Part leap of faith, part sheer conviction. For these alumni, abandoning one career to pursue another is evidence that a liberal arts education prepares you for just about anything.
Being your own boss. Working outdoors on crystal-clear water surrounded by towering mountains and glaciers. Doing intense work for two to three months, then being free to travel or do what you want the rest of the year. Sounds like many people's idea of a dream job, but for Art Bloom '67, it's a reality.
Bloom is a self-employed commercial salmon fisherman in southwest Alaska's Bristol Bay, the world's largest source of sockeye or red salmon. A biology major at Hamilton, he earned a master's degree in genetics in 1971 from McGill University and worked as a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service. But after eight years, Bloom knew it was time to get out. "Working within a bureaucracy was restrictive," he says, "and it was geared more toward logging and timber production. I wasn't enjoying what I was doing, so I decided to make a career change."
But the path that led him to salmon fishing was a winding one. He started a woodstove/fireplace business in Juneau, Alaska, where he had success during the years of the oil embargo crisis. After selling that business, he served as a guide for wilderness adventure and fly-fishing trips. Then he started a fly-fishing lodge in Chile where he worked winters, returning to Alaska in the summer to guide wilderness trips.
During the 1990s, Bloom got into salmon fishing, first in a partnership with a friend, then as sole owner when he bought his own boat and permit. Fishermen must buy permits for each fishery, which are limited in number and are traded on the free market — at upwards of $80,000. In Bristol Bay salmon fishing is seasonal. Normally salmon are found in the ocean; between May and September they return to Bristol Bay to spawn, and that is the time for salmon fishing.
"It's intense and competitive and highly controlled," Bloom explains. "They (the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) tell us when we can fish and when we can't." Boat size is limited to 32 feet. "Sometimes it's virtually around the clock for several days in a row," Bloom says.
On an average day the crew nets 8,000 pounds of salmon; on a big day they can haul in between 15,000-20,000 pounds. Bloom said that in 2005, some 40 million salmon returned to Bristol Bay, and of those, fishermen were allowed to harvest 24 million; the other 16 million went upstream to keep the cycle going. Bloom sells his catch to a fish processing company. He has two crew members who work on a share basis, meaning they get a percentage of the catch.
The salmon fishing business has its ups and downs. During the last 10 years, farmed salmon from Norway and Chile have put a crimp in the market for the wild salmon he catches. "They could be put on the market cheaper, so initially it was affecting prices," Bloom says. "But now wild salmon is on the comeback because a lot of attention is being paid to the health value of wild salmon."
Come September the nets are put away, and Bloom returns to his home in Juneau. In the off-season he and his wife travel; the past few years he has worked on building houses. He doesn't question the decision he made to quit his federal job in the late 1970s. His family was supportive, and his career choice provided his children many advantages. They lived in a foreign country, became fluent in Spanish and traveled. And they both followed in their father's footsteps. His son and daughter both own salmon fishing permits and their own boats.
Bloom is happy he made his career change. "I don't necessarily have a steady paycheck, but it's more appealing to me to be my own boss, make my own decisions and be outdoors."
The career Kathy Woolf Jonas K'79 always dreamed of having may have taken a little longer to achieve than she'd hoped, but she got it just the same.
The director of Camp Kingswood in Maine, Jonas earned her master's of education from Northeastern University after graduating from Kirkland. Her grand plan was to obtain a nine-month teaching position, then spend her summers working at a summer camp. "Camps had always been a part of my life," Jonas says. "I met my husband at one and made many lifetime friends. I knew camps would always be important to me."
But she couldn't find a job teaching. "There were too many teachers at that time," Jonas explains, "and my parents warned me that my plan wouldn't work." So, though she interviewed for resident advisor positions at colleges, she was hired as a full-time, 12-month admissions coordinator at the New Hampshire Consortium of Colleges, and, she says, "put camp into the back of my mind."
The years rolled by and Jonas moved into other positions at colleges: dean of students at Wheelock College in Boston, then dean of students at Pine Manor College, followed by director of student life at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. The turning point came in 2000 when her oldest son David, now 16, went to summer camp for the first time. Jonas says that at the time she felt her "real" job was getting harder. "The community was changing, and I was feeling I wasn't making that much of an impact and needed a change." So she took some vacation time and volunteered at the camp. "I convinced the director to let me come back," Jonas recalls. "I didn't mind the scut work — I drove the vans and went on day hikes. It was an amazing two weeks for me, and I sobbed when I had to leave."
Armed with a new resolve to find a nine-month teaching position, Jonas returned home. "In October the directorship of Camp Kingswood was advertised. I applied for the job, and when I got it, my friends said, 'Well of course, that's what gives you the air that you breathe.'"
Camp Kingswood in Bridgton, Maine, is an overnight camp affiliated with the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston. Jonas arrives in Maine each year in early June. "When I get there I feel so great — it's energizing; I walk to work. It's what gives me energy; 80-85 percent falls into place immediately." She adds, "The most exciting part for me is that now I'm learning how to be an informal Jewish educator. My Jewish education had been limited."
When she heads to Maine, her sons go to North Country camps that she attended as a child, and her husband commutes to Maine from Boston on weekends. During the rest of the year, Jonas works from her home outside Boston, recruiting, fundraising and hiring employees.
Jonas has no regrets about her career change, though she says that if she had it to do again at a different camp she'd "like to work for a camp that is doing well financially and doesn't have a lot of stuff to fix. I seem to be drawn to organizations that need to be renewed." She adds, "When I took the job, I didn't know all that I was getting in to — accreditation, health facilities, food service, recruiting staff and campers, building teams — I do everything."
But for Jonas, being camp director is akin to "being mayor of my own city all summer. I haven't looked back for a second," she says.
When the time came for Tom Schwarz '66 to decide what he wanted to do for the rest of his professional career, he approached it as he would a trial for the law firm in which he was a partner: research, preparation, study, interviews, enlist the help of a consultant.
It wasn't that Schwarz didn't enjoy practicing law with the New York City firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; he simply wanted to determine if that was the career he wished to stick with for the next 20 years, or if doing something else would be more appealing.
"I needed to study whether I wanted to continue practicing law into my 60s and 70s," Schwarz explains. "I was very happy and wasn't sure that I wanted to retire from that profession, but if I continued, it was because I'd made the decision to do so and not just have it happen."
Schwarz's decision? Continuing a legal career was not for him. "I decided that was not what I wanted. I concluded that ultimately I'd feel that I was moving money from one wealthy pocket to another," he says.
So beginning in 1997 Schwarz started thinking about other career options. "I looked at being a dean of a law school, a judge, teaching, pro bono work — all the things a lawyer looks at doing," he says. "But nothing really grabbed me."
Ultimately, Schwarz notes, "I began looking at the portion of my résumé 'below the line.'" He had served on Hamilton's board of trustees since 1987 and was mayor of the village of Ocean Beach in Suffolk County from 1978-87. "I put that experience together and thought, 'I wonder if I'd like to be a college president,'" he recalls.
As they say, timing is everything. In 1998 Hamilton's chairman of the board, Kevin Kennedy, and then-president Gene Tobin called Schwarz when Tobin was planning a sabbatical. "They asked if I'd be interested in serving as acting president of Hamilton for the fall of 1999," Schwarz says. That experience confirmed his interest in being a college president.
In January 2002, Schwarz began serving as interim president at Purchase College, State University of New York in Westchester County. The school combines traditional liberal arts and science programs with world-class conservatory-based arts programs. By April 2003, after a national search, that college's board decided that Schwarz was its permanent choice for the job.
Since his inauguration as president in July 2003, Schwarz has earned kudos from students, faculty members and SUNY trustees. The endowment has increased by 12.7 percent to $33.4 million, and new campus construction is booming. But if you ask Schwarz what he loves most about his job, the answer is simple: "What I enjoy are the students. In this institution there are very creative students who are different because of the school's arts focus," he explains. "And they're a joy to watch and see thrive. I love getting up and coming to work."
The pride is apparent in listening to Schwarz talk about his students: the first-generation college students getting their degrees; the girl who couldn't believe that the president of the college not only came to her senior art exhibition but also bought one of her paintings; the student who he helped gain admission to Buffalo Law. And the story that has become lore around the Purchase campus: a student parked in Schwarz's "reserved for the president" space. The car got towed and she was summoned to the president's office. Schwarz met with her and wrote the check for the fine, with the condition that she come to him every semester and tell him how she was doing. He proudly tells that she graduated last year and is now in graduate school, studying to be a social worker. "How can you not love this job?" Schwarz wonders.
As if there was any question, Schwarz confirms: "This is the right thing to be doing now. I'm very lucky that I found a second career that is right for me at this time of my life."
For Bruce Rockwell '65, it wasn't just a matter of deciding to switch careers. It was answering a spiritual call that made him give up a 21-year career in banking to become a layperson working in stewardship for the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester.
Rockwell got his start in banking during summers while a student at Hamilton. After graduation he landed a job with Mutual Savings Bank in Rochester. At the same time he was rising through the corporate ranks, he found himself more involved with his church. In the mid-1980s, he became a trustee for the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. "I was asked by a priest for whom I had great respect if I'd get involved in stewardship," Rockwell recalls. "As a banker I got asked that a lot." The priest wanted him to chair a stewardship commission for the diocese. "After some prayer and reflection I found myself saying 'yes,'" Rockwell says.
In 1986 the diocese elected a new bishop who asked Rockwell to consider working full time for the church. This, Rockwell says, was the turning point. "I said I'd think about it. Going to the non-profit world from banking, I figured I could never go back. But I looked at it as a way to use my banking knowledge to help the diocese with financial issues and issues of stewardship, in a field where I now had some passion and commitment," he explains. "I had seen church leaders who had a business sense that they didn't always bring to church matters. I saw a need to help secure fiduciary responsibility."
Rockwell's wife, who at the time was in the seminary studying to become an Episcopal priest, was very supportive of his decision. "She was probably more aware of the spiritual growth taking place within me," he says.
As Rockwell became engaged in his new career he also began doing stewardship workshops around the country. It was one of these that led to his next career move. In 1997 the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts appointed a new bishop. He had participated in one of Rockwell's workshops and, six months after his appointment, he called Rockwell inviting him to move to Springfield, Mass. "This diocese had some significant financial management issues, and there was an opportunity to work around issues of generosity so I agreed," Rockwell explains.
Rockwell has no regrets about what some might see as a drastic career change. "In a sense I accomplished a great deal in banking. I think when the call came to make a change it really was a call from God," he says, adding, "I've grown spiritually and professionally."
His work is about generosity and giving. "It begins with the acknowledgement that everything is a gift from God; that we're stewards of ourselves, our time and talent. It's all about how we use the financial resources entrusted to us. It calls for us to be generous and not hoard them," Rockwell explains. His job involves speaking to church leaders and training them to encourage and inspire others to be generous.
Rockwell says that although he made a financial sacrifice in switching careers, "in terms of what's important — my spiritual growth — I pray that the work I've been able to do in the church will have had a more profound effect on people in the long run than the work I did in the bank."
It's not easy to turn a hobby into a career, but that's just what Irad Ingraham '57 did. After 30 years in the legal profession — as trial lawyer, district attorney, county judge, family court judge, surrogate judge and finally New York state Supreme Court justice — Ingraham in 1999 hung up his robe and picked up a paintbrush. Now, not only does he paint portraits on commission, he's making a living at it.
Ingraham took up painting in the 1970s when he trained with a wildlife artist in Syracuse. But it was after he was elected to the Supreme Court bench in 1984 that he became serious about his craft and went in a different artistic direction. "For initiation as a new judge I was sent to the Bronx to preside over terms and work my way up," Ingraham explains. "They sent me to Foley Square in Manhattan; during the evenings I went to the Art Students League where they had evening courses. It was first-class and they made it convenient to enroll for a month at a time."
Because working from live models is the method employed at ASL, Ingraham began painting portraits. "I got to the point where I enjoyed bringing a likeness to life," he says. Since then his subjects have included lawyers, fellow judges, couples, children and bank presidents. Ingraham's paintings have been featured in American Artist magazine and in the catalogue of the Art Students League. Procter & Gamble exhibits a portrait he painted of one of its vice presidents in the lobby of its new Health Research Center in Cincinnati. Ingraham also does a lot of charity work, creating a painting that is then auctioned to benefit his local Arts Council or another non-profit organization.
Although he dabbled in painting throughout his legal career, Ingraham says he was never tempted to quit the profession outright to pursue a calling as a portrait painter. "The term 'starving artist' comes to mind," he confesses. "I would not be able to support a family with the business I'm in now, even though I charge a lot," Ingraham adds. His portraits are priced from $4,000-$8,000, depending on their size and complexity. Doing a portrait takes anywhere from 30 to 80 hours. He starts with sittings of the subject then takes photos from which he can work.
Since his retirement in 1999, when he chose not to seek reelection for another term, there have been times that he misses the courtroom, he admits. "I'm a fan of books by John Grisham and some things he writes about are like real things that happened to me. There are some exciting moments," Ingraham explains, "but there are also hours of testimony that seem to go on forever. I had reached the point when doing a trial I knew what the lawyer was going to ask, I knew how the client was going to respond. It was a déjà vu feeling. I was becoming a little bored by it. I thought I got out at the right time."
Ingraham likes the flexibility his latest career provides: he can work at his own pace and take as many or few commissions as he wants. Between portrait paintings he has traveled to Africa and, most recently, China with his wife Jan. After the trip to Africa he did a one-man show of wildlife works, in which he "relived the whole trip in doing the paintings."
In some ways his career as a portrait painter is similar to his days of practicing law, Ingraham says. "Then, I had clients and we'd work toward winning a case or solving a problem. Now my clients are my subjects and it's satisfying when they're pleased; it helps to keep me young."
Lisa Ouimette Cooper '83 says it best: "My life keeps taking odd twists." If there was ever someone who demonstrated the value of a liberal arts education, it's Cooper.
The New Hartford, N.Y., high school computer applications and accounting teacher has had careers in several fields that she studied or had interest in during her Hamilton career. Though she was an economics/German major, she also took courses in computer programming and had a work-study job in the computer center.
That experience came in handy when she was offered an internship in Germany after graduation. "Because of my computer background, as limited as it was at the time, I was placed in the information systems department at Metallgesellschaft AG in Frankfurt," Cooper says. "I was very lucky — some students were placed as clerks in grocery stores."
Cooper's luck changed, however, when she returned to the U.S. She had interviewed with several New York City-based financial institutions but was unable to land a job. "It was an exceedingly humbling experience," Cooper recalls, "but after two months of unemployment, I signed up with Kelly Services and worked as a temp."
In 1984, she was hired by General Electric in Utica. "My initial position was 'software librarian' for the software engineering group that worked on the F-20 radar," she says. "But because of my lack of a technical degree, I started at the bottom and worked my way up." During this time she took more programming and technology courses at SUNY Institute of Technology.
Cooper took a leave of absence when her daughter was born in 1986, but when she returned to GE she advanced two job levels. She began taking higher-level math courses at Utica College when her thoughts turned to teaching. "I had always enjoyed being a student and the learning environment," she says. "I was not unhappy with my career at GE, but I couldn't see myself there for the rest of my life. I needed an environment where I could move around, and I needed more interaction with people."
When thinking about a career change, Cooper drew from one of the other aspects of her Hamilton education. "Since there wasn't such a thing as a high school computer science teacher and very few openings for a German teacher, I began to think about becoming a math teacher," Cooper says. "I figured the math classes I was taking would help me either way." After her son was born in 1989, Cooper took a nine-month leave of absence and began taking the coursework needed to teach in New York State.
She left GE and began substitute teaching in 1992. "Because of my computer background I was hired to fill in for a business teacher who taught computer applications. This is how my path twisted from the math teacher path I was on," Cooper says. The next year a new position of elementary technology teaching assistant was created and Cooper got the job. She stayed at that until 1999 when one of the high school business teachers died suddenly. "They needed someone in a hurry and asked if I would apply for the job," she recalled. "I held multiple certifications, had extensive computer background and knew the district's computer system."
But despite her preparation, Cooper says, the transition was a difficult one. "I was up until after midnight, night after night trying to stay one step ahead of my students," she recalls. "There were days when I wished I had never left the elementary school or GE."
Fortunately the student in Cooper triumphed. To this day she continues to take courses to keep abreast of changes in her fields. "Now, after seven years in the high school," Cooper says, "I can't see myself teaching at a lower level again or doing anything other than teaching."