A heartland view

1 Jun

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For all the criticism and headlines and speeches and votes that go along with being a longtime leader of the Federal Reserve Bank – and now the vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, better known as the FDIC, in Washington, D.C. – Thomas Hoenig is a humble Iowa boy at heart.

Tom (M.S. ’72 economics, Ph.D. ’74) grew up in Fort Madison, Iowa, the oldest of seven children. It was there on the banks of the Mississippi River that Tom learned about basic economics as a child in his father’s plumbing company.

“I was an inventory taker when I was 9 years old,” he says. “I think my father has a lot to do with my work ethic. He grew up on a farm. He worked from morning till night. After World War II he became a plumber, then bought his own business and built it and raised seven kids doing it.”

Tom’s Midwestern upbringing may explain his often-dissenting votes and outspoken criticism of “too big to fail” banks.

“We feel like Tom represents a heartland view of the economy you don’t necessarily get from New York or Washington,” Terry Moore, president of the Omaha Federation of Labor of the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine in 2010. “He’s an old farm boy from Iowa, and we like that.”

When he hears that quote, Tom chuckles. “It’s flattering,” he says, sitting in his new office at the headquarters of the FDIC in Washington, D.C. “I was at the bank during the banking crisis of the ’80s and the farm crisis of the ’80s and the energy crisis of the ’80s and the real estate crisis of the ’80s and saw all the damage that did, first of all to the banks that made the loans originally thinking that prices would never go down and interest rates would never go to 20%. So that had enormous influence on my thinking through this round.”

After 38 years at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City (20 years as president), Tom was nominated in fall 2011 by President Barack Obama to become vice chair of the FDIC.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Tom says. “I was pleased. It’s something I did want to do. It’s very consistent with the work I had been doing and consistent with my views on the banking industry that I’d expressed over many years. For me, it was a great opportunity.”

 

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The sky’s the limit

1 Jun

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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.”

‘The best country’

1 Jun

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When Fangqui Sun moved to Ames, Iowa, to study at Iowa State University, she was overwhelmed by kindness and generosity.

As a graduate student in her native China, Fangqui had been frustrated with her lack of academic choices. Her decision to move to the United States in 1995 for educational and personal freedom was the right one, she says, but not without its challenges.

“I had to leave my family behind, but for my future I could sacrifice a lot of things,” she said.

In Ames, and at Iowa State, she found a “pure American culture” and a place that she could focus on her studies.

“Iowa State has very generous programs for international students,” she said. “I chose Ames as my first choice to go to America.”

Fangqui described her academic preparation – she received a combined master’s degree in economics and statistics in 1997 – as “tremendous.” She landed her first job at Freddie Mac home mortgage company and then moved to New York City to work for American Express, where she built her quantitative skills.

Today she’s a senior vice president for risk management at Citigroup in Wilmington, Del., a position for which she says Iowa State prepared her well.

“Iowa State built for me a solid foundation – solid, not fluffy stuff,” she said. “They prepared my analytical mind to solve any problem.”

Fangqui and her husband, Hong Zhang, a professor at Rowan University, have two children, Peryn, 8, and Helen, 5. Fangqui embraces both her Chinese and American cultures; her children speak Mandarin at home and English at school. She says the Chinese community in Wilmington is not large, but it’s close-knit and the region celebrates the culture with a number of special events.

Fangqui is grateful to Iowa State and to America for providing so many “splendid” opportunities.

“This is the best country in the world,” she says happily. “I am so lucky!”

Happy endings

1 Jun

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Tom Fitzgerald knew he would be a writer.

But sometimes a career path does not move forward in a linear way. Sometimes it zigs and zags and meanders and does not dash a straight to the finish line.

Tom’s career has been like that. A native of upstate New York, Tom went to Clarkson College in Potsdam, N.Y., where he majored in math and minored in physics. “I knew that was not the right program for me,” he says. But he stuck it out for four years. He then briefly pursued law school, another mistake.

“I was looking for direction,” Tom says. He went back to Clarkson and got a master’s degree in industrial administration.

Over the years, he’s been a door-to-door salesman, a vocational counselor, a stockbroker, the assistant to the president of a large health-care corporation, a lobbyist, and a corporate manager. He was a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam conflict, swam distances longer than the English Channel, and ran the Boston Marathon three times.

But – “I knew I wanted to write. I loved story, loved language, loved the whole dynamic of storytelling. I loved being on the receiving end, too: My brother told campfire ghost stories, and it was magic for me.”

He came to Iowa State – along with a wife and three small sons – and earned a master of arts in English in 1974.

By this time, Tom had already written his first book, Chocolate Charlie. He found Iowa State to be a welcoming environment; he found a mentor and studied under many “fine teachers,” whose names he still remembers. He blossomed. He wrote half a novel for his thesis.

He became a technical writer, using both his English skills and his math/physics background. Plus, the job allowed him to do his own writing on the side.

Tom has now written four novels, including his most recent, Poor Richard’s Lament, that asks the question, “What if Ben Franklin came back?” Critics have called it “a grand and gorgeous book” and “an astonishing feat of imagination.”

He says he has 50 or 60 plots just waiting to be written. “I could go for nine lifetimes,” he says.

Giving new life to old buildings

1 Jun

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Angela Ward Hyatt (’91) followed up her Iowa State architecture degree by getting a master of architecture with distinction at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

Not bad, right?

And then she was hired by a firm right up the street from Cambridge: Schwartz/Silver Architects Inc. of Boston, where she’s been happily working since 1994.

Her first project was to design a major addition to Boston’s New England Aquarium – a plum assignment for a new architect. Since then, Angela has developed a focus on library projects, working with such diverse libraries as the Hyde Park branch of the Boston Public Library, the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., and the campus library at Connecticut College.

“I like libraries as a project type because it has a long life,” she said. “I want to know that this thing that I’m working on will be there for a long time and that a huge number of people will experience it.”

Angela also appreciates that her library projects are not new, from-the-ground-up buildings but rather additions and renovations of existing buildings.

“I like giving new life to these buildings,” she says.

Angela and her husband, Matthew, whom she met in graduate school, have two sons, Owen and Miles, both fledgling computer geniuses. They live in a 160-year-old house in Brookline, Mass., and have an adorable mixed-breed dog, Axel, for whom Angela designs high-end doggy duds.

“Oh, that’s my 4-H side coming out,” Angela laughs. “I’ve always liked to sew.”

Home is where the job is

1 Jun

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Ruth Fitzgerald is at a good place in her life.

She’s no longer the day-to-day boss of the company she launched in 1987. She mostly works out of her historic, Victorian home in the West End of Hartford, Conn. She chooses the projects she wants to do. At age 62, she enjoys working less and traveling more.

“I’m cruising along,” she says.

Ruth was born in Northern Ireland and lived there until she was 9 years old, when her family moved to Ankeny, Iowa. She got a bachelor’s degree in history from Iowa State in 1971 and a master’s in urban and regional planning in 1974. And then she was quickly hired by a big architectural and engineering firm in Connecticut.

“I worked there for 13 years, and then I started my own company,” Ruth says. “I started out in my home. I had a six-month-old. What was I thinking?” She laughs. “Actually, the coolest thing in the beginning years is that I was a divorced, single mom, with flexibility as a parent.”

With Ruth as founding principal, president, and CEO, Fitzgerald & Halliday grew and flourished. Ruth continued to work out of her home for 15 years, hiring engineers and planners who came to her house for staff meetings but worked from their own home offices.

“We started telecommuting before there was telecommuting,” Ruth says. “We didn’t even have a fax machine.”

The transportation and planning firm – now with a physical headquarters in a historic building on Oxford Street in Hartford – has grown to 30 employees and is again in “hiring mode.” Ruth recently stepped down as president and CEO.

“I’m trying to be retired,” she says. “I’m proud of managing this transition. I feel great pride that the firm stands for what I stood for and is successful and vital without me leading it. I’m in a terrific position.”

Ruth is married to David Sageman (PhD ’72 chemical engineering), whom she met as a student at Iowa State.

 

Snow man

1 Jun

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Three million people have visited the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States. But few have made the trek more times than Ken Rancourt (’72 meteorology), director of summit operations emeritus for the Mount Washington Observatory.

Ken has worked at the observatory since 1979 and estimates he’s made the 7.6-mile trip up the precarious Mount Washington Auto Road more than 3,000 times. In the summer, the drive takes a leisurely 30 minutes. In winter, it can take several hours in a snow cat, driving on top of up to 20 feet of snow.

It’s been said to be the world’s worst commute up a mountain that’s famous for having the worst recorded weather on the planet, but to an outsider surrounded by an ever-changing landscape and a view from the summit that on a good day spans 130 miles, it seems more like the world’s coolest commute.

This job is all for the love of weather: The 8-day shifts, the round-the-clock weather observations, the incredibly brutal conditions (in 1934, observers on Mount Washington measured a wind gust of 231 mph, the highest wind speed ever recorded by man). The observatory is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition to documenting the weather, the staff conducts experiments and tests products – such as anti-icing coatings for airplane wings and tents built to withstand high winds.

Ken said he found that life at the observatory fit his skill set.

“I was not good at forecasting,” he said. “The joke when I was a meteorology student back in Curtiss Hall is that the secretary could do a better job of forecasting than I could. Forecasting is hard; the atmospheric system is extremely complex. I focus on cloud physics.”

Ken stepped down as director of operations in October 2012, taking on the “emeritus” title. But he will continue to be involved, primarily with the Eastern Snow Conference, an organization that focuses on the study of snow and snow technologies.