Alumni Profiles

Patricia Dawson '71

Patricia Dawson ’71

A Career Forged by the Knife

Dr. Patricia Dawson, a surgeon at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, is no stranger to adversity. She dedicates her book, Forged by the Knife: The Experience of Surgical Residency from the Perspective of a Woman of Color (Open Hand Publishing, 1999), “to every woman who has struggled and sacrificed to reach her goal of becoming a surgeon.”

dawsonIt is a struggle she knows well. Dawson was the only African-American woman in her residency program in the 1970s, at a time when, she says, “there weren’t a huge number of women going into surgery.”

“I was determined that I wasn’t going to let anybody get to me, to get in my way of completing my residency,” she says. Dawson’s perseverance carried her through some of the toughest points in her career, including the pre-med track at Allegheny. Although she graduated with a degree in sociology, instead of chemistry, and even considered law school after graduation, her lifelong dream of a career in medicine eventually intervened.

The New Jersey Medical School was looking for more women and particularly women of color. After successfully completing her pre-med requirements, Dawson was encouraged to enroll. It was in medical school that she had a clinical rotation in surgery, working with a trauma team.

“The technical piece of being in the operating room, I just found fascinating,” she says.

During her last year of medical school, Dawson returned to Meadville for one month, staying with Allegheny art professor Richard Kleeman and his wife, June, and working with a surgeon at the Meadville Medical Center. She then completed a five-year residency program in Newark and Seattle.

Dawson’s residency, she admits, was “really difficult, and really challenging. You’re moving from one crisis to another, you don’t get much sleep, you have to remember incredible amounts of information, on top of what’s going on with patients, and you have to be better than the other residents”—all the while combating gender and racial discrimination, with few female mentors or colleagues to turn to for support. But later, while working as director of medical staff diversity for a health cooperative in Seattle, Dawson decided to return to school to better understand diversity issues.

As a doctoral candidate at the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, she began to reflect upon the challenges unique to black female surgeons during their residency. She channeled her research into a doctoral dissertation, earning a Ph.D. in human and organizational systems in 1998. Forged by the Knife, based on her dissertation, details the personal impact of residency for six black female surgeons, and through it, Dawson says, she gained valuable insight into her own experiences. “Doing the research made me feel less alone,” she explains. “We all felt pretty isolated. It was a way for me to overcome that isolation.”

Today, Dawson’s practice in Seattle focuses on diseases of the breast and community outreach. “I feel that this was the work I was meant to do,” she says. “I love my practice, I love working with patients.” For women in surgery, Dawson adds, the tides are changing. “Ten years ago, very few women were chiefs of staff in academic surgery departments. Now, we’re seeing women percolating up into the leadership roles in surgery.”

—Abby Collier ’03

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Richard Pevear '64

Translating Great Works for the English-Speaking World

Without translators, the entire body of foreign language literature would be closed to most Americans. One of the most prominent modern-day translators is Richard Pevear ’64, who works with his Russian-born wife, Larissa Volokhonsky. Together they have translated works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov, Dumas, and others.

pevearThe couple—who received honorary doctorates from Allegheny in 2003—has twice won the Pen Prize for distinguished book-length translation from any language into English. In 2006 they became the first recipients of the Efim Etkind International Translation Prize, given by the European University of St. Petersburg, Russia. Their most recent collaboration, published in 2007 after three years of work, was Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

“I was certainly not multilingual when I arrived at Allegheny and showed no special aptitude for languages while I was there,” Pevear recalls. “I got very poor grades in French. But one day I found myself translating Apollinaire’s poem La jolie rousse, to see if I could get it to go right in English. That was my first translation.”

Over time, that first translation led to a career bringing new translations of great works to the English-speaking world. But Pevear is also professor of comparative literature and English at the American University of Paris. It’s just as well that he has a day job.

“Literary translation is not a job,” he says. “It’s also not quite a profession, and, unfortunately, in most cases it has to be coupled with something that pays better—or simply pays. And since it is also doomed to fail—there is no perfect translation—it’s hard to say why anybody does it. Which makes it interesting that quite a few of us do.”

While the results of translation can be impressive, the process of translation is a messy one. “It would be impossible to describe the entire process of translation,” says Pevear, “because much of it is intuitive and depends on a life-long preoccupation with language, poetry, literary composition, reading, and thinking your way around among words. You start with a book in another language and end with a book in English, after a lot of scribbling, thumbing of dictionaries, decisions and indecisions, lucky finds and painful compromises. It’s a kind of elevated plodding.”

Indeed, it’s a continual challenge to strike a balance between accuracy and accessibility while translating. “The most frustrating part is when you realize what you’re losing and there seems to be no way not to lose it. There are, of course, words and idioms that simply don’t exist in English. There are also things like sayings, local proverbs, slang. Sometimes there are near or even exact equivalents; otherwise you have to come up with something that sounds right in English, which calls for a certain inventiveness. There is also the need to pay constant attention to the original, because the moment you relax, you lapse into ready-made phrases.”

Pevear explains that he didn’t specifically set out to become a literary translator. “I simply found myself translating, as an offshoot of my attempts to write poetry,” he says. “It was the poetry that turned out to be the offshoot.”

—Doug McInnis

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Gail Howe Fahrner '56

nnovative Gift Honors a Faithful Employee

Gail Howe Fahrner has spent more than forty years in service to the Barra Foundation, a private Philadelphia-area foundation that supports innovative projects in the fields of human services, arts and culture, education, and health.

fahrnerHolding to the ideals that guide the organization, Robert L. McNeil, Jr., retired chairman of the Barra Foundation, took an innovative approach to showing his gratitude for Fahrner’s competence and faithful assistance: this fall he made a gift of $1 million to establish the Gail Howe Fahrner Fund in support of the Centers for Community Engagement at Allegheny.

Allegheny’s Centers for Community Engagement include numerous programs designed to promote civic engagement: the Center for Political Participation, the Center for Economic and Environmental Development, the Values, Ethics and Social Action program, the Office of Community Service and Service-Learning, Community-Based Research, and Engagement Through Writing.

“As an institution, Allegheny College is deeply rooted in the regional community and is committed to being an active community partner,” says Dean of the College Linda DeMeritt. “The Gail Howe Fahrner Fund will provide financial support for a variety of educational programs that connect learning with service to the benefit of both students and the community.”

Fahrner, who majored in French with a minor in secretarial studies, recalls the years she spent in Meadville with fondness. When she returned to campus in 2006 to celebrate her 50th class reunion, she became concerned about the area and wondered what could be done to strengthen the relationship between the College and the local community. Through the endowment established in her name, these connections will grow in perpetuity.

“I wanted to create a program that would support practical approaches to improving student education which, at the same time, would have a positive impact on the Meadville community and lasting effects on helping students develop into responsible citizens,” Fahrner says.

—Barb Steadman

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Michael Ryan '93

Judging from Experience

Judge Michael Ryan just loves it when an offender stands before him in his courtroom and tells him, “You don’t know how hard it is out there.” According to Ryan, the court workers just take a deep breath, sit back, and smirk. They know what’s coming.

ryan“I try to indicate, without being condescending, that but for God’s grace and but for my desire to work hard, I would be in the same position they are in,” explains Ryan, the youngest person ever appointed as a Cleveland Municipal Court magistrate judge.

“I get a lot of young men who don’t have an education, whose family lives are similar to my childhood and who keep making excuses,” he says. “That is just an open invitation for me to tell them about my life. Despite the fact that I went through hard times, I didn’t choose the path that they are on.”

Ryan’s is quite a story. Born when his mother was just fifteen years old, Ryan endured an unimaginable childhood. Both his mother and stepfather were addicted to drugs, and his stepfather physically and mentally abused his mother, who died when Ryan was just 13. He found peace in school.

“I was just really comfortable there,” Ryan recalls. “At school, I wasn’t worried about my safety. I wasn’t concerned about whether or not I was going to eat at night or whether my father was going to beat up my mom, or about my parents using drugs. I wanted to learn and I could control what happened at school. School became a tool for me to do well to try and overcome my other circumstances.”

Ryan excelled in the classroom. He earned a scholarship to Allegheny, majored in English, and decided to pursue a career in law while taking a civil liberties class with Professor Robert Seddig.

“He changed my philosophy and thoughts about the law,” says Ryan, who also ran track at Allegheny and was a member of the Advancement of Black Culture student organization, formerly known as the Association of Black Collegians. “I had a negative perception of the law because, when I had been in the courtroom, it was because a family member was being sentenced. I didn’t want any connection to the legal system. But Professor Seddig was so passionate about law that he changed my perspective.”

After Allegheny, Ryan graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and worked for several private law firms and for Cleveland’s law director before becoming a magistrate judge. In recognition of his professional achievements, Ryan received a Gold Citation from Allegheny College in 2006.

Indeed, Ryan’s story is incredible. Want to hear it from him? Just stand before him and tell him he doesn’t know how tough life can be.

—Kevin Gray

This article was featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Vicki Lipnic ’82

Safeguarding Workers’ Rights

Ensuring that employees can collect the paychecks they earn is all in a day’s work for Vicki Lipnic at the U.S. Department of Labor.

“So many of the laws in my jurisdiction are things that we as the American workforce take for granted every day—such as a forty-hour workweek, the expectation that we will get paid, and that we actually are paid for our work,” says Lipnic, who was appointed assistant secretary of labor for employment standards in 2002. “Those really are remarkable achievements.”

lipnicLipnic—along with the four thousand employees in the division she leads—administers and enforces the laws and regulations governing areas such as minimum wage, overtime, child labor, family and medical leave, and workers’ compensation benefits.

Under Lipnic’s direction the Department of Labor updated thirty-five-year- old rules on overtime pay in 2004, an effort that involved painstaking work and compromise. “It had been tried a couple of times in other administrations,” she explains, “and for whatever reasons—probably because of the controversy that came with it—it wasn’t accomplished.” Lipnic also spearheaded the strengthening of regulations that require labor unions to disclose to members how their dues are spent. And in June she released what is considered to be the seminal report on the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

“A lot of what my agency does is writing and enforcing regulations and making sure that those regulations are current and up to date, and it can take years of effort to do that,” says Lipnic, who earned a law degree from George Mason University. “I’ve argued cases in court, written briefs, and worked on Capitol Hill. And writing regulations—putting things in finite detail—is hands down the most difficult task as a public policy matter.”

More than five years of experience with the Secretary of Commerce, as well as six years as in-house counsel to the U.S. Postal Service on employment issues, prepared Lipnic for heading the Department of Labor’s largest agency. Just prior to her appointment as assistant secretary, she served as workforce policy counsel to a major committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A career in public service seemed destined for Lipnic. Her mother and father—who was a World War II veteran and longtime mayor of Carrolltown, Pennsylvania—instilled in her the importance of being an involved citizen. At Allegheny she majored in political science and history and interned in Washington, D.C. Lipnic also points to experiences in Kappa Kappa Gamma, student government, and the Campus as key to developing her leadership skills.

And Lipnic has found it both rewarding and challenging to lead a high-profile federal agency, advancing policy initiatives amidst constant scrutiny from the media and Congress. “I really like problem solving,” she says, “and for me trying to bring people together to solve problems that are about the public good is what’s most interesting and rewarding.”

—Josh Tysiachney

This article was featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Nancy Wilson '72

Working for Church, Community, and Social Change

The Reverend Elder Nancy Wilson is a firm believer in destiny. Elected in July 2005 as moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC)—the highest position in the MCC denomination, which offers a spiritual community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) Christians—Wilson says she has always related to the words of Jewish theologian Martin Buber, who said, “You must believe in Destiny. It stands in need of you.”

wilsonWilson, who grew up in the 1960s in the Methodist Church, acknowledges that a mere ten or fifteen years before, her life as a woman in the ministry, and most certainly as an openly gay minister, would not have been possible. But in 1972, when she graduated from Allegheny, seminaries began to admit women in what Wilson calls “a significant way.”

And when she received a Rockefeller Scholarship to attend the School of Theology at Boston University, Wilson also began to reveal her sexuality and found herself at the forefront of the gay rights movement in Boston. “I went to seminary in 1972 knowing that I was a lesbian,” she says, “but I didn’t know how I was ever going to be clergy, because I knew the Methodist Church was not going to ordain me.”

Then Wilson heard Larry Bernier on the radio. He was looking for a woman to help him start a branch of MCC in Boston, and she accepted the challenge almost immediately. “It was a sense of adventure—this Christian church that would reach out to gays and lesbians,” she says. “I was still learning, but I had a strong sense of myself. I didn’t have a fear of what God thought of this.”

After relocating to Detroit and graduating from a Roman Catholic seminary, Wilson moved to MCC Los Angeles and stayed with the church for nearly fifteen years. She became pastor there in 1986, at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and fought for the rights of those afflicted with the virus. “I became quite good at doing funerals,” says Wilson, who lost hundreds of MCC staff , clergy, and close friends to the disease.

Before her appointment as moderator, Wilson was pastor of the Church of the Trinity MCC in Sarasota, Florida, where she lives with her partner of thirty years, Paula Schoenwether. Now, Wilson is the denomination’s official spokesperson, moderates business meetings at general conferences, and offers support to MCC leadership.

Wilson says that, today, MCC is pioneering social change, protecting not just the rights of sexual minorities but the rights of all people, and creating a local church for LGBT people who “feel like they have no spiritual place or community.” Just a generation before, she admits, none of this would have been possible.

“We’ve had the privilege of standing by really strong people and having an impact on people’s lives,” Wilson says. “That gives great joy. It feels like destiny with a capital D.”

—Abby Collier ’03

This article was featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

John Kelso '66

An Agent of Service

In the wake of the Columbine tragedy, some of the student victims said it happened because “nobody listens to us,” a youthful sentiment echoed across the country. Twice a week, John Kelso and other Kiwanis volunteers are doing something about that.

kelsoThey man a “listening post” at South Brunswick (North Carolina) Middle School, where they lend a patient, non-judgmental ear to kids’ concerns. The larger Listening Post organization, founded twenty-seven years ago, trained them to do this without encroaching on the territory of school counselors or other authorities.

“The kids air a wide range of topics, some deeply serious, some light and trivial,” says Kelso. “But we treat every conversation as important, confidential, and worth hearing. Interest in our services runs high—on our first day last March, we were stunned to see eighty kids approach our table.”

Kelso’s “retirement” is all about service to his community. Not only is he certified as a volunteer firefighter, but he also takes part in an innovative youth justice system known as Teen Court. If a youth aged twelve to eighteen breaks either the criminal code or school rules, the local district attorney or school principal may direct the case to Teen Court. Here, a real-life adult judge or attorney presides, but all other participants are teens.

Kelso serves as an attorney mentor, advising the teens handling the defense or prosecution, while other Kiwanis members supervise jury deliberations. “Some of these kids plan to move into careers in the justice system,” says Kelso. “They take the process very seriously and hand down fair sentences having the same weight as verdicts in a juvenile court. Penalties imposed may be hours of community service, attendance at future teen court sessions, letters of apology to victims, and so forth. Most of the defendants do not return to crime—this exposure to a justice system they can respect is often all it takes to set them straight.”

In his working life, Kelso—who is also immediate past president of Allegheny’s Alumni Council—spent thirty-two years as a special agent in the FBI, handling all manner of investigations including kidnappings, bank robberies, corruption and fraud-by-wire cases, and terrorist threats. His final four years in the bureau were spent as chief of the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act section, with a staff of more than five hundred. Here he became known in the media as “the man who keeps the FBI’s secrets.”

Though dangerous adversaries and high-level responsibility were once part of his daily routine, Kelso sees no irony in his switch from the tough-as-nails mentality of fighting crime to the reasoned sympathy of Listening Post or the positive discipline of Teen Court.

“I’ve experienced so many blessings and such good fortune throughout my life,” he says. “It feels right to give something back.”

—Katie Moller Jaeger ’79

This article was featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Nedzad Ajanovic '95

A Life Saved to Save Other Lives

By Devon Stout

nedzad1 “One thing that is important for you to realize,” says Nedzad Ajanovic ’95, “is that Allegheny and the support they gave me saved my life.” Talk to Ajanovic for a few minutes, and you’ll find out why he says that.

Ajanovic came to Allegheny in 1991, just as tensions in his homeland of Bosnia—and in the rest of the former Yugoslav republics—were mounting toward what would become a long and terrible war. How did a young man from Eastern Europe come to northwest Pennsylvania to major in environmental studies? Through the help and encouragement of Gretchen Sigler Snyder ’64, who, along with her husband, was Ajanovic’s guardian when he finished school in New Delhi, India.

Ajanovic’s parents stayed in Sarajevo, where they endured a three and a half year siege: “constant shelling, constant killing, shortages of basic commodities of life,” as Ajanovic describes it. At the same time, Ajanovic was studying at Allegheny, where he found both the College and the Meadville communities to be very supportive. A key figure, he says, was Professor Rich Bowden, who gave Ajanovic the opportunity to do research at the Harvard University Experimental Forest.

After graduation, a friend he’d made during his time in India hosted Ajanovic in Calgary, where he secured a graduate position at the University of Calgary and earned a master’s degree in environmental design, which led him to an interest in sustainable development.

nedzad3 Ajanovic’s career has spanned several appointments in international development, both in a nongovernmental capacity and with the United Nations. With the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., he coordinated relief efforts in war-ravaged Kosovo that included repairs of 2,500 tractors and the import of 4,500 heifers, some of them by air. With CARE International in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Ajanovic developed a first-of-its-kind marine turtle conservation project.

But there are two projects over the last ten years that stand out.

In Myanmar, Ajanovic worked near the Naf River, which forms the border between that country and Bangladesh. It was through his direct intervention and planning that several hundred families of the oppressed Rohingya ethnic group—stranded on the wrong side of an artificial border imposed by the breakup of the British Raj—gained the right to develop cash crops in northwestern Myanmar.

Ajanovic got the opportunity to help out closer to home when the FAO hired him to coordinate and manage the agency’s relief efforts in Kosovo. This job led to another at the U.N. and a unique opportunity to bring some investment to Bosnia.

Having learned to navigate bureaucratic channels, Ajanovic brought his master’s thesis to the attention of the right people. He’d spent time in Bosnia during his master’s work, developing a plan for construction and maintenance of a grayling hatchery in Bosanska Krupa to take advantage of what he calls the “great potential, yet devastated resources” of his native land. Ajanovic’s U.N. contacts, in turn, asked him to develop his thesis project into a proposal to the Norwegian government; after much planning and not a little luck, the project became a reality, bringing much-needed development funds to the recovering country.

“One of the things I was taught at Allegheny was to have a level of certain critical thinking, and not to hide behind nationality and say whatever we do is the right way,” he says. “That’s what I learned at Allegheny: being able to think from the other side, and then do something that you feel is correct.”

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine.

Cynthia Kidder '78

Helping a Band of Angels to Take Flight

By Erin Lukehart ’00

kidder When Cynthia Waltenbaugh Kidder ’78 gave birth to her youngest son, she was presented with a list of expectations—but not the kind of list most parents receive. Jordan was born with Down syndrome.

“It was a list of expectations to forget about, a clear outline of what he wouldn’t be able to do,” she recalls. As the founder and CEO of Band of Angels, Kidder now has the opportunity to reach parents of Down syndrome babies in a more positive way. Kidder’s interest in advocacy first developed when Jordan entered school. Their home state, Michigan, offers full inclusion for students with disabilities, so Jordan was able to learn alongside his peers. “Twenty years ago, parents had to fight just to get their kids into the classroom,” she says. “I wanted to do something that would give back to the parents who had paved the way for me.”

Drawing on her skills from previous positions in sales, Kidder started a placement agency for jobseekers with disabilities. “We did thirty-two placements for people with significant disabilities into jobs I am certain they would not otherwise have been placed,” she says. She was frustrated, however, at many corporations’ reluctance to hire bright, capable applicants with disabilities.

That experience prompted Kidder to found Band of Angels in 1994. Her first project, the “Beautiful Faces” calendar, features photographs of children with Down syndrome. “I was trying to find a way to put children with difference in front of people 365 days a year,” she explains. First printed in 1995, the calendar was picked up by Barnes & Noble in 1997. The Band of Angels Web site (www.bandofangels. com) also offers greeting cards, books, and information about the organization’s scholarship fund.

In 2001 she co-authored Common Threads: Celebrating Life with Down Syndrome, a book that aims to clear up common misconceptions. “Every day I am astounded at how Jordan is more capable than anybody ever told me he would be,” she says. “Nobody told me that he would be on a swim team, that he would have wit, or that he would be a full participant in life. It became important to me to communicate this to new moms.”

The feedback from grateful parents was overwhelming. “It became apparent that I needed to find a funding mechanism enabling me to put the book in parents’ hands the day their child was born,” she says. She sought corporate sponsorship, establishing connections with corporations like Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) and Cadillac.

Today, Band of Angels supplies information to local support groups, which connect with area hospitals to identify parents who need information. About 5,000 Down syndrome babies are born in the United States each year. Kidder estimates her organization reached 40 percent of these parents in 2005.

Kidder’s advocacy work has garnered international attention, recently earning her an award from Woman’s Day magazine. She was also named one of fourteen Michiganians of the Year for 2007 by the Detroit News.

To keep her organization thriving requires creativity and risk taking, qualities that were cultivated at Allegheny. “The environment at Allegheny is very accepting and encourages people to try new things,” she says. Although a math and science whiz in high school, at Allegheny she majored in English, immersed herself in theatre, tried her first art class, and, on the encouragement of her advisor, signed up for voice lessons.

Kidder will be tapping into that creativity as she tackles new challenges. Her next goal is to work with corporate human resources offices to instruct them on where individuals with Down syndrome can make a good fit in the workplace. “We also need to be thinking about independent living support services for our young adults,” she says.

When asked about her organization’s name, Kidder explains that the support group and parent volunteers are the “real angels.” She adds, “Banded together as a group, we can do much more than we could on our own.”

Robert Smolen '74

Protecting the Nation’s Capital

By Josh Tysiachney

smolen The people, places, and political prominence of Washington, D.C., make it a prime target for attack by enemies of the United States. Major General Robert Smolen ’74 plays a key role in protecting the nation’s capital—and marshalling military forces to help if a crisis develops.

Smolen commands the Air Force District of Washington, part of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, which brings together the resources of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy so that there’s a single point of contact should responding to a disaster in the area require military assistance.

“After 9/11, we were forced to think about how we would use military forces to respond to a major contingency or attack within the United States,” says Smolen. “For us that was a whole new paradigm—it’s something that we had not needed to consider since World War II.”

Smolen explains that, during a disaster, states typically call first on their National Guard units and then can request federal help. But dealing with a major catastrophe—such as an attack in a high-profile location—could quickly exceed the capabilities of local and state authorities. So in 2002 the federal government formed the Colorado-based U.S. Northern Command to streamline the process of providing military support during crises in the continental United States. The work of Smolen and others to protect Washington, D.C., is part of that larger national effort.

Smolen’s post actually combines two critical jobs into one. Along with his duties defending the capital region, he oversees the day-to-day operations of two Air Force bases: Bolling Air Force Base, just off the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, best known for handling air transportation for the president and other senior officials.

No stranger to high-level appointments, Smolen worked for nearly two years in the White House prior to his current assignment. The senior ranking military officer in the complex, he developed and implemented policies to support the president and the National Security Council. Before that he served as director of nuclear and counterproliferation at Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Smolen didn’t plan on pursuing a military career when he entered the Air Force ROTC program at Allegheny. “It was 1970 and the Vietnam War was going on,” he says. “My draft number came back—and it was 36. I was looking at things practically.” ROTC gave Smolen the opportunity to fulfill his military commitment while receiving a college education.

With the help of friends Dan Todd ’74 and Dave Barninger ’74, both now retired from the Air Force, Smolen completed ROTC and graduated from Allegheny. He advanced steadily through the ranks, serving in posts across the country and as a commander at Osun Air Base in South Korea.

“Joining the military gives you an opportunity to exercise leadership at a much younger age than at many other places,” says Smolen, who earned master’s degrees from Auburn University and the University of Oklahoma. “At age twenty-two, you’re responsible for the safety and potentially the lives of other people.” Honing those leadership skills takes practice, he adds. “If people are smart enough—and most people are—they look to the people who were leaders ahead of them, both the good and the bad, to learn from their successes and mistakes.”

And Smolen is confident that the Air Force will continue to develop promising leaders to defend the United States. “We live in tough times, and we have before,” he says. “I’m optimistic that we’ll get to the equilibrium. Today’s all-volunteer military and civilian force has some of America’s best and brightest sons and daughters leading our country forward to advance freedom and democratic ideals everywhere.”

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2007 issue of Allegheny Magazine.