Piled up on the floor, around a desk and against the walls are balls and balls of brightly colored, variegated yarn. Most of the yarn is handspun and hand painted, created from the colorful remnants of the production of silk saris in Nepal and Northern India. But there is also hemp yarn, soft and fluffy alpaca yarn, and banana fiber yarn.
This is the headquarters of Darn Good Yarn, an Internet yarn company. It is here, in a crowded home office in Stansbury Park, Utah, that Nicole (Mikkelsen) Snow '04 runs the day-to-day operations of the thriving fiber company that she launched just two years ago.
Darn Good Yarn is not only a successful wholesale and retail import business, but is built on principles that reflect Snow's own holistic approach to life and work. The fiber is earth friendly and recycled, and much of it is hand dyed and spun by Nepalese and Indian women's collectives, providing much needed income for their families and their communities. "We follow fair trade practices and none of our yarn is created with child labor," Snow says.
Developing a web-based fiber import business with a social conscience has been a labor of love. It is also a career choice that is a far cry from what she envisioned in her earlier life. The business and technology management major was in the Air Force ROTC program at Clarkson and planned on becoming a pilot. But classes she took with (now) School of Business Associate Dean Kathy Wears, as well as ideas she encountered in her political science classes, provided some of the impetus for that shift.
Successful entrepreneur Carolyn McGee's '82 (ID) clients come in all shapes, shades and sizes, although they are usually four-legged and shaggy.
As owner of Ashland Pet Concierge, McGee provides in-home pet sitting and dog walking services to vacationers and busy professionals. A certified Reiki Master, McGee also provides therapeutic services to the animals as needed.
McGee got into the business of animal care in 2006 when the Massachusetts-based start-up company she was working for had a major staff reduction and she found herself suddenly out of work. "Manufacturing was largely going overseas or was being moved to targeted areas in the U.S.," she says. "It was challenging to find a job in my field and at my level."
McGee wasn't prepared to uproot her family and move across the country in search of work. She knew she had to do something, but she wasn't sure what was required: a stopgap or a complete career transition. She had spent the last 24 years of her life successfully working in materials management and procurement. But the writing was on the wall.
When McGee graduated from Clarkson in 1982, she was hired into the procurement management training program at Raytheon - the first Clarkson ID student hired into that program. She worked there for five years. It was, she recalls, "a great place to work and provided great opportunities to learn about policies, procedures and ethics."
After McGee left Raytheon, she continued to work in procurement at a subdivision of Litton Industries. When the company began to downsize, McGee successfully transitioned into the commercial marketplace and more into materials management.
"I went on to work for four smaller companies," she says. "I really liked the culture of start-ups, and their needs fit well with my own skill set and personality. I was usually the first materials person in so I set up the policies and management system, and I purchased business systems with the accounting people and helped hire the rest of the team. I liked getting companies up and running and the challenge of doing a little bit of everything."
McGee's genuine enjoyment of "getting companies up and running" and the relatively bleak employment forecast she faced were all the incentive she needed to reinvent herself and begin a new phase in her professional life.
In August 2006, she enrolled in a 20-week entrepreneurship class offered through the Massachusetts Department of Education and Training where she learned how to pitch a business plan and work with web designers and accountants. By October, she had launched the business and gotten her first client.
Four years later she has approximately 100 clients. "Some of my clients work in Boston, which is 45 minutes away so they need care for their pets during the day," she says. "I also work with vacationers and business travelers who prefer to have their dog or cat cared for in the home while they're away. It is a lot less stressful to the animal."
When things get particularly busy, McGee has a pool of part-time workers she can bring in to assist her.
As a single mother of two school-aged children, the flexibility of the work also makes her complex personal/professional life possible. "I can schedule visits around my kids' needs and I am more available to them," she says.
"I make as much money now as I would be if I were working for someone else," McGee adds. "I really like the animals and people I work with. All my business expenses are deductible and I am in control of my own destiny."
Like Snow, John Rice '63 traded in one career for another based on a decision to find a line of work that better reflected his own values.
In Rice's case, it was a growing feeling that he did not want to, as he recalls, "develop nastier ways to bomb villages."
"I just couldn't handle it anymore," he says.
The year was 1969 - the height of the Vietnam War - and American military personnel peaked at over 500,000, before President Richard Nixon began troop withdrawals. At that time, Rice was working as a radar systems engineer in the defense industry and American protest against the war was mounting.
"There was this growing realization that I did not really want to be involved in this kind of work any longer and there was also the reality of the marketplace," he says. "At that time, there were massive layoffs in aerospace defense after the completion of the moon landings. It was hard to do something peaceful in the industry."
Rice began his career at Martin-Marietta in Baltimore, after completing his master's degree in electrical engineering from Clarkson in 1963. (He also holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology.) He continued to work in radar systems engineering at Westinghouse and finally at General Electric in Syracuse.
When he decided to make a professional move, he went to the only place he could think of where he might find resources to help guide him in his decision making: the public library. "I felt like a kid graduating from high school," he recalls. "I had to educate myself on what career paths were available."
In his own words, he "fell into transportation engineering." At that time, it was a fairly new profession and few universities offered degrees in the field. In 1971, he was offered a fellowship from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to attend Penn State's intensive, one-year program.
Over the next 20 years, Rice enjoyed a highly successful career in the field of traffic engineering. In his first position, he worked (as a civilian) for the Military Traffic Management Command in Newport News, Va., where he traveled to military bases and conducted traffic engineering studies, recommending road and traffic improvements on the bases. He went on to work as a traffic signal engineer, overseeing hundreds of signals, as well as technicians and engineers for Prince George's and later Montgomery (Maryland) counties. He designed signal pole and mounting systems in Bethesda and Silver Springs. He also wrote the proposal for the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Fort McHenry Tunnel off I-95 for the Maryland Transportation Authority.
By the time Rice received his professional engineering license at the age of 52, he had moved to South Carolina and was overseeing signal systems engineering for the state.
"My professional reinvention was born out of the circumstances of changing industries and a changing conscience," says Rice, who is now retired. "I have learned over the years that I am very adaptable."
As the library media specialist at Schuylerville Elementary School in Schuylerville, N.Y., Maria Weeks '98 teaches kids how to find and retrieve information from books, media sources and, increasingly, the worldwide web. Her job, as she sees it, is to help children learn to become "savvy and ethical users of information."
That usually means helping kids to get comfortable with the technology of online search engines and databases. But it also means teaching them how to use the information once it is located. "They need to learn there is a difference between finding information and Googling the ‘answer,'" she says.
Working with technology and thinking through its implications comes naturally for Weeks, who graduated form Clarkson with a degree in interdisciplinary engineering and management (iE&M) in 1998. "At Clarkson there was always a focus on technology and change," she says. "We were using computers everyday to do multiple things so I am very comfortable, very self-sufficient when it comes to technology. It makes my job easier."
While Weeks had always worked in libraries - both in high school and at Clarkson, she had never thought of it as a potential career. She applied to Clarkson as a business major, but by the time Weeks arrived for the fall orientation she had already decided to switch to iE&M.
After spending a semester in a co-op with General Electric, she graduated and started a job in technical sales at Ingersoll Rand. "I traveled a lot. My territory covered most of New England. That didn't leave me time for pets, much less kids," she says.
Two years later, Weeks accepted a job in sales and marketing with a new Boston-based company involved in online equipment rentals. "It was a model, unfortunately, that was a little ahead of its time."
When the company began downsizing a year later, Weeks decided it was time to move on.
It was, in part, a search for a long-term employment solution that brought Weeks back into the library. "I didn't want to just jump into another job, have it for a year or two and then move on. I was looking for a longer-term prospect. The more I thought about it, the more library school made sense."
In 2002, Weeks began a master's degree in library and information studies through the University of Rhode Island and worked full time at the Worcester (Mass.) Public Library. Three-and-a-half years later, she completed the program.
"People are surprised when they hear I went to Clarkson and that I sold construction equipment," she says. "But it also gives me credibility. We are involved in construction right now and trying to tackle the challenge of how to move 20,000 books. Because of Clarkson and my previous experience, I have a seat at the table."