The First-Person Project

Welcome to the First-Person Project

Where does a Keene State College education take alumni? For the First-Person Project, a special issue of Keene State Today, we sought to find out from a very personal perspective. Here, on these webpages, 25 graduates of the College in varying stages of their careers – from the class of ’69 to the class of ’11 – tell their stories in their own words, in first person.

From the Editor

Over the course of three months in late summer and early fall 2015, I had lengthy and memorable conversations with 25 Keene State College graduates for the First-Person Project. Edited transcripts of those conversations form the oral histories that appear here. Our goal was to explore the career paths of a number of alumni by tracing their journeys from Keene State into, and through, the working world.

When we began talking about who to feature in the First Person Project, we set up a few parameters. We wanted to get a fairly even distribution of males and females and of people whose majors fell in each of the College’s three schools – Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences, and Graduate and Professional Studies. We wanted to talk with people in early, mid, and late career. Our photographer, William Wrobel ’11, would need to visit and photograph each person, so we looked primarily at alumni who live and work within driving distance in New England. But we also wanted to include a few graduates who live farther afield, so Will scheduled short trips to the New York City metropolitan area and to Texas. (Why Texas? We thought it would be great to talk with a Keene State grad who works there as a border patrol agent, so that led us to look around for other Texas alumni.)

From there, we searched our alumni database and LinkedIn and we asked our colleagues for recommendations. We came up with a long list of people whose jobs looked interesting or who’d had interesting career paths and who worked in a wide variety of fields. Then we applied the filters mentioned above, narrowed our list, and started reaching out to the people we’d identified.

Twenty-five interviews – a handful in person and the remainder by telephone – and 23 photography sessions later, we’ve collected more than two dozen stories about Keene State graduates’ paths in life. Individually, they’re fascinating. Cumulatively, they tell a bigger story about the breadth of experience and knowledge in the College’s pool of alumni, and about the remarkably varied opportunities awaiting those with a Keene State education.

I got to talk with a state legislator turned financial analyst turned fire lieutenant; an environmental consultant turned boat-builder turned organic root beer company founder; and a radio marketer turned French teacher turned farmer. I interviewed an exhibit developer who’s also a furniture maker, and an oncology nurse who’s also a musician and visual artist. I talked with a number of people who identified their passion early on and followed it to deeper levels.

Our intent was not to highlight “superstars” – though you’ll find some very successful people among these First-Person Project alumni – but to offer a sampling of what Keene State College graduates go on to do by featuring the stories of 25 individuals. I realized, after talking with these 25, that I could randomly call up any two dozen grads and hear equally compelling stories – stories that start at Keene State.

Jane Eklund
Editor, Keene State Today

From the Photographer

Because I work for a college, I’m frequently reminded that students who graduate today may have several different careers in their lifetime. But before I embarked on this project to photograph 25 alumni in their work settings, I couldn’t really understand what would cause that migration from career to career.

However on my last trip, beginning in Dallas and ending in Eagle Pass, Texas, I had a solid 15 hours to think about it while driving from the top of the Lone Star State to the bottom.

My favorite part of photographing people is talking with them – finding out what it is they do, how they do it, and why it’s important to them. The process of a conversation serves two purposes: it disarms the subject and it allows me to insert some context into their image to properly convey them as they are. So in the course of an hour or so I’m learning about their duties, the things they love about their jobs, and the things they hate about their jobs. Mostly it’s things they love: it’s like going to a job fair and having someone selling me on the best parts of a position.

What I began to realize somewhere around Austin was that with each Keene State graduate that I photographed, I had a desire to alter my own career path in a way that would merge with my that of my subject. I photographed CEOs, artists, and scientists, and when I was finished with each my mind would automatically begin to create a ploy that would incorporate their skills and day-to-day activities into my own repertoire.

By the time I reached the San Antonio city limits I was starting to realize why I had the constant urge to change professions. It certainly wasn’t because I disliked my position, but because I was constantly being bombarded with new ideas as to what I could be – every day brought two or three new possibilities. I then started to realize that the reason several careers in a lifetime is possible is because of how hyperconnected we are thanks to the Internet. When we’re so deeply immersed in others’ lives we regularly see what else we could be.

By the time I reached the Mexican border I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had just figured out why I wanted to be a CEO, work for the Texas Railroad Commission, and work as a financial analyst all in the course of 48 hours. I had a newfound sense of security with my career and I was going to shoot this last portrait, head back to San Antonio, and go home. In that blanket of security, I let my guard down and reality punched me square in the nose.

Because when Joe LeClaire stepped out of his US Border Patrol vehicle, put on his sunglasses and walked over to my rented Ford Focus with all the authority of the United States Government, I thought to myself, “Man, I’d look pretty awesome doing that.”

Will Wrobel ’11

From the President

A research scientist for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The manager of a park maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The founder of an organic soda company. A communications manager for the New England Patriots. A program coordinator at Harvard Business School. A New York City theatrical lighting designer. A farmer. A firefighter. A digital designer for L. L. Bean. An oncology nurse. A Division I lacrosse coach. The CEO of a major software corporation.

What do all these people have in common? They’re all graduates of Keene State College.

I’m very pleased to welcome you to the First Person Project, and I hope you enjoy learning about the accomplishments of this diverse group of Keene State graduates as much as I have. Representing many different paths in life and many different careers, the 25 alumni highlighted here offer a sampling of the many and varied opportunities made possible through a Keene State education.

When I read about these graduates’ experiences at Keene State, I was struck by the commonalities. Over and over, the alumni mention lifelong friendships formed at the College, Keene’s friendly, small-city atmosphere, and worldviews expanded through living on campus with students from different places and with different interests. They name professors who inspired them, challenged them, mentored them, and set them on their career paths.

“You could go to office hours and your professors knew your name and how you were doing,” remembers Amy Perron Keene ’02, an alumna with parallel careers as an exhibit developer and a furniture maker.

“The most notable moment for me at Keene State was through Dr. Neal Pruchansky, who whipped me into shape,” says David Bonnette ’93, CEO of the software company Lanyon.

Three of the profiled graduates studied abroad – one in England, one in France, and one in Italy – and list that experience as being life-changing. Others remember class trips that made a big impact. Some reported that on- and off-campus jobs led to their first “real” jobs post-graduation. The network that English major Christine Williams ’01 formed through jobs in Residential Life and Admissions, for instance, helped her land admissions jobs at the Dublin School and then Simmons College School of Library and Information Science.

These First Person Project alumni found numerous opportunities to participate in co-curricular programs, including varsity and intramural sports, the student newspaper and radio station, student government, theatre, and more. Jackie Caserta ’90, who now runs a farm-based B&B just north of Keene in Walpole, New Hampshire, re-established the campus’s dormant recycling program, ROCKS, and proceeded to work in the recycling field at the state government level. ROCKS, incidentally, is still going strong.

The stories of these alumni reinforce something we’ve long known: a Keene State education, with its focus on the residential experience, a foundation in the liberal arts, and hands-on, high-impact learning, prepares graduates not just to land work in their chosen fields, but to flourish, to grow with industry changes and increased responsibilities, to be nimble enough to change careers, and to cultivate lives that are fulfilling in ways that go beyond their work.

Today’s students have more than 40 areas of study to choose from in the sciences, arts and humanities, management, education, and some exciting fields of study they won’t find elsewhere like Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Sustainable Product Design. Hands-on experience, field work, internships, community service, capstone projects, research, and study away opportunities take them to places they never imagined.

In the College’s diverse residential community, time with friends is every bit as important as time in the classroom. Close to home, culture, employment opportunities, and entertainment are just a short walk down Main Street in Keene. While our liberal arts curriculum focuses on critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration, students can find their voice in small classes and in off-campus locations around the country and around the world. They work closely with faculty who are scholars in their fields and devote the time to be excellent mentors. The curriculum focuses on the knowledge students need now and in careers to come, with the skills that employers tell us they value most.

The First-Person Project highlights the value of a Keene State College education as reflected in the stories told here. The experiences our students have both in- and outside of classes open doors, and our graduates go on to open a wide variety of doors out in the world. That’s what we mean by “Wisdom to Make a Difference”: our students enter to learn and go forth to serve.

Anne E. Huot
President, Keene State College