It's All About You

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
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The first frost of the season blanketed the ground on a crisp Saturday morning when the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) and its Thompson School of Applied Science (TSAS) welcomed alumni back home to campus in style. Dean, Jon Wraith; Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Kim Babbitt; Professor of Biological Sciences, Anita Klein; Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, Larry Harris; and Director of Development, Stephanie Gillen, hosted the guests who gathered in the warmth of Cole Hall. In the adjacent kitchen, Thompson School chef and teacher Julienne Guyette and Culinary Art and Nutrition student Jill Anne Rubin cheffed up thick buttermilk pancakes with both pork and meatless sausages to accommodate everyone’s needs.

Animal Science majors Jessica Gramlich ’02 and Annie (Norris) Montminy ’02 were the first to arrive with their friend Kerry McCarthy ’02 of the College of Liberal Arts. Gramlich and Montminy have been friends since they met in first grade in their hometown of Farmington, Maine, and they later met McCarthy at UNH. While the three try to get together every few months, this was their first time back for Homecoming since graduation.

Gramlich worked for a year at a biotech firm in Boston before starting veterinary school at North Carolina State University, where she was surprised to be joined by four other UNH graduates in her class. Today, she’s a small animal veterinarian with the Animal Hospital of Nashua. She considers her education in COLSA to be fundamental, and recalls with warmth those teachers most influential in her education as Bill Berndtson, Paul Tsang, Bill Condon, Pete Erickson, and Dave Townson. “I did my undergraduate research on the corpus luteum with Dave Townson,” says Gramlich, who participated – along with Montminy – in CREAM during their junior year.

Gramlich, who became a vegetarian during Bill Condon’s Animal Rights and Societal Issues class, was delighted to see Boca sausage at the serving station. Over breakfast, she reminisced with Montminy about their time in the CREAM program at the Fairchild Dairy, an experience they loved. “It was a huge time commitment getting up at three to milk the cows, but it was well worth it,” said Montminy who lives in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and works as a receptionist for Women’s Wellness of the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital. An avid crafter, she knit her own hat with wildcat ears and a UNH logo just for this occasion.

We were also delighted to reconnect with Family and Consumer Studies major Susan (Hillman) Keener ’68, daughter-in-law of former COLSA dean Harry Keener who served the college as Director of the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES) in 1958 and Dean of COLSA in 1961. He continued working in both positions until he retired in 1978 and was honored with the title of professor and dean emeritus. As UNH was such a big part of Susan’s life, she came home to Durham four years ago – after living out-of-town – to revive the family’s old farmhouse and bond again with friends in the area.

Becky and Ben Nelson visit with Jon Wraith

Becky and Ben Nelson visit with Dean of COLSA, Jon Wraith.

Later, Ben Nelson ‘79 and his wife, Becky ‘81, joined the group. They came that morning from Newport, NH, where they own and operate the Beaver Pond Farm, a small fruit and vegetable growing operation with a pick-your-own attraction. The Nelsons met at UNH while Becky was studying English and Anthropology and Ben was a pre-veterinary science major with a minor in Zoology. Not long after graduation, Ben took on a role as manager of an Agway store and got to see first-hand many diverse agricultural ventures. “I discovered that the people who were making money were selling direct to the consumer,” he says. When the opportunity presented itself for the Nelsons to purchase Becky’s father’s farm, which was established in 1780 as a dairy, they jumped at the chance to bring their business backgrounds to the family farm.

The Nelsons soon opened a store where they currently sell a vast array of items grown and goods produced on property, like maple syrup, Christmas Trees, and Becky’s handcrafted holiday wreaths. They also offer locally made products from the region, including meats, pesto, and cheeses.

“The farm was a great place to raise a family,” says Becky of their son, Sam, who will graduate from the Thompson School with a degree in Forest Technology in May and their daughter, Katherine, who is currently studying genetics at COLSA and will graduate in January. Katherine brings her interest in the conservation of heritage cattle to her work at the New Hampshire Farm Museum, the Nelsons say.

When the conversation turned to the deep cuts to State funding, Becky said, “Don’t let anything happen to the CREAM program. What an incredible hands-on experience that is – our daughter loved it.” COLSA’s Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Kim Babbitt, was quick to respond that everyone at the college is working harder during these challenging times to keep such important academic programs available to our students.

The room lit up when Robyn (Bleecker) Shiely ’80, Anne (Morrison) Getchell ’80, and Mira Dabrowski ’80 walked in. This dynamic trio has maintained their friendship through time and distance and their joy in being together was contagious. Dabrowksi flew in from Sunnyvale in the Bay Area just to be with her friends for homecoming. And while Shiely and Dabrowski were active on the swim team together, the three of them worked at the Dairy Bar in the late 1970’s. “These are my best girlfriends,” said a beaming Shiely, excited for the weekend ahead.

Shiely, a native of Santa Cruz, CA, began college at Chico State University and applied to a very competitive exchange program that existed with UNH at the time. When she met the down-to-earth students from UNH and saw photos of our picturesque campus, she said, “I’ve got to get to this school.” Once she was accepted into the program, she was determined to graduate with a degree in Biology from UNH.

Director of Development, Stephanie Gillen, with Robyn (Bleecker) Shiely '80

Director of Development, Stephanie Gillen, and Robyn (Bleecker) Shiely '80.

“I love this school; I was so at home here,” says Shiely who, after graduation, worked with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department surveying Coho salmon on the coast. Later, she moved to Ohio where she began surveying largemouth bass until devoting time to raising a family. Eventually, Shiely returned to her beloved Durham where she now works as a volunteer assistant coach to the UNH swim team.

Getchell, who jokes that she had way too much fun at UNH, has many fond memories of her time in COLSA as an Animal Science major. In her junior year, she seized an opportunity to work for the USDA that became a career spanning more than three decades. Currently she’s involved in the USDA’s farm service agency, overseeing water and waste projects.

Getchell has a family legacy of attendance at UNH from her mother, Janet Murphy Morrison ’51, to her sons Chris and Sam. Chris is a Biology major, with a 3.9 GPA, who’s set his sights set on dental school. Her youngest, Sam, is delving into both Political Science and German while performing as a drummer in the marching band. “I was so psyched when they came here,” says Getchell, who has always been drawn to the beauty of UNH. “You drive through this quaint little town, come up through campus, and wow – this is what you envision a campus to be.”

At COLSA, we’re proud to have such a beautiful place to which we can welcome alumni back, but we know that it would be nothing without the people who bring it to life. It’s the students – current, future, and past – who are the reason for our existence.

We are always happy and grateful to see you and hear about your experiences at UNH. After all, it’s all about you.