ALUMNI PROFILES — Winter 2005
   

 
Stephen Grace is author of Under Cottonwoods: A Novel of Friendship, Fly Fishing, and Redemption.

World Traveler Finds Adventure in Writing

For the world-traveled Stephen Grace, the greatest surprise of publishing his first book, Under Cottonwoods: A Novel of Friendship, Fly Fishing, and Redemption (The Lyons Press, 2004), has been the unexpected notes he’s received from readers around the globe. “I got a letter from a man who read it on the Tokyo subway,” says Grace, A.B. ’94 (psychology). “A couple days ago, I got a letter from a guy in British Columbia. And I got one from a retired Princeton economics professor who had quit academia and was living in a cabin in Montana. The letters are a lot of fun. I think that’s what keeps me going.”

Though he’s earned critical praise for his work—“Grace writes with a lyrical power” declared the Los Angeles Times—the first-time author admits that the process of publishing a book was a humbling one.

“When I started writing fiction years ago,” he says, “I guess I had some idea in the back of my mind that if I were ever to have a book published, I’d be flown to New York, and there’d be meetings with my editor over cocktails and parties.” Grace laughs lightly at this, and says that after talking with other debut writers and researching how it happens, he toned down the dreams. “Once I had more realistic expectations—once the book hit the bookstore shelves—I was actually pleasantly surprised. It did a little bit better than I had anticipated.”

Grace is quick to admit his luck at finding a publisher for his first book. “It landed on the right person’s desk,” he says, “somebody who liked it, and gave me a chance.”

He’s also quick to locate a time when books came alive for him—in Professor Pedro Cavalcanti’s course, Societies and Literature in Comparative Perspective, while an undergraduate at the University. “It was a brilliant class,” Grace recalls. “We skipped all around the world. I had no aspirations to write at that time; I just loved reading. I remember the books and the conversations vividly—and that, I think, is a testament to the professor’s skill at engaging my interest.”

The classroom, though, would only take Grace so far. “When I was in school, really all I did was study,” he says. “Yet I guess I always knew that I wanted to get out in the world and see things.” And that he did: rafting the Zambezi River in Africa; hiking through the jungles of Indonesia; guiding white-water rafts and working with kids with disabilities in the Western United States. “I kept telling myself I was going to stop and go to law school at some point,” he says. “But one year turned into two years, and two years turned into 10. And that was that.”

This adventure seeker, who collected maps as a child, now has a more-grounded future. He and his wife have settled in Boulder, Colorado, where he’s writing the Denver contribution to the “It Happened In _______” book series.

“Writing the book seemed overwhelming at first, but I realized I’d spent plenty of time at Washington University researching various topics,” he says, “and the methods I learned are applicable.”

Grace is also finishing work on his second novel, suggested by the Matthew Shepard murder in Laramie, Wyoming. “I think I’ll be writing for the rest of my life,” he says. “I know that’s what I want to do. I have idea after idea stacked in my head. I have enough to keep me busy for a long time.”

—Stephen Schenkenberg


Doug and Lisa Powell created Type 1 Tools to help their daughter, Maya, and other kids deal with Type 1 diabetes.

Creating Coping Tools for Diabetes

When their 7-year-old daughter, Maya, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in September 2002, Doug and Lisa (Schwartz) Powell knew it would lead to big changes in their family’s lifestyle. They didn’t know, however, that it would also change their career focus.

In the first few days after Maya’s diagnosis, the Powell family was bombarded with a lengthy set of nutritional guidelines, a rigid insulin intake routine, and a dizzying array of information. “You’re feeling denial, anger, and grief, and, at the same time, you’re trying to take in so much information,” Lisa recalls. “The medical world doesn’t offer much emotional support when you need it most.”

As graphic designers in Minneapolis, Doug and Lisa, both B.F.A. ’88, approached a muddle of medical jargon and cold, clinical devices in the best way they knew how—creatively. Six months after their daughter’s diagnosis, the Powells brainstormed a list of resources that they wished they had had during the beginning of their emotional journey with diabetes.

They came up with a few simple, kid-oriented items, such as cheat sheets and refrigerator magnets, which they thought would help their own family cope with the disease in a positive way. “We created these tools to help our daughter, but in the process, we realized that so many other families could benefit from them,” Doug says.

Then, in January 2004, the Powells turned their brainstorming session into a full-fledged business by launching Type 1 Tools. They created a Web site to sell their family-friendly products, which include colorful flashcards—or “FlashCarbs”—that pair pictures of food with their carbohydrate content (see FlashCarb® magnets in photo), adhesive notes for labeling leftovers or bag lunches, and portable logbooks for parents.

Although the Powells have no formal training in business, they credit their education at Washington University with their ability to transition into the world of entrepreneurship. “In the art school, we were taught to solve complicated problems in creative ways, which is a skill we’ve used in the creation of our business,” Doug says. “We made a jump from being graphic designers to being business entrepreneurs, and the University’s liberal arts environment definitely made us more capable in that respect.”

The Powells are often reminded of the importance of that transition into business whenever they receive feedback from their customers. “The stories really bring tears to my eyes,” Lisa says. “I talked to a woman who has a 6-year-old boy with diabetes. She said that our FlashCarb magnets taught her son how to keep track of his carbs and made it so much easier to communicate about the disease with his grandparents. That’s exactly why we do it—to make the disease more approachable.”

Type 1 Tools has received recognition from the AIGA Minnesota’s Annual Design Show and the Creative Nutrition Education Award from the American Diabetic Association. The products have also caught on with the American Diabetes Association, which sells them internationally through their catalog and online bookstore.

The company has grown so much in the past two years that the Powells have branched out to help those suffering from Type 2 diabetes by starting a sister company, Type 2 Tools. In the future, they also hope to make their products available in other languages and to create new tools for other areas of health care. According to Lisa, “It’s all part of a drive to communicate, educate people, and relieve some of the burden of living with a disease.” (For more information, visit www.type1tools.com.)

—Allison McKay, Class of ’06


As an undergraduate, Adam Schickedanz helped establish the Science Club program, in which University students meet with area middle-schoolers on science matters.

Love of Science Leads to Outreach

Although Adam Schickedanz, A.B. ’03, had earned a   degree in biology and participated in advanced research on neural stem cells, he spent a few days a week concentrating on basic scientific concepts like photosynthesis and the scientific method.

However, Schickedanz did not review these principles for his own edification. He brought them to middle-school students while volunteering with the Science Club program sponsored by Washington University Science Outreach. As part of the program, University students create and teach hands-on science activities in underserved classrooms in the St. Louis public schools.

“It’s surprising to see how little there is in terms of resources for these kids,” Schickedanz explains. “We try to fill that void in any way we can, even if it’s just by showing them that science can be fun.”

While Schickedanz aimed to teach that lesson to middle-schoolers, it’s a concept he first learned at Washington University. He says the array of courses he took as an undergraduate introduced him to the impact and interconnectedness of the life sciences, leading him to a major in biology (and then on to medical school).

Combining his newly sparked interest in science with a lifelong interest in education—his mother is a professor who specializes in early childhood education, and his father is a psychologist at an alternative high school near Boston—Schickedanz helped to establish the Science Club program in 2001, during his junior year.

He worked with three fellow science majors to create the first Science Club at Webster Middle School in North St. Louis. “In the beginning, we were just a group of friends who would get together and, on a shoestring budget, put together lessons for the kids,” says Schickedanz.

Since then, Schickedanz has propelled the growth of the Science Club program, helping it expand to three other area schools and incorporating new curricula, including lessons on drug prevention and college preparation. “The goal is to take the program from being just about building science aptitude and to turn it into something bigger—a community outreach program,” he says.

Schickedanz can attest to Science Outreach’s effectiveness. He talks of one student who was inspired to pursue a college career after visiting the University on a Science Club field trip. “He started asking a lot of questions about college and what it took to get in, and I told him it took hard work, but that it was possible,” Schickedanz recalls. “He really started taking school seriously and last year got a scholarship for $20,000 from the Rotary Club. He is now attending a magnet science, career-oriented high school for gifted kids in the city. That’s a success story for sure.”

Schickedanz’s enthusiasm for the kids kept him involved with the Science Club program for two years after his graduation from the University in 2003. And that was not the only connection to the University that he maintained. Schickedanz continued research he began as an undergraduate in Associate Professor Jim Skeath’s genetics lab at the School of Medicine, where he studied a pathway in the central nervous system for two and a half years. In addition, after playing club lacrosse during his four years as an undergraduate, Schickedanz stayed with the team as an assistant coach.

Now that Schickedanz has started medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, he reflects on his involvement in St. Louis. “I put down a lot of roots in St. Louis,” he says. “I miss the University, and, in particular, the Science Clubs. They’re what I miss the most.” However, with a possible future in pediatrics, Schickedanz’s dual passions—for science and for education—will surely continue to play large roles in his life.

—Allison McKay, Class of ’06