ALUMNI PROFILES — Fall 2008
   

 
Joseph Ganem educates consumers on how to become more money-savvy with his book,
The Two-Headed Quarter. (Courtesy Photo)

Becoming More Money-Savvy

"Deceptive numbers are used to promote a dizzying array of goods and services … and are highly effective in getting people to make poor buying decisions,” says Joseph Ganem, Ph.D. ’89. Ganem’s growing awareness of marketing techniques designed to mislead consumers prompted him to write a book, The Two-Headed Quarter: How to See Through Deceptive Numbers and Save Money on Everything You Buy, published in 2007.

Ganem, a physics professor at Loyola College in Maryland, became interested in advertising trickery when he stopped to read the fine print on some of the credit card offers that routinely arrived in his mailbox. “Teaser rates such as 1.9 percent were displayed prominently on the outer envelope, but when I factored in all the transaction fees described in the fine print, it would have cost about the same as paying interest on a current credit card balance,” he says.

The use of deceptive numbers extends to many different facets of American consumerism and personal finance, including shopping for goods and services, investing and borrowing money, and even gambling.

“Numbers are a perfect vehicle for marketers to make statements that are true, but misleading,” says Ganem. “It’s not that consumers aren’t smart, but they can be misled unless they understand the context surrounding the numbers given in a promising-looking deal.”

Automobile rebates offer one example of numbers deception. If the price tag on a new car is $34,000 and the dealer offers a $4,000 “rebate” to those who pay in cash, the car actually costs $30,000. For those who can’t pay cash, the dealer will offer “0% financing” on the $34,000 price—so the consumer is effectively paying a $4,000 finance charge on a $30,000 car.

Ganem’s book has gotten positive reviews in the media and is finding an audience with adults who either want to become more money-savvy themselves or would like to arm their kids with financial knowledge and a healthy dose of skepticism before they venture out on their own.

When asked how all of this number crunching relates to physics, Ganem says, “Well, besides being a consumer myself, I’m very comfortable with numbers because of my background in science.”

As a doctoral student in physics at Washington University, Ganem conducted research on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Since 1994, he has been a member of the faculty of Loyola College of Maryland. Ganem has authored numerous scientific papers in the fields of laser development and magnetic resonance, and he was recently promoted to a full professor.

For now, Ganem has no plans to write any other books. Although he enjoyed writing this one, the process took close to three years because he could only set aside an hour or so every day for writing. In addition to his work and a busy family life with his wife, Sharon, and their three teenagers, Ganem plays piano and is an expert at correspondence chess.

How did Ganem choose the unusual title—The Two-Headed Quarter—for his book? He says, “A theme of the chapter on financial planning is to avoid wishful thinking. As a cautionary tale, I recount the discovery of a two-headed quarter in my sister’s pocket change. We hoped it might be rare and valuable, but it was a common magician’s prop accidentally put into circulation.

“I thought the trick quarter was a useful metaphor for the themes in this book because it was designed to deceive by presenting a false choice to the audience—like so many of the consumer choices we all face every day.”

To learn more about Ganem’s book, visit www.TheTwoHeadedQuarter.com. —Lisa Cary


Sally Dolembo documents historical garments, such as this early-20th-century coat, during her apprenticeship at Tirelli Costumi in Rome. (Courtesy Tirelli Costumi)

Fashioning a Career in Costume Design

While many people remember the movie Titanic for its tragic love story, Sarah “Sally” Dolembo, A.B. ’05 (drama), remembers the film for its costumes and its historical importance. After viewing the movie, Dolembo first realized she could make a career out of her interest in historical garments. “It was the first time I had been blown away by the costume design in a film,” she says. “I watched documentaries on the making of the film. Attention was paid to every detail, down to the last bead on Kate Winslet’s dress.”

An apprentice at Tirelli Costumi in Rome, Dolembo always has been interested in the history behind clothing. “The study of historical garments is important because it tells the story of the evolution of fashion,” she says. “To understand fashion, you need to know it structurally from the inside out. You need to understand how a garment is made if you’re going to design a costume for the stage that is supposed to represent a certain historical period.”

After graduating from Washington University, Dolembo worked at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis making hats, dyeing fabric, and working on accessories. She then was employed by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where she served as assistant to one of the drapers (people who make the patterns for costumes). Through this position, she met an Italian costume designer who helped her make contacts at Tirelli.

A Fulbright Scholarship led to her apprenticeship at the Italian costume shop. Her job involves working in a film laboratory, studying in Tirelli’s private historical garment collection, and assisting in the main costume shops. In the film laboratory, she gained some needed experience. “It was a great opportunity for me, as I met important people in the film industry,” says Dolembo.

While studying Tirelli’s private historical garment collection, she drew, took notes and measurements, and conducted photo documentation. “This collection is enormous, and I am very fortunate to have access to these delicate historical garments,” says Dolembo.

Film, theatre, and opera costumes are designed and created in Tirelli’s main costume shops. “There doesn’t seem to be a day at Tirelli when a notable costume designer doesn’t come through the shop,” she says. “When I am not doing my own personal research in the garment collection, my apprenticeship includes fabric dyeing, embroidering, fabric manipulation, sewing, and fabric painting. Outside of Tirelli, I also conduct my own research on Italian fashion history and the history of Italian costume design at various museums, libraries, and archives in Rome, Florence, and Sicily.”

During her time in Italy, Dolembo has seen several interesting costumes. “Some of the more noteworthy costumes include clothing worn by members of the Medici family in Florence,” she says. “They date from around 1562 and were exhumed from their graves and pieced back together.”

After her Fulbright apprenticeship is over this year, Dolembo plans to return to the United States to pursue a master of fine arts degree in costume design. She dreams of being a costume designer in the future, possibly for films and documentaries.

“I have a particular interest in period work, so I would love to pursue a job that would require a lot of historical research,” she says. “For my apprenticeship, I have researched 19th-century New Orleans and studied the lives of the poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. I’m constantly studying and learning, which I love.”

Her years at Washington University gave her a lot of design experience—“an opportunity that is not available for many undergraduates,” says Dolembo. “The individual attention that I received was key to my development as an artist and a historian. While carrying out historical garment research in England with a Bemis Travel Scholarship, I found my niche, and I’ve been pursuing ways to exercise my niche ever since.” —Blaire Leible Garwitz


Graham Wright provided solar panels, such as the ones in the background, to low-income families while volunteering at Rural Renewable Energy Alliance. (Photo by Dawn Villella)

Saving the Environment with Solar Energy

Graham Wright, B.S.E.E. ’84, has been drawn to science for as long as he can remember. Majoring in electrical engineering at Washington University, he continued his studies at the University of Illinois, earning both a master’s degree in 1987 and a doctorate in 1993. He focused on electrostatics, the study of low-frequency electric fields, and was involved with printer imaging technology.

He had pursued his studies based on his interests rather than their marketability, but they also turned out to be a good vocational choice. In 1996 he went to work in research and development for Kodak and its subsidiary, NexPress, at Kodak’s world headquarters in Rochester, New York.

Though he liked his work at Kodak, it simply did not fulfill a meaningful purpose for him. While at Washington University, he recalls, he had taken a course in technology and society. “We talked about what purpose engineering was supposed to serve. It is supposed to be for using scientific knowledge for solving society’s problems.”

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, increased his desire to use his talents for a greater social purpose. He decided that before he reached his 10th anniversary at Kodak, he would make “a clean break” and find a more meaningful path for his life and career.

Wright looked for job opportunities through VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America, which is part of Americorps), a program through which volunteers make a year-long, full-time commitment to work on a specific project at a nonprofit organization. He already knew his desired focus; his efforts designing a solar car for the GM SunRayce ’95 with a team at the University of Illinois and his readings about global warming and oil depletion made him decide to use his training to help the environment.

Through VISTA, he found Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a grassroots organization in Pine River, Minnesota, which works to make solar energy affordable to low-income families. Wright’s application to volunteer with RREAL was accepted in 2006. He sold his house in Rochester, gave up his salary for a stipend, and headed to Minnesota.

Wright worked with RREAL from November 2006 to November 2007 on a “fantastic team,” which also included RREAL’s founder, Jason Edens; Edens’ wife, B.J. Allen; and research coordinator and VISTA supervisor, Sarah Hayden.

The project was simple, as Wright explains it. Many low-income families need federal aid to partially subsidize their energy and heating bills. The team developed a solar panel system that can be installed directly on the houses of eligible families. Because of space and storage issues, the system provides approximately 10 to 20 percent of the heating needs of the residents.

In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, “in some cases, [the system] is enough to get the people off energy assistance,” says Wright.

As of January 2008, more than a dozen systems had been installed; the goal is to install the heating systems on 150 homes over the next two years. Once in place, the panels should last for 50 years.

Although Wright’s year volunteering with VISTA is over, the project has set him on a path he wants to continue. “I’ve pretty much abandoned my old career,” he says. He has set up shop in Minnesota as a consultant to RREAL and other nonprofit organizations, helping them with environmental issues and permaculture, “which addresses the sustainability of agriculture.”

Though a modest man, Wright is proud of his work: “We were not teaching people to fish or giving them fish,” he says, referring to the old Chinese proverb. “It’s more as if we gave them a fishing pole. It is up to them to use it properly.” —Beth Herstein, A.B. ’83