Class Notes and more
For most people, an Emmy Award, Peabody Award, and Tony nomination would be enough to define a successful career. But for Roni Selig ’22, there was one recognition that got away—her college diploma. During the early months of the pandemic, Selig set out to resolve the unfinished business of her bachelor’s degree and discovered that the UMass University Without Walls (UWW) program was the perfect partner to help her achieve her goal.
As an undergraduate student nearly 40 years ago, Selig took a gap year from New York University to pursue job opportunities in television. The move, while a boon for her career, put her academic ambitions on indefinite hold. “When I was in my 20s, I felt I’d rather earn than learn—that’s just where my head was at,” she recalls. “At this point in my life, I’d rather learn than earn. And frankly, being an older learner is much more gratifying.”
To be sure, Selig has already enjoyed a lifetime of learning. As a media executive and co-president of RonMar Studios, she has produced a string of high-profile news programs, including an award-winning series on medical marijuana with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and a documentary on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 titled Terror in the Dust. But as the years went by, Selig’s dream of completing her formal education both persisted and evolved. “I’m not going back to school to hit that C-suite job anymore,” she says. “Now it’s about being intellectually stimulated and culturally aware.”
Through UWW’s distance-learning program, Selig has been able to find just the academic experience she was looking for later in life. Largely asynchronous and with highly flexible scheduling, the UWW program suited the nearly nonstop demands of Selig’s day job. The courses and assignments she’s completed so far have also paved the way to personal fulfillment. In particular, she cites her Prior Learning Portfolio, a requirement for all UWW students, as one of her favorite projects to date. By examining several threads of her professional life through an academic lens, she found herself learning anew from past experiences. “I really hadn’t thought about my 42-year experience in television as precisely as when I considered it through a lens of learning,” she explains. “It was very much a reflection on my journey so far.”
As she tackles her homework and reading assignments on nights and weekends, Selig’s dream of a college degree is now within sight, with an expected graduation this year. And while it’s true that, at this point in her career, finally earning her degree is more of a personal goal than a professional one, the intrinsic reward she’s experiencing is no less powerful. “If you’re winning an Oscar, for example, there’s a whole team of people who helped make that possible,” says Selig. “This degree is strictly my doing. Even with the support of my professors, I can’t get by without digging in and doing the work myself.”
Lights, Camera, Improv
Alums find success on Broadway
With the lights of Broadway aglow again after pandemic shutdowns, two UMass alums are finding continued success on and off the stage.
Lighting designer Justin Townsend ’97, a theater major, has won many prestigious honors, including a Tony Award for Moulin Rouge! The Musical on Broadway and an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Lighting Design. “I wouldn’t be where I am without UMass, specifically without my teachers Penny Remsen, Harley Erdman, and Miguel Romero,” he says, noting that the UMass theater program has also produced several other successful lighting designers. Moulin Rouge! opened in London in late 2021 and launched its U.S. tour in February, while Jagged Little Pill, for which Townsend received one of his three additional Tony nominations, is currently playing in Australia.
NYU Tisch School of the Arts has recently announced that Townsend will lead the Department of Design for Stage and Film as its chair starting in August 2022, and will join the school’s faculty immediately.
The actor and vocal percussionist Chris Sullivan ’02 is a member of Freestyle Love Supreme (FLS), an improvisational hip-hop comedy musical group founded by Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. Better known by his stage name, Shockwave, Sullivan is the show’s beatbox, improvising the percussive backdrop using only his mouth. FLS recently wrapped up a Broadway run and is now touring nationally. While at UMass, Sullivan was a member of Mission: IMPROVable and the Vocal Suspects. “Those two clubs helped form the skill set I ended up taking to the Broadway stage,” he says.
Blazing a trail for women
Janet Casey ’90, president and founder of the advertising agency Marketing Doctor, was chosen as one of Adweek’s 35 Women Trailblazers USA for 2021. Adweek recognized Casey for her dedication to building a company that provides flexibility for working mothers. Casey started Marketing Doctor as a one-person consultancy in 2003 when she wanted that flexibility for herself, and as the company grew, it was important to her to extend it to others.
Several former UMass athletes made a showing at the 2021 summer Olympic games. Heather MacLean ’17, ’19MEd (pictured) competed in the 1,500-meter run, becoming the first Olympian in the history of the UMass women’s track and field program. MacLean placed 12th in the second Olympic women’s 1,500-meter run semifinal in Tokyo, with a time of 4 minutes, 5.33 seconds. Meanwhile, Sarah Hawkshaw ’18, who played for the UMass field hockey team from 2014 to 2018, was selected for the Ireland Olympic field hockey team.
Protecting rare turtles
Jeremy Fontaine ’12 has been lending a hand with a population survey of the Blanding’s turtle and other native turtle species in New Hampshire. The Blanding’s turtle is a protected species, and the survey aims to track their habitat and home range in order to determine how best to protect them. “I would like to shed light on the importance of turtles,” says Fontaine, “but also open people’s eyes to exploring one’s backyard and the cool animals and plants that call New England home.”
Larry Ruttman ’52 launched the podcast A Life Lived Backwards: One Man’s Life, in August 2021 at the age of 90. More than 25 episodes on topics including baseball, music, mentorship, history, and more are available at larryruttman.com.
Howard A. Young ’69 is the inaugural recipient of the International Cytokine and Interferon Society (ICIS) Mentorship Award. This award recognizes ICIS members who have made significant and sustained contributions to the career development of trainees and to the profession through outstanding mentoring.
Rafael E. Tarragó ’74 received the 2020 José Toribio Medina Award for his book The Ignored Contender: A Select Annotated Bibliography of the Cuban Autonomist Party (1878–1898). This award was established in 1981 by the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials to recognize outstanding contributions to reference and bibliography by its members.
Matthew Siegal ’80 has been named president and executive director of the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society, a nonprofit education center focused on preserving and promoting traditional and contemporary arts and crafts. Siegal brings to his new role 20 years of experience directing the department of conservation and collections management at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Gale Sinatra ’81, ’89PhD is co-author of Science Denial: Why It Happens and What To Do About It. The book helps readers understand the psychology behind science denial and doubt, and aims to provide a means for improving scientific literacy at a critical time when denial has become deadly.
Robert Pearson ’81 owns and operates Elmhurst Dairy Farm in Millbury, MA, with his family. The farm has been an important resource for community members during the pandemic, offering home delivery of milk, cheese, and other products, as well as an on-site store where people can shop without facing large crowds.
James Krupa ’82AS, a research technician at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, has started using a new pest-management technique devised by Stockbridge School of Agriculture Extension Professor Jaime Piñero. The technique involves grafting different cultivars onto a handful of apple trees on an orchard perimeter to attract a variety of pests away from the main crop.
Sandy Barbour ’83MS and Patty Viverito ’79MS are the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee. This is the first time that women have held the top two positions. Barbour and Viverito both hold master’s degrees in sport management from the Isenberg School of Management.
At the age of 89, Jim Cahillane ’89, ’97MA continues to write a monthly Daily Hampshire Gazette opinion column that started in 1993. Cahillane attributes much of his success to the University Without Walls program, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1989.
The Pixies, founded by Joey Santiago and Charles Thompson IV (also known as Frank Black) when they studied at UMass in the 1980s, were recently profiled by Spin magazine on the 30th anniversary of their album Trompe le Monde.
United States Air Force Brigadier General Sean Collins ’90, ’09PhD, a nurse practitioner at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence and assistant professor at the UMass Medical School, has been appointed Commander of the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency.
Howard Kalfus ’91 has been appointed as Vermont Superior Court judge. “I look forward to continuing my efforts to safeguard the rights and interests of all Vermonters, especially its children and other vulnerable individuals,” says Kalfus.
Arthur Jemison ’92 has been nominated by President Biden to be assistant secretary for public and Indian housing at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Jemison joined HUD in January 2021, and currently serves as principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development.
ESPN promoted Burke Magnus ’94MS to president of programming and original content. He previously held the title of executive vice president, and now adds oversight of original content for ESPN and ESPN+ to his role.
Gerard (Rod) Zuch ’95 is the founder and president of The Morgan Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing preschool-age children undergoing treatment for cancer with the opportunity to interact and socialize in a safe environment. Named in honor of Zuch’s daughter, Morgan, it’s the first organization of its kind in the United States.
Elizabeth Chilton ’96PhD, provost and executive vice president of Washington State University, will become the first chancellor of the flagship Pullman campus in July. Chilton is a former UMass faculty member and served as department chair of anthropology, associate dean for research and programs in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and associate vice chancellor for research and engagement.
Mechthild Nagel ’96PhD co-edited the book Contesting Carceral Logic: Towards Abolitionist Futures, now available from Routledge. Nagel teaches philosophy and Africana studies at SUNY Cortland and is the director of the Center for Ethics, Peace, and Social Justice.
James S. Bridgeforth ’04MEd has been named assistant vice president for student affairs and ExperienceVT at Virginia Tech. “As a first-generation college student who grew up in southern rural Virginia, I learned that the college experience can transform a person’s life in ways they may never have imagined by providing access and avenues to a better quality of life,” says Bridgeforth.
Jason Irizarry ’05EdD has been named dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. Irizarry, who had been serving as interim dean since March of 2021, is the first Latino dean to lead the Neag School.
Vertebrate paleontologist Taormina Lepore ’06 began her journey in paleontology at UMass Amherst with Professor Margery Coombs and completed work in the biology, geology, and anthropology departments from 2002–2006. “My experiences with the local dinosaur field sites (trackways), the local museums (UMass Natural History Collections and the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College), and the campus educational resources (BioTAP, field work, courses in paleontology) were so influential to me and others.”
Kishore Indukuri ’06PhD quit his job at Intel in the United States and returned to his agricultural roots in India. He started Sid’s Farm, a dairy farm in Hyderabad, and began delivering milk to customers on a subscription basis.
Corey Lynch ’11, ’20MS and his wife, Antonia Lynch ’11, ’21MEd, recently opened Drawing Board Brewing Company in Florence, Mass. “When I first started out brewing, it was just a little hobby right out of college to get me between graduation and my first job,” says Lynch. “We cracked my first batch of beer at my college graduation and it was an absolute hit.”
College of the Holy Cross Spanish Associate Professor Juan Ramos ’11PhD has received the M.H. Abrams Fellowship from the National Humanities Center. Ramos will have the opportunity to work on an individual research project and share ideas in seminars, lectures, and conferences.
Kristen Wyman ’12 was featured in a Boston Globe story about her work with the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, which seeks to restore the spiritual foundation of Indigenous people through regenerative food systems. A member of the Nipmuc Tribe, Wyman says that her time at UMass inspired her to deepen her work for the advancement of her community.
Gabrielle Griffis ’13 and her husband, Corey Farrenkopf ’13, ’14MEd, are members of the Blue Marble Librarians, a group that works with the Massachusetts Library System on climate issues. Each year, Blue Marble Librarians partner with Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW) to coordinate Climate Preparedness Week, during which libraries and other organizations try to help their communities better prepare for extreme weather events.
Erik Simon Vuoritie ’19 was profiled by Thrive Global as part of a series about “young people who are making an important social impact.” Simon Vuoritie, who received a BS in mechanical engineering in 2019, currently works in the field of wind energy and takes a global approach to solving climate challenges.
Steve Trachtenberg ’19 was hired as the Minutemen’s new director of hockey operations. Trachtenberg previously served as a hockey operations assistant while working on his sport management degree.
Recent UMass Amherst hockey goalie Filip Lindberg ’21 signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He played three seasons for UMass from 2018–21 and was vital in the Minutemen’s 2021 National Championship win, stopping all 25 shots he faced in goal. Lindberg is the all-time leader in save percentage (.935) and goals against average (1.62).