MEETING BASIC NEEDS
After William Fellows ’76 arrived in Baghdad in May 2003, he dusted off his Union College textbooks dealing with sanitation and waste disposal. Fellows was then beginning a two-year stint as head of a water and sanitation program in Iraq that is run by the United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF.
“In these courses I learned the basic principles that I have had to apply over and over, even if we did not spend a lot of time studying pit latrines, which are still the most common form of excreta disposal in the world. And when I got to Iraq, I literally dusted off my old college textbooks,” Fellows wrote in an e-mail exchange with this magazine.
In mid 2005 Fellows was named by UNICEF as regional water and sanitation advisor for South Asia. In that role, Fellows oversees an area spanning from Bangladesh to Afghanistan that is home to about 1.4 billion people. About 900 million of those people do not have access to basic sanitation.
In both roles, Fellows goal has been to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation in poverty stricken and sometimes war-torn areas of Iraq and South Asia. The two assignments have also placed Fellows in leadership posts connected with the Iraq war, the ongoing response to the 2004 tsunami in South Asia and a devastating earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005.
“When I arrived in Baghdad, the city’s entire sewage system had collapsed and there was sewage six feet deep in some neighborhoods. Getting the pumping stations functioning became the priority to at least get the sewage out of the streets. Unfortunately, we were only able to pump it into the rivers,” Fellows wrote.
Water treatment plants, some supported by back-up generators, are functioning in Iraq but sewage treatment facilities are offline, Fellows said. Sewage being pumped from the streets into the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is causing a high rate of diarrhea in villages downstream. About 70 percent of childhood illnesses in Iraq, including diarrhea, stem from consumption of contaminated water, according to UNICEF.
“The most marginalized are suffering the brunt of the conflict. Although, this is a silent emergency that does not make the headlines on CNN,” Fellows wrote.
UNICEF’s water and sanitation program works with the U.S. government, private contractors like Halliburton and Mott MacDonald, and the Iraqi government. That collaboration was made possible by coalition forces and was well-managed and effective but also created a dangerous “doubled edge sword,” Fellows said. U.N. workers were seen by insurgents as partners with the military. Fellows’ good friend and colleague, Christopher Klein-Beekman, a 32-year-old Canadian coordinator for UNICEF, was killed in a bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Klein-Beekman was killed after a truck armed with explosives was detonated on Aug. 19, 2003 outside the U.N’s Canal Hotel headquarters.
Fellows is married and resides in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, and travels around South Asia dealing with issues ranging from hand-washing education campaigns to inspecting Sri Lankan water treatment facilities being rebuilt in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. Fellows first assignment was a sanitation conference that was interrupted by an earthquake that shook the area around Islamabad, Pakistan. The earthquake killed roughly 50,000 people and left many without clean water and safe sanitation systems. The Pakistani and U.S. governments and dozens of non-governmental organizations coordinated by the United Nations managed to avert a second wave of death caused by lack of food, water and poor sanitation, Fellows wrote.
“The magnitude of the devastation, several million were affected. The size of the area, about the size of Maryland. And the difficulty of the terrain, the high Himalayas, made response particularly difficult,” Fellows wrote.
Fellows was one of the first environmental engineers to graduate from Union. After graduating in 1976, Fellows completed a stint in the Peace Corps’ clean water and sanitation program in Sierra Leone. UNICEF asked him to remain and set up an office there, which began his 27-year career with the organization.
“When I graduated I had never been south of Newark, N.J. or west of Buffalo so I decided to join the Peace Corps to see a little of the world before going back, getting my doctoral degree and spending the rest of my life studying lake eutrophication,” Fellows wrote.
The high-level study of aquatic plant growth never came to fruition but a thirst for knowledge piqued by Professors Peter Tobiessen, Phillip Snow and Twitty Styles has fueled Fellows career. Fellows took six of Tobiessen’s course and spent two summers doing field work at the E.N. Huyck Preserve located in southern Albany County near the College. Tobiessen recalled Fellows as an enthusiastic student.
“I distinctly remember sitting in Professor Styles class learning about disease after disease endemic to Africa and Asia and thinking to myself, ‘Why am I learning this? I will never go to these places.’ Little did I know that this would be the most valuable course I would take,” Fellows wrote.
TAKING THE REINS AT PBS.ORG
Jason Seiken ’80 began his journalism career at the Schenectady Gazette, went on to help lead the first incarnation of the Washington Post’s Web site and more recently developed AOL Europe’s Web content before being named named a senior vice president at PBS in January.
Along that career path Seiken has witnessed huge changes the news business and journalistic storytelling. At the Washington Post in the mid 1990s, he helped launch the paper’s original award-winning Web site, which was a one of the first to provide constant news updates and interactive features. Today the Post Web site offers even more, including a city guide, job listings, blogs, videos, Washington Post radio and breaking news. The Post Web site competes with multimedia offerings on Web sites for papers like The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.
“The changes in storytelling have come in phases. In the first phase, Web sites served as a supplement to the traditional media publication or broadcast” wrote Seiken in e-mail exchange with this magazine. “In the second phase, experimentation has been the order of the day. Traditional media have accepted that the Web is a powerful story-telling medium. The Web is fantastic for immediacy, depth and interactivity but not so hot (yet) when it comes to portability or presentation of in-depth reporting.”
In fall 2006 the Audited Bureau of Circulations reported that the average daily circulation of the roughly 770 U.S. newspapers dropped 2.8 percent from the same period in 2005. Total circulation dropped from 45 million to 43.7 million in that period. By comparison, daily newspaper circulation in 1963 totaled roughly 63 million, according to The New York Times
In the last three months of 2006, about 57 million people visited newspaper Web sites, according to the Newspaper Association of America. That’s up about 24 percent from 2005 and came as the total audience for large newspapers grew by 8 percent, according to the newspaper association.
“Economically, newspapers are struggling. Classified advertising, which makes up a bulk of a newspaper's revenues, is being swept away by more effective, database-driven Web competitors, such as Monster.com, eBay, and the like,” Seiken wrote.
Seiken was hired at the Schenectady newspaper, now called The Daily Gazette, after graduating in 1980. There he wrote stories and some editorials before moving on to The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass. In 1993 Seiken was awarded a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.
“The Stanford year gave me the time to pursue what had been a curiosity about the Internet and soon developed into a full-blown passion. After leaving Stanford, I was hired by The Washington Post as executive editor of their digital subsidiary. I hired the team, created the strategy and launched WashingtonPost.com,” Seiken wrote.
In his new role at the Public Broadcasting Service, Seiken will manage new media content and services, including pbs.org, pbskids.org, pbsparents.org, as well as emerging broadband and mobile delivery platforms.
Before accepting that job, Seiken lived in London and helped manage AOL Web content in Great Britain, France and Germany. He now lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Juyoung Seo, and their newborn son.
As for the lasting impact of his Union education, Seiken cites inspirational professors like Bob Sharlet, Gaynor Bradish and Robert Underwood. That comes as no surprise considering that his father, Arnold Seiken, was professor of mathematics at the College for 25 years before retiring in 1996. Brother Aron Seiken graduated from Union in 1978 and now runs a nuclear engineering company called Nuclear Logistics, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company produces safety-related equipment for the nuclear industry.
“Union really helped teach me to think analytically. And the focus on writing term papers and a thesis was a tremendous help in growing my writing range,” Seiken wrote.
PILOTING SCHENECTADY'S FUTURE
Read the Jan. 29, 2007 issue of U.S. News & World Report and you will find Schenectady Mayor Brian U. Stratton’s letter protesting the magazine’s dismal portrayal of the Electric City’s economy. One photo in particular drew Stratton’s ire.
“The rusting hulk pictured as emblematic of upstate [New York] is targeted for a 65-acre, multiuse redevelopment project. Schenectady’s future is brighter than it has been in decades,” Stratton wrote.
Enter Jayme Lahut ’83. Lahut is the executive director of Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, an organization funded by local taxes that is working with city government to resurrect the economy. Three of the top Metroplex projects, including the 60- to 65-acre waterfront redevelopment effort, are located near or on Union’s campus. Lahut, who was raised near the Hudson River in Troy, is helping to manage all three projects.
“The site offers over one mile of Mohawk River access for a marina, bike paths, shopping and residential uses. The project links the historic Stockade neighborhood with the College and the revitalized downtown. It will transform Schenectady into a cool city in which to live, work and play,” Lahut said.
A Pennsylvania real estate company called Preferred Real Estate Investments Inc. plans to buy the riverfront land and build a $50 million complex that includes office buildings, restaurants and condominiums. The complex will be built on a former American Locomotive Co. industrial site and will require removal of oil and gas in the soil and asbestos in old warehouses.
“I don’t think there is a project anywhere else in the Capital Region that calls for the clean up of a huge 150-year-old industrial site in an effort to redefine an urban landscape,” Lahut said.
The waterfront land is located off Erie Boulevard, less than a mile from College Park Hall, a former hotel that Union bought, renovated and reopened as a dorm and banquet facility in September 2004. Near College Park Hall is unused land known as the former Big N plaza off Nott Street. The land will be the site of a new YMCA and medical offices.
Beyond those major projects, Metroplex is also charged with reviving the arts, entertainment and cultural offerings in the downtown area around Jay Street and lower State Street. The revitalization work requires persistence, a skill Lahut honed while at Union in the early 1980s and later while completing a master’s degree in public policy analysis at the University of Chicago. Lahut transferred to Union in 1981 after spending two years at Boston University and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1983.
"It was a huge contrast from Boston University. There were small classes, accessible professors. It was a time of great intellectual curiosity. It was the best place for me to be at the time,” Lahut said. “It gave me the drive to go to school at the University of Chicago, which I never would have imagined growing up in South Troy.”
Lahut is married with one child and lives near Schenectady in Niskayuna. He is a Union College hockey season-ticket holder and attends most games with his 12-year-old son.
ADVISING TOP RESTAURANTS
Looking for a good restaurant? Jennifer (Beck) Baum ’87 can help. And chances are she knows the chef.
Knowing the chef and a lot more has been Baum’s business since she started Bullfrog & Baum, a public relations, marketing and consulting agency that specializes in the hospitality industry. In a highly competitive field where an average of 85 percent of all restaurants close after five years, Baum’s advice can make the difference between a good or bad review and success or failure. Her firm has 25 associates in New York City, two in Los Angeles and clients everywhere in between. The company’s Web site can be found at www.bullfrogandbaum.com.
Her clients include chefs such as Bobby Flay, Sara Moulton and Marcus Samuelsson. That list also includes establishments like the MGM Grand, Bellagio (and eight other Las Vegas hotels), BLT Restaurants, and Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse at the Mohegan Sun Casino.
In other words, Baum knows what works in dining and she is sought out for commentary by media such as CNBC. “I look for honest restaurants with great energy, great food; the kind of place I could go several times per week,” said Baum, who gravitates toward American or Asian food and counts New York City restaurants BLT Steak and Fish, Bar American, Cookshop and A Voce among her favorites.
The energy of a restaurant, she says, comes from the top down. “When I go to a restaurant I want to feel as if the chef really cares that I’m there. I want the chef to be about the food and hospitality, no bells and whistles. I don’t want anyone to think they’re doing me a favor by allowing me into their restaurant.”
After Union, Baum’s path took her to a P.R. position in the beauty industry. From there she pursued a master’s degree in nutrition but dropped the program to wait tables in Philadelphia and eventually went on to manage several New York City restaurants. She earned a master’s degree in business administration from New York University and took a job she didn’t especially enjoy at the Bank of New York. Realizing her calling was in the restaurant industry, she took a “huge pay cut” to manage the Bryant Park Grill, which was then opening behind the New York Public Library. Eventually, she left the operations side to become the marketing and business development point person for a growing restaurant group.
In 2000, Baum struck out on her own.
The name of her firm, Bullfrog & Baum, is a nod to her late mother-in-law, Ruth Baum, “an incredible woman who I ultimately discovered had a varied collection of frog-belia,” she said. “I took it as a sign. I wanted a name that was clever and memorable.”
The Baum name is a fixture in dining. Her late father-in-law, Joe Baum, was an entrepreneur who created dozens of restaurants including The Four Seasons, The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World. Jennifer’s husband, Charles, was a partner in his father’s restaurant group at a time when it operated both The Rainbow Room and Windows on the World. (Baum and her husband have a 6-year-old son, Griffon. Her stepdaughter, Alexandra Rea-Baum, graduated from Union in 2006.)
At Union, Baum majored in French and math. She recalls fondly classes like Psychobiology with Professor Suzie Benack, Bible Literature with Peter Heinegg, and the Holocaust with Stephen Berk. She also recalls a number of classes with Bill Thomas and a term in Rennes, France. She stays in touch with Wendy Zimmerman ’88 and Nancy Greenhaus ’88. She has followed the career of Kate White ’72, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan. She was pleased to discover that Stone Newman, the owner of Sababa Toys, whose office was in the same building as Baum and who once asked to rent some of her space, was a 1997 Union College graduate.
Baum admits, “I really didn’t find my way until I graduated from Union.” What she found, she says, was the value of a liberal arts education. “I know a little bit about a lot of things,” she says. “I’m great at a cocktail party. It’s a vital skill to be able to talk about a lot of things. In my business, you meet new people all the time and you have to have something to talk about and the ability to change subjects on a dime.”
So what is the next big thing in dining? Greek cuisine, Baum says. “People are moving beyond grape leaves and salads. The chefs are bringing out some very interesting things.”