ALUMNI PROFILES — Spring 2005
   

 
David Begler, A.B. '85, (in red shirt) and his Washington University friends gather every summer for a different adventure. Above, they vacationed in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado, in 1992.

Class Reunion at 11,000 Feet

High in the Sierras, as a hailstorm rages, six Washington University alumni are having a debate. We are at an elevation of 11,000 feet in Kings Canyon National Park in California, and the temperature is dropping. Our raingear is soaked through, and we're getting chilled. This is not good. Being cold and wet in the mountains can be dangerous, if not deadly.

Under a tarp hastily strung up between a few scraggly trees, we discuss our options. Some guys want to keep moving to stay warm. Others think we should quickly set up a tent, even though the ground is a muddy mess. I can sense the tension building, so I do what all seasoned mountaineers do in the face of imminent danger: I start to sing, show-tune style: "Hypo, hypothermia! Hypo, hypothermia!" The boys join me in a rousing chorus: "Hypo, hypothermia!"

Welcome to Ali Bali.

Every summer for the last 16 years, a bunch of guys who met at Washington U. have ventured into the wilderness for a week of backpacking, peak-bagging, and outdoor living. It's a tradition we call "Ali Bali," though no one can say for sure what that name means.

Ali Bali was born in June 1989, when Brian Oster and I embarked on a bike trek from New York to California. We mapped our route to reach Montana's Glacier National Park on July 22, where we met our Washington U. friends for a backpacking trip. Every summer since then, we have explored wild places all over the country.

Miles from civilization, totally self-sufficient, on Ali Bali we take leave of our professions and our families and enter a world unto ourselves, renewing the bonds we made at college. We spend our days hiking on trails and scrambling up peaks. We tell the same jokes and stories we've told for years. We sing silly songs, and call each other nicknames like Mr. Portions, Lefty, Chouteau, Mountain Charlie, and Dorak. But we also compare notes on our present lives. All in the most beautiful, most inaccessible places in the country. Everyone prepares meals—and we have taken the art of backcountry cooking to new highs (Charlie's Mexican Fiesta, with fresh guacamole) and lows (like the time Mike added dirty dishwater to his Thai curry).

When we began this tradition, we were all single, in our mid-twenties. Now we're in our forties, with families, mortgages, and demanding jobs. Each year it gets harder to tear ourselves away. But that's precisely why we continue to do it. On Ali Bali we get to experience the freedom and camaraderie we had at the University. And the older we get, the more we appreciate it.

Back at 11,000 feet, the clouds have parted to frame a small patch of blue. The hail has let up, leaving a stunning blanket of white on the ground. Crisis averted, we clear a space for tents. Someone goes to fill pots with water to boil for dinner, and another gets the stoves started. After 16 years, Ali Bali has an easy, natural rhythm when it comes to setting up camp.

Tomorrow we'll go back to our families and our jobs, rejuvenated. Sometime during the winter the e-mail rounds will begin. Where to next trip? Alaska? The Canadian Rockies? In the spring, we'll dig our backpacks from the closets and start training. We'll show up at some trailhead somewhere and marvel that we pulled it off another year. Though I can't tell you the exact meaning of the name Ali Bali, I'm quite sure it has something to do with the spirit of friendship.

Current and past members of Ali Bali:
David Begler, A.B. '85
Steve Deutsch, B.F.A. '86
Michael Dorf, A.B./B.S.B.A. '84
George Gatch, A.B. '86
Dore Hainer, A.B. '84
Richard Kessner, A.B. '84
Lars Langberg, A.B. '86
Brian Oster, A.B. '87
Peter Ostrow, A.B. '85
Joel Priest, A.B. '84
Charlie Smith, B.S. '84

-David Begler, A.B. '85


As part of a nine-month worldwide journey, Debbie Busler, A.B. '95, M.S.W. '97, and John Patrick Woolley, A.B. '94, visited Machu Picchu.

'Social' Couple Lands in England

After traveling around the world, 26 countries on six continents, Debbie Busler, A.B. '95, M.S.W. '97, has settled in England—for the time being.

Busler is a senior social worker, investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect in the London Borough of Hounslow. She works closely with the police, schools, health personnel, sometimes the court system, and the families to piece together a picture of the past—and to create a plan for the family's future.

"The social work field is undergoing big changes in the U.K. now—requirements are strengthening, the system is evolving," she says. "It's an interesting time to be here."

Busler moved to England to accompany her longtime partner, John Patrick Woolley, A.B. '94, who is pursuing a doctorate in science and religion at Oxford University. The two met in Umrath Hall, where they were resident advisers. They've been trotting around the globe together ever since.

After Busler's graduation they began their travels with a three-week drive across the country to California, where Woolley began work on his master's degree at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Busler accepted a position with a social service agency in the Bay Area. While there, she and Woolley became active in the United Nations Association (UNA), a volunteer group that educates the public about the United Nations.

Both Busler and Woolley served on the UNA's board of directors in Berkeley, after being recruited by Nikki Van Ausdall, A.B. '94. The organization, which was active in the '60s, had waned in recent years, so they were charged with "breathing new life into the group," says Busler.

That's when Busler merged her lifelong love of running with her passion for global social justice. Together, she and Woolley organized the "Run for Peace," a 5K/10K run and fundraiser for the Bay Area United Nations Association.

"The run was a fun way to raise awareness while raising money," she says. "And they're still holding the run."

After California and before England, Busler and Woolley embarked on a nine-month journey to all the places they'd dreamed of seeing: South Africa, Peru, Cambodia, New Zealand, among others.

"After a few cross-country road trips, we were inspired to widen the playing field. While in California, we began planning and saving for a worldwide trip. It was the adventure of a lifetime."

With Woolley's acceptance to Oxford University, their traveling focus shifted to Europe, and Busler found her talents in high demand in England. While most U.S. social workers have a master's degree, social workers in the U.K. need only a year (now a three-year) general degree. However, because of a handful of highly publicized scandals that have put the field under scrutiny, the educational requirements are now being strengthened—though foreign-trained social workers are still sought after. In fact, Busler works with a number of international social workers, hailing from Australia, South Africa, and Canada.

For her, the most challenging part of working in England is the lack of autonomy social workers are allowed. In the United States, she could take a case and run with it. But in England, every step must be supervised. Still, one day soon Busler will be doing the supervising. After less than a year on the job, she's being promoted.

Also, as an expatriate, she deals with a range of opinions about Americans, some of them rooted in myth, some in truth. At work, she finds her "American style" of communicating—straightforward, concise—a contrast to the U.K. style, which is more "round-about."

Despite the challenges, she "wouldn't trade this opportunity for anything."

-Nancy Mays


Shawn Siegel, A.B. '03, is the creator of a popular college basketball Web site: Collegehoopsnet.com.

Full-Court 'Press'

There exists, for those who have found it, a "press box" for NCAA basketball that offers unlimited seating. The address: Collegehoopsnet.com. The host: 23-year-old Shawn Siegel, A.B. '03. His visitors: 10,000 daily fans hungry for sharp commentary, comprehensive rankings, inside interviews, quirky features, and passionate company with whom to watch each season unfold.

Growing tremendously in its third year, Collegehoopsnet.com (CHN) was born when Siegel interned with the New Jersey Nets during his freshman year in college, pitching in on the redesign of the team's Web site. "From that experience, I became fascinated with Web sites, and I've always liked basketball and writing," he says. "So I thought it would be a perfect venture to create my own site."

Not that it was a booming business from the start. "It was really more of a hobby at first," Siegel says. "I didn't know much about Web design beforehand, so I just read some articles online and built [the site] for my own personal purposes. But when I realized, 'Oh, people like this, and it's getting a good amount of Web traffic,' I thought I might as well turn it into something more substantial."

Meanwhile, Siegel was busy at another substantial venture: college. Like a resourceful entrepreneur, he made use of the materials in front of him, interviewing Washington University athletes for content and garnering support from professors.

After graduation, Siegel took a year off, moved back to New Jersey, and worked on CHN full time. He incorporated the venture and worked as writer, editor, page designer, and ad rep. "I'd wake up in the morning and work on the Web site until I went to sleep," he says. "I knew at the time that I would be returning to Washington University for law school the following fall, so I tried to get as much done during that year—so I would have time while in school to focus on my studies."

His efforts, including spreading the word via message boards, press releases, and search engines, paid off. "Every day, every week, I'd check the site's Web traffic," Siegel remembers, "and it seemed to be growing continuously."

As the site grew, it developed its own voice, providing visitors content they couldn't get elsewhere: the DCI, or Dan Curry Index, a creatively scientific system that ranks hoops teams from best to worst; columns such as the off-the-cuff 'Daily Dribble'; and special polls such as the Unheralded Player and the Spirit Awards.
Assisting Siegel in this growth has been a stable group of 30 writers—aspiring and established—as well as the 500 members of the CHN Message Board, who post ponderings and pronouncements on seemingly every team and topic.

For Siegel—who may follow law school with work in a sports league or as an agent—the foremost challenges have been time, financially feasible publicity efforts, and "trying to gain respect against other newspapers or publications for legitimacy."

Steadily, this is happening. CHN is gaining attention across the country, and its visitor count grew 300 percent from fall 2003 to fall 2004. Siegel expects the number of visitors to reach 25,000 a day during March Madness 2005.

Meanwhile, with the work come the benefits—radio gigs, free tickets, a prime view of the court. However, Siegel, like those he writes about, only has so much time on the clock.

"At law school," Siegel says, "I don't have the time to take advantage of a lot of the perks."

For more information, please e-mail: collegehoopsnet@aol.com.

-Stephen Schenkenberg