and Alumni Spotlight
(posted September 13, 2021)
Richard Chandler (Super Saturdays 2014, SCATS 2015) is a freshman at Morehouse University studying biology. He is on Facebook as Richard Chandler and on Instagram as @1.rac.
Jack Clark (VAMPY 2017-19) is attending the University of Mississippi where he plans to study music. He writes, “My years at VAMPY were some of the best I've ever had. I made long-lasting friends that I still talk to. I spent three years at WKU learning important lessons about my classes and life in general. I will always be grateful to the teachers, the counselors and most importantly the Center for allowing me to be a part of that exciting experience.” He is on Instagram at @boomer6j
Maureen Flynn (SCATS 1995) earned a BS in marketing at Xavier University in 2003 and an MBA in marketing from DePaul University in 2013. She writes, “I have worked in a variety of marketing roles across industries, including several Fortune 500 companies in Chicago as well as a startup. I currently manage marketing for Aetna’s Student Health business on a national level. I remember having so much fun at The Center. SCATS brought kids together from all over, and I made so many great friends there. It was fun to be around others who wanted to learn and grow as individuals.” She is on Facebook as Maureen Flynn and Twitter and Instagram as @moflynn2002.
Morgan Giles (VAMPY 2001-04) graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2009 with a BA in Japanese language and culture and in linguistics. From 2017-2019, sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education, she did research in contemporary and modern Japanese literature at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. She now works as a translator of contemporary and modern Japanese fiction and lives in London, England. Her translation of Yu Miri's Tokyo Ueno Station won the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature and the UK Translators Association's First Translation Prize; it was also shortlisted for the 2021 PEN America Translation Prize. She says, “I'm really struck as an adult by what a vital and encouraging atmosphere VAMPY was for me and by how many lasting friendships I made there.”
Kara Hodges (Super Saturdays 2002-08, SCATS 2008-10) earned a BA in political science and sociology from WKU in 2018 and an MA in Sociology from WKU in 2019. She writes, “I just got married in July to Jon Warren (Gatton 2012, Counselor 2013-15), who was a counselor the year after I went to SCATS (so we just missed each other!). We met in 2017 and moved to Nashville after I graduated.” She is on Facebook as Kara Hodges and Instagram as karahodges.
Genevieve Jean-Pierre (Super Saturdays 2009-10, VAMPY 2016) is attending Duke University and plans to major in biomedical engineering and computer science. She has “developed an interest in app development and AI and its applications in the health and finance fields and hope to create applications that increase equity within these fields.” She is on Facebook as Gigi JP.
Story Miller (SCATS 2016) is attending the University of Kentucky, where he plans to major in finance and economics. He is on Instagram as @storybookmiller.
Becca Mitchner (Super Saturdays 1999-2002, SCATS 2003-05) earned a BS in 2013 from Murray State University with a double major in recreation & leisure studies and nonprofit leadership studies. Sheearned an MS in 2015 from Murray State in human development and leadership with a dual emphasis in outdoor education and special education. She is the co-director of summer and respite programs as well as the client services manager at the Nuhop Center for Experiential Education in Perrysville, OH. She explains, “I direct a summer camp program that serves neurodivergent youth and young adults, including includes autistic individuals as well as those with learning differences, mood disorders, and other differences. During the school year, I assist with our outdoor education program, which helps elementary and middle school-aged students create a safe connection with nature and their peers.” She is on Facebook as Becca Mitchner.
CJ Sadler (SCATS 2012-12, VAMPY 2014-15 ) earned a BS in human nutrition from the University of Kentucky in 2020 and is now working on a PharmD at the University of Kentucky Pharmacy School.
Finn Shirley (VAMPY 2016-19) is attending East Tennessee State University.
Nikki Shoulders (SCATS 1990) earned her BS in accounting from the University of Kentucky in 2000. She works as an accountant for Davies, Goldstein & Associates and lives in West Jefferson, NC.
Kaitlyn Potzick Slugg (Super Saturdays 1998-2000, SCATS 2000-01) graduated from the University of Louisville with a BA in English and earned a JD from the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. She is a commercial real estate attorney at Stanley Esrey & Buckley in Atlanta, GA. She and her husband just welcomed her first child, Sophia Marie, on May 25.
Carol Carneal Turse (VAMPY 1989-90) graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1998 with a degree in chemistry and from Washington State University in 2009 with an MS in environmental science. She has taught undergraduate general science courses and conducted research for NASA's astrobiology program, and she currently teaches chemistry as a professional teaching associate at Cornell University.
Elizabeth Page Velasquez (Super Saturdays 1998, SCATS 2001) earned a BS in marketing science at MIT in 2011: “Being from Kentucky and not studying a hard science, I wasn't the typical MIT student, but going to school with people from all over the world who were way smarter than me taught me tons about how to communicate and fit myself into the world. Now I work for a research consulting firm that helps clients become more obsessed with their own customers' needs. I currently manage a newly-formed team of data analysts who translate our scads of consumer and business data into valuable insight for our clients in a range of industries and across the globe.” She and her husband, Josh, live in Minneapolis where they work from home and raise their four-year-old daughter, Ava.
Alice Whitaker (VAMPY 2017-18) moved with her family from Bowling Green to Wellington, New Zealand, in 2018. She is studying speech and language pathology at the University of Canterbury. She writes, “VAMPY was an incredible environment that taught me it’s possible to spend quality time with friends while also focusing on your studies and enjoying learning.” She is on Facebook as Alice Whitaker and on Instagram as alicewhitakerr.
Taylor Young (Super Saturdays 2010-11, SCATS 2011-12, VAMPY 2013-15, Gatton 2017) graduated from the University of Louisville with a BS in chemical engineering in 2021. He lives in Louisville.
Spotlight on: Gavi Begtrup
Gavi Begtrup (VAMPY 1996-97; Travel to Paris 1997; Travel to London 1997; TA 1999)grew up in Nashville, TN, and earned a BS in physics, math, and computer science from WKU in 2002 and a PhD in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2008. He served as a staff member to United States Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona from 2009-12. He co-founded his first start-up, WaveTech, in 2013 and led his second, Eccrine Systems, in 2014. He is currently running for mayor of Cincinnati, OH, where he lives with his wife, Dr. Amber Begtrup, a clinical molecular geneticist at GeneDx, and their three children, who are 11, eight, and four. He spoke with us during the week of winter storms this February.
Let’s start with the present. Why are you running for mayor?
Running for office has been in the back of my mind for the last decade, ever since I worked in Congress. I spent three years as the policy advisor for Gabby Giffords. That time was both awesome and terrible: I saw the wonders of what Congress can do for our country — we passed the Affordable Care Act, we worked on climate change, and I wrote legislation that changed the future of human space flight and changed the military’s consumption of energy. I also saw the worst of American politics and political violence when my boss and mentor was shot, and my friend and coworker was killed[Note: Giffords and 19 others were shot during an assassination attempt in Arizona on January 8, 2011. Six people died, including Gavi’s friend and coworker Gabe Zimmerman. Gavi was not present.]
When Gabby retired, I left politics. I moved to Cincinnati and became involved in entrepreneurship. Running for office wasn’t on my radar. Then, a few months ago, a member of the Cincinnati city council and the frontrunner in the mayor's race became the third member of the council indicted by the FBI for accepting bribes. It became clear that we have a culture of corruption — we have a city government whose members are more interested in lining their pockets than in growing the city. Meanwhile, we have a city that's been stagnant for a long time — we have the same size population we had a hundred years ago. Cincinnati is an awesome place to live, yet we're not growing. We also have tremendous inequality: we have two of the greatest companies in the world, Procter & Gamble and Kroger, yet we also have food deserts and 45% child poverty.
No one running for mayor was talking about the future of the city, about how we're going to address this trend in inequality, about how we're going to correct 50 years of racist policies that have created neighborhoods that are still redlined and still cut off from opportunity. No one who was running had executive leadership experience, and none of them had kids in the public schools. I decided it was time for something different. It's been a weird path from physicist to policy advisor to entrepreneur to political candidate and, hopefully, mayor.
If you become mayor, how would you fix the system of corruption?
The fortunate thing for our city is that we have an opportunity to change because our mayor's race is open — our current mayor is term-limited — and there's only one incumbent on city council who is still eligible for reelection because everybody else is term-limited. But these things don't change overnight. When I worked for Gabby, she had one vote out of 435 in the House. Her vote was only so powerful. Her bigger power was the ability to convene people and to lead on issues, and that's really the power of a mayor in a city like Cincinnati, where the position isn’t that of a chief executive who runs everything. The power is to set a vision for people to get behind and then hire the city manager and set a culture for city hall.
The biggest things I learned building companies from the ground up as a CEO are that culture is critical, and culture is set at the top. Cincinnati needs a leader who says, “We're going to change the way these things work.” Policy plays a role, too, but the current corruption is a symptom of a government that's not functioning correctly. I've run organizations where there has been leadership and ownership at every level. You empower your people, you organize them around a vision and cultural values, and then you empower them to go make decisions. You get so much more out of people when they are empowered to drive things.
So, for example, with the city council, what we want is to get everybody subscribed to the vision of Cincinnati becoming the capital of the modern Midwest — becoming the Queen City again, a jewel of the region. That vision means we need to be growing, and we need to be growing inclusively so that every neighborhood is included — so wages go up and opportunity goes up. If you get everyone to say Cincinnati could be bigger and better over the next ten years, then you have your destination. And then you're just figuring out the route to take. We can disagree on policies along the way, but I want everybody on the council, whatever party they belong to, I want them all subscribed to that vision. And that strategy requires leadership, which is only learned only through experience, which has been sorely lacking in Cincinnati government.
As mayor, how would you improve the schools?
I would be the first directly elected mayor in Cincinnati history who has kids in public schools. As someone who is a product of public schools, who went to Western Kentucky University and the University of California, Berkeley, both public universities, I think that’s ridiculous. Whether you send your kids to public schools or not, whether you even have kids, public schools are critical to our economy, and they're critical to our neighborhoods. People move out of cities that don't have good schools, and that means the tax base is lowered and the schools are hurt more. If you want equitable development, schools are the avenues.
In Cincinnati, the mayor does not run the schools — there's a separate school board and superintendent. But what we've learned in this pandemic is that school doesn't end with the last bell. We need support structures for families, and the city runs those. The city runs the rec center, before and after school care, and all these other things that make it possible for a kid to grow up and have opportunity. I believe that the mayor's job first and foremost is to say schools matter, so how can we support them? How can we build collaboration between the city and the schools?
What experience do you have in working with schools?
I helped build a school here in Cincinnati called the Donald and Marian Spencer Center for Gifted and Exceptional Students. It’s a public magnet school for gifted kids named after Donald and Marian Spencer, who were civil rights icons in Cincinnati. Gifted education is a predominantly affluent white thing that exists in wealthier schools, so the school district placed this new school in the middle of the city, in Walnut Hills. It hired a principal, and I reached out to her andsaid, “Gifted education is something I'm passionate about,” and I got involved. I talked about it a lot with Dr. Roberts. I became the board chair of the school for the first three years of its existence. We grew from zero to 350 students, serving kids all over the district. It’s an integrated school that looks a lot more like Cincinnati than most schools. It's majority minority. It's one of the greatest things that I've been able to be a part of.
Your education was non-traditional. What was school like for you?
I never fit well in school. Schools are built around the middle, but I was way on one side of the curve, and I just didn't fit. I loved learning, but I hated listening to people tell me something I already knew and then tell it to me again, and again. I would butt heads with teachers. Every once in a while I had a teacher who was truly wonderful and got me, but the structure of traditional school didn't work for me. The schools tried — when I was in elementary school, I was put in the gifted program, and I skipped fifth grade. I went to seventh grade at a magnet school for math and science, and I was involved in things — I ran for student president. But school never gave me what I wanted. So, I dropped out in seventh grade and cobbled together a homeschooled existence. I started going to community college at age 11. There was a whole community of homeschoolers in Nashville, so I was in a school collective and finished everything for high school in the next two-and-a-half years. Then I went to Western at 14. I lived in Rodes Harlin Hall, which was the co-ed Honors dorm. And it was awesome.
What role did your family play in you being able to follow your own path?
The only reason it was possible was that my father, who was a psychiatrist, was forced to medically retire at an early age because he was no longer able to work. That put him in a position where he needed a good project — and I was a good project. He really drove my education. He's an autodidact who loves learning and loves knowledge and really shaped how I thought. It was great. I'm pretty self-driven, but he enabled all those things to happen. He's the one who found out about VAMPY and got me into that. I was also preceded by my siblings. My brother went to Simon's Rock College — now part of Bard College — which is an early-entrance school — at 15. My sister ended up graduating high school a year early. But this history wasn't on my mind at the time as a 14-year-old: I was just ready to leave home and go to college.
What stands out to you from your experiences with The Center?
All of it! My first year I took Math and did Algebra Two. I learned the entire curriculum in three weeks, which was awesome because I was being homeschooled, so that meant I got to move forward. The next year, I did Creative Writing. Bruce Kessler was my Math teacher at VAMPY, and then when I went to WKU, I was a double major in math and physics, and Bruce was then my professor. I spent a lot of time with him, and I've kept up with him over the years — I just talked to him a few weeks ago. VAMPY was twenty years ago, and I still keep up with people.
I also remember it being a lot of fun. Obviously there were the classes, but VAMPY is also where I discovered a love for Ultimate Frisbee and where I started playing card games. We would play Hearts and Spades and things like that. I had done traditional summer camps and enjoyed them, but at VAMPY, it was so fun to be surrounded by people who had something in common with me and were something like me. It was unusual for me. VAMPY is also the reason I went to WKU.
The other thing is the travel. I still have fond memories of both trips. My wife and I went to Paris and Bordeaux in 2016, and I recognized sites like Napoleon’s Tomb. It was amazing to be able to see the world and have that level of independence and high expectation for maturity. Everyone else had told kids like me that we were immature because we couldn’t pay attention in class or made inappropriate jokes or whatever, but then we had Dr. Roberts who said, “I believe you're mature enough to handle being in a hotel 10,000 miles from home and away from immediate adult supervision.” If you let people be responsible, and you set an expectation that you believe they can do this and you’re going to support them no matter how it turns out, you'll get great things out of them. And that goes for 14-year-old kids, too. At the time I just thought, “Oh, sweet. I'm in a hotel room. And they believe in me — they believe that I'm going to be good and that I'm mature.” And it worked.
How has the pandemic been with three young kids?
One reason why I make the point that I’m the only one in the mayor’s race who has kids in school is that the uncertainty during the pandemic has been really hard for young families. For example, my third grader’s school was remote at first, but then they went in two days a week, then it was remote again, then it was back to two days a week, and now it's snowing and so she can't go to school — but instead of having a snow day, her school is having a remote day,. That just doesn't work at all. I kept making the point to the school board that what families need is consistency. I said whatever you do, pick a system and stick with it, because changing is hard. If families figure out how to get work done and take care of their kids, and then you change it to some other system and they have to work out something new, and then three weeks later you can change it again, that's terrible.
I learned in Congress that what people hate more than a policy they disagree with is inconsistency in a policy. I made that point as a businessman too. Republican staff or friends would tell me that businesses hate regulation, but I said, “No, businesses don't mind regulation. They might not like a regulation, but what they really hate is uncertainty in regulation where everything changes every year or every three months.” It’s the same with families: we may not like being remote or being blended or whatever else, but stick with that system so that we know what to expect.
You tend to take on challenging projects that come with a lot of risk. How did you develop a mindset of being okay with aiming big, even if not everything works out the way you want it to?
I don't spend a lot of time thinking about failure because failure will take care of itself. In grad school, you fail constantly. When you're doing research, particularly in a science PhD program, most things will fail. Most experiments do not give you useful outcomes. And so I spent six years in grad school working a hundred hours a week doing research, and almost everything I did failed. You only get a PhD for discovering something that nobody in the world knows yet. When you're out on the edge, out in the wilderness exploring, you have to accept that you’re going to be poking around blind a lot, and you can call that failure, but what you're looking for is that one gem that will let you expand the realm of human knowledge. There is a moment in scientific discovery where you’ve figured out something and realize you are the one person in the world who understands it. And then you get to do something even cooler, which is to share it with the world. So I never thought in terms of success and failure; I just realized that you have to keep going until you find something that works.
In Congress, it was the same way. Thousands and thousands of pieces of legislation get introduced, and most of them have no chance of success. Things take forever — I mentioned the Affordable Care Act earlier: Representative John Dingell had been introducing a healthcare reform bill for 50 years before it happened. We tend to tell stories of successful people as if they did this successful thing, then they did another successful thing, and now they're billionaires. It's a lie — it's a disservice to society and to young people because that will not be their experience; they will fail over and over and over again, but if they give up, they'll never do anything great. If you don't keep pushing, you can't change the world.
I didn't have words for it when I was young, but I always saw a world that I thought could be better. I’d say, “Those traffic lights aren’t timed well.” I'd see lines at grocery store registers and say, “Why don't we have one line that feeds into all of them? I thought about efficiency and optimization a lot. My interest in research was to try to expand human knowledge. It's also why I went to Congress. I felt that doing research didn’t improve people's lives enough, so I did the exact opposite: I went from individual atoms to billion-dollar budgets. I had a tangible impact on policies that changed our country, even if my impact was a tiny little piece on a big policy.
When I started companies, I only wanted to work on things that could make a difference. My first company was an agricultural materials company, trying to improve greenhouses and cover crops because we continue — a hundred years after the green revolution — to have a challenge making sure that we have enough food and affordable food to feed people. My second company was a medical device company trying to improve diagnostics so that we could have better real-time health information without drawing blood. You can look at those companies and say, “Well, you failed; at the end of the day, your companies didn't succeed.” That’s true: we didn't have the financial outcome we wanted. With Eccrine Systems, the pandemic had a big impact — but we created a new field of medical diagnostics, had over 70 patents, and led the world in research and development. It is still my hope that in the future, somebody will make this concept profitable.
I'd rather try to do big things, fail 50 times, and then make a difference on the 51st than to never try to make a difference. People ask me why I'm running for mayor because I’m running against people with big names and the odds seem long. They ask, “Why do you want to go into politics? You don't get paid well. You get beat up by everybody. People will say terrible things about you that aren't true.” The answer is that I think I can make a difference.
To learn more about Gavi’s candidacy, go to votegavi.com.
Past interviews can be found in our Alumni Spotlight Archive.