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The sky’s the limit

1 Jun


Bobbi Doorenbos was 5 years old when her dad took her to the airport in Sioux City, Iowa, to watch him take off in an F-100 fighter jet. She knew right then that she wanted to fly.

“It was loud,” she remembers. “I loved the sound and the smell of the jet fuel. It’s been my lifelong dream to fly.”

She nearly didn’t have the chance. When she first approached a U.S. Air Force recruiter in Des Moines and told him she wanted to fly fighter jets, he told her she couldn’t do that because she was “a girl.”

Fortunately, the secretary of defense opened combat aviation to women in 1993 – just a year after Bobbi graduated from Iowa State with a degree in finance. She became one of the first women in the country to go through F-16 pilot training, and she was one of “just a handful” of women flying fighter jets in the 1990s.

Bobbi’s home base started out in Sioux City. She flew to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Southern Watch and was deployed in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She spent 16 weeks in Venezuela on a drug intervention mission. She rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Once, she was called on to fly over Jack Trice Stadium at the beginning of an Iowa State football game.

“That was really special for me,” she said. “The timing has to be just right. You fly over when the national anthem ends. It was really cool. You could hear the crowd cheering.”

Bobbi loved flying those jets. She said the experience is hard to describe. “It’s spectacular,” she said. “It’s like utter freedom.”

In 2004, Bobbi was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“That changes your career,” she said.

Bobbi had moved to Washington, D.C., in 2002 after Sioux City lost its F-16 squadron. Following her diagnosis, she studied at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and she applied and was selected to become a White House Fellow, working for one year with the secretary of agriculture in the USDA.

Later, she served as a defense and intelligence adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden for two years. She managed classified information for the vice president, traveling with him to Africa, Turkey, Italy, China, and Japan.

“That was fantastic,” she said. “My role was to help him through anything related to the Department of Defense. It was a fantastic place to be a fly on the wall.”

Bobbi currently manages acquisitions for the Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base. She moved to Annapolis, Md., in 2005, falling in love with her three-story 1832 house.

“I love the historic district, the history of the area,” she said. “I love the water. When it’s quiet, you can hear the clanking of the sails.”

Bobbi still maintains her commercial and private pilot’s licenses and says she plans to stay in the military for now. “But after that, who knows?” she said. “The sky’s the limit.”

International bent

26 Apr

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Michelle DeFayette speaks fluent Portuguese and dabbles in French and Italian. She once danced in a Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, and she loves to dance the samba. She was the Brazilian team liaison for Women’s World Cup soccer tournaments in Washington, D.C., and she has worked for the Peace Corps and USAID.

But sometimes she’s happy just to sit on her front porch.

Michelle (’87 political science) lives in Silver Spring, Md. (just north of Washington, D.C.) in a cozy house built in the 1930s with her partner, Shannon England, to whom she’s been married for nine years. They live in a neighborhood of older homes where all her neighbors know each other. Michelle says she loves the diversity of her town.

“I love the international aspect of this place,” she says. “You can sit here and watch the world walk by.”

Michelle’s passions are twofold: international understanding and soccer. Her international experience started when she was in an exchange student in France during high school. She moved to Italy for six months after college and then lived in Brazil for nearly two years, where she fell in love with the language, the people, and the music.

“When I moved back here, I had an international bent,” she explains. She worked as a training specialist for the Peace Corps and for Youth for Understanding International Exchange. She served as the training unit manager for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, training teams to respond to disasters in Sudan and following earthquakes, droughts, and the South Asian tsunami. She’s currently the project manager for USAID’s flagship training program and holds a master’s in international communication from the American University.

Michelle’s second love – soccer – began when she was 8 years old. She played high school soccer in Damascus, Md., and helped start the women’s soccer club at Iowa State, competing at tournaments throughout the Midwest. She continues to play competitively (and for fun), on both indoor and outdoor teams.

“The beauty of soccer is that you only need a ball and a couple of people,” she says. “You don’t really even need shoes.”

Jim and I spent a laughter-filled day with Michelle in March, going from her home to downtown Silver Spring to a nearby soccer field for her portrait, in which she insisted she was “trying to look heroic.”

Despite the cold wind and rather ridiculous circumstances, Michelle never stopped laughing – or talking about how much she loves soccer.

“I’m kind of addicted to the joy of motion,” she said. “Playing well is like moving to music, but in this case it’s moving to the rhythm of all the players on the field, the flow and tempo of the game. It’s joyous when everything is working and the synapses are firing correctly!”

And, she added, her Brazilian friends would definitely want her to point out that the jersey she’s wearing is from the Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo – and it’s the coolest jersey in her closet.

Cherry blossoms? What cherry blossoms?

2 Apr

When I think back to our VISIONS Across America springtime trip to the Washington, D.C., area years from now, the thing I’ll remember most is that it snowed. And that – although we visited during Cherry Blossom Festival – there were no cherry blossoms.

Not that it mattered. We were not there to see cherry blossoms. We were there to meet Iowa State alumni: 10 of them total, in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and D.C. itself.

We started out in Washington, D.C., with a fast meeting with Thomas Hoenig (MS ’72 economics, PhD ’74). Tom has been vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) since last April after serving with the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, Mo., for 38 years. When I say “fast meeting,” I mean fast; he was on his way to catch a plane, so Jim took a few photos and I did a speed interview – and that was all the time we had with him.

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We headed north to Lancaster County, Pa., the home of our next two alumni. Located in the southeast portion of the state, the county is known for its “Pennsylvania Dutch” (actually, German) heritage and rolling Amish farmland. While we were there, Jim and I saw Amish farmers plowing fields with teams of horses and mules, families traveling by horse and buggy, and groups of Amish school children with their lunch pails heading to one-room schoolhouses. Bakeries abound, offering regional specialties like shoo-fly pie and individual black-and-white “whoopie pies.” We visited the Lancaster Central Market, America’s longest-running public farmers market, established in 1730. It was amazing.

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Also amazing: John Kaiser (MS  ’87 chemical engineering) of nearby Manheim, Pa., is a senior process manager for cocoa and chocolate at Mars and he TASTES CHOCOLATE FOR A LIVING. Well, he does a lot more than just that, but still, John has one of the greatest jobs in the world. When we arrived at his home, he not only had stacks of Dove chocolate bars to send home with us, he also had pans of wonderfully fragrant roasted cocoa beans and old-fashioned hot chocolate for us to taste and photograph. This was not one of our toughest assignments.

03-21-13 K SANDY 173F8402In keeping with the theme, our next visit was to Sandy Carosella (’88 industrial engineering), who greeted us with steaming cups of coffee and a big plate of whoopie pies. Sandy started her career as an engineer with Quaker Oats, but she shifted careers to teaching when her first child was born. She’s now a substitute teacher and focuses most of her energy on her family.


Our next stop was tiny Delaware, the nation’s second-smallest state but home to a healthy number of Iowa State alumni: 236 at last count. Delaware’s historic claim to fame is that it was the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, technically making it THE first state.

03-22-13 FANGQUI IMG_5551We spent a full day in Wilmington, meeting first in the snow-flurried downtown area with Fangqui Sun (MS ’97 economics and statistics), senior vice president of risk management for Citigroup. Fangqui, a native of northeastern China, told us wonderful stories about being warmly welcomed to the United States – and Ames, Iowa – to expand her education and launch a successful career in finance. I can’t wait to write her story!

03-22-13 ROWING IMG_6857Our afternoon was spent on the Christina River. Well, Jim spent his afternoon on the river; I hung out on solid ground near the boathouse. Jim was photographing alumna Marie Peters (’81 industrial administration), a math teacher and faculty adviser to the crew team at Concord High School. It was not an especially warm day to be outside, on or off the river, but Marie said the crew team had been on the water regularly since February. Brrrrrrr! Marie has led the crew program – the first in a public Delaware high school – for more than 10 years.


03-23-13 MICHELLE IMG_7149Leaving Delaware, we moved on to Maryland. Our first meeting (in Silver Spring, just inside the D.C. beltway) was an absolute joy. Michelle DeFayette  (’87 political science) had Jim and me laughing the entire time. Michelle has worked in training and development for Youth for Understanding International Exchange, the Peace Corps, and USAID – and she’s also played soccer since she was eight years old. And she’s just a fun person. (That’s Michelle, far left, in downtown Silver Spring with partner Shannon England.)We had a blast spending the afternoon with her – we would have stayed much longer, but the D.C. traffic freaks us out, so we wanted to get to our overnight location before it got too late.

Our next morning (a Sunday) was blissfully unscheduled. We drove into D.C. and took a walk around some of the monuments: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. All around us were disappointed tour-bus visitors, clearly in D.C. for the cherry blossoms but greeted only with sharp wind and a gray sky.

03-24-13 BOBBI IMG_7941We spent the afternoon in Annapolis – a quintessential American city. The combination of historic architecture (including the Maryland State House), U.S. Naval Academy, and the Chesapeake Bay makes Annapolis a wonderful place to visit. Annapolis is also the home of Bobbi Doorenbos (’92 finance), a former U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot. Bobbi currently works at Air National Guard headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base. She and Jim bonded over their shared Dutch heritage!


The next morning – the start of the work week – we awoke to snow on the ground, snow covering the trees, snow still coming down, and the anticipation of a day of driving in and out of the city in what we could only assume would be weather-fueled gridlock.

We were pleasantly surprised, because Monday’s traffic was far lighter than any other day. Did people stay home? Did they take public transportation? We don’t know, and we don’t care – we were just very happy that we were able to make it to all three of our appointments without incident.

03-25-13 KAREN IMG_8318Our first photo/interview was on the north side of Washington, D.C., We met with Karen Keninger (MA ’92 English), director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped – part of the Library of Congress. She showed us the incredible services provided to patrons all across the country – services she herself has used since she was young. I will tell you more about Karen in an upcoming blog.

03-25-13 dwight 173F0169From there, we headed west to Leesburg, Va., where we met with one of our most esteemed alumni, Dwight Ink  (’47 government). Mr. Ink (I can’t bring myself to call him Dwight) has literally made history as a public servant for the federal government; he worked with seven U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan. He has so many stories to tell – I’m sure we only heard a small fraction of them. I’ll tell you some of those stories soon in a two-part blog.

Our last meeting of the day (and of this trip) was with Rohini Ramnath (’07 international studies/Spanish/political science) back in D.C. Rohini moved to Washington, D.C., with Teach for America but has stayed in the city to work as a data manager for CentroNia’s DC Bilingual Public Charter School. I’ve been following Rohini’s career ever since she was a student at Iowa State – she was a Wallace E. Barron All-University Senior and in the first class of STATEment Makers – so it was really fun to catch up with her on her own turf. That’s Rohini below in the Columbia Heights metro station near her school.

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I’ll be spending the next few weeks writing profiles of each of these alumni (some of which will be posted here), going through Jim’s photos, and planning the next trip (to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), which is coming up way too fast…. But we now have 31 states completed!