Under cover

1 Jun

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Meeting with Tom Twetten (’57 psychology), you get the distinct feeling that there’s much more to his story than he’s telling you.

Tom spent his career working for the Central Intelligence Agency as an operations officer and head of clandestine operations. He will verify that he worked in six countries, but he won’t say which ones. (An Internet search suggests that he worked under cover in Libya, Ghana, India, and Jordan.)

Living in some of those countries in the 1970s, he developed an interest in the preservation of rare books. Twenty years later, he took a night class on bookbinding and found that he had a talent for creating artistic leather bindings.

When he left the CIA in 1995 after 34 years of service, he said, “I could have been a senior adviser in intelligence, but I wanted to get as far away from Washington as I could.”

He and his wife, Kathryn, already liked New England, and they decided to locate “far away” – in terms of both geography and culture – in the tiny village of Craftsbury Common, Vt.

“The second part [of retirement] was to do something entirely different,” he said. Tom launched Craftsbury Antiquarian Books in the basement of his 19th century home. It’s a business in which he both buys and sells rare books – focusing on travel, art, archeology, military, and culture – and also binds books with his own artistic designs.

He says the book business is perfect for retirement. He can work as much or as little as he wants – for a day or an hour. “I can go visit grandkids and take a book to work on,” he says.

It’s a quiet life that seems so counter to his top-secret government career that one can hardly NOT ask the question: Can’t you tell us any stories about your career?

“Well,” he says with a sly smile, “I could tell you stories about book binding.”

The psychology of Maine

1 Jun

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It’s hard not to love a location with a name like Little Deer Isle, Maine. Dave Mills certainly couldn’t resist.

He and his wife, Susan, both had high-stress jobs in Washington, D.C. – he with the American Psychological Association and she in mortgage banking – and they had vacationed in Maine to get away. They bought some land there, thinking they’d retire in the area. But they were anxious and decided not to wait for retirement. Instead, they built their dream home overlooking the Penobscot Bay and moved in.

Dave (’55 industrial administration; MS ’57 psychology) had taught psychology, administered ethics education programs, and worked with the CIA and other governmental agencies, but he had never been in private practice. But once he and Susan moved to Maine his clinical practice took off and his offices in Bangor and Blue Hill were soon “swamped with clientele.” Though Dave is mostly retired, he still works one or two days a week, meeting with patients on topics such as depression, alcoholism, marital issues, and spousal abuse.

Little Deer Isle is about three miles long by one mile wide. Its population consists of just a few hundred year-round – mostly artists, writers, and lobster fishermen – but swells during the summer with “the people from away” as the locals call them.

“I like the cooler weather here,” Dave says. (He says he has a different pair of boots for every occasion.) “It’s a different lifestyle here.”

A chance encounter

1 Jun

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Looking back, an odd series of unrelated events led Robi Polikar to Iowa State for graduate studies.

Robi grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. He really thought he’d choose an American grad school near Washington, D.C., an area he knew from his time as a foreign exchange student in Pennsylvania during high school. But he decided he would visit just one university outside the area, and that school – randomly selected – was Iowa State.

Robi took a bus from Washington, D.C., during his winter break. He arrived in Ames on an unusually warm day in February. He met one faculty member – Mary Helen Greer, then chair of the biomedical engineering program – who made him feel so welcome that he never considered another school.

After his parents spent their entire savings on Robi’s first semester, Iowa State offered him an assistantship that lowered his tuition, plus a job washing pots and pans in Linden Hall.

“Dr. Greer knew I needed [the money],” Robi says. “I might not have been able to continue otherwise.”

He spent a total of seven years at Iowa State, earning both a master’s and PhD in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering.

“There are few people I can list who have had a major impact, who made me what I am today,” Robi says. “Mary Helen Greer is at the top of the list, along with my parents.”

Robi’s career has soared: He is a professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. He recently received a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award for faculty early career development. He’s an active researcher and administrator but continues to teach upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses in wavelet theory, pattern recognition, neural networks, signal processing, bioinformatics, and biomedical systems.

In his office in Rowan Hall, Robi proudly displays two awards from Iowa State: Excellence in Teaching (2000) and Professional Progress in Engineering (2012).

He says he still misses the wide-open spaces of Iowa.

“I truly enjoyed the time I spent there,” he says. “I’ve been to a lot of college campuses, and Iowa State is one of the most beautiful – if not THE most beautiful – campuses I’ve ever seen.”

Food of the gods

1 Jun

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John Kaiser gets surprised looks when he tells people he tastes chocolate for a living.

John (M.S. ’87 chemical engineering) is a global director – process technology for cocoa and chocolate in the Global Chocolate Science and Technology Group at Mars Chocolate.

“I taste chocolate every day,” he said. He leads global teams – in France, Poland, Indonesia, China, Russia, and beyond – to ensure the quality of Mars Chocolate, helping to establish best practices and refine the company’s process development.

When he’s not globetrotting, John reports to work at the Mars factory in Elizabethtown, Pa. (just up the road from his home in rural Manheim), where, he says, “raw beans come in and candy bars come out.”

Indeed, the factory smells like a big pan of chocolate brownies fresh from the oven.

“When I come home, my hair and clothes smell like chocolate,” he said, smiling.

“I was standing in line at the airport the other day,” John said, “when the woman behind me said, ‘Mmmm, I smell chocolate.’ And I just thought, ‘Well, that would be me.’”

Until he went to work for Mars – the company famous for producing some of the world’s most popular candy, including Snickers, M&M’s, and Dove – John says he didn’t really like chocolate. But once he “got a taste for it,” he developed not only a highly refined palate but also an interest in the fascinating history and culture of the product.

“I can taste the roasted beans and tell you the country of origin,” he said.

John and his wife, Colleen, an Iowa native and graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, have three sons. The two eldest, Justin and Jason, are both 2013 ISU grads; son Joshua is currently enrolled at ISU in industrial engineering and business. Justin’s degree in food science makes him the fourth generation of the Kaiser family to work in the food industry: His great-grandfather was a baker and his grandfather was a food technician at Procter & Gamble.

I heart New York

1 Jun

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During Rachel Beardsley’s first New York City half marathon, the route took runners through Central Park and Times Square and along the West Side Highway to Lower Manhattan.

“It was overwhelming,” Rachel remembers, now an eight NYC half marathon veteran. “To run through Times Square – they were playing Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York – I got misty-eyed.”

Rachel (’02 Spanish & political science) runs several days a week – often on the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway near her high-rise apartment building in Lower Manhattan, sometimes across the Brooklyn Bridge to Prospect Park or in Central Park, the most visited urban park in the United States.

Since she moved to New York in 2003, Rachel has also found a new passion: sailing. Her husband, Peter Beardsley, grew up sailing in New Rochelle, N.Y., and introduced Rachel to the sport. She’s now on the water with him for as many as 100 sailboat races each year.

Rachel and Peter met at Brooklyn Law School. Rachel practices immigration law with Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, the world’s leading global corporate immigration law firm. She oversees as many as 850 foreign nationals at any given time, working with individuals and employers to obtain employment-based visas and green cards. The process is complex and sometimes takes years to complete.

Rachel says she loves the vibrancy of New York City.

“The city is so alive, and there is always something new to explore,” she says. “With so many people always out enjoying the city, I rarely feel alone. When I moved to New York, I wasn’t sure if I would make it here. I feel very lucky.”

A place to land

1 Jun

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It’s 7:30 a.m., and Michael Clow (’78 naval science) is walking through the Morgantown Municipal Airport. He’s checking out the facility and the airport grounds, looking for anything out of the ordinary, anything that’s not functioning properly, anything that’s not perfectly clean. He stops to talk to the pilots, the rental car representatives, and the United Express agents.

It’s the way Michael starts each day as the director of the Morgantown Municipal Airport. The daily walk-through is followed by meetings, perhaps a discussion with the FAA or the state aeronautical commission, and media inquiries.

“When anything is going on in the world regarding air travel, [local reporters] call me,” Michael said.

The Morgantown position is a step up from Michael’s previous jobs at the Tallahassee, Fla., airport, where he spent 13 years, most recently as the airport’s planning and development manager. He arrived in Morgantown in September 2011, just as West Virginia University joined the Big 12 Conference.

“This is the first time I’ve been anywhere that Iowa State came to play,” Michael says. “The volleyball and women’s basketball teams flew in here last fall, and I got to greet them as they got off the planes.”

Morgantown Municipal is a relatively small airport, with about 40,000 operations (takeoffs and landings) each year. The airport is served by United Express through Washington, D.C.

Michael and his wife, Teri, enjoy living in a college town.

“Morgantown is a great place to live,” he says.

Down by the river

1 Jun

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Jane Cornelius Steele has had an eclectic career.

The 1974 family environment graduate has worked in international education, physical therapy, health communications, and therapeutic horseback riding. She once drove a truck for Linn County Extension and taught home repair. She’s lived in Bolivia, Honduras, Sri Lanka, and Washington, D.C. She has a prolific backyard garden and raises chickens.

Longtime friend Gary Kirby says Jane is an “earth-loving, tree-hugging, organic recycler.”

Jane lives in Verona, Va., four hours from the ocean, half an hour from Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mountains surround her home, and a river demarcates the edge of her property line.

“I told a real estate agent, ‘Let me know if something comes up on the river,’” she said. “And there had to be room for a garden.”

Jane’s one-acre lot has plenty of space to grow snow peas, spinach, arugula, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes (though, sadly, no corn) and house four laying hens named Ruby, Alberta, Henrietta, and Eggbert.

The chickens were Gary’s idea.

“Gary is impulsive,” Jane explains. “I think things out, look at my budget. He sees baby chicks in the feed store and just buys them.”

Jane grew up in Hudson, a small town near Waterloo, Iowa, and after living all over the world her only concern about moving to rural western Virginia was its potential lack of culture.

“I was concerned about the culture, but there’s so much going on here I can’t get to it all,” she says. The area, it turns out, is a hub for theatre, music, food, and art – a perfect place for Jane to pursue a career or two and, maybe someday, retire.