Successful entrepreneurs merge talents and timing
Sean McDonald ’04 has been building communities his whole life. Growing up, McDonald spent time doing mission work and building houses as a volunteer on a Navajo reservation. After graduating from UNC Asheville with a degree in Ethics and Social Institutions, he worked for Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. These experiences showed McDonald the value of relationships and working together, ideas that led him to found Jute Networks with Matthew Raker ’04 in 2007. Jute Networks uses Web-based software to connect businesses in related fields through personal contacts. Companies then work together to achieve mutual goals. The product stands out from other social networks because it engages members, McDonald says.
“One of the key differences in our software is that you actually do stuff. There is no ‘click a button and you’re friends,’” he says. “You can organize community events. You can collaborate on projects. The issue isn’t, ‘How do I know this person?’ The issue is, ‘How can we work together?’”
McDonald’s career in technology began at age 13 fixing computers for relatives and their friends. Through studying liberal arts at UNC Asheville, he learned how different disciplines come together to produce innovation, he says. “If you get a bunch of people who do the same job in a room, it’s hard for innovation to happen. There is no way I could have seen that more clearly than to study Ethics and Social Institutions,” he says. “It’s all about the intersection.”
AdvantageWest provided funding for the startup, which also won a grant from N.C,IDEA Innovative Development for Economic Advancement). Last year Jute Networks merged with Swamp Fox LLC, an online community of innovators and entrepreneurs based in Greenville, S.C.
Despite the dangers of the current economy, McDonald says it has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. He sees innovation and entrepreneurship as the greatest strengths of the American economy. The challenge is knowing if an idea will work. “You have to know when not to do something,” he says. “You see a million opportunities every day, and you have to stay focused on things that will work.”
—Aaron Dahlstrom ’09 (Mass Communication)
Building consultant’s green strategy targets energy-efficient housing
America has an insatiable appetite for electricity, according to Asheville building scientist Chris Mathis ’79 (Physics and Drama). Curbing our appetite, he says, is the key to sustainability.
Mathis acknowledges that sustainability means different things to different people. “One man’s bait is another man’s sushi,” he says. As a consultant, Mathis looks at building construction from a sustainability perspective. “Some might value the recycled building material; someone else might see the carbon footprint.”
What Mathis sees is electricity consumed. “Buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of our energy usage—more than cars, more than industry, more than our whole transportation system.” He believes that if we fix buildings to consume less electricity, many of our sustainability problems would be solved.
Mathis cites impressive statistics. “Of our 128 million homes, half still have little or no insulation, leaky windows and duct work. If we upgrade those 65 million homes with windows that meet current minimum code, we could shut down 300 200-megawatt power plants.”
And the problem is not just electricity consumption. It’s also pollution. “Some 72 percent of our electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels, which is a very dirty process,” he says. We don’t understand the sustainability impacts of our buildings “because our buildings don’t have exhaust pipes. The typical home is responsible for twice as much pollution as our cars. It just happens at the power plants.”
Mathis calls America’s buildings “a ship full of little holes below the water line.” Plugging those holes is simple but because it doesn’t involve sexy technologies like wind energy or capturing methane gas from landfills, it’s not cool. “It’s hard to get excited about caulking, adding insulation, weather-stripping doors and windows, and repairing leaky ducts,” he says. Actually, Mathis does get excited about these and more complex sustainability strategies. He travels the country educating people about energy efficiency and serves on national and international committees developing new building codes. He’s currently implementing a three-year $500,000 grant that he and Appalachian State University professor Jeff Tiller obtained from the U.S. Department of Energy to train N.C. building officials and builders about new federal code energy requirements.
“I don’t care how much recycled content a building has or how many green products I use, if I don’t build an energy-efficient house, all of the other sustainable objectives go for naught,” Mathis says. “Energy efficiency is the cake; everything else is the icing on cake.”
UNC Asheville Honors Alumni with Annual Awards
UNC Asheville presented its annual national alumni awards March 23, 2009, to the following individuals:
• James W. Daniels ’60, chairman and CEO of Daniels Business Services Inc., a family-owned Asheville business engaging in printing, mailing and call-center operations, received the Roy A. Taylor Distinguished Alumnus Award for state and civic leadership. Daniels has served on more than 15 local and state boards, including the UNC Asheville Foundation Board of Directors, Buncombe County Economic Development Commission, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Commission on the Future of North Carolina. He is a co-founder of one of Asheville most respected community organizations, Quality Forward (now known as Asheville Greenworks), and he is a founder of the successful Bele Chere Festival. Today, he continues his public service as a member of the State Board of Community Colleges and is on Wachovia’s Advisory Board.
• Rickie B. Lowe ’82 received the Thomas D. Reynolds Award for Service to the University. An active volunteer, she has donated countless hours to her alma mater, from cooking dinner for phone-a-thon callers to coordinating the Athletics Department Auction last fall. A Bulldog Club board member, she also was a member of the former Alumni Association Board of Directors. A native of Asheville, Rickie not only coordinates events and programs but she also supports other volunteers with gourmet meals, cookies and cupcakes. And, many a student athlete has climbed on the team bus to find a home-cooked meal waiting for them. She gives generously of her time and financial resources in service to her alma mater.
• Michael F. Ochsenreiter ’80 was presented the Francine M. Delany Alumni Award for Service to the Community for his civilian career with the U.S. Air Force. A management major, Michael began his work as an information technology specialist for the Air Force soon after graduation. His 28-year career as a “career civilian” for the U.S. Air Force spans his early work supporting the F-15 Eagle program, and the then top-secret SR-71 “Blackbird” Program, to the United States Air Force Academy to his most recent post as deputy director of management systems at the Air Force Services Agency (AFSVA). The Management Systems Directorate manages communications and computer systems for all Air Force Services worldwide, as well as agency headquarters. He recently retired and lives in Weaverville.
• Holly Spencer Bunting ’00 was inducted into the Order of Pisgah for outstanding achievement in her profession and service to the university. A summa cum laude graduate, she earned a law degree from American University and was one of the editors of the Law Review. She now works for K&L Gates in Washington, one of the world’s largest firms, distinguishing herself in the areas of mortgage banking and consumer finance. Her leadership was instrumental in completing her class’ gift to the university, the beautiful clock between Lipinsky Hall and Ramsey Library. Over the past three years Holly has been generous with her time and contacts with the World of Work program, which pairs students with alumni in an effort to help students learn about working and living in Washington.
• Dolly Jenkins Mullen, associate professor and co-chair of Political Science, received the Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award. Since joining the faculty in 1984, Mullen has earned a reputation as a professor who cares deeply about her students and spends time with them outside the classroom. She holds a doctorate from Clark Atlanta University. Known to her students as Dolly, she is an outstanding teacher, mentor and advisor. A recent graduate said, “Without her I would not have graduated. Period. She helped me find perspective and NEVER gave up on me, and I love her for it.” Mullen has helped students who were single moms find the community services they needed to support their families and finish their degrees. And she’s helped families find ways to afford their students’ educations.
Keeping the family farm intact:
Alumna’s savvy management, conservation strategies keep her on Cloud 9
Janet Peterson lives on Cloud 9, literally.
After a 31-year teaching career in Buncombe County schools, Peterson ’76 (Literature/K-9 Education) has returned to her family’s farming roots, and transformed her late parents’ 200-acre Fairview farm, Cloud 9. With help from a variety of agricultural resources, Peterson has not only maintained the family farm but has managed it as a model of conservation and sustainability.
In 1965 Peterson’s father, a retired airline pilot, bought what was then a neglected valley farm and mountaintop that had been scorched by an underbrush fire. When Peterson was 15, her parents built a home on the property, cultivated blueberries, raised Black Angus cattle and chickens, and kept bees. “My parents made it a hobby farm,” Peterson says. “We always had friends from around the country who would come and visit.”
The Petersons were ahead of their time in many ways, becoming the second farm in Buncombe County to join the Farmland Preservation Program in the 1980s. This program, which continues today, provides tax incentives to encourage family ownership of large parcels managed for woodlands, wildlife preserves and horticultural areas.
“I want to carry on their legacy to take care of the land and see this farm reach its full potential,” says Peterson, who inherited the property in 2001 when her father died.
Peterson is always looking for ways to sustain the farm, generate income and put her creativity to work. “There’s a lot of wonderful, free information if you know how to find it,” she says.
In 2005 she enrolled Cloud 9 in the N.C. Forest Stewardship Program, working with foresters on a 50-year plan to selectively cut mature oak, yellow poplar and white pine, allowing other trees to increase in size and value for harvesting in future years. Her newest endeavor is to set up a sawmill for adding value to that timber. To help implement the plan, she recently obtained funding from WNC AgOptions, a grant program managed by N.C. Cooperative Extension Service to assist mountain farmers in diversifying their crops and transitioning from tobacco. Some of the timber will be used to build a gazebo at a pond where she offers a scenic outdoor spot for weddings and gatherings. She also rents a cabin and her family’s renovated home to vacationers.
Last fall the Forest Stewardship Program recognized Peterson for her work. “Janet’s energetic and innovative management style is evident throughout the property,” Kelly Hughes, a stewardship biologist, told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “She has worked hard to make this a showplace for good management practices. This farm is an excellent example of a working farm and forest, and here in Buncombe County, that’s getting harder to come by.”
For information visit www.cloud9relaxation.com
A-B College Alumnus Receives French Legion of Honor Award
Despite receiving one of the highest awards the French government bestows on foreigners, Asheville-Biltmore College alumnus and World War II veteran Mark Sumner remains humble, acknowledging the service of his fellow soldiers before himself.
“This award was a way of saying thanks to American soldiers. It had to do with service over a time period,” Sumner said. “We were picked because we were representative of those who had been on the front lines.”
Sumner and four other North Carolinians received the title “chevalier” of the Legion of Honor from France in a ceremony last Memorial Day, Nov. 11, 2008, at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.
A member of Asheville-Biltmore’s class of 1946 and the men’s basketball team, Sumner was drafted into the Army in 1943 at age 19. A private in the 75th Infantry Division, he served as a reconnaissance scout in France and Belgium, earning the Bronze Star. His experiences have stayed with him to this day. “It was a long time ago, but many of those images of Belgium, France and Germany are like they happened yesterday. The memories are very vivid,” he said.
Sumner returned home after the war to complete his two-year degree at Asheville-Biltmore and bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UNC Chapel Hill. He credits his years at Asheville-Biltmore with preparing him for life. “It was all exciting to me,” Sumner said. “I felt that our teachers were very good, and much of what I picked up in classes were the things that took me all the way through graduate school.”
Although he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a reporter for the Asheville Citizen-Times, he pursued an illustrious career as an actor, playwright, director and theater manager—including 25 years as director of the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Outdoor Drama and as publicity director for Carolina Playmakers. He and his wife live outside Chapel Hill. They have six children and nine grandchildren.
Environmental scientist turns trash into a career
Jonathan “J.P.” Pullin ’90 (Environmental Studies) exemplifies the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It was among trash as a summer intern at the Buncombe County landfill that he found his calling in environmental sciences.
During his internship he worked with three UNC Asheville students analyzing hazardous materials. The UNC Asheville students were impressed with Pullin’s work ethic, and implored him to continue his education at UNC Asheville, which set him on a course for a successful career.
As president of The Environmental Group of the Carolinas, in Charlotte, he retains a staff of scientists, engineers and geologists, who work together on environmental issues including asbestos, lead paint, ground contamination and air quality.
While at UNC Asheville as an Environmental Studies major, Pullin encountered a number of professors who profoundly influenced him, including the late Rick Maas and Gary Miller of the Environmental Studies Department; Shirley Browning, an Economics professor; and Dolly and Dwight Mullen, Political Science professors.
But some of his fondest memories of his college years are not only of scholastic interactions, but also of basketball. “Rick [Maas], Gary [Miller], and a few others would play basketball with me three times a week,” Pullin said. “But when the game was over, we went back to the student-professor relationship. That was the unique thing about UNC Asheville. Gary Miller might have just flunked me on a test, but an hour later, there he was with me on the court.”
Pullin took his academic work to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, where he presented his research on removing the brown color from the Pigeon River before it crossed into Tennessee. “That research did it for me,” Pullin said. “Watching water turn from brown to clear before my eyes—that’s when I said, ‘This is cool. I like this.’”
These days, Pullin also devotes time to many causes. He’s chair of Opera Carolina’s education committee and serves on a board that manages investments at UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, where he earned a master's degree. He’s also part of the Regional Institute for African Development, a think tank serving initiatives in Republic of the Congo.
Work with the opera, public health and sustainable development? Pullin credits UNC Asheville with igniting his diverse interests. “(At UNC Asheville), I might have been in a chemistry lab talking about the arts. That liberal arts curriculum really benefits me now in my volunteer activity. That desire and hunger came from UNC Asheville. No question about it.”
—Katherine Rozycki ’07 (Mass Communication) is a development assistant at Johnson & Wales University’s Charlotte campus.
Bowen donates “Faces of Asheville” photo documentary to Special Collections
Jenny Bowen ’04 (Multimedia Arts and Sciences) took a lot of pictures for her “Faces of Asheville” project, and now she’s ready to give something back. Bowen is donating the photography collection to Ramsey Library Special Collections later this year.
“I would definitely say I used everything I learned at UNC Asheville to make this project happen, which is why I am donating it back to the University,” Bowen said.
“Faces of Asheville” was created to bring the community closer and to recognize individual talents and local diverse beauty, she said. She wanted her photographs to create and strengthen the bonds of friends and neighbors, and to incorporate newcomers into the local culture. “My goal was to document people as they wish to be remembered during this time in Asheville’s history, and to inspire us to celebrate our individuality,” Bowen said.
To create the documentary, she invited participants to visit her studio and be photographed with an item that encapsulated their personality or place in Asheville. After she had produced 100 photographs, her studio was burglarized and all of the work was either stolen or destroyed. But Bowen bounced back, and thanks to contributions, grant funding and help from the community, she completed the project, and the work went on exhibit in Asheville.
Now, she is excited that her work will stay with UNC Asheville for years to come.
“People can come back 100 years later and see how awesome Asheville was during this era.”
After a public exhibition throughout June at the Satellite Gallery (111 Broadway Ave., Asheville) “Faces of Asheville” will move to the Special Collections department of Ramsey Library. It will be on display in Special Collections (second floor, Ramsey Library) from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. beginning fall semester 2009.
—Aaron Dahlstrom ’09 (Mass Communication)