Archive for October, 2010

Steve Phelps ’85 did his racing around an oval on two legs and under his own power during his years as a Catamount track and field athlete. These days his work is wrapped up in racing of a very different kind— think four wheels, V-8, upward of 750 horses. Phelps is senior vice president and chief marketing officer for NASCAR. That means overseeing plenty—corporate marketing, industry marketing, brand/consumer marketing, public relations, public affairs, diversity, multi-media, sales, licensing, business development and the NASCAR Foundation. And it also means, apparently, stepping up to the plate when reality TV comes calling.

Phelps will be featured on the CBS reality series “Undercover Boss” airing Sunday, Oct. 24, at 9 p.m. Eastern. If you’re not familiar with the “Undercover Boss” concept, each episode follows a different executive leaving the comfort of the corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company.

A native of Vermont, Steve earned his bachelor’s in economics from UVM. His work in the sports industry includes fourteen years with the National Football League, where he was vice president for corporate marketing. He was twice named to Sports Business Journal‘s “Forty Under 40” list of influential execs in the field.


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The October issue of Vermont Business Magazine features Joyce Marcel’s  in-depth profile of alumnus and former UVM Board of Trustees chair Bruce Lisman, class of ’69. The piece covers a lot of ground — from the Lisman family roots in Burlington to Bruce’s UVM years,  from his career climb on Wall Street to the wrenching final days at Bear Stearns, and finally his return to Vermont where Bruce has shared his thoughts on building his home state’s economic prosperity.

Last May, Bruce delivered a speech titled “Finding Skin: How Vermont  can become its own version of an economic powerhouse without abandoning its values” to the Ethan Allen Institute. In introducing him at that event, Institute president John McClaughry said, “If there’s one distinguished Vermonter of ability and vision that Vermonters ought to listen to in these trying economic times, it should be Bruce Lisman. He understands economics and wealth creation—he urgently wants his native state to rise to the top of successful states, and he has sound ideas for making that happen.”

Check out the October issue of VBM for an interesting look at one of UVM’s most accomplished and loyal alumni.

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Novelist John Irving and state senator/gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin listen as English professor Philip Baruth introduces them to a packed house in the Fleming Museum Auditorium.


As a reading by one of America’s most esteemed and beloved novelists or as political event, John Irving’s appearance at UVM’s Fleming Museum last night was a rather low-key affair. Publicity was minimal, but the Fleming auditorium was full to capacity and then some to hear Irving read from a work in progress.

Before the literary business, though, Irving shared his thoughts on political matters—expressing unabashed support for Democrat Peter Shumlin in the Vermont gubernatorial race. Longtime friends and neighbors in southern Vermont, Irving said that Shumlin’s parents were the first people he met when he moved to Putney in 1967. Though Irving disagreed with Shumlin on the state’s Act 60 educational funding reform, he strongly agrees with his advocacy for same-sex marriage, and it is a central reason why he is speaking out on the senator’s behalf. Introducing Irving, Shumlin paid tribute to the author’s dogged work ethic, remembering the days when he drove a rusted Volvo with a “GARP” license plate and worked teaching English and coaching wrestling before he was able to devote himself to full-time writing.

Irving read from “In One Person,” the work-in-progress that will be his thirteenth novel. Before his reading and in a generous question-and-answer session that followed, Irving offered his thoughts on his work and  life as a writer. Here’s a sampling:


“It is a novel about sexual anger, sexual hatred. It was written in the late 1970s after the sexual revolution, after gay liberation, but at a time people were still hated for perceived sexual differences… It is about sexual assassination, people hating people for their differences. Now as I work on my thirteenth novel, once again I’m with that subject.”


“I begin with the end and work my way back. I’ve begun this novel (In One Person) with the last two paragraphs, and I’m pretty confident after twelve novels that those two paragraphs won’t change… I like to know the voice I’m in at the end so I can begin in a nicer voice and work up to that voice.”


Irving said that the first requirement of being a writer is “the recognition that you like to be, need to be, alone.” He had this sense early in his life and at age fourteen began keeping notebooks, not of fiction, but of “physical descriptions of things, very imitative of nineteenth-century, long, plotted, visually described novels.”


“I don’t care if things are mishandled. I have very minimal interest in movies—seeing them or writing them. I don’t feel protective of my work when it becomes a movie. Anyone who sees a bad movie and thinks they’ve read the book, that’s not a reader.”


“I write every draft by hand. It’s a way of forcing myself to slow down. If I work on any kind of keyboard, even an old typewriter, I go too fast and make many mistakes.”


“The tendency to be in bad taste is constant. If you aren’t funny, you shouldn’t try to be funny. If you are funny, you will be even at the most inappropriate times. Clowns, witches, fools in Shakespeare’s plays always show up when something bad is going to go down.”


“I’ve never finished a novel without having at least two more in mind. I have many more titles than I’ll ever use.”

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Give three UVM Honors College freshmen a sunny afternoon and about ten bucks worth of materials to work with and the sky is literally the limit. Peter Ferguson, James Lent, and Alex Jones were at the other end of the line of the very large silver balloon you might have spotted floating over campus about 1 o’clock this afternoon.

Lent, a mechanical engineering major from Berkeley, California, was ring leader for the group. Jones studies history; Ferguson, bio. But the friends live on the same floor in University Heights North and work together on the budget solar hot air balloon, which is made of vinyl painters drop-cloths taped together.


Lent is a photographer (Flickr page with his work) and he had a camera rigged from the balloon to capture aerial shots. He said he’ll invest in a good camera for it when he’s sure the thing is safe from crash landings. As Jones reeled the balloon back in with his big spool of line, Lent said, “Careful, it’s my baby.” Jones replied, “Hey, it’s my baby, too!”

Maximum height achieved when I left the trio to their work on Chittenden-Buckham-Wills green, 500 feet. Ultimate goal, a line-free, GPS-equipped balloon so they can capture photos from the lower stratosphere… and find the camera when it returns to Earth.


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That headline is just a bit premature. But we’ve reached that moment in the magazine production cycle when the last edit has left my desk and the VQ art director Elise Whittemore-Hill has shut her door to make final preparations of the electronic files that will go to Lane Press in South Burlington. At this point, we’re just about ten to twelve days away from seeing the printed editions of VQ flying in broad sheets through the huge presses at Lane. And a week or so after that, depending on how far your particular copy of VQ needs to travel, it will arrive in your mailbox.

Here’s a preview of what you’ll find:

The fall issue’s cover story focuses on plans to create a new Alumni House on campus through renovation of the former Delta Psi fraternity at the corner of Maple and Summit streets. Another feature provides a look at the UVM Horticulture Research Center through the photographs of Sally McCay and writing of Ron Krupp G’80; we have a survey of a number of alumni who have made dramatic career changes and lived to tell the tale; and Amanda Waite ’02 G’04 has an excellent profile of Katie St. Denis ’11, a UVM senior who earned her degree and publication in a top scientific journal, all while balancing the demands of motherhood.

There’s lots of interesting shorter stuff, too—Jon Reidel’s G’06 look at alumni athletes playing professional sports internationally; an interview with Professor Emily Bernard about her writing in a new Michelle Obama photo book; an article about Wretches & Jabberers, a new film about autism that features Pascal Cheng G’79, an alumnus who earned his master’s in special education.

And for the really savvy UVMer, we’ve got a back page quiz to challenge your knowledge of UVM’s landmark buildings and the people whose names they bear.

I hope you enjoy the issue.

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This week marks four years since the tragic loss of Michelle Gardner-Quinn, a UVM student who was abducted from downtown Burlington and murdered. In the deep sorrow that followed news of her death, the UVM community came to know Michelle better through an essay that she had written just days before as an assignment in Professor Cecilia Danks Environmental Studies 151 class.

Professor Danks read excerpts from Michelle’s “This I Believe” piece at an Ira Allen Chapel memorial service. Later, with the permission of Michelle’s parents, we shared the entire essay with Vermont Quarterly readers in the winter 2007 issue. The essay would gain wider circulation through the efforts of two UVM parents. Dr. Susan Smalley read the essay in VQ at the time her husband, Kevin Walls, was working to produce the Live Earth concerts. Inspired by the piece, Smalley worked with Tipper Gore to connect with filmmaker Damon Cason, who ran with the idea of  creating a short film based on Michelle’s writing. A cast of  women—Tipper Gore, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, Sheryl Crow, Kate Hudson, and Michelle’s mother, Diane Gardner-Quinn, among them—read sentences from her essay while holding a portrait of Michelle. The film was shown worldwide at the Live Earth concerts.

Michelle Gardner-Quinn was a senior transfer student who had been at UVM for little more than a month before her death. Yet she was thoroughly of this place. Her courage, commitment, spirit, sense of adventure, and connection to the natural world were one and the same with the ethos of UVM.

A young Siberian spruce tree grows on the UVM Green in Michelle’s memory, a small plaque at the foot of it reads “Always Remembered.” I hope, by reading Michelle’s lasting words, you’ll take a moment to do just that.

This I Believe essay from VQ

This I Believe film

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