Alumni/ae Spotlight Series
The Alumni/ae Spotlight Series is an opportunity to connect and check-in with alumni/ae since they have graduated from St. Paul Academy and Summit School and highlight the work they are doing in their respective fields and careers. Below you will find some of our recent interviews. If you would like to be considered or would like to suggest another alumnus/a to be featured, please complete this short form.
Lucien Bruggeman '10
As an Investigative Reporter for ABC News, Lucien Bruggeman '10 has a unique opportunity to cover political campaigns, legal affairs, and national security issues, crafting stories to educate and inform audiences. For many of these stories, Lucien relies on his writing skills that he developed while at SPA to help make his stories engaging for readers and to help audiences better understand important issues and topics.
Thinking about his time at SPA and how it has helped him in his career, “every teacher encouraged us to use clean and concise language. No frills -- an excellent foundation for a journalist. I vividly recall Upper School English teacher John Wensman circling each use of passive voice in my essays and making drawings from the lines connecting them.” These foundations would come to play an important role in his career down the road. He also credits Upper School math teacher George Leiter with helping make math, a subject that was not as easy, a fun and enjoyable experience. Outside of the classroom, Lucien played hockey and soccer, which he still thinks about fondly and with pride.
Lucien attended Lafayette College in Pennsylvania where he played soccer and received his undergraduate degrees in Government & Law and Art. After his junior year, he landed an internship at the Colbert Report which inspired him to pursue a career in television and writing. After graduating from college and with no immediate jobs available at the Colbert Report, Lucien took an overnight job on the national desk for ABC News. “I never intended to be a journalist, but one opportunity led to another and I found myself on the investigative unit in Washington, D.C. midway through the Trump administration.”
Now based in New York City, Lucien works on a variety of projects through various modes of communication. “I try to devote portions of my day to long-term projects and day-of stories to help as many of those platforms as I can. I might spend a few weeks on a story for Nightline, crash a piece for Good Morning America, or hop on a big news event and share a unique angle on abcnews.com.” he says. Utilizing interpersonal skills and creativity thinking, he works regularly with sources to gain a better understanding about subject-matter and potentially uncover a story or angle that is new and fresh for prospective viewers. He was recognized for his work as part of an award winning team covering the 2020 Presidential Election with regard to election security and protecting the right to vote where he reported on two Georgia election workers who faced threats of violence. “We don’t do it for the awards, but that certainly contributed to the pride I felt about that period of work.”
His advice for current students is to “work hard and take advantage of all the opportunities that SPA offers you -- especially if you have a feeling that you might, like me, be a late-bloomer. I aspired to be like the naturally gifted students who could get good grades without appearing to work hard. But I was not naturally gifted in that way. And yet, I had it in my head that success without hard work was some sort of virtue. That was silly. And to this day I regret not taking advantage of all the resources that were available -- including one-on-one time with teachers.”
Outside of work, Lucien enjoys staying as active as possible -- “I play more soccer than my joints can probably handle and pound as much pavement with my dog as her joints can handle. My wife and I like to go for runs and yoga classes, then compromise all that goodness with drinks or dinner with friends at our stellar local bars and restaurants.”
You can read stories written by Lucien and his colleagues at https://abcnews.go.com/author/lucien_bruggeman.
- ZAFEER BABER MD, '00
- DANIEL M. ELCHERT, PH.D. '07
- KAREN TANI '98
- CLAIRE WAHMANHOLM '04
- ANNIE TSONG '94
- ANJA CROWDER MORICE '08
- CLAIRE WILHELM '10
- SABRINA RUCKER '18
- URI NEREN '94
- MIKE KENWORTHY '01
- EMILY SKOR '93
- JEREMY STEIN '98
- NICOLE (PASTER) PUTZEL '89
- KENZIE O'KEEFE '08
- CHARLIE MCGARRAUGH '96
- ELIE (FOSTER) DONAHUE '94
- REENA SINGH '94
- SERENE LAWRENCE '07
ZAFEER BABER MD, '00
Zafeer Baber MD '00, credits SPA for his ability to balance a multitude of professional responsibilities by cultivating a strong work ethic, while also preparing him for life beyond the classroom. Zafeer says these are lifelong lessons and skills which have benefited him in his work as an Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine Physician, Clinical Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, and host of the Medicine In The News show on SiriusXM radio.
Some of his favorite memories from his time at SPA include jumping into a frozen lake at Camp Widjiwagan, being a member of the football team and Student Political Union.“I valued the opportunity to try a wide range of extracurriculars and experience life lessons outside of the classroom,” says Zafeer, who describes himself as a “late bloomer” academically. He particularly remembers Upper School English teacher Kate Mura, who helped him build his self-confidence and belief that he could succeed. “I had a feeling that she just believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself,” he says. “Sometimes in order to succeed, you need someone like that to just believe in you.”
Zafeer attended the University of St. Thomas before transferring to Columbia University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. After graduating, Zafeer participated in Engineers Without Borders where he helped build medical facilities in Samli, Thailand. This life-changing experience helped push him towards pursuing a career in medicine: he attended the Chicago Medical School and completed his residency in Anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical Center. Even though he was in New York, SPA was never too far away, as his classmate Uju Obi '00 was also a resident in psychiatry at the same hospital.
Following residency, Zafeer pursued a pain medicine fellowship at The Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland and now resides in the Boston area where he practices Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. “Both anesthesiology and pain medicine are very rewarding fields,” he says of his work. “As an anesthesiologist, people depend on you during some of the most vulnerable periods in their life. As a pain medicine physician, I see how chronic pain really affects people’s quality of life. Helping people take away their pain through innovative procedures can really allow them to do things they otherwise couldn’t do.” Zafeer was recently named one of Boston’s Top Doctors by Boston Magazine.
In addition to his work as a physician and as a Clinical Assistant Professor, Zafeer is the host of the Medicine In The News show on SiriusXM radio where he speaks with other medical professionals to discuss complicated medical subjects to the general public.
“If I could go back to my high school self, I would tell him not to worry so much,” Zafeer says. “Your grades/SAT scores are not an indication of what you will accomplish in life. I think work ethic is a far stronger predictor. Create goals for yourself and find a mentor early on that can guide you.”
You can hear Zafeer on his weekly SiriusXM talk show at https://www.babermd.com/.
Daniel M. Elchert, Ph.D. '07
Daniel M. Elchert, Ph.D. '07, the Chief Executive Officer at the National Register of Health Service Psychologists (National Register), credits St. Paul Academy and Summit School with developing his ability to listen, ask questions, and approach challenges with a balanced mindset.
Daniel says that his SPA teachers understood the difference between asking, “what’s the answer to this problem?” and “how might you go about solving this problem?” Daniel was a three-sport athlete, competing on the baseball, basketball, and soccer teams, while also participating in band through Grade 9. He also enjoyed pottery and the arts throughout his time in the Upper School. “I enjoyed getting involved with coursework and extracurriculars that challenged me to grow as a student, athlete, artist, and person,” he says. “It’s rare to find a community that intentionally encourages students to develop in so many areas. That’s the SPA I know.” Daniel particularly remembers Lower School teacher Tim Rongstad, longtime Upper School math teacher and basketball coach Jim McVeety, and Upper School English teacher Emily Frank for how they challenged him to think critically.
After SPA, Daniel attended St. Olaf College where he majored in Psychology. Upon graduation, he completed a year of service through AmeriCorps before attending graduate school at the University of Iowa, where he completed his M.A. in Measurement and Statistics and Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. Daniel then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked in the Congress and eventually at the National Science Foundation through a Science and Technology Policy Fellowship affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In his current role, Daniel leads the nation’s largest nonprofit credentialing organization for licensed psychologists with over 15,000 members. The National Register works with state boards of psychology and various third-parties to ensure that licensed psychologists can efficiently verify their training and deliver health care services in different settings. The organization functions as the professional home for health service psychologists, offering peer-reviewed journals, an annual conference, and many other professional development resources.
Daniel encourages current SPA students to “challenge yourself to try something out of your comfort zone. For instance, in Grade 10 I decided to take pottery, which ended up stirring up a newfound passion in ceramics. On one occasion I even exhibited a couple of my pieces at a local gallery. You never know what might happen.”
“It was a privilege to attend SPA,” Daniel says. “I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop enduring friendships in such a caring community.”
You can learn more about the National Register of Health Service Psychologists at https://www.nationalregister.org/.
Karen Tani '98
As a scholar of U.S. legal history and an academic at the University of Pennsylvania, Karen Tani '98 has the privilege of contributing to our shared knowledge of history and helping students as they embark on their academic and professional careers.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Karen is the Seaman Family University Professor where she is a professor of law and history, focusing on social welfare law, administrative agencies, and the role of rights in the modern American state. She is also the author of States of Dependency: Welfare, Rights, and American Governance, 1935-1972 which won the 2017 Cromwell Book Prize from the American Society for Legal History.
Before all of this, Karen was a “lifer” at St. Paul Academy and Summit School where she had fond memories of writing her own stories in second grade, playing on the soccer team, and eating lunch in the courtyard on sunny days. Karen credits SPA with preparing her for college by giving her the confidence to try a wide range of college courses, ranging from economics, to chemistry, to the arts. Her SPA education also encouraged curiosity and humility. “SPA cultivated in me an understanding that there were other perspectives in the world that I needed to try to understand. SPA could not expose me to all of those perspectives, but I left with an awareness that I was coming from a particular culture and a particular positionality, and that I probably had a lot left to learn.” She also notes Ms. (Joanna) Victor as someone who had a lasting impact on her career as she introduced concepts and skills that she still draws on today as a professional historian.
After graduating from SPA, Karen attended Dartmouth College, graduating with a B.A. in History, before working in New York City as a legal assistant as she determined her next career moves. She was then accepted into the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a dual JD/PhD program with the goal of becoming a legal historian. Partway through her PhD program, Karen took a break in her studies to serve as a law clerk for a federal appellate court judge before returning to her program and accepting an offer to teach law as a tenure-track law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
At Berkeley, Karen completed her dissertation, published her first book, and received tenure in 2018. She then accepted an offer to serve as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania where she currently teaches in the History Department and the Law School. She also continues to publish scholarship, focusing largely on the history of American social welfare provision in the twentieth century and how concepts of rights entered into public understandings of government assistance, the administration of modern civil rights guarantees, and most recently on disability-related laws and policies in the late twentieth century and what this history can teach us about the structures and logic of contemporary American governance.
In her day-to-day work, Karen enjoys the opportunity to pursue her own research agenda along with teaching students. “My job allows me to be in conversation with scholars from all over the world – to meet people at conferences, to spend time reading other people’s work, and to collaborate with others on advancing knowledge. I also like the ways that my job allows me to connect with students, ranging from first-year college students to advanced graduate students. I have the opportunity to play an important role in their education and to shape how they think about the world.” Karen is especially proud of contributing to our shared knowledge of important topics and seeing her work being taught by other professors to their students.
Thinking about her advice for current students, “I thrived at SPA, but I also put a lot of pressure on myself. If I could go back, I would try to work on some other skills, too – to help me be kinder to myself, to appreciate what can be learned from failure, and to recognize when it’s healthy to take a break.”
You can learn more about Karen’s work at https://www.law.upenn.edu/faculty/ktani.
Claire Wahmanholm '04
Writer and educator Claire Wahmanholm '04 is deeply passionate about adding to the archive of human experience. Claire’s work is an ebb and flow of projects, including the recent publication of her third full-length book of poetry, Meltwater.
Claire came to St. Paul Academy and Summit School in 10th grade and immediately immersed herself in the arts and painting. Dutton Foster’s Creative Writing class was one of the highlights of her time at SPA. “A career in the arts isn’t generally something you default into; it’s something you’re constantly choosing, and it can be really hard to do without mentorship and affirmation. I’ll always be massively grateful to Dutton for that. We're still in touch, which is a delight.”
Claire majored in psychology, French, and English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and spent several years working in a neuroscience lab. As graduation loomed, she decided to follow her passion for the arts, going on to receive her MFA in poetry from Johns Hopkins University and her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. Along the way, Claire found a passion for teaching, something she had never previously considered. She has been a teacher for eleven years and is currently teaching creative writing at the University of Minnesota and The Loft Literary Center.
As a working writer and poet, Claire has written four books and has been recognized for her work, including the Montreal International Poetry Prize, the McKnight Writing Fellowship, and the Treehouse Climate Action Poetry Prize. Claire notes that so many aspects of creative writing are driven by luck and things out of her control such as personal interactions and being in the right place at the right time. “So while those recognitions feel wonderful, they’re not necessarily things I can feel completely proud of. Instead, I would have to say that acing my doctoral exams was the proudest moment of my professional career: that was the work of an entire year, and was far more under my control.”
In her day-to-day activities, Claire’s work can vary depending on the time of year and the projects she is involved with. “Most recently I’ve been writing blurbs for forthcoming books; judging a book contest; coordinating a book tour; participating in a mentorship program for emerging poets; and putting together curriculum for creative writing classes at the University of Minnesota and The Loft.” The sheer variety is fulfilling, as it allows Claire the flexibility to try and pursue new things that connect with the work she is doing.
“The thing that’s probably gotten me furthest in my career is getting over fear: fear of failure, of rejection, of looking incompetent,” Claire says, noting that although any profession involves a certain amount of disappointment, it can feel much more personal in the arts, since “the work you’re doing is intimate, vulnerable, often autobiographical. Unfortunately, the only thing that makes failure easier is failing.” She advises students to be fearless in pursuing their interests: “I’ve noticed that, in addition to making me feel better, being fearless has also made it easier to ask for things, and guess what? When you ask for things, you often get them! So my advice would be to invest less in your ego, and more in risk.”
You can learn more about Claire and her work at https://clairewahmanholm.com/.
Annie Tsong '94
As the Chief Strategy and Product Officer at Amyris, a biotech company in Berkeley, CA, Annie Tsong '94 works to find new and innovative ways to develop renewable chemicals used in products ranging from pharmaceuticals to footwear. Annie is guided by an ambitious vision to replace outdated and environmentally harmful methods of manufacturing.
Annie came to SPA in seventh grade and was active in the Summit Singers, The Rubicon, the arts, and played the piano. “I appreciated that SPA had such a strong emphasis on critical thinking, challenging assumptions, being intellectually adventurous, and teaching students to speak up even if they are not in the majority.” Annie especially enjoyed Bill Boulger's math classes and Naomi Kelly's history class. She noted that both were highly skilled in creating a challenging curriculum while also finding opportunities to encourage and support their students.
After SPA, Annie attended Harvard University, earning her undergraduate degree in biochemical sciences before receiving her PhD in genetics from the University of California - San Francisco. Annie initially wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and become a scientist. Her father, a scientist, was her mentor and role model, and following him into a career in academic science was her initial career goal. She realized that academia was not her calling, however, and decided to join a young biotech company called Amyris. It was definitely a transition, Annie remembers, given the drastically different culture in the corporate world compared to academia.
At Amyris, Annie initially began as a bench scientist, before progressively leading larger technical teams in the Research and Development division over a period of 10 years. Four years ago, Annie made the leap to the commercial division, and worked at the intersection of technical innovation and commercial implementation in her current role as Chief Strategy and Product Officer.
As Amyris has grown and developed new products, Annie and her team have developed a molecule called squalane, which is used in products for the Sephora beauty company under the brand Biossance. The harvesting of this molecule, found in the liver of sharks, historically resulted in millions of sharks being killed. However, as a result of Annie’s team’s invention, squalane is now produced by Amyris, saving an estimated 2-3 million sharks from being killed. Amyris has also worked to create a molecule to replicate patchouli, found in many products such as Downy and Tide, and which was typically produced by engaging in deforestation in Indonesia. As a result of their work, Amyris now controls a significant percentage of the patchouli market and has helped support the reduction in deforestation. For Annie, these experiences are what motivates her: “I love that the impact of my job can be measured in terms of human lives saved, endangered species spared of further pressure from overfishing or overharvesting, and hectares of sensitive ecosystems protected from destruction.”
Annie noted her gratitude for SPA and the transformative experience it had in her life over the six years she attended and encourages current students to “be open to where your career and life take you. Wherever you are, fully immerse yourself in that moment and learn all that you can.” You can learn more about Amyris and Annie’s work at https://amyris.com/.
ANJA CROWDER MORICE '08
Politics are a passion for many, but for Anja Crowder Morice '08, it’s also part of her profession. As a Talent Producer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Anja Crowder Morice '08 has produced interviews with United States Presidents, Members of Congress, and many other politicians and world leaders.
Anja says SPA fostered an environment of creativity and challenging the status quo. “SPA allowed me to develop the confidence to feel empowered to participate in any conversation,” she says. As the daughter of recently retired and longtime German teacher, Jutta Crowder, Anja was a lifer at SPA. Some of her favorite memories include snake eggs at the Lower School, Track and Field day in Middle School, and giving her senior speech in the Upper School. She was the co-captain of the debate team (her co-captain was her now-husband Peter Morice '08), competed on the tennis team, served as President of the Service Learning Club, and also participated in plays, musicals, and one-acts.
Following SPA, Anja attended Macalester College for her undergraduate degree, Columbia University as part of their visiting students program, and earned an Executive Leadership Certificate from Harvard University. After college, she landed a job as a Production Coordinator at ABC News, working for the weekly political show This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “On the first day of my job at ABC News, I remember pitching several ideas in our team meeting. The executive producer looked at me perplexed. He paused, took some notes and asked me to expand on something I had said.” Anja says. “We spent the rest of the meeting discussing this idea as a group and it ended up evolving into an on-air segment later that week.” Anja credits SPA teachers Tom Fones and Eric Severson for teaching her to feel confident sharing her ideas in any room .
In such a fast-paced world of weekly television production, Anja rose quickly through the ranks, becoming senior production coordinator, then editorial producer, then producer. In addition to producing the weekly broadcast, she was also involved in the network’s major political coverage, including presidential elections, Democratic and Republican conventions, presidential debates, State of the Union addresses, and inaugurations. She heard from a colleague about an opening with Colbert’s show, and a few months later was named producer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
In her day-to-day work, Anja is responsible for all political and newsmaker interviews that take place on the show. This includes authors, experts, analysts, and journalists. “I am in constant communication with these public figures and their offices, and pitch them interview opportunities based on what is happening in the news,” says Anja, who enjoys that shows like The Late Show are educational forums that make people laugh. “Any time you can enjoy what you’re learning you’re more likely to remember what you’ve learned. I think that is one reason why The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has become such an important medium for people. I have the privilege of contributing to this by bringing interviews with the most interesting people of the moment to the screen. It never gets old.”
Anja encourages current SPA students to think about what kind of work would make them happy. “What fills your cup? There’s great joy in doing things that make you feel proud. Learning what these things are early on can help prepare you for a successful college experience and future career. And if you don’t find them right away, don’t worry! I believe It’s a lifelong process.”
Anja currently commutes between Boston and New York and enjoys spending time with her husband and fellow alum, Peter, and their one-year old daughter.
CLAIRE WILHELM '10
Not every person can say that they have their dream job only 12 years out of high school, but Claire Wilhelm ’10 is one of the lucky few. As an Operations Research Analyst at NASA, Claire is a technical liaison between program offices and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer at NASA. Her portfolio includes the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, Human Landing Systems, the Lunar Gateway, and Lunar Terrain Vehicles.
Claire says that her time at SPA is a big part of why she landed at NASA. She joined SPA in Grade 5 and was involved with theater, Science Olympiad, debate, and fencing (which she still practices). SPA helped her develop strong critical thinking, public speaking, and writing skills: "The importance of academic preparation for higher education cannot be overstated. I don't think I could have gotten through engineering school without the study skills I learned at SPA,” says Claire, who still uses the notetaking and outline methods she learned in high school. Claire remembers Tom Fones as one of her most memorable teachers and Dr. Steve Heilig as another. Dr. Heilig had a huge influence on her decision to follow her passion and interests in engineering: “I loved Dr. Heilig's physics classes, and I give him credit for imbuing me with the confidence to apply to engineering programs. He made physics fun!”
Following SPA, Claire attended George Washington University, earning a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in International Science and Technology Policy. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Management Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech, where she is conducting her doctoral research on satellite mega-constellations and researching the resilience of satellite systems such as Starlink (SpaceX) and concerns around orbital debris.
Claire first interned at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center while still in college, working on the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission studying solar wind patterns on the Earth. After college, she worked as a research scientist and engineer at Johns Hopkins University and the Department of Defense before joining NASA as an Operation Research Analyst in April 2022. "My current work is very cross-cutting,” Claire says. "My technical background is of course very helpful to the day-to-day work, but I operate at a much broader level than I would if I were working in design or something similar. I love being involved in a wide variety of projects and translating between various teams of technical and non-technical stakeholders to enable mission success.”
Outside of work and being a "professional space geek,” Claire enjoys camping, reading crime thrillers, nature photography, and travel, including a memorable trip to New Zealand in 2017. She and husband Josh were married in Minneapolis in October 2022; the couple now live in northern Virginia near Washington DC.
You can follow along with the exciting work Claire and her colleagues are doing by visiting https://www.nasa.gov/ or following their social media channels.
SABRINA RUCKER '18
Sabrina Rucker '18 is an entrepreneur and the founder of StoryForge, an app for underrepresented authors. StoryForge provides support and editing tools for authors looking to eventually publish their work, and has grown out of Rucker’s passion for addressing the systematic inequalities in the publishing industry.
Sabrina came to St. Paul Academy and Summit School in first grade, and has fond memories of many teachers, especially Eric Severson, Pam Starkey, Eric Salverda, and Nick Palombo. Favorite classes in Upper School included Literature of Monstrosity, Chinese, and her independent study of Cuneiform, a logo-syllabic script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Middle East. In addition to her academics, Sabrina was co-president of the IT Club, a lighting/sound technician for Middle and Upper School theatrical productions, and a varsity fencer beginning in seventh grade, serving as the captain of the Saber team her senior year.
Sabrina began her college career at Abertay University in Scotland, where she studied Ethical Hacking. After a semester, she continued her studies at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County studying Computer Science, and she is now finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She will graduate this semester with a major in History and a minor in Product Design.
While in college, Sabrina has interned at two cybersecurity startups, KnectIQ and FRSecure, and has also been working on publishing a graphic novel she began during her Senior Project at SPA in 2018. It was this experience which introduced her to the publishing industry, which she found highly complex and unfriendly to authors. She founded StoryForge to provide support and a clear path to publication to other frustrated writers. It was the second business she had started: her previous company, WinterWhittler, was a wood carving business that won second place at the Minnesota chapter of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in 2021.
“The fun and scary part of entrepreneurship is that you don’t really know what you’re doing most of the time,” says Sabrina, noting that her day-to-day work on StoryForge can vary from researching competitors to teaching herself animation for a demo reel of the app. Earlier this year, she pitched the StoryForge app to the University of Minnesota’s BizPitch competition, winning the Social Impact Award. Sabrina’s entrepreneurial successes were recognized this fall when she was named one of the Twin Cities’ top young innovators under 25 by Minne Inno, part of the Twin Cities Business Journal.
“Lots of people will pretend they know what’s best for you, but they haven’t lived your life,” says Sabrina, who encourages current SPA students to never allow themselves to be talked out of the things that are important to them. Learn more about Sabrina’s work with StoryForge by visiting https://www.storyforge.com/.
Uri Neren '94
"Atypical, diverse, strange and a blast,” is how Uri Neren '94 describes his career. A successful entrepreneur who recently sold his startup company, Innovators Inc., Uri describes his professional journey as “wandering...but not lost.” “Entrepreneurism is the only theme you could pick out of my wandering path,” Uri says--a path which has included advising corporate CEOs, milking goats and making cheese, fundraising for public radio, leading arctic expeditions, working on public policy, and eventually starting several companies.
Now, having sold Innovators, which worked with companies such as 3M, Patagonia, Google, and the Mayo Clinic to build effective and profitable innovation departments, Uri supports entrepreneurs in their own businesses. He serves as an adviser to Stout Street Capital, a venture capital fund, while he’s looking for his next company to start– “likely in the green energy space,” he says, noting that his senior prediction in The Rubicon forecast that someday he would “hug a tree.”
Uri has lived across the U.S., Europe, South and Central America and is currently living in Portland, Oregon. He came to St. Paul Academy and Summit School in 5th grade and remembers “teachers who sparked exploration and the unbelievable resources we had available to us to hunt down our own curiosities.” He says that SPA prepared him for his career by exposing him to high-level academics, smart people, and what he calls “the language of world leaders.” An enthusiastic athlete, Uri competed on the football, baseball, basketball, golf, and skiing teams and worked on environmental issues with student-run organizations in the Upper School. He remembers his teachers fondly, especially Dutton Foster, Bill Boulger, Ran Miner and Bob Jewett. “They were kind and encouraged free thinking and creativity,” he says.
Following SPA, Uri attended Colorado College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he received degrees in Biology, International Relations and Environmental Studies. Uri started his first company in college, selling outdoor clothing to his fellow students. He received his MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and was also a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
“I've always focused on making the world a better place, whether working for nonprofits or big corporations,” says Uri, who hopes that today’s SPA students will take advantage of what he thinks is the most important piece of school: discovering your own passions. “Use school to find what gets you going in life, what truly makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning.”
Mike Kenworthy '01
Mike Kenworthy '01 spends a lot of time with numbers in his work as an investment banker, but that’s not the entire story. "A large part of my job is relationship-building, negotiation, and storytelling,” says Mike, who lives in New York City and works as a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs leading their East Coast Software and Sports Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) investment banking practices. He enjoys the different skill sets that come into play in his work.
Pursuing a wide range of interests is nothing new for Mike, who joined SPA in seventh grade. He remembers a school that pushed him to be curious and teachers who were incredibly engaged with their students "What stands out the most to me about SPA to this day is the passion my teachers had for their jobs,” says Mike, who feels that same kind of excitement for his own work: “I think I cultivated that mindset after observing how passionate my teachers were.”
Mike took advantage of many different kinds of opportunities at SPA, studying abroad in Germany during his freshman year and then joining the football, hockey, and lacrosse teams, as well as serving as photo editor for the yearbook during his time in high school. He remembers math teacher George Leiter teaching some of his most challenging classes, although "he still found opportunities to make the class entertaining and fostered a fun environment to learn in,” Mike says, adding "something that I try to emulate on my teams at work". After graduating from SPA, Mike attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, serving as vice president of the investment banking club and president of his fraternity. After graduating with a degree in economics, Mike joined a small boutique advisory firm in New York City before earning his MBA at Harvard Business School and ultimately landing at Goldman Sachs.
In his current role, Mike works with clients to prepare for a sale, a merger, or an initial public offering (IPO). Leading up the software and sports practices out of New York, his clients are high growth technology companies and professional sports teams and leagues; early in his career, he worked with the Minnesota Twins when the team negotiated a new broadcast media rights deal. He enjoys both the client work and the collaboration with his colleagues at Goldman Sachs: "I feel very lucky to work with such impressive, intelligent, and hard working colleagues who not only inspire me, but help me deliver better advice and results for my clients,” says Mike, who also helps Goldman Sachs recruit college and MBA graduates from Wisconsin and Harvard, respectively.
Mike encourages current SPA students to take risks and avoid limiting themselves. “Develop a broad range of skill sets,” he says. "Long term success requires you to rely on an array of skills as you grow throughout your career and it may force you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new and different.”
Outside of work, Mike and his wife enjoy spending time visiting local parks with their son and dog and trying new restaurants in the area. The couple is expecting their second child in the coming months.
Emily skor '93
Emily Skor '93 lives in Washington, D.C. where she serves as the CEO of Growth Energy, a biofuel trade association representing over half of the nation’s total ethanol production. She is passionate about leading teams, solving complex problems and challenges, and working to create relationships with a wide range of constituencies.
Emily came to SPA as a kindergartener; some of her fondest Lower School memories are the jump-a-thon, the Bazaar, snake eggs, and the spring trip to Washington, D.C. and Camp Widji in Middle School. The co-teaching model in the Lower School also stuck with her, “I appreciated the complimentary teaching styles and very visible partnership of the male/female duo, it demonstrated the impact of teamwork, communication, and mutual respect.” In the Upper School, Ms. Victor’s U.S. Honors History class was a highlight for Emily as the class provided a deep dive into how history is told through perspective. On top of all of this, Emily was a four-year varsity tennis player, eventually going on to play collegiately at Wellesley. “Of course I developed a strong work ethic while at SPA, but another key part of my education was the consistent emphasis on public speaking, at every age. I also appreciated having such an impressive peer group of classmates who supported each other and celebrated each other’s accomplishments. These things have certainly stayed with me throughout my career and life.” However, her favorite memory at SPA was meeting her husband Sean Cairncross ’93.
Emily attended Wellesley College, where she majored in political science. After Wellesley, Emily began an internship with the Center for Defense Information where she helped produce television segments for PBS and found her passion for creating interesting stories that educate as well as shape attitudes and actions. She moved into PR and joined a public relations firm specializing in crisis management. “I enjoyed the challenge of helping organizations communicate complex, difficult, or unexpected information and overcome problems that could fundamentally hinder their success.” Following this, she led communications for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group representing over the counter medicines.
In 2016, Emily decided to take on her next challenge when she was named the CEO at Growth Energy. As a 501(c)(6) nonprofit industry trade organization, Emily is the face and voice of the biofuel industry. She regularly travels to rural cities across the country, including in Minnesota, meeting with farmers, ethanol producers, stakeholders, and other community groups. She also regularly engages with elected officials and works to build coalitions to support the nearly 100 biorefinery members of her association. “I enjoy speaking with groups, leading my team of talented individuals, and utilizing the skills I developed in public affairs to help advance affordable clean energy solutions.” While not having a background in agriculture or energy, Emily has quickly become knowledgeable about the biofuel industry and its many moving parts. A primary focus right now is working in Washington and across the states to find opportunities for how biofuels can help accelerate the decarbonization of our transportation sector and forming bipartisan connections to advance these goals.
Emily’s advice for current SPA students is “to enjoy high school, take the time to live in the moment, and to not wait for people to give you something. If you are passionate and motivated, go for it!”
Outside of work, Emily, Sean, and their two children enjoy taking walks along the National Mall, visiting museums, and enjoying all that D.C. has to offer. You can learn more about the work Emily is doing by visiting https://growthenergy.org/.
JEREMY STEIN '98
Jeremy Stein '98 recently moved to London, UK from Copenhagen, Denmark to start as the General Manager of Studio for Tonic Group and Epic Games. His work focuses on the hit game “Fall Guys,” an award-winning game with millions of active players!
For Jeremy, SPA was a formative and transformational experience that helped him develop important skills such as public speaking and writing. One of the most memorable moments for Jeremy was a part in a production of Our Town, directed by Dutton Foster ’57, during his Junior year. Jeremy shared that this show helped get him out of his basement playing video games and instead socialize and interact with others. Outside of theater, Jeremy enjoyed taking Economics and English, running on the track team, and participating in student government. Jeremy has fond memories of calculus teacher Anne Marie Shimkus, whose tough-love teaching style pushed Jeremy to continue learning and growing.
After SPA, Jeremy attended Tulane University, where he graduated with a degree in Political Economy. While at Tulane, he discovered an interest in sports writing and took a gap year to work with computers and volunteer on a sports video game blog. This opportunity opened the door for Jeremy to jump further into the world of video game development when he was hired to join the staff of the “Madden NFL” game. Jeremy has gone on to serve in a wide range of positions in video game development and product management; he now leads large teams of game developers.
Some of Jeremy’s most successful projects have included “Merge Dragons,” “Panda Pop,” and “Subway Surfers,” the most downloaded game ever. In his new role with Fall Guys, he works daily with a large group of coders, engineers, and artists. For Jeremy, working in video games has allowed him to develop as a leader and learn how to support and advocate for the ideas of his coworkers. “Collaboration is highly valued in the world of video game design, since it allows products to be improved for greater success,” he says.
Outside of work, Jeremy and his family enjoy exploring the UK, especially London’s many neighborhoods.
His advice to current students: “Even if you are not an expert or perfect in every field, that is okay. Being able to identify your strengths and take advantage of the soft skills SPA teaches around writing, speaking, and learning can make you incredibly successful in any field. Be curious.”
Nicole (Paster) Putzel '89
Nicole (Paster) Putzel '89 is a classically-trained chef, cookbook author, and cooking teacher who is passionate about creating healthy and well-balanced meals for others. Nicole’s journey to where she is today has been filled with many twists and surprises.
Nicole came to St. Paul Academy and Summit School in 3rd grade, where she made many lifelong friendships and met two of her favorite teachers, Mike Brown and Sara Stashower. In the Upper School, Nicole was a multi-sport athlete in soccer, skiing, softball, track and field, and tennis. Art teacher Hazel Belvo helped spark a passion for the arts in Nicole and provided an opportunity for her to “escape into the creative process and block everything else out.” Nicole credits Belvo for introducing her to painting and teaching her about self-care and feminism. Nicole says the emphasis that SPA placed on writing and public speaking skills prepared her to give presentations and cooking demonstrations with confidence.
Nicole attended Boston University, where she majored in broadcast journalism. After graduating from BU, Nicole worked as a reporter and anchor for small news stations across the country in Durango, Colorado and Alexandria, Minnesota. Realizing her desire to live in a big city, Nicole decided to make a career change and moved to Chicago, where her brother Howie '87 lived, to begin working in real estate. She worked in this field for a number of years before moving with her husband to New York City, where she took cooking classes and ultimately enrolled in culinary school full-time. In 2008, Nicole and her family moved back to Chicago where Nicole continued to pursue her passion; she earned her culinary arts certificate from The Art Institutes Culinary Arts School in Chicago.
Now a mother of two, Nicole has embraced her passion for cooking, teaching, and finding opportunities to support others. Her first job after graduating culinary school was at Common Threads, a nonprofit that works to provide cooking and healthy eating education to underserved communities. She has also taught culinary classes for other non-profit agencies, at her children’s schools, private cooking classes, and published a blog to share her recipes. Most recently, she published her first cookbook: The Seasoned Plate: Delicious and Real Food Recipes by the Season, which was inspired by cooking from her backyard organic garden. On top of all of this, Nicole runs a small meal-preparation business; meals are packaged in glass mason jars to promote environmentally friendly practices. “None of this was possible overnight,” Nicole says, noting that it took more than 10 years for her to get to where she is today.
Outside of cooking, Nicole is passionate about board work and volunteering; she currently serves on a number of boards and is constantly thinking about ways to support the causes that are important to her. Nicole lives in Highland Park, a suburb outside Chicago, with her family she and her husband are now planning their adventures as empty nesters with their last child going off to college in the fall of 2022.
Nicole looks back on her time at SPA fondly and advises current students "be patient with yourself as careers and changes do not happen instantly, but rather evolve over time." You can follow Nicole’s blog, find fun recipes, and order her cookbook at https://www.putzelkitchen.com/ or by following her on social media @putzelkitchen.
Kenzie O'Keefe '08
Kenzie O’Keefe ’08 is passionate about storytelling, lifting others up, and fighting for equity and justice in her community. Currently the Head of Mobilization and Narrative Strategies at Pillsbury United Communities, Kenzie has been involved in a number of community projects, including a recent collaboration with her colleagues and local funders to surprise each member of the North Minneapolis High School senior class with a $10,000 post-secondary scholarship.
Kenzie started at SPA in 6th grade and participated in numerous extracurricular activities while at school including soccer, basketball, track and field, choir, and theater. She was especially passionate about theater, participating in the Upper School One-Acts and Spring Musicals. She appreciates Eric Severson and Anne Klus for seeing her potential and pushing her out of her comfort zone to take a lead role in Anything Goes, her favorite musical. One of her favorite memories from SPA was the pre-show warm-ups of dancing to Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show before every play or musical performance. “The power and impact that Eric, Anne, and all my teachers at SPA have had on the lives of their students has really stayed with me throughout my life.”
Kenzie attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She majored in English and was involved in the school newspaper, serving as editor her senior year. Upon graduation, Kenzie hiked the Appalachian Trail with her college roommate before moving to Boulder, Colorado to work at a small marketing company. Another hiking trip--this one to New Zealand where she hiked the 1,800 mile long Te Araroa Trail--gave her the opportunity to think about the next step in her career, especially her desire to work for a more mission-based organization and to be closer to her Minnesota family. Upon returning, she moved back to the Twin Cities and began working at The BrandLab, a Minneapolis nonprofit which works to create opportunities in the marketing and advertising industries for all people, especially those who experience barriers.
While working on a pro-bono freelance job in North Minneapolis, Kenzie learned that Pillsbury United Communities was looking for a leader to reimagine North News, a community newspaper in North Minneapolis. Kenzie took on this new role in 2015 and got to work in partnership with community members to relaunch North News. She also teamed up with a teacher at North High School to create a school-based journalism program after learning that there were no journalism classes for high school students at area high schools.
Over the course of the last seven years, Kenzie has grown in her role and now leads a team of media-makers, storytellers, and community organizers to change narratives and influence policy that affects race, place, and poverty. Kenzie and her colleagues produce content to pitch to media outlets, lobby at the Capitol, and advocate for investments in the community; they use a human-centered design process to make sure those most affected are at the center of change, and equip individuals with the information they need to be empowered and invested in democracy.
This spring, Kenzie and her colleagues were instrumental in surprising each member of the North High School senior class with a post-secondary scholarship. “In February, my boss, PUC CEO Adair Mosley, called me after the senseless murder of North High student Deshaun Hill with an urgent instinct to show up big for the graduating class at the school given all they have been through in the last few years: the pandemic, the Minneapolis teacher's strike, and disproportionate experiences of police and community violence,” Kenzie says. Working to identify and solicit potential donors, Kenzie’s group was able to raise $1 million in 45 days; 15 days later, they were on the North High School stage announcing the news that each member of the Class of 2022 would be receiving a $10,000 scholarship. “Everyone was crying, including us,” Kenzie says. “I'll never forget that joy as long as I live. One of my biggest takeaways from that experience is that we all need to be asking how we can go bigger, faster to show up for the people who need us most”. The experience was particularly important for Kenzie, as she taught journalism to a number of the seniors who received scholarships.
Kenzie is passionate about her community and her work in helping dismantle systemic racial and class disparities and fighting for equity and justice all the while being surrounded by creative and visionary colleagues every day. You can learn more about Kenzie’s work and Pillsbury United Communities by visiting https://pillsburyunited.org/.
Charlie McGarraugh '96
Charlie McGarraugh ’96 currently resides in London, UK where he is the Chief Strategy Officer at Blockchain.com, one of the largest crypto financial services companies in the world. In his role, Charlie is responsible for many strategic initiatives and co-heads Blockchain’s institutional services business
Prior to joining Blockchain.com, Charlie spent a number of years at Goldman Sachs (relocating to London in 2009 in the process), being named Partner in 2012, and worked in a number of senior level roles, before leaving the company in 2016. He then jumped into the world of tech entrepreneurship as CEO of Stratagem Technologies, a financial technology company. The company was acquired by Blockchain.com in 2018 and Charlie has been working at Blockchain.com ever since. Although Charlie resides in London, he frequently travels to the United States to visit the company’s offices in New York City, Miami, and San Francisco, and to spend time with his relatives in Minnesota.
Charlie attended SPA from 9th grade on, and fondly remembers SPA’s strong emphasis on learning and critical thinking; he particularly remembers History teacher Joanna Victor: “Ms. Victor’s high standards of discipline and emphasis on high intellectual rigor and writing have been instrumental in my daily work,” he says. “Her influence has helped me get to the places I am today.” His advice to current students: “Don’t be afraid of hard work and don’t be afraid of pushing yourself to try new things.”
After graduating from SPA, Charlie attended Yale University, where he majored in Economics and Mathematics. One of his college internships brought him back to SPA, as he was an intern at Piper Jaffray in the late 90’s when the investment banking firm was assisting SPA with a capital project.
When not at work, Charlie regularly visits museums in London, such as the British Museum, and enjoys attending Arsenal football (soccer) games.
Elie (Foster) Donahue ’94
Our next Alumni/ae Spotlight Series feature is Elie (Foster) Donahue ’94. Elie currently resides in Mill Valley, California with her husband and two sons and serves as the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Rothy’s, a sustainable fashion company. Founded in 2016, Rothy’s was named one of Time magazine’s 2019 “Best Inventions” and one of the 10 most innovative style companies by Fast Company in 2020.
At SPA, athletics were an important part of Elie’s experience. She was a three-sport athlete, playing soccer, basketball, and softball and felt a strong connection to the cooperative team atmosphere that came with being on these teams. One of her favorite memories was playing under “The Dome” at the state soccer tournament against some of the largest schools in the state. As a senior, Elie was awarded the Athletic Bowl for her athletic talent and went on to play Division I soccer at Stanford University. In the classroom, Buzz Lagos was one of her favorite teachers due to his genuine, fun, and non-traditional style of teaching. She was also lucky enough to be taught by her uncle and longtime drama teacher, Dutton Foster ’57. Elie says that SPA prepared her to think critically and be a strong, independent worker: “The independence we were given to work on external research projects, engage in conversations with teachers, and learn in an environment where students were treated like adults had a formative impact when it came to my college and professional experiences,” she says.
At Stanford, Elie had impressive soccer and academic careers. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, and later returned to receive her MBA. Her post-graduate life included time in Cairo, New York, and Boston before returning to the west coast and California. Marketing is Elie’s passion: she enjoys telling stories through a multitude of channels, and has found that the ability to combine strategic and creative thinking to create a brand identity and editorial voice motivates her every day. Elie has taken this strong passion and talent to a number of companies, including Kiehls, Yes To, Inc., Sephora, and Pinterest before arriving at Rothy’s in 2018.
At Rothy’s, Elie is responsible for planning marketing campaigns and brainstorming new ways to keep customers engaged, all while telling the story of Rothy’s. When she first started at the company, Rothy’s had one store location in San Francisco; now, in 2022, there are more than 20 Rothy’s stores, including a soon-to-be opened store at Edina’s Galleria.
“Don't take things too seriously in high school,” Elie advises current SPA students. “It's all going to work out just fine. Be kind and just have fun!”
You can learn more about the work Elie is doing at Rothy’s by visiting Rothy’s social media accounts or www.rothys.com.
REENA SINGH '94
Reena Singh ’94 currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts and is the Senior Program Officer at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, which seeks to expand and improve health access to communities that are racially, ethnically, economically, and socially marginalized in Massachusetts.
At SPA, Reena fondly remembers Marine Biology, US History, and World History as some of her favorite classes. Outside of class she participated on the swim & dive and basketball teams throughout her high school career. She also highlighted the memorable experiences she had with Ms. Kelly, Mr. McVeety, Mr. Boulger in the Upper School, and Mr. Burton in 7th grade. In addition to academic and extracurricular experiences, Reena’s favorite memories include time spent with friends: hanging out in the gym foyer or the courtyard, and enjoying chocolate cake at Cafe Latte! Following SPA, Reena attended Skidmore College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Art History and Women’s Studies; and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where she earned a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration.
Prior to transitioning to philanthropy at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA Foundation, Reena worked in advocacy and public policy in support of reproductive justice and health justice. For Reena, universal access to quality, affordable, and equitable health care is one of the most important issues facing our society today. Through targeted policy campaigns and organizational capacity-building, Reena worked to improve health access, coverage and equity across the country and ensure community voices were part of creating policy solutions. Reena shared that one of the greatest achievements of her career was playing a part in the campaigns to pass and then defend the Affordable Care Act.
In her current role, Reena is using her skills as a leader in public policy and advocacy to help Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA Foundation continue to increase racial equity in health and support quality, affordable healthcare for families. This includes meeting with community leaders from across Massachusetts to identify opportunities for partnerships and working to find ways to connect families to health coverage that meets their needs. One of Reena’s favorite aspects about her work is that she gets to work with her community and learn about the many incredible organizations doing great things to support individuals across the Commonwealth.
Sharing advice for current St. Paul Academy and Summit School students, “Be patient with yourself and others; enjoy your time at SPA and after; and you’ll find your way”.
You can learn more about Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA Foundation and the work Reena and her coworkers are doing at www.bluecrossmafoundation.org/.
Serene Lawrence '07
Serene Lawrence ’07, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, Hopi Tribe, is the Chief Operating Officer at Eighth Generation, the fastest growing Native-owned company in the United States. The company has a strong social justice and educational mission which seeks to combat cultural appropriation and promote authentic Indigenous art and Artists.
Serene attended SPA from Kindergarten through 12th grade and some of her favorite memories included the annual Bazaar, Peanut Day, Snake Eggs, athletics, arts classes, going to D.C, Camp Widjiwagan, and Commencement. Thinking of some teachers who made an impact in her life, Serene mentioned “Molly my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. D who was my 2-3rd grade teacher, Ms. Magnuson who was my 4th/5th grade teacher, as well as Mr. Benson, Mr. Danielson and Chuck Fisher, who was my advisor in high school”. Serene went on to attend The Evergreen State College and currently lives in Seattle, Washington.
In her role at Eighth Generation, Serene oversees a rapidly growing team and all product development from Artist Engagement, to Manufacturing and Marketing. She was also recently named to the National Center for American Indian Economic Development’s 40 Under 40 list, which recognizes the best and brightest American Indian and Alaska Native leaders who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication, while making significant contributions in business and/or in their community.
Eighth Generation is the nation's first Native-owned company to create wool blankets and other gifts exclusively in partnership with Native Artists from around the country. Founded by a Native artist and now owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe, the company also has a storefront in Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market, which Serene encourages SPA alums to stop into if they are in town!
Serene has held a number of positions at Eighth Generation. From working in project management, to marketing and product development, to her current role coordinating activities across all departments. During her time with Eighth Generation, the company has grown from 4 to 20 employees and works with Native artists from all over North America. Eighth Generation hopes to continue their impressive growth by engaging with more Native creators and eventually becoming a global company featuring the work of indigenous artists across the globe.
“What I like most about the field I work in is it taps directly into some of my biggest passions, such as my lifelong love of art, indigenous rights, community building and social justice. I love working with a steadily growing team and cultivating relationships with Native Artists, organizations, and other businesses across the nation and globe. I love that the work we do benefits multiple small businesses, organizations, tribal communities, Artists and their families.”, Lawrence commented.
Sharing advice for current St. Paul Academy and Summit School students, “Try to be as kind, patient, and respectful as you can. The world needs more of this”.
You can learn more about Eighth Generation and the work Serene and her coworkers are doing at www.eighthgeneration.com.