ALUMNI PROFILES — Spring 2006
   

 
Glass artist Jim McKelvey is the co-owner of Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis.

Glass Art Studio Hot in St. Louis

Jim McKelvey, A.B./B.S. ’87, has a passion for glass.

“I love it,” he says. “It’s a very difficult medium to work with. You can’t touch it. If you want it to move, you have to get it hot. Yet when it gets hot, it loses its form and starts to fall to the floor. You’re constantly striking this balance between being able to shape the substance and being able to control it.

“And it’s got neat mechanical properties,” he continues. “It glows; it refracts light; it cracks. It has what are called dichroic properties, where it reflects a different light than it transmits. It’s just really fascinating stuff.”

These days McKelvey is sharing his passion for glass with the students and volunteers at Third Degree Glass Factory, the St. Louis–based glass studio he co-founded with glass artist Doug Auer in 2002. In June 2006, he will share his passion with an international audience of glass artists when Third Degree—and the St. Louis community—hosts the international Glass Art Society conference, which McKelvey characterizes as “the largest gathering of glass artists, probably ever.”

Running a studio at the forefront of the art glass world is not a straightforward path for someone whose majors at Washington University were in economics and computer science, and who spent his junior year at the London School of Economics. For McKelvey, it began when he took a class in the art school during his senior year. “I’d finished the majority of my heavy course work by then, so I spent a lot of time in the glass studio.” He also worked there as a teaching assistant.

After graduating, McKelvey claims that he quickly got “very serious” about glass and became a glassblower largely “out of my need to eat.” He spent several years creating glass pieces and starting a variety of business ventures, which proved lucrative.

Enter Doug Auer. Some University students invited Jim McKelvey to give a guest lecture to their glass class in 2002, and Auer was then running the University program. The day McKelvey came to the glass studio, everything was ready, and Auer had even hired an assistant for McKelvey.

“I was struck by the fact that this man had anticipated every need I would possibly have,” McKelvey recalls.

When the two had lunch after class, they talked about the lack of a decent glass school in the Midwest. Over nothing more than a handshake, they agreed to build a studio with McKelvey putting up the money and Auer putting in the time.

“So now we have neither, but we have Third Degree,” McKelvey quips.

McKelvey and Auer found a vacant building in the 5200 block of Delmar with a “4 Sale” sign. The building was full of trash and, because of its former use as a service station, had underground petroleum storage tanks. McKelvey’s banker, his accountant, and an environmental attorney he consulted, all advised him not to buy it.

He bought it anyway, reasoning that, “Here are three professions that know nothing about risk.”

But he then realized he’d have to tell them he bought the building (after having the underground tanks removed from the property). McKelvey thought: “You know? After my banker finds out what I’ve done, she’s going to give me the third degree,” so he named the holding company that purchased the property “Third Degree.”

Third Degree teaches glassblowing to about 60 Washington University students and about 200 people from the St. Louis community. Much to McKelvey and Auer’s surprise, it has also become a popular venue for a variety of parties and events, including wedding receptions.

And in the spring, it will be the focus of activities for the best glass artists throughout the world.

—Mary Ellen Benson


Amy Chan is founder of Simple Memory Art, which creates shower curtains with fun themes for learning.

Learning Can Be Fun, in the Tub!

Amy Chan has revolutionized bath time. The old Ernie® sponge on the side of the tub and the bath blocks that have been used one too many times are outdated to Chan, who believes that bath time can provide a real, enjoyable learning experience for children. The idea for her company, Simple Memory Art (SMART), which operates by the motto “soak up some knowledge,” came to Chan after spending a lot of time with her nieces and nephews. She recognized that her sister’s children were the least happy and the most troublesome while in the bathtub. With the hope that she could help mothers everywhere, Chan created educationally themed shower curtains to entertain and educate children while splashing around in the tub.

“I thought the shower curtain would be a great natural canvas for design,” she explains, “a place to simplify concepts to children.” After conducting focus groups, Chan concluded that science themes would be the most well-received. Wanting her first design to be non-gender specific and interesting to children and adults alike, Chan settled on the solar system.

Chan, B.S.B.A. ’98, traces her influences to multiple sources. Her love for business and art emerged while attending Washington University. Earning a business degree and a minor in art, she developed many of the tools vital for starting her own company. Chan believes her entrepreneurial family, though, has been her biggest influence. “They gave me the guts to do this,” Chan asserts.

Growing up, Chan’s parents imported products from Asia and distributed them wholesale throughout the United States. “Through their business, I learned a lot about globalization,” she says.

Later, through a Washington University study-abroad program to Hong Kong, Chan had the opportunity to learn firsthand about globalization, and she was able to see her family’s business from the other side. Having an experience in another country, especially an international capital like Hong Kong, gave Chan a huge foundation for going forward. It was this experience that has led her to outsource her own product to Asia.

Occupying many roles for her company, everything from design and manufacturing to Web-site construction, Chan muses, “I’m learning as I go.” After earning an M.B.A. from New York University and working on new product development for PriceWaterhousecoopers, Chan asserts: “For them, I was on the consulting side of business. From there, I wanted to try out the other side.”

Currently Chan’s curtains, which are made from environmentally friendly ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), have five different designs—the solar system, the weather, dinosaurs, the periodic table, and metamorphosis (above). Each design, with the exception of the periodic table, features their mascot, Poppi the Penguin®. “It’s fun to have a mascot; the children have fun finding Poppi on each one,” Chan says. Her designs target children 7–14 years old, although the periodic table, Chan’s newest design, is meant for a high school and college audience.

Her shower curtains can be found online at www.simplememoryart.com, plus she has agreements with stores in 21 states. Over the next year, Chan hopes to expand that number to 50 and to create other bathroom accessories and possibly kitchenware.

For now, though, Chan’s focus is on the curtains. Each design that she has created is meant to maximize the fun in learning. “I love feeling like I am making a small difference in a child’s upbringing.”

—Jeanie Zwick, Class of ’06


Barth Holohan is president of Home Helpers, which provides seniors and those recovering from illness or injury with extra help to manage their everyday lives.

Helping Older Adults Live Independently

Almost back to when Barth Holohan was a child, he knew he had a passion for helping older adults.

Through his lawn-care business, Holohan, then 12, would visit with homeowners after he worked on their yards. Then in high school, he began volunteering at nursing homes, something he continued for years. Now as president of Home Helpers, Holohan provides seniors and those recovering from illness or injury with extra help to manage their everyday lives, so they can stay in their home.

“When I was young, some of the clients I cut grass for were older adults, and I always enjoyed spending time with them after my work was done,” Holohan says. “During high school, I worked at a nursing home, and, at the time, it made me sad, because I realized that a lot of people there didn’t need to be in a nursing home; they just didn’t have any other option.”

Holohan continued to volunteer at nursing homes throughout college, while getting his undergraduate degree in business from the University of Kentucky. Then he continued to develop his interests by working for Ernst & Young in the Management and Health-Care Consulting divisions.

“As I pursued my health-care interest further, I realized that I wanted to get more into helping the people instead of helping the companies that help the people,” Holohan says. “That is why I quit Ernst & Young and went to Washington U. to get my graduate degree.”

Holohan earned dual master’s degrees in business and in social work with an emphasis in gerontology in 2001, and he says his studies helped him channel his idea.

“My education at the University helped me focus on what I really wanted to do,” he says. “Before, I knew I wanted to help seniors, but there are so many options. Through my classes, and through my internships and practicum, I was able to formalize an idea about what part of the market most interested me.”

While there are about 300 home health-care businesses in the St. Louis area, Holohan says his company, Home Helpers, is different. He says his business is based on a social work model: one that sends a trained social worker to complete a home consultation and that offers a trained social worker to follow the progress of every client.

“We’re able to help the patient and their families as care needs increase or decrease,” Holohan says. “So if home care is not the best option, then we will help them find another, more suitable option. We try to provide a more holistic approach to care, because home care is not the only option.”

Home Helpers offers everything from skilled nurses and nurse’s aids for more advanced care, to people who act as companions and run client errands.

“We try to help people live independently for as long as they can,” Holohan says. “That is the whole foundation of the company. That’s our mission.”

Holohan’s company, which he founded in early 2002, continues to grow and was named a finalist in the 2005 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards for the Midwest Region.

And while Holohan’s busy schedule does not allow him to visit with the older adults as much as he likes, he still stays in touch with them.

After all, it is not only his business, it’s his passion.

—Carl Jacobs