ALUMNI PROFILES — Spring 2010
   

 
Courtesy Photo

First Chinese Alumnus Celebrates Centenary
Xianyu Xu, PhD ’38, the first Chinese alumnus of Washington University, is celebrating his 100th birthday. While a student at the University, Xu studied mathematics with world-renowned scholar and former Professor Gabor Szego. “Both the University and Professor Szego helped me develop the capability to think critically and to approach problems in a rigorous and scientific way,” says Xu, one of the founders of computational mathematics in China.

During his career, Xu taught mathematics at Yenching University and Peking University and served as a senior fellow at the Institute of Computational Mathematics under the Chinese Academy of Science.

His daughter, Wan Xu, and son-in-law, Jiashu “Josh” Cheng, recently named a mathematics scholarship at Washington University for him. They established the gift to honor Xu’s many achievements and to recognize the important role the University played in his life.

“Washington University made a great difference in my life and, in a small way, made [an] important impact on China and Chinese people,” Xu says.


Christopher Clinton Conway serves as director of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and works to promote the arts internationally. (Photo: Andres Alonso)

Attorney Aims to Advance Art Appreciation
Christopher Clinton Conway, JD ’96, hopes to promote the arts internationally through his work with art museums and ballets around the country and in Mexico. As executive director of the prestigious Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, Conway oversees all aspects of the company—seeking out new talent, fundraising, marketing, and logo merchandise development and sales. Further, he tours with the company and with artistic director Ashley C. Wheater. “The Joffrey travels to all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Weekly, I am in New York or London or Los Angeles or Rio de Janeiro,” Conway says. (In December 2009, the company performed the Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.)

With the most extensive touring schedule of any dance company in history, the Joffrey Ballet is one of the most revered and recognizable arts organizations in America and one of the top dance companies in the world. Founded in 1956, the company boasts an impressive history. Hailed as “America’s Company of Firsts,” the Joffrey’s long list includes the following: first dance company to perform at the White House at Jacqueline Kennedy’s invitation; first to appear on television; first American company to visit Russia; first and only dance company to appear on the cover of Time magazine; and first to have had a major motion picture based on it, Robert Altman’s The Company.

The Joffrey operates the Academy of Dance, a renowned school that teaches ballet, hip hop, jazz, modern, tap, African, and Latin dance to talented students, including the late Patrick Swayze. Further, the Joffrey promotes the arts through its Community Engagement Program, which serves more than 4,000 young people each year.

“We aim to develop life skills through creative and educational programming while strengthening ties within Chicago’s communities,” Conway says. “Our programs inspire a greater appreciation for dance while introducing participants to the benefits this art form offers.”

Area young people shine at the Middle School Dance Clubs (MSDC), a weekly classroom learning and dance education experience and the longest-standing Joffrey program. Participants attend three Joffrey performances and work with Joffrey teaching artists to create original dances. MSDC culminates with two major performances. “To date, more than 4,700 Chicago youths take part in MSDC, and thousands more attend Joffrey performances associated with the program,” Conway says.

Other community programs focus on American square dancing, the Nutcracker ballet, and African and Latin dance. The Exelon Strobel Step-Up Program offers a rigorous scholarship opportunity to promising high school students who want to develop their dance skills and showcase their talents.

Conway credits his legal education at Washington University with giving him “a succinct writing style, contract review skills, and the general fearlessness that comes from being an attorney.” He further developed his leadership skills when he co-founded the gay and lesbian student group at the law school. “During an initial planning meeting, the first two people to arrive were Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and his wife, the late Elizabeth Gray Danforth,” he says.

After graduation, Conway served as senior associate director and general counsel for the Carter Center of Emory University. He worked closely with President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, on their post-presidential initiatives relating to peace and health. Conway then became director of development at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. From there, he went to Joffrey first as vice president for development and then executive director. In addition, he advocates for the arts and consults with several groups, including Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia; Edward Villella’s Miami City Ballet; and Museo de Arte y Cultura Popular in Colima, Mexico.

When not traveling, working, or proving that “attorneys can dance,” Conway enjoys spending time with his three nephews: Miles Christopher, J. Wiley, and Garrett Donegan.

For more information on the Joffrey Ballet, visit joffrey.org. —Blaire Leible Garwitz


(Photo Courtesy Josh Goldstein)

Artist’s Work Appears in Times Square
New York City artist Josh Goldstein, AB ’93, designed three billboards for Target in Times Square that were on display from September 4 to October 31, 2009. In January 2010, fashion designer Anna Sui recycled the vinyl into one-of-a-kind limited edition totes for Target.

“I try to create art that encourages the viewer to engage with the chaos and density of New York City,” Goldstein says. “Those menus slipped under the door; the tags and graffiti covering the local deli; the newspapers left behind on the train and littering the sidewalk; and the daily bombardment of storefront signs all inspire my work.”

To view more of Goldstein’s work, visit his Web site: bodeganyc.com.


Marianne Bellino is a world-class triathlete and a successful architect who teaches courses at the University of Colorado at Boulder. (Photo: John Bliake)

Architect Designs a Life of Hard Work and Play
Marianne Bellino, MArch ’05, often ponders different spaces: their history, aesthetics, and meaning.

No mere philosopher, however, Bellino possesses an uncanny ability to pause and appreciate the poetics of the spaces she encounters—then focus herself like a laser on how she can best succeed within them.

At age 29, Bellino is a world-class triathlete and a successful architect who teaches courses in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado at Boulder. With her design skills, athleticism, and engaging personality, Bellino leaves her mark on the places she occupies.

Bellino traces her interest in both architecture and athletics to a childhood experience in Washington, D.C. “Living in a house with my parents, six siblings, and two dogs, space was at a premium,” she says. “One Christmas, my parents converted our basement into a ‘mini-gym.’ The transformation of concrete basement into athletic performance area showed me how an environment can impact one’s well-being.”

Growing up, Bellino competed in a variety of sports and excelled in academics. At the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, she was an undecided major until her sophomore year. Holy Cross did not have an architecture program, so she created an architectural studies major for herself.

Bellino arranged to study architecture at the University of Florence in Italy for a year—even though the courses were taught in Italian, which she had never studied. Undaunted, she flew to Florence before the start of the term and immersed herself in an Italian language class for eight hours a day.

“I went to bed with a headache every night,” Bellino recalls, “but I gradually progressed from conversing with the housekeeper’s 4-year-old daughter to understanding lectures. By the time I visited my grandfather Bellino’s relatives in Sicily at Christmas break, I was fluent.”

During her senior year at Holy Cross, Bellino applied to the highly selective Mr. and Mrs. Spencer T. Olin Fellowship for Women at Washington University that, if awarded, would pay full tuition for the seven-semester MArch 3 program. “I flew to St. Louis for the fellowship interview knowing that the architecture program was among the best,” she says, “but the warmth of the students and faculty really won me over.”

In one memorable week, Bellino learned that she was valedictorian at Holy Cross and had been accepted to Washington University’s Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design as an Olin Fellow.

Bellino shone again as a graduate student, winning the 2004 Steedman II Traveling Fellowship to conduct research in Kenya for five weeks. There, she experienced sacred spaces including a Massai volcano, Islamic ruins, and the site of a Kikuyu wedding ceremony.

In 2003, Bellino began to pursue her other vocation—competing in triathlons—when she and another graduate student entered a St. Louis race for fun. Bellino excelled in her first race and was hooked.

Post-graduation, Bellino increased the intensity of her triathlon training while working in New York City at Robert Kahn Architect PC. In 2006, she joined Team USA as an elite amateur and raced in the International Triathlon Union Long Course World Championships in Australia.

In 2008, Bellino decided to leave New York City’s dense urban environment. “I missed nature and sought a more sustainable lifestyle,” she says. “My goals and interests shifted, and when I received a job offer in Boulder—the central location for Olympians and world champions—I moved.”

Bellino thrives in Colorado, enjoying architectural consulting and teaching at the university. She is on the cusp of earning elite/professional status in the half-Ironman triathlon distance, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile ride, and 13.1-mile run.

“The combination of training, teaching, and design work creates an amazing internal balance of body, mind, and spirit,” she says. “It’s a peaceful space for me.” —Lisa Cary


Matt Mitro (right) and Ben Stone head Indego Africa, a nonprofit organization that helps African women deliver themselves out of poverty. (Photo: Max Morse)

Alumni Efforts Empower Rwandan Women
As a boy, Matt Mitro, AB ’00, lived in Nigeria for six years while his dad worked for Chevron. Some of his memories involve the chaos of the era, like the military roadblocks and how his family would put green leaves on their car to show they were sympathetic with rioters.

But equally vivid are his memories of the hard-working locals, people stuck in poverty but possessing strong entrepreneurial spirits. “Some would cut people’s toenails on the street for five cents, like a shoeshine,” he remembers. “Women with babies on their backs sold pineapples and mangoes that they carried around on their heads, ten at a time.”

With these images still fresh in his mind, Mitro began formulating the idea for Indego Africa, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that would help African women deliver themselves out of poverty. He made a good salary as a lawyer working on developing world finance projects for a firm in Washington, D.C., but “didn’t feel passionate” about the work, he says. And so, in late 2006, Mitro left his job to make Indego Africa a reality.

Unlike traditional exporters or charities, Indego empowers Rwandan artisans by linking access to fair trade export markets with business skills, with the hope of creating a new generation of independent African businesswomen. The Rwandan women receive fair trade prices for their handicrafts—including traditional baskets, yoga bags, and wine coasters—which are then sold on Indego Africa’s Web store (shop.indegoafrica.org) and at stores across the United States. Indego Africa returns 100 percent of the profits, plus donations and grants, back to the cooperatives of women for groundbreaking training programs in financial management, entrepreneurship, computers, and literacy, which are taught by Rwanda’s top university students. After garnering considerable attention, Indego Africa’s social enterprise business model is currently the subject of a Harvard Business School case study.

Mitro’s right-hand man, Ben Stone, AB ’00, also practiced law—corporate litigation in New York—before making the jump to Indego Africa. The two men remained close friends since their days playing pingpong together at Washington University. “I loved law school and practicing law,” says Stone, “but I found Matt’s idea extremely compelling, and I wanted to help.” His trip with Mitro to Rwanda in July 2008 was not glamorous, but he fell in love with the project. “Meeting the artisans really changed the way I looked at a lot of things,” Stone remembers. “I knew immediately that this was what I was meant to do.”

After asking his bosses at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for six months of unpaid leave to help get Indego off the ground, Stone was stunned when they offered him the opportunity to devote all of his time to Indego Africa, but still receive a portion of his salary.

Mitro now serves as Indego’s board chairman and president, while Stone works as senior vice president and general counsel. The two put together a vast volunteer network that currently includes more than 35 Washington University graduates, including Indego Africa’s regional board chairs in Chicago (Josh Lebowitz, AB ’02), San Francisco (William Craven, AB ’00), and Los Angeles (Lindsay McAllister, BSBA ’02).

The stories of the women helped by Indego Africa prove inspiring. For instance, Daphrose Mukamugema, a 56-year-old master weaver at Indego Africa’s partner cooperative Covanya, lost her husband and seven children in the 1994 genocide. “Many of the women are shy, but Daphrose is so fearless and bright-spirited,” Mitro says. “I often wonder where she draws her strength.”

A proud member of the Fair Trade Federation, Indego Africa won the 2008 Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition conducted by Washington University’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Mitro and Stone lecture at a variety of academic institutions and conferences about social enterprise, Africa, law, and Indego Africa.

“Women are the backbone of a lot of these societies,” Mitro says. “The role of Indego Africa is to provide them with the opportunities and tools to succeed.”

For more information on Indego Africa, visit indegoafrica.org. —Ben Westhoff, AB ’94