Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch
S E P T E M B E R    2 0 0 7
Alumni News
For more alumni info

Follow this link to
September's Alumni Notes

Send email to

Catherine Schenck-Yglesias, SPH '95: Watching the Bottom Line Abroad
Benjamin Orbach, SIS '04: A Secret Diplomatic Weapon
Shelf Life
Todd Gillman, A&S '87: The Inside Scoop on D.C. News
Benita Gold-Slater, Peab '91: Feel-Good Music
Decker Quad and Mason Hall: A New Way to Say Welcome
Pam Flaherty, SAIS '68: Madame Chair
In the News...
Medicine's Biennial Celebration
Sandra Gray, A&S '76, Named Executive Director

Catherine Schenck-Yglesias, SPH '95: Watching the Bottom Line Abroad

At the end of January, Catherine Schenck-Yglesias left her high-rise home in Baltimore for the rocky hills of Afghanistan. Upon landing at the tiny, fly-infested Kabul airport, she strapped on a bullet-proof vest and found the armored car that would escort her to the American embassy. "When you work for the government, you're only allowed to go where they think you'll be safe," she says.

Good thing. As a senior health informatics adviser for the office of HIV/AIDS at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Schenck-Yglesias travels all over the world making sure USAID's money is being used wisely. Last year alone she traveled to Honduras, Thailand, Mozambique, South Africa, Niger twice, Tanzania twice, and Switzerland three times. This year, after her trip to Afghanistan, she went to an AIDS conference in Rwanda, and is slated to see Tanzania and Zambia as well.

Catherine Schenck-Yglesias (shown here with hill-tribe children in Chiang Rai, Thailand) travels the world making sure USAID's money is spent wisely.

Schenck-Yglesias earned a master of health science degree in population dynamics from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 1995, after which she worked as an epidemiologist for the Connecticut and Kentucky public health departments, managing large databases from breast and cervical cancer screening programs. Then, during a post-graduate fellowship in health informatics at the Centers for Disease Control, she helped design information systems to track the perinatal health of Palestinian and Latin American women. She moved to JHPIEGO, a Johns Hopkins-affiliated international health organization, in 2001 and to USAID in the fall of 2005.

Schenck-Yglesias now works at USAID primarily with PEPFAR — the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Established in 2003, PEPFAR supports "implementing partners" — including the Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, and JHPIEGO — and local leaders in 114 host countries to create prevention and treatment programs. At the end of May, President Bush called for the five-year reauthorization of PEPFAR and proposed doubling the American investment from $15 billion to $30 billion.

Schenck-Yglesias analyzes local and national data in the host countries — like the number of HIV diagnoses, trained healthcare workers, or drug supplies needed — to ensure that the implementing partners are spending PEPFAR's money according to a predetermined plan.

Her USAID work isn't confined to PEPFAR. The purpose of her January trip to Afghanistan was to visit the Kabul offices of the Ministry of Public Health, World Health Organization, and several IPs to try to figure out how best to spend over $70 million from USAID on the country's health plan for the coming fiscal year. New foreign assistance reforms mean that every project funded by the U.S. government, including this one, must follow standardized, reportable procedures that Schenck-Yglesias sees as "a great move toward transparency and accountability in our work abroad."

It wasn't her first time in the war-torn country. She had been in Kabul a few years before, when working at JHPIEGO as part of an initiative to improve reproductive health. She visited mostly hospital maternity wards, which, because it's not culturally acceptable for men to deliver babies, suffered from a shortage of trained staff. "Under the Taliban you had a generation of women with low literacy," she explains. So, along with encouraging changes in general hygiene, like proper syringe disposal, the JHPIEGO program taught women — most lacking even a primary education — first how to read, then how to be midwives.

Looking to the future of AIDS treatment, especially in the Third World, Schenck-Yglesias emphasizes the need to make systemic societal changes. "It's not all about [distributing] antiretrovirals," she says. Which means that the monitoring systems she designs and implements must be tailored to the politics, infrastructure, and technology available in each country. "What are patients going back to as far as jobs and schools after they get better?" she asks. "We've got to look at the bigger picture." — Virginia Hughes, A&S '06 (MA)

Benjamin Orbach, SIS '04: A Secret Diplomatic Weapon

Just 10 months after the September 11 attacks and on the eve of the Iraq war, Benjamin Orbach — despite opposition from family — packed his luggage and an attaché case full of idealism and headed to Amman, Jordan.

Benjamin Orbach wanted to "defang" the Middle East. Then a student at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, he was officially setting off for a yearlong fellowship to study Arabic and conduct research on the Jordanian-American trade program. Unofficially, Orbach dubbed himself "America's secret diplomatic weapon," someone who would win the hearts and minds of the Arab people. At the very least, the 27-year-old Pittsburgh native wanted insight into why some Middle Easterners were so full of hatred toward Americans.

"I wondered, How could this happen? I wanted to go over there and ask them questions firsthand and directly confront the stereotypes [Americans have] of Middle Easterners," says Orbach, who earned a master's degree in international relations.

From July 2002 until August 2003, Orbach lived in Amman and then Cairo, taking side trips to Syria, Palestine, and Turkey. His 13-month experience became fodder for his new book, Live from Jordan — Letters Home from My Journey Through the Middle East (Amacom, 2007). The book, a work of creative nonfiction, comprises 20 thematically organized letters, pieced together from letters home, e-mails, journal entries, and op-eds published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, his hometown newspaper. In it, Orbach recounts arriving in the Jordanian capital with little money, no housing, and no connections. He soon moves into an apartment with Fadi, a 31-year-old Mariah Carey-loving Palestinian who is envious of Western culture but highly critical of U.S. involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a topic that pervades conversation nearly everywhere Orbach goes.

As his travels continue, simple acts such as a bus ride and the search for a decent haircut illuminate both the people and the society in which they live. In Jordan, Orbach neatly divides the public into two groups: the "ketchup eaters," those who can afford such luxuries as a $6 bottle of Heinz ketchup from Safeway, and the "bus riders," the working class who live paycheck to paycheck with little to no hope of advancement. In Syria, the reader encounters the country's secret police, who don't take kindly to those who have visited "occupied Palestine," otherwise known as Israel. (Orbach, a Jewish American who lived in Israel as a student, at times claimed to be the grandson of a Turk, a Canadian expatriate, and the son of a man from Kyrgyzstan in the former Soviet Union.)

Orbach, now 32 and a project manager with Creative Associates International, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., says he wanted to "defang" the Middle East. "There are some tough, stark images that people see on television — and they exist," he says. "But there is a whole other part of life there that doesn't get reported on and written about. There are a lot of beautiful places and colorful, interesting people that don't make it into the mainstream media." — Greg Rienzi

Shelf Life

Ultra Talk: Johnny Cash, the Mafia, Shakespeare, Drum Music, St. Teresa of Avila, and 17 Other Colossal Topics of Conversation, by David Kirby, A&S '69 (PhD), University of Georgia Press (2007)
A poet and professor at Florida State University, Kirby communicates by his own rules. His essays frequently make the generalization that poems can be considered "good" if they are sought out by a broad readership as well as by fellow poets. Kirby's muse is stirred by walking, but mostly on exotic roads distant from Tallahassee. And, oh yes, there's his affinity for new music. We old guard English majors might take umbrage were we not assuaged by his reverent treatment of Shakespeare as the ultimate contemporary.

Unexpected Grace: Stories of Faith, Science, and Altruism, by Bill Kramer, A&S '73, Templeton Foundation Press (2007)
These disparate essays have love as a common theme: a field report on the dedication of diverse religious at St. Luke's Chapel near ground zero after 9/11; applied research on ways to break down racial prejudice; the author's participation in brain-scanning experiments into the bases of altruism and empathy. The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love at Case Western figures large.
— Lew Diuguid, SAIS '63

Todd Gillman, A&S '87: The Inside Scoop on D.C. News

As cameras roll and questions fly at White House press conferences, Todd Gillman will sometimes catch the eye of the leader of the free world and share a knowing smile. He's remembering the good old days, when Gillman, a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, covered state politics and George W. Bush was the governor of Texas and a presidential candidate. Today, Gillman is a Washington correspondent covering the Texas delegation and all issues related to Texas — a topic that crops up frequently in an administration that had an inaugural ball titled "Black Tie and Boots." Gillman recently took a break from the beat to share some insights on life as a reporter in Washington.

Interview by Nora Koch

Washington, D.C., is a big place, and so is Texas. How does a reporter become an authority on such a breadth of information?
Coming to Washington meant an incredible amount of learning. The number of topics you need to know is limitless. One of my colleagues who was covering the White House when I arrived talked me down from this incredible frustration when he told me, "You just have to understand that Washington is a black hole, and you will never, ever, be able to wrap your arms around it." That's a mixed metaphor, but his point is dead on.

Todd Gillman (shown center, back row) participates in a vice-presidential interview on board Air Force 2. Covering politics "is a team sport," he says.

How does a reporter get called on in White House press conferences?
As a regional newspaper reporter, I go into presidential press conferences with extremely low expectations of being called on. The protocol is that the Associated Press goes first, then Reuters, then the television networks. Bush makes his way down that list and takes maybe eight questions. I've never been called on by the president, but you can always get called on at a [White House Press Secretary] Tony Snow briefing.

What are relationships among competing reporters like?
There is a real camaraderie in the Texas press corps. On any given day, maybe we are writing the same story, and the competition is to get the best version. It's a team sport in many ways. We run across each other all the time at roundtables with our senators and at press conferences. There's no keeping your agenda secret, and anyway, you can pick up a lot from what the others are asking.

You recently accompanied Vice President Dick Cheney on a trip to the Middle East that included an unannounced overnight stop in Iraq. What was the security like for a trip like that?
We traveled under total secrecy, and were not told we were going to Baghdad until we were en route, about an hour after Air Force 2 left Washington. We changed planes in England and flew to Baghdad in an unmarked cargo plane and then in unmarked helicopters into the Green Zone. We weren't allowed to report that Cheney was going to Baghdad until he was inside the American embassy. Security at the embassy was extraordinary; you couldn't walk 10 feet without someone stopping you. Cheney did not move around Baghdad at all. He stayed in the embassy and then left under cover of darkness. I never experienced security that tight, and I've been in many secure locations, including the White House. We spent the night at a U.S. military base in Tikrit, and we were not allowed to report that Cheney had even left Baghdad until about half an hour before we left. I don't know how gutsy a thing it was, given the way they did it, but he was the highest-ranking civilian to spend the night in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, and those kinds of measures are what it took for him to do that.

How much of a vacation is a trip with a top politician?
The press corps is really along for the ride, to witness and see stuff. In Egypt, did I get to see the pyramids? Only through the window of the airplane. But did I get to go to the presidential palace where most tourists won't? Yes, and that is a fascinating experience. It's all a trade-off.

Can you expose the truth about anonymous sources?
In grad school [at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where Gillman earned a master's degree] there was a whole seminar about a bureaucrat's duty to leak. But this administration is extraordinarily disciplined — though less so in the past year as the administration winds down. People are looking after themselves; Bush's popularity is down, and people who work for him don't quite see the benefit anymore of complete loyalty. I don't use anonymous sources. My newspaper has a policy that strongly discourages it, and it just rarely comes up covering politics and Congress.

You covered George Bush when he was the governor of Texas and during the first half of his presidential campaign. What's your impression of how he's adjusted to his role?
In press conferences, he'll give that raised eyebrow that I interpret as "Isn't it amazing that I'm here?" Now I know there are a lot of people who consider him the accidental president, but I think he still has a puckish view of himself as kind of a beneficiary of fate. He obviously came into this world with many advantages but he still retains that childlike "Aw, shucks — look at where we are" demeanor.

What qualities do you see in George Bush when meeting him face to face that the public might not pick up on?
After I was assigned to Cheney during the 2000 campaign, I didn't talk with Bush again until early 2006. The University of Texas football team had just won the Rose Bowl, and they were at the White House. Now, remember, I have not spoken to him since August 2000, and he comes over and says, "Todd, how's it going?" This guy has an EQ [emotional quotient] that is off the chart — it's how he got to be president of his fraternity, it's why he is a good politician. He remembers everything and everyone. It's just an extraordinary skill that he has.

Benita Gold-Slater, Peab '91: Feel-Good Music

Benita Gold-Slater: "I get to give the gift of music every day of my life." Violinist virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and TV's Richie Cunningham share at least one thing in common: They've both inspired Benita "Bonnie" Gold-Slater.

Perlman, who contracted polio at age 4, has been a longtime friend and role model for Gold-Slater, who at age 10 was diagnosed with a rare spinal-cord disease that progressively took the use of her legs. Determined not to let disease slow her down, Gold-Slater threw herself into her music, choosing the alto sax, just like the one the Happy Days character played in his band. "He just made it look so cool," Gold-Slater says. "I also was a big fan of Charlie Parker, Grover Washington, and all the big-band leaders."

Despite the physical challenge, Gold-Slater soon found herself expertly belting out tunes by some of her idols. In order to play the sax, she modified her wheelchair with extra padding and width so that she rode high in the seat and the instrument hung at her side. She also adapted her breathing because a seated position doesn't allow for maximum lung expansion.

In her teen years, she earned scholarships to the Peabody Conservatory, where she studied music education. In her junior year, Gold-Slater won the Yale Gordon Concerto Competition, the conservatory's highest honor. She credits her success, in part, to countless hours of practice. "I was the kid the teachers had to tell, 'OK, Bonnie, you can stop playing now!'" she says with a laugh.

After graduating, she set off on a performing career, primarily through VSA Arts, an international organization that encourages people with disabilities to participate in the arts. She's performed in Belgium and Scotland, on the stages of New York's Lincoln Center and Washington's Kennedy Center, and in front of three sitting U.S. presidents. In 1994, she played for the emperor and empress of Japan when they visited the nation's capital.

Gold-Slater says she began teaching neighborhood kids at age 13. As an adult, she taught music for seven years in Maryland public schools before starting a family of her own. She and her husband, Arnold, have two girls, Mia, 5, and Eva, 7. In 2005, she started Bonnie Slater's Music Academy, where she teaches both able-bodied and disabled students of all ages and skill levels. Currently, she tutors roughly 120 students per week out of her Germantown, Maryland, home, including two children with Down syndrome and a blind pianist.

"As a teacher, I get to give the gift of music nearly every day of my life. I love it," Gold-Slater says. "Especially for disabled students, music can open up a whole other life for them. They get to go on stage and people clap for them. More importantly, they get to feel good about themselves and give a gift to others. It's just incredible."

Gold-Slater is planning to release a CD in 2008 and open a physical location for her music academy sometime before 2009. A notice to Peabody students: She's looking for teachers. — GR

Decker Quad and Mason Hall: A New Way to Say Welcome

As many students and faculty return for classes this fall and another year of high school seniors make college selections, a new "front door" will welcome all to the Homewood campus, showcasing the legacy and commitment of two dedicated Johns Hopkins families.

Construction of the Alonzo G. and Virginia G. Decker Quadrangle was completed this summer, transforming the south end of the Homewood campus by creating a new formal entrance to the university. Designed to complement the campus's other two large quadrangles, its grassy expanse is flanked by the existing Garland and Clark halls and two new buildings.

Mason Hall has been named in honor of Raymond A. "Chip" Mason and his wife, Rand. Mason recently stepped down as chair of the university's board of trustees.

Anchoring the Decker Quadrangle is Mason Hall, named in honor of Raymond A. "Chip" Mason and his wife, Rand. The 28,000-square-foot, three-story brick structure will house the university's Office of Undergraduate Admissions, an alumni board room, and a visitor center with displays and exhibits about Johns Hopkins history, current research, and the undergraduate experience.

The Computational Science and Engineering Building sits on the quad's eastern border. This 79,000-square-foot facility houses the research labs of Whiting School faculty and students working in robotics, computational medicine, and language and speech processing. Collaborating across disciplines, these researchers employ computational methods to improve health, extend human reach, and through engineering, make the world a safer place. The quad also contains an underground, three-level parking garage for visitors and staff and space for two future buildings.

The Decker Quadrangle is named for a prominent Baltimore couple, in honor of their decades of service to and generosity toward Johns Hopkins. The late Alonzo Decker spent seven decades serving Black & Decker Corp., the company his father co-founded, retiring in 1979 as chairman of the board. Credited with helping to introduce the company's popular line of do-it-yourself power tools, Decker was the chief executive of Black & Decker during its greatest expansion in company history.

Decker joined the university's board of trustees in 1968, serving for 34 years, and also served as national chair for the Hopkins Hundreds Campaign in the 1970s. He and his wife, Virginia, together contributed millions of dollars in support of programs on the Homewood campus, at the Peabody Institute, and at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"I'm hopeful that this new gateway to the school will show Johns Hopkins in its best light and welcome everyone to this great institution," says Chip Mason, who is the chairman, president, and CEO of Legg Mason, Inc. and has served as a trustee of both the university and Johns Hopkins Medicine since 1987. "The university has accomplished so much in recent years, and the Decker Quadrangle project is one of many spectacular accomplishments."

This summer, Mason completed his term as the 14th chair of the university board of trustees. He is succeeded by Pamela P. Flaherty, president and CEO of Citigroup Foundation and a university trustee since 1997. (See article below.)

"For two decades, Johns Hopkins has been able to count on the leadership, generosity, and support of Chip Mason," says university president William R. Brody. "And for the last 10 years, I have personally counted on Chip as a friend, adviser, and advocate for one of the great research universities of the world."

Mason, a native of Lynchburg, Virginia, is a 1959 alumnus of the College of William and Mary, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics. In 1962, he founded Mason and Co., and has spent his career building what is now the Baltimore-based financial services company Legg Mason, Inc.

The university will formally dedicate Decker Quadrangle and Mason Hall and celebrate the completion of the Computational Science and Engineering Building on October 27, during Leadership Weekend.

"The development of this new southern gateway to Homewood is a perfect opportunity for us to honor the Deckers and the Masons and their important commitments to Johns Hopkins," says Brody. "Just as Al and Virginia and Chip and Rand have helped advance the university on so many fronts, the Decker Quadrangle and Mason Hall will help build our future in undergraduate education, interdisciplinary research, service to the community and our alumni, and areas as yet uncharted." — NK

Pam Flaherty, SAIS '68: Madame Chair

Pam Flaherty is the first woman and first SAIS grad to chair the university's board. At age 12, Pamela P. Flaherty set her sights on becoming a diplomat. She dedicated her young life to that goal, eventually studying abroad and applying to the Foreign Service. Though she would ultimately choose another career path — she is president and CEO of Citigroup Foundation — that early ambition and drive have certainly served her well. This summer, Flaherty reached new leadership heights and made Johns Hopkins history in the process.

On July 1, Flaherty, a trustee of Johns Hopkins University since 1997, became the first woman to chair the university's board of trustees. She is also the first graduate of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies to hold the position. She succeeded Raymond A. "Chip" Mason.

William R. Brody, president of the university, calls Flaherty a "fabulous" trustee who has been particularly impressive in her leadership of the board's Finance Committee and, since 2003, the SAIS Advisory Council. Brody also notes the historical significance of Flaherty's appointment. "At this time — as the university is making a solid commitment to achieving diversity, particularly in leadership positions — it is an added bonus that Pam is a woman. She is a role model and an inspiration for other Hopkins women," Brody says, adding, "I do want to stress, however, that Pam is chair because of her excellence."

Flaherty, a native of Webster Groves, Missouri, attended Smith College and spent her junior year studying abroad in Geneva. She was admitted to the Foreign Service but opted instead to attend SAIS and earn a master's degree in international relations.

Her professional career began at Citibank, which Flaherty describes as one of the few multinational companies interested in and willing to hire women at the time. She first joined the company's International Banking Group and went on to manage its New York branch banking business and to serve as senior human resources officer. Since 1996, Flaherty has led Citigroup's Global Corporate Social Responsibility function and been director of Corporate Citizenship for the company, which has 325,000 employees in 100 countries.

Along with her husband, Peter, SAIS '68, also a member of the SAIS Advisory Council, Flaherty has been a longtime supporter of Johns Hopkins. The couple recently made commitments toward financial aid for SAIS students with exceptional leadership potential, to the Bologna Center's renovation, and to the Opportunity Fund, a critical source of funding that allows the SAIS dean to respond to new opportunities to advance the school.

As board chair, Flaherty says that her primary priority is to support the university president, the deans, and the administration. Some issues on which she plans to focus are financial aid, recruitment and retention of top-notch faculty, diversity, and research funding.

"The university is in excellent shape, and Chip Mason and Bill Brody have been a terrific team," she says. "Chip has been generous with his time, his resources, and his wisdom. He is a hard act to follow." — GR

In the News...

In April, Arthur Waskow, A&S '54, was number 35 in a list of "the Top 50 Rabbis in America," published online by Newsweek. The list was compiled by Sony Pictures CEO and chairman Michael Lynton, Gary Ginsberg of Newscorp., and Jay Sanderson of JTN Productions. The trio's scoring system gave points for such things as whether the rabbis were known nationally and whether they had a media presence. Waskow is an activist, the founder of the Shalom Center, and most recently author of The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, co-written with a Benedictine nun and a Sufi teacher.

In March, masters swimmers Jonathan Klein, A&S '79, SPH '80, and Jon Blank, A&S '81, were half of a four-man team that smashed an age-group world record. The record was for the 200-meter medley relay, in the 200- to 239-year-old age group. (No, they're not that old. The age group reflects the team's combined ages, which in this case range from 47 to 55.) Klein swam backstroke, and Blank breaststroke. The team finished in 1:53.92 — more than two and a half seconds faster than the previous record.

In June, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, A&S '04, won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (Fourth Estate, 2006). The award carries with it a £30,000 prize and a "Bessie" bronze figurine. The judges called Half of a Yellow Sun — which also won its author a PEN "Beyond Margins" Award and an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award — a "moving and important book by an incredibly exciting author."

Medicine's Biennial Celebration

Janice Wallace Journeau, Med '91, and her family enjoy 15th reunion festivities.

25th reunioners and their guests celebrate at the family picnic on Saturday, June 2.

Henry Wagner, A&S '48, Med '52, and wife Anne; Jacob Handelsman, A&S '40, Med '43 (November Class), and wife Shirley; and Richard Ross, former dean of the School of Medicine.

Sandra Gray, A&S '76, Named Executive Director

Sandra Gray, Johns Hopkins' new executive director of alumni relations, knows a thing or two about alumni. First, because she is one — she graduated from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in 1976. And second, because she's the spouse of one — Jeffrey, A&S '74 — and the mother of one — Emily May, A&S '05. "The mission and future of the Alumni Association have personal as well as professional importance to me," she says. (The Grays have two other children, Jennifer, 27, and Jeffrey, 21.)

Gray, who took over as executive director on May 1, had for nine years served in the university's Office of Alumni Relations, where she restructured the Regional Chapter Program, assisted in forming stronger relationships and professional teamwork among development counterparts, strengthened alumni giving and international chapter leadership, enhanced student programs and services, and formed a close bond with the Alumni Council. Before joining Alumni Relations, she held several positions at Johns Hopkins in Student Financial Services and the division of Development and Alumni Relations.

"Sandra Gray is an alumna who knows the university and its alumni," says James A. Miller Jr., A&S '64, president of the Alumni Association. "Her vision, management, and people skills are moving the Alumni Association forward in a positive and constructive manner. Her dedication, hard work, and spirit are an inspiration to her staff and to all alumni." — NK

Return to September 2007 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | 901 S. Bond St. | Suite 540 | Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone 443-287-9900 | Fax 443-287-9898 | E-mail