crawford ’89, whom Drew calls "an awesome mentor," and will make a presentation about the research at the American Chemical Society’s 2014 national conference. The research relates to an NSF grant that Crawford received in 2012 for a project to design laboratory exercises that help physical chemistry students better understand connections between their studies and "real-world" applications. "P-chem (physical chemistry) is something that sometimes goes over students’ heads," Drew says, adding that the research work is enabling them "to understand and analyze it better." As a member and current vice president of the Chemistry Club, Drew is involved with the club’s community outreach. Several times a year, club members perform chemistry demonstrations for Galesburg elementary school students. "We really want to inspire more future scientists. That’s our goal," says Drew, who plans to attend medical school and become a physician. He also is president of Mortar Board, the national senior honor society, and a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. "When people ask me what kind of student ends up going to Knox, I’ll tell them this: Students who want to do a variety of things—athletics, academics, extracurriculars—they can do all of that here," Drew says. Thanks to support from Knox friends and faculty, he adds, "It’s hard not to do all the great things you want to do."
Drew Diaz '14
Chemistry & Sports Medicine Majors
Marcus McGee '14
International Relations Major
For the last two years, Marcus McGee ’14 has been relentlessly researching a topic you’ve probably heard about in the news. His Honors project centers on drug war violence in Mexico, a conflict that has caused more than 80,000 deaths in less than a decade. "My project is about working out the conceptual, theoretical knots to figure out why this happened." His research began with an Economics 303 project on the war on drug cartels. He decided to pursue his research further with an Honors project questioning not only the tactical mistakes of the Mexican government but also the reasoning behind these mistakes. In honor of his research, McGee was awarded the Steven Floyd ’70 Memorial Fellowship award, which funded a research trip to Mexico. "My current research has to do with looking at different discourses on the drug trade in Mexico and how the U.S. dialogue has a sway over the Mexican dialogue, even when they don’t necessarily want it to," says McGee. His Honors project will culminate in a dissertation-length paper, which he will defend before a committee of Knox professors and experts in the field this spring. One of these professors is Karen Kampwirth, Robert W. Murphy Chair in Political Science and Chair of Latin American Studies. "Successful honors projects always represent very high level research, equivalent to a master’s thesis at many institutions," Kampwrith says. "But Marcus’s work quite literally deals with questions of life and death in the present-day. To the extent that he can help us unravel the roots of the current crisis in Mexico, his work may help improve many people’s lives." After graduation, McGee hopes to pursue a Ph.D. and one day become a professor. "Knox is so willing to help out their student body," says McGee. "They push us," he says, not just to ask the tough questions, but to dig deeper, to find the answers, "To really do something."
Not long after graduating from Knox, Bryan Quinn concluded that the world needed more proactive approaches toward protecting the planet. With this in mind, he turned away from his planned career in academia and joined the Peace Corps. For the two years he spent in Malawi, he lived in an agrarian community on the edge of a disappearing forest. "Poetically speaking, that’s been the human condition for centuries now," says Quinn. "Human needs eclipsing ecological needs." After leaving the Peace Corps, Quinn earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design and worked as an environmental consultant. But he found that his vision—a vision rooted in environmental ethics—required a more entrepreneurial approach. In 2005, Quinn founded One Nature, a design-build company that provides internationally recognized design, planning, and scientific consulting services. Projects his company has undertaken include developing a master plan for an urban estuary, creating public parks, restoring a stream front using native plants, and reclaiming contaminated landscapes in urban areas. Quinn believes that the company’s commitment to environmental ethics makes them unique. "In the private sector, it’s hard to stand up to clients when they want you to do the wrong thing," he says. "We are different." Quinn believes that this integrity can be traced back to his time at Knox. "One big way Knox influenced me was and is the Green Oaks tradition. From Paul Shepard to Pete Schramm to Stu Allison, I feel like I’m part of a recent but important history and landscape that still serves me well." His liberal arts education also helped him to think deeply about the important questions in life. "Why are we here? What does life mean? How do we know what we know?" he asks. "Reflecting on these questions has served as a basis for my environmental beliefs."
Bryan Quinn '00
Founder & Principal Owner, One Nature
Lauren Assaf '10
Student, University of Notre Dame Law School
English Literature Major, Japanese & Philosophy Minors
Lauren Assaf may not be a lawyer yet, but the first-year student at the University of Notre Dame Law School already has a wealth of experience in the courtroom. While a junior at Knox, she was recommended by faculty for a part-time paralegal position. She spent the next three years working at a local law firm on the defense team of a capital murder case, where she reviewed and categorized 10,000 pages of discovery; drafted sections of briefs; attended meetings with judges, experts, and state’s attorneys; and participated in a death penalty conference. At the conclusion of the trial, her Knox connections then led her to Kirkland & Ellis, one of the world’s largest law ﬁrms. Working out of their Chicago ofﬁce, Lauren traveled both nationally and internationally for her work on a multi-district litigation with a class of several thousand plaintiffs. Lauren credits her early success to her liberal arts education at Knox. "I would probably not be in law school if it were not for Knox," she says. "Knox taught me how to see an issue from several sides and to consider how tipping one factor can change an outcome or view." She has also found her English literature degree to be a huge beneﬁt in her chosen career. "A lawyer has to ﬁnd a law that’s relevant to the case and frame it, as one would a good lit paper, around a theme. The attorney who can make the most persuasive argument determines how the law is going to affect others. It’s a way to do what I love and have an impact."
Niki Acton '16
Creative Writing & Theatre Majors
At 19, Niki Acton is already an accomplished playwright. Three of her plays have been selected from hundreds of entries by the Blank Theatre Company’s Young Playwrights Competition and Festival, where her work was produced professionally in Hollywood, California. Another of her plays was judged one of the best in the nation in the 2013 National Playwriting Competition. Earlier this year, Niki traveled to New York City, where the play received a staged reading professionally directed by Equity actors. "I love the opportunities of the stage," she says about why she has chosen to write plays over other forms of fiction. "The story is pared down to the most essential elements—character, plot, and language—and are physically embodied in a way that is very raw and emotional." Niki says she came to Knox for the close interaction between students and faculty—which she has definitely found—but has been surprised by just how much she’s learned from other students. "I’ve learned how to be a stage manager, how to hang lights, how to realize a costume design concept, how to direct, and how to run the light board—all from my peers." All of these skills are helping her to grow as a playwright. "It’s been helpful to my playwriting on a very practical level—I understand what’s possible with different budgets and theatres—as well as on a more artistic level. I understand what makes an exciting play from an actor’s perspective, from a director’s perspective, from a costumer’s perspective—and I’m able to apply that to my writing in order to create more rounded, producible plays. It’s not just about the language for me anymore—it’s about the stage as a whole, and what’s going on in every part of it."
In his 15-plus years with Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Jason Monaco ’98 has lived on three continents (North America, Europe, and Australia) while taking on ever-increasing professional responsibilities. Now vice president of finance, he began with the company as a financial analyst in a KleenexTM facial tissue factory in California and worked his way through the ranks, progressing through roles of increasing responsibility before taking on his current role. As vice president for finance, he leads the company’s corporate finance teams and serves as group CFO for two of Kimberly-Clark’s global business units. "I’ve always tried something new—going to a new place, working with a different team, trying to solve complicated problems," he says. "You have to take risks in your career to develop new skills and capabilities." Throughout his career, Jason says he has applied lessons learned while at Knox, both inside and outside the classroom. "In the business environment that we work in today—not just at Kimberly-Clark but in general in today’s fast-paced economy—you have to be able to problem-solve every day," he says. "Critical thinking is a key part of that process, and Knox teaches you critical thinking, whether you’re taking a course in chemistry, political philosophy or literature."
Jason Monaco '98
Vice President of Finance, Kimberly-Clark Corporation
Economics & Political Science Major
Cami Woodruff '10
Studio Art Major, Performance Theatre Minor
Cami Woodruff has been creating art since early childhood. “It progressed like my ability to speak,” she remembers. "It’s a fundamental mode of communication for me." While at Knox, Woodruff realized that her childhood passion could become her life’s work. After graduating with a degree in studio art, she received her MFA in animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design and now works on the animated FX TV series Archer, winner of the 2012 and 2013 Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Animated Series. With Archer, Woodruff focuses on storyboarding, one of the earliest parts of the process, where she interprets the text visually; and storyboard cleanup, one of the last steps of finalizing the drawings. "I’m in a really good place artistically and professionally," says Woodruff of her work on Archer, as well as the work she’s done on her web comic, Doomsday, My Dear. In June 2010, Woodruff began publishing the comic, updating the series twice weekly for the last three-and-a-half years. She describes the comic as a turn-of-the-20th century drama about a modern-day plague and the political turmoil that follows in its wake. She describes her drawing as "cartoony, but with gravity," with the narrative of her art going deeper. "I’m interested in social issues and in flipping pop culture on its head in a way the everyday consumer will understand," she says. Ultimately, Woodruff’s goal is to become a director or artistic director for animated features. "It seems right for a long-term goal," she says, "because I have a lot of stories I’d like to get out there if I can."
At Knox, Rachel Abarbanell juggled classes, a job, theatre, choir, volleyball, and the professional women’s music fraternity, Sigma Alpha Iota. Now, as president of production at Lynda Obst Productions — the company that produced Sleepless in Seattle, Contact, How to Lose a Guy In Ten Days, The Invention of Lying, and, most recently, the new television series Helix—Abarbanell juggles an array of roles in the production of television and film, from coming up with an idea and working with both the writer and studio in developing it, to casting, crewing up, and physical production. "I’m balancing all of these different projects, in various stages of development and production all of the time, and that’s what keeps my job interesting. I never get bored, I am always challenged, I’m always learning something new, and that’s exactly what my experience at Knox was like." Abarbanell spent most of her time devoted to theatre and music at Knox, but an internship during her junior year at an industrial film company led to her interest in television and film production. After completing a post-baccalaureate fellowship in film studies, inquiries to alumni in Los Angeles led to an internship with the independent film company Millennium Films, thanks to a referral by Knox alumnus Bob Misiorowski ’66. Twelve years later, in a field known for being difficult to break into, she has found success in Hollywood that she never expected. To help other young women achieve similar success, Abarbanell co-founded Next Gen Femmes in 2006 to foster a community of young female professionals in the entertainment industry. The organization provides essential networking opportunities for women just starting out, helping them navigate this complicated industry. "In film and TV, there are hundreds of different jobs," Rachel says. "When I was starting out, one of the hardest things was figuring out which path was right for me."
Rachel Abarbanell '02
President of Production, Lynda Obst Productions
Economics Major, Theatre Minor
Benjamin Taylor '07
Peace Corps Volunteer in Micronesia
English Literature Major
Even in early high school, Benjamin Taylor knew that he wanted to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. "Knox presented itself to me as a school that produces a high number of Peace Corps volunteers," says Taylor. "This was very attractive to me." At Knox, Taylor threw himself into the many opportunities offered both in Galesburg and abroad. As a junior, he participated in the London & Florence: Arts in Context program, traveling through Europe. "Though I had been out of the country before, my time in Italy created a love of travel I hold to this day." Taylor credits his home-stay and immersive language experiences in Florence as a reason for his success in the Peace Corps. After graduating from Knox, he spent one year teaching English in South Korea, followed by two years as an AmeriCorps reading tutor in southern Illinois. "None of that would have been possible without Knox as a foundation," said Taylor, who began his Peace Corps service in June 2012, teaching English as a second language in Micronesia. His program, Master’s International, combines graduate school with Peace Corps service. Taylor will finish his service in August and return to complete his master’s degree at Humboldt State University, where he is studying education, specifically teaching English as a second language. "From there I’ll likely end up as an English instructor for JICA (the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, a Japanese equivalent to the Peace Corps) at their headquarters in Nagano, Japan," says Taylor as he looks forward at life after the Peace Corps. But even as he looks forward, he is still looking back at the small liberal arts college where he built his foundation. "Knox really does give you the tools you need to go anywhere in life," he says. "The possibilities are endless."
It sounds cliché, but Jacob Plummer wants to make a difference in the world — a big difference. He thought to do that in the ﬁeld of education, where as a student he partnered with a Knox professor to found a course management software company. But his plans changed when he was chosen for a fellowship in the Chicago mayor’s ofﬁce and saw how many of the city’s issues were tied to healthcare. While pursuing a graduate program in healthcare policy at the University of Chicago, he was hired to become the youngest administrator at the University of Chicago Medical School. Jacob turned a department around that had been losing money for 15 years, earning a profit within the first year. But making a difference within one hospital department, or one hospital, wasn’t his ultimate goal. He saw that one sector having a huge impact on a large scale was healthcare software. "If you make one piece of software that really works and gets people excited, it can change the world." Which led Jacob to Allscripts, where he is vice president of global business development. He is responsible for the company’s international operations as well as strategy and business development. Of the more than 40 or so projects he’s currently working on, he’s working with a company that is developing a healthcare solution using Google Glass. "What I’ve found is that people have really good ideas, but they have a problem with communication," says Jacob about one of the skills he honed as a Knox student. "I’ve been able to sit with them, understand what they do, and help them communicate in a way that gets them the support they need. That is the most rewarding feeling."
Jacob Plummer '00
Vice President of Operations and Business Development at Allscripts, International
Desmond Fortes '00
Environmental & Social Specialist at FMO
Desmond Fortes grew up in nine different countries. He attended high school in Kenya, spent his undergraduate and graduate years studying in the Midwest at Knox and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and worked in London for three years at the University of Greenwich before moving to his current home in The Netherlands. Over his lifetime, Desmond has not gained only a global conscience but a passion for improving the world in which we live. This awareness led to his career as an environmental and social specialist at FMO (The Dutch Development Bank) in The Hague. FMO invests in companies, projects, and ﬁnancial institutions in developing countries. As part of Desmond’s role, he analyzes the environmental and social performance of a company, discusses potential improvements, and ensures that the company works toward implementing the improvements during the lifetime of the FMO loan. In his six years with FMO, he has succeeded in convincing the organization to adopt a target of making 20 percent of their yearly investments in green projects. Because of his work, FMO will aim to invest at least 300 million Euros this year in investments that produce environmental beneﬁts. "It was not easy convincing our management and bankers to do this," Desmond says. "Our hope is that by initiating this focus on green investments, more of our business in the future will be centered around projects that will have a huge impact on sustainable development in developing economies." He believes that his work today is inﬂuenced by his education at Knox. "The exposure to many disciplines helps me, as I need to be able to understand not only environmental issues but also social, ﬁnance, and legal concepts," he says. "I’m very proud of my liberal arts education."
On September 6, 2012, Polish-born Oliwia Zurek became a United States citizen. Four days later, she was exercising her newly earned citizenship by traveling from Montana State University, where she is pursuing a doctorate in immunology and infectious diseases, to Washington D.C., where she met with members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. She was there to advocate for the preservation of funding that helps support scientiﬁc research in the biomedical ﬁeld. Oliwia’s research is focused on MRSA, a type of drug-resistant staph that causes infections ranging from mild skin abscesses to necrotizing pneumonia and sepsis in both healthy people and those with potentially weakened immune systems. Her ﬁndings could have major implications for developing effective treatments against MRSA infections. MRSA is also the leading cause of complications from infection following invasive heart procedures, which led the American Heart Association to award Oliwia a fellowship of $50,000 for her research. She has also received a National Institutes of Health grant for her research. Last summer, Oliwia traveled to Italy to attend an international conference with an audience that included some of the world’s leading researchers of important bacterial pathogens. The talk she gave about her research turned heads and earned her a Young Scientist Award for outstanding scientiﬁc presentation. She says that Knox played a substantial role in developing her passion for research. "The McNair and Richter programs gave me an opportunity to conduct immunology research and develop skills necessary to thrive in the sciences, and I was very fortunate to have worked with professors who were eager to share their enthusiasm for laboratory work and encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree. Thanks to Knox, I found my true calling."
Oliwia Zurek '10
Doctoral Student at Montana State University
Brad Middleton '08
Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Richard Durbin
Political Science Major
"There is no typical day in this job," says Brad Middleton, who has worked with U.S. Senator Richard Durbin since before his graduation from Knox in 2008. Brad began working for Durbin as a student, serving as an intern in the Senator's Washington office. After graduation, he began full-time work with the Senator, starting out as a staff assistant answering phones, then working on judiciary, foreign policy, global health, and other issues before returning to Illinois to open and run a state ofﬁce for Durbin in Rock Island. In 2013, Brad’s work took him back to D.C., where he now serves as as legislative assistant for the Senator. Brad serves as lead policy staffer on education issues and is responsible for advising and advancing Durbin’s education policy agenda. He meets with advocacy groups and education policy experts, writes background memos, and researches and writes legislation. Brad also works with other Senate ofﬁces and outside groups to build support for legislative initiatives. "Writing a piece of legislation that gets introduced in Congress is incredibly fulﬁlling. Passing a piece of legislation is even more so," he says. Here’s just one example: "I worked on a bill for three years that the Senator introduced to help prevent child marriage in developing countries. After many roadblocks and even a heartbreaking defeat in the House of Representatives, we ﬁnally passed the bill last year." Through his job, Brad has met and worked with several international ﬁgures, including ambassadors, members of royalty, and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. "Knox had a direct inﬂuence on where I am today," he says. "The time I spent in long advising sessions with Professor (Emeritus Robert) Seibert helped me plan a path to get a job in public service in Washington D.C. after graduation. I knew it’s what I wanted to do."
"Knox empowers students to stand on their own, to expand their horizons," said Geoff Ziegler, who has seen nothing but expanded horizons since his graduation from Knox in 2003. With a freshly printed chemistry degree in hand and a few important contacts penciled in his address book, Ziegler secured several interviews with ESPN right after graduation. Now, he works as a media specialist for the television company, overseeing five employees in the company’s Client Technology Services and Support-Media group. The group provides the information technology tools enabling ESPN production personnel to create television, radio, and digital media for sports fans. His job has taken him to 21 different states and six countries, witnessing and developing coverage for everything from Wimbledon to the World Series. "ESPN as a company is never satisfied with the status quo," said Ziegler. "It is always seeking new ways to make content available to the average sports fan." Take 2007, for instance, when Ziegler helped ESPN invent new ways to cover NASCAR races after the association took a five year hiatus from television. Ziegler and his team’s innovations were so groundbreaking that he received a 2008 Sports Emmy, and his technical inventions have been mimicked on other networks. "The expectations are high," said Ziegler of his work. "The hours can be long, but the rewards make it worthwhile."
Geoff Ziegler '03
Emmy-Winning ESPN Media Specialist
2013 Young Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Matthew Klich juggles a computer science major, a minor in business and management, a self-designed minor in sound engineering, and on top of it all, the young entrepreneur owns and operates his own entertainment corporation. Clik Entertainment, LLC, provides music for festivals, weddings, concerts, and parties, designing individual packages for events as small as 20 or as large as 2,000. Matthew’s job begins at event inception and follows through to event execution. He does everything from calling leads for possible events to making the annual report to playing music at events. Even when Knox is in session, Matthew runs about two events per weekend, most of them in the Chicago area. He travels back and forth to Knox on Amtrak trains, often doing homework on the ride. Though Matthew started his business during his junior year of high school, he believes Knox’s business and management program has taught him things he never would have learned on his own. One example is the Entrepreneurship and Society class he took last fall, which he found invaluable. "I could simultaneously relate personally and learn about things I never even considered." Professor John Spittell, chair of business and management and executive-in-residence at Knox, has been a profound inﬂuence on Matthew, showing him how to build a corpo-ration out of his sole proprietorship. "Throughout the many classes I’ve taken with Professor Spittell, I learned that I have a mind of creativity and innovation, known as ‘the bug’," says Matthew. "I always want to create new things that can help people in their lives — whether they need a good time out or a memory that lasts forever, I want to provide that experience."
Matthew Klich '15
Founder & Owner, Clik Entertainment, LLC
Computer Science Major, Business & Management, Sound Engineering Minors