Like many non-traditional students, Karen Parrotte ’97 chose to attend Villa Julie College because of its evening and weekend course schedules. “At that time, other institutions were not offering flexibility in obtaining a nursing degree, which meant that adult students could not work full time and earn a bachelor’s degree.”
Parrotte received a bachelor’s in nursing and today works as an Informatics Nurse. She integrates nursing science, computer science, and information management into her daily work and is contracted by healthcare organizations to support their electronic health record projects and initiatives to improve patient care.
“More specifically, my role is to design, develop, implement, and evaluate electronic clinical decision-making and documentation tools. People always ask, ‘Do you miss patient care?’” she adds. “My response is that instead of taking care of one patient at a time, my work now supports patient populations today and tomorrow.”
Parrotte believes that a career in nursing is a natural fit because she genuinely cares about people. “My mission in life is to make life better for others by making dreams come true. My purpose is to engage, equip, and empower people.”
That mission can be seen in the social entrepreneurial side business she owns, Destinations by Parrotte Travel, in which she works between people and cruise lines and Disney Resorts to create a dream vacation. More than that, however, outside of operational expenses, 100 percent of the profits are donated to charity.
When asked why she manages this sideline, Parrotte says simply, “I am called to serve others and giving is one way I contribute to making life better for others. The supported charities have a direct family association or the organization mission aligns with mine.”
There are links to six different organizations to which Parrotte gives money—including Stevenson University. Now, she is supporting undergraduate nursing students via the Karen Parrotte Nursing Scholarship Fund.
“In everything I do I know that I am here to help others,” Parrotte says. “I don't have to worry about my own benefits because when you help others you will always be blessed.”
For one Stevenson alumna, the American dream is coming true. Regina Portnoy ’04 came to the United States from the Ukraine with her parents when she was 15. “They brought [Portnoy and her sister] here because of the many opportunities this country offers,” she explains.
This article originally appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Ventures.
Ebony Hypolite ’06 is grateful for all of the opportunities that allowed her to graduate with her degree in accounting—and she’s determined to make sure that others have similar chances for success.
Hypolite was selected for a Key Scholarship—today the Presidential Scholarship—and received a full-tuition award due in part to her high school GPA and SAT scores. “My father said to my mother that he had no doubt that I was going to college. He didn’t know how things would work out financially but he was confident that his oldest daughter would receive a quality education and have a great career. And I’m so pleased that my father’s words came true.”
She was determined to be worthy of the award while at Stevenson. Hypolite studied hard, earned good grades, completed three internships, and tutored at the Academic Link. “It was important for me to share my knowledge with my fellow students,” she explains. “My goal was for them to gain a healthy confidence in themselves and to strive for A’s and B’s on their assignments and exams.”
Today, Hypolite is a manager at SC&H Group where she oversees the implementation of business intelligence and performance management systems that will help executives improve the financial health of their companies. Hypolite notes that her major in accounting and minor in computer information systems was the perfect combination for what she’s currently doing and gives Stevenson a great deal of credit for her career achievements thus far.
Outside of work, Hypolite is a member of the Board of Directors and co-chair of the fund development committee for the Baltimore Station. This not-forprofit organization is a residential treatment program that supports veterans and other men who are transitioning out of the damaging cycle of poverty, addiction, and homelessness to one of self-sufficiency, she says. “I’m so proud to represent an organization that promotes mental wellness. As a director, I ensure that the organization remains both true to its mission and fiscally healthy.”
Yet that’s not the end of her desire to pay it forward. “I have this aspiration. It’s lofty but I hold on to it. I would love to be in a position one day where I would be able to donate back to Stevenson University every dollar it gave to me with the Key Scholarship.
I want to be able to help other students achieve their dreams without being swamped with student loan debt.”
She’s off to a good start; she gives annually to Stevenson and plans to continue doing so. “I encourage my fellow alumni to give back,” Hypolite says. “Our donations keep the brand strong, programs current, and dreams alive for future generations.”
From Sea to See
When he first started his education, Parker Kuncl (Visual Communication '03) couldn't have envisioned just where he would find success. Originally a student in the geological oceanography program at the University of Rhode Island, he realized a year in that he wasn't really excited about his field of study-but he had enjoyed an Introduction to Photoshop class.
"I'd heard about Villa Julie College and wanted to go for an associate's degree but [Chair and Professor of Art] Amanda Hostalka and [Professor of Art] Lori Rubeling got me really passionate about design, so I went for my bachelor's in - stead."
Kuncl credits Hostalka and Rubeling for making it clear that he'd chosen well. "They opened my eyes to a world that I really didn't know existed. I got a D on a project first year because I didn't know what I was doing, but they really turned me around. It was a great program." After graduation, Kuncl earned a Master of Fine Arts from the Media Design Program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.
Since then, he has worked as an art director and graphic designer for design and advertising firms, including his own, Pdot Republic, and then was employed at T-Mobile's !CreationCenter. There, he applied his interests in interactive objects and spaces as well as taking interaction off the screen and turning it into physically tangible experiences and future technology.
For example, he was the creative lead on T-Mobile's Bobsled application, which hit more than a million users in early May 2012. The app-which is free to down - load and use-offers free calling and text messaging around the world to any U.S. number, regardless of device, carrier, or op - erating system. "I used it overseas recently and it sounds as good as Skype," Kuncl says. "It also turns your iPad into a phone for free."
Today, Kuncl works at Samsung Elec - tronic's Innovation Lab in San Jose, Calif., in a similar role to the one he held at T-Mobile. "I'm a designer who conceptu - alizes and then designs the future vision of products and services, such as, 'What is the future of television in three to five years?'" he explains. "We come up with advanced concepts to meet our custom - ers' needs, and we envision the future of all our products. We also look at nascent technology and then propose next-genera - tion user experiences."
Kuncl has filed for several patents for his inventions, one of which is for a device- adjacent displayed image. "If you have your phone down on a surface and you get a notification, it can actually project a second screen around the phone," he says. "If your hands are dirty or you're busy, you don't have to pick up the phone-you can just touch the surface and interact with the projected notification."
His ability to visualize and then produce new design technologies stemmed from his VJC education, Kuncl says. "We learned the nitty-gritty of production. It was not just producing something beautiful; we learned how to get an idea from concept to realization. Design firms really like that because not all graduates are prepared for production or productization. I've really taken that knowledge through my whole career and now that I'm doing more tech - nical work, I really use it to come up with a product and make it become reality."
Oil Spill Disaster Offers Unique Opportunity
Initial reports about the explosion that occurred on April 20, 2010, on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, called it a disaster. Yet no one could possibly have foreseen that oil would continue to flow from the well unchecked for nearly three months, nor that it would turn out to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in the petroleum industry's history.
What Michelle Farmer (paralegal studies '03) didn't expect was that she would play a part in that history.
A month afterward, President Barack Obama created the bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling to determine the root causes of the explosion and to provide recommendations for future drilling. The 60-member commission had six months to hold public hearings, produce working papers, meet with stakeholders and key players, and submit a final report to the President. To pull it off, the Commission needed people who could get things done.
As it turns out, Farmer was one of them. She previously had worked for Deputy Chief Counsel Sam Sankar at a corporate law firm. When he was appointed to the Commission, Sankar asked her to join them. "I was working as a consultant when I was offered this full-time job for eight months. People thought I was crazy but I said, 'It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.' How many people could say they had done this?"
Farmer, whose title was Executive Legal Assistant, soon found herself organizing hearings, overseeing the administrative staff, and doing anything else that needed to be done. "We had office space in D.C. and we worked ridiculous hours to produce a nearly 400-page report in six months plus hold a multi-day public hearing each month," she says, recalling a nine-day period during which she worked 135 hours and wrote a paper for the M.B.A. she has since earned from the University of Maryland.
Farmer says her degree from then-VJC made her a productive professional even before graduation, much less on the Commission. "I know people who have degrees in political science who start working in the legal field and don't know what's going on," says Farmer, who has also worked for the U.S. Attorney's office. "My classes gave me an exposure to the real-world setting that graduates from other universities just didn't seem to have."
As for the Commission, its findings were presented to President Obama on Jan. 12, 2011. Farmer, who now works full-time for the University of Chicago's Office of Federal Relations in D.C., will work with the nonprofit aspect of the Commission and help produce "report cards" on whether recommendations are being implemented-and she's thrilled to still be involved in the project.
It's one of those scenarios that could never be duplicated. We all got along because we were all working toward the same goal. I never thought I'd love a job that much.
A Master of Challenges
According to the FBI, when FY 2011 ended, the agency was following up on 726 corporate fraud cases in field offices across the United States. Several of these cases saw losses to public investors that individually exceeded $1 billion. One person charged with tracking down the money in these high-profile cases is Joe Ford M '09.
A Forensic Accountant for the FBI in Memphis, Tenn., for nearly 16 years, Ford says, "I'm looking behind the numbers to see if there was a crime committed and if so, what it was, and then developing evidence to present to a grand or trial jury to get a conviction." The majority of his work is looking at bank records to follow the money trail in fraud cases ranging from mortgage, insurance, securities to fraud against the government and occasionally terrorist financing-any type of white collar crime.
"The special agents who are managing the case subpoena financial records and I review them-and it could be thousands of documents. Trust me, it's not like on television where you solve it in 30 minutes-it could take months," he says. "We also assist agents in trial prep and sometimes design charts showing the flow of money. You may have 20 or 30 financial transactions, so drawing a picture makes it understandable for the jurors. If it's a complex case, it can be difficult to boil it down but I have to."
Ford entered Stevenson's master's in forensic studies because he sought "a mental challenge." His interest in returning to the classroom took time to kindle; the first spark caught when he was asked to speak to the Accounting Club at the University of Memphis and he remembered what the academic environment was like. A colleague who had gotten a master's degree encouraged him, yet it wasn't until he saw an ad for Stevenson's program in Fraud Magazine that he was sold.
"I looked at the program and it was like they'd developed it for me," Ford says. "I started this pretty late-in my late fifties-so I'd been away from the academic world for a long time, but when I started the program, I found that what I lacked in youth I made up for in experience."
He lauds the program's online format and convenience because he was-and still is-working full time. "I learned that Saturday mornings were not for sleeping late! I would normally read during lunch hour during the week and prepare my weekly assignments on Saturdays."
Ford's favorite part of the program-although he says he enjoyed it all, even writing papers, much to his surprise-was the mock trial courtroom case at the end of the course. "The faculty really worked hard to do the mock trial right. I'd testified as an expert witness in real trials beforehand so I thought the mock trial would be play time, but no, it was real, and a tremendous amount of work. We got to campus and started early and worked late, all just like a real trial. When I 'testified' as an expert witness, I felt exactly like I did in a real trial-I was actually nervous."
Ford's team won the case but he notes that either side could have won and that he liked the fact that the grade was not based on the outcome of the case but rather how well you prepared for it. He also notes that his trial team bonded so well that they keep in touch and three years ago held a mini-reunion with some of the members in D.C. "There were four or five of us there and we shared a meal and relived our courtroom victory," he says. "I would love to come back to Stevenson for a mock trial to see how it is now."
He particularly lauds Maria Howell, J.D., Associate Professor, Forensic Studies, for her dedication to her students. "She stayed in the dorms with us on campus during the mock trial. She wanted us to succeed as much as we wanted to." He also recalls that at the end of the mock trial, there was an informal graduation ceremony where Thomas Coogan, J.D., Chair and Professor, Forensic Studies, gave a nice speech and they were presented with their diplomas. "I will remember this as long as I live: when I got on the plane to go home afterward, I would not part with my diploma. I held it on my lap for the whole flight because I was so proud of it. I later talked to another woman from the program and found that she had done the same thing."
Today, he says, there's no question that he's a better employee as a result of the program and is more motivated. "I was looking for a challenge when I did the master's program and I found it. I knew it would be a significant accomplishment but didn't grasp it until the very end. I still feel that. It is a neat feeling and it's going to stay with me."
After Ford finished, however, he found that he had a lot of free time on his hands. "I was always reading or working on an assignment, but after it was over with, I felt like I didn't have anything to do. I thought I'd mastered a mental challenge but decided to see what I could do as a physical challenge-so I decided to be a pole vaulter in the Senior Olympics."
That's right-in January 2010, at age 60, Ford, who had pole vaulted in high school using a bamboo fishing pole, began working out, making it off the ground in his first practice attempt. That same year, he began participating in the Senior Olympics. Since then, he has won more than first and second-place medals in various Senior Olympic and Masters Track and Field competitions. In the 2011 National Senior Olympics in Houston, he placed sixth in the nation.
"So the master's program also led me to want to figure out a physical challenge," he notes. "Pole vaulting is harder than golf, let's just say that."
In July, Ford participated in the 2013 Senior Olympics in Cleveland. "It was raining, and normally, we wouldn't compete in those conditions, but since it was a national competition, we went ahead. Eleven people signed up but only five showed," he says. As for his results? With a chuckle, he says, "Well, you can either say that I'm fifth in the nation for my age group-or I'm the last for my age group. I didn't jump as well as I should have. The best I'd have gotten is a tie for fourth if I'd jumped my best." Ford also says that he tried to qualify, on a whim, for the 50 meter race. He didn't, but he was third in his heat. A new challenge?
Overall, he had a great time, he says. "I got to see some people run fast and jump high!"
A Passion for Production
"Television production isn't a career, it's a lifestyle," says Laura Schweigman (liberal arts/technology video '01). "I work 14- hour days, five-plus days a week. You're always on call, it's your entire life for so many months while in production, and then you have a couple weeks or months to catch up on life before starting production on the next season or project."
It's a good thing she loves what she does for a living.
Schweigman, currently an Associate Producer for the HBO series "Treme" (pronounced "Truh-may"), says that while she schedules and organizes various elements of production throughout the season, "Mostly what I do is look ahead, trying to solve problems before they become just that. I take care of legal issues, contracts and clearances, and foster positive community relationships."
Community outreach is particularly important, she adds. "Our take is that while it is inconvenient to have a production in the neighborhood for the short term, a film company contributes more to the city long term financially by hiring crew locally and spending money with local businesses. 'Treme' is unique among most film companies because it gives back to the community through fundraisers for local charities and contributes time and resources to groups in need. We did the same on our Baltimore-based series 'The Wire.' My goal is to leave a positive mark on the communities in which we work."
Schweigman, whose role also extends to hiring, conducting research, dealing with the media, and more, says that her start in the industry came from a Villa Julie College internship. "My faculty chair, Sally Harris, said, 'You'd be great for this opportunity,'" which was an internship on the show "Young Americans," a spinoff of the popular "Dawson's Creek" series. "I came in at call and stayed until wrap, as long as they'd let me, and I learned as much as I could."
After graduation, she worked as a production assistant for commercials and corporate and music videos. Eventually she joined Video Press of the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, working her way up to a freelance Assistant Producer for the Discovery series "Critical Hour"-yet she knew she wanted to enter the realm of union television production.
Then she got her wish: Starting with the first season of "The Wire," she worked a few days as a set production assistant while still with Video Press. Then she was hired second season to be a writers' assistant.
During the third season, until the beginning of "Treme," she worked with David Simon as the writer/creator's assistant. "That position really gave me a push into what I wanted my career to be about: producing," she says. "Through David and his partner Nina Noble, I learned what a producer should be."
The third season of "Treme" will air in September on HBO and she's still waiting to hear if there will be a fourth-and final-season of the show.
Past that, Schweigman says, she'll see what evolves. "There is no such thing as a five-year plan in a creative industry. I want to produce television. I'm in the beginning of my producing career. Nina Noble still says she learns every day. Every show is different, every location is different, and I enjoy the fact that every day is different. Above all," she adds, "I'm telling stories, which is what I really love doing most."