ALUMNI PROFILES — Winter 2006
   

 
NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 11 crew members prepare for their stay inside the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Astronaut/aquanaut Sandra H. Magnus (second, right) leads the crew (from left): Timothy J. Creamer, alumnus Robert L. Behnken, and Timothy L. Kopra.

Undersea Mission Prepares Alum for Possible Space Flight

Air Force Maj. Robert L. Behnken (second from left), B.S. '92 (physics), B.S. '92 (mechanical engineering), who also holds a master's degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology, was among four astronauts who took part in a NASA training mission in September. Spending seven days underwater, the astronauts imitated moonwalks, tested concepts for mobility using various spacesuit configurations and weights to simulate lunar gravity, and tested techniques for communication, navigation, geological sample retrieval, construction, and using remote-controlled robots on the moon's surface. Called the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 11, the mission, September 16-22, 2006, took place onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Underwater Laboratory. Others participating in the mission were Army Lt. Col. Timothy L. Kopra, Army Col. Timothy J. Creamer, and veteran space flyer astronaut Sandra H. Magnus, who led the crew. All four are training for possible assignment to missions to the International Space Station.

 


 

Josh Kowitt (left), A.B. '04, and Scott Neuberger, B.S.B.A. '03, are owners of Collegeboxes, Inc.

Building on 'One Box at a Time'

Not so long ago, Scott Neuberger and Josh Kowitt were schlepping boxes and refrigerators into and out of dorm rooms as WU undergrads.

Today, the two rank among Inc. magazine's "30 under 30: America's Coolest Young Entrepreneurs." Their company, Collegeboxes, ships and stores college students' belongings, and services and rents dorm-room appliances. It's the largest such firm in the country and is sustaining accelerated growth.

"In the next three years, we're going to grab as many campuses and customers as possible," says Neuberger, who majored in finance at the Olin School of Business.

The concept is straightforward: The Watertown, Massachusetts, company offers summer storage services for students on 36 college campuses. At 50 schools, they also provide appliance rentals, and--in a small piece of the business that Neuberger says likely will overtake storage sales in the near future--they provide shipping services between home and school through an arrangement with UPS.

Kowitt, who majored in political science in Arts & Sciences, is 24 and vice president and director of business development. Neuberger, 25, is CEO. The two have studied every campus in the country, identifying 150 schools with the most market potential.

"We aim to be at 100 schools in two years," Neuberger says, adding that franchising at another 400 is a possibility.

To be the exclusive vendor for moving students' belongings, Collegeboxes pays each college a commission. Then it hires local students to run on-campus marketing programs. The firm arranges with moving companies familiar with each territory to do the on-campus work. Customers pay a per-item fee.

The company is growing fast. Neuberger and Kowitt are embracing technology to manage simultaneous moves at multiple locations—from a GPS system to track trucks in the field to text messages that alert customers to pickup times.

Better customer service is the main reason they have invested in the new technology, says Kowitt, who recalls more than once sweating in his desk chair while a frantic parent screamed at him over the phone. "Not until a mother is crying to you about her kid's belongings do you know customer service."

Collegeboxes employs 10 full-time staff, plus 15 part-timers in the call center. Neuberger expects to add five full-time and five to 10 part-time positions this year.

As students at Washington University, the two started separate operations—Neuberger's was University Trucking, and Kowitt ran ResFridge—then merged when they realized the time and cost efficiencies of working together.

It was in the Olin School's entrepreneurship class—the Hatchery, taught by Ken Harrington—that Collegeboxes got its start. Students wrote business plans and pitched them, often successfully, to investors. (The Hatchery is now part of the University-wide Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, which Harrington directs.)

"I think the School has done a great job fostering entrepreneurship," Neuberger says. "We would not be as far along as we are if we hadn't started this in college. We just learned how to execute a business."

Adds Kowitt: "What a great arena to make mistakes. Really every issue I see now at Collegeboxes I dealt with on a smaller level at Washington U."

The decisions they make now are bigger and more costly. But for all the stress of running a successful business, they say, it's still one box at a time—something both acknowledge when things get harried.

--Sally Parker


 

Bill Needle , B.F.A. '52

Ancient Egypt Influences Art and Life

To borrow from a popular song title, (Frank) Bill Needle, B.F.A. '52, may not "walk like an Egyptian," but he can certainly read like one. Once dubbed "The Hieroglyph Man of Missouri" by The New York Times, Needle is one of only 11 people in the United States who is a specialist in hieroglyphics—and self-taught at that.

Needle's expertise in Egyptology and hieroglyphics has not only brought him esteem from his fellow scholars, it has also provided him the opportunity to create personalized name hieroglyphic artworks for well-known people such as Liberace, August Busch, Jr., and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, as well as collectors in all 50 states and in 26 foreign countries. These works were even featured on NBC's Today show.

Needle became interested in Egyptology when one of his Collinsville, Illinois, high school teachers returned from a trip to Egypt. She had taken a series of photographic slides, which she asked that Needle draw for her.

"I was fascinated by the subject of the slides—so much so that I went home and painted one of them on the large wall of my bedroom. It was of Seti I making an offering," he says.

This high school experience set Needle forth on a serious lifelong scholarly interest in both ancient Egyptian history and art. Earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University in 1952, he went on to earn a master's degree in art from the University of Kansas and then taught art classes at Southeast Missouri State University from 1967 to 1988. All the while, Egyptology remained a passion. He eventually was elected into membership of the Egypt Exploration Society of London, and is a lifetime member of the American Research Center in Egypt.

After his first trip to Egypt in 1976, a man at a church dinner asked if he could write his name in hieroglyphics. Needle agreed, and soon Needle's creations became increasingly popular, especially after displaying them at arts and crafts shows around the country. At a show in Niagara Falls, Liberace's business agents requested one for the entertainer. The piece was placed in Liberace's museum, and was even spotted on his piano during a performance at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

Needle's first of several trips to Egypt is tied to another scholarly interest—researching the life and work of James Teackle Dennis, a wealthy Egyptologist from Baltimore who led significant, yet underrated, archaeological digs in Egypt from 1903 to 1907. Known as the "Shrine Finder," Dennis was credited with making some of the greatest finds before the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb.

"His most important find was the Sacred Cow of Hathor in 1906. I have many of his personal letters and have spent 30 years researching his accomplishments, including retracing his journeys down the Nile," Needle says.

Needle also helped exhibit at Southeast Missouri State University a collection of 51 artifacts Dennis' nieces donated to the Malden (Missouri) Historical Society.

"After returning from Egypt the first time, I gave 105 talks to more than 50,000 people in and around Missouri and Illinois. I continue to give talks on a variety of topics related to Egyptology to high schools, colleges, and civic organizations," he says.

Although Needle retired as an emeritus professor of art in 1988, his career came full circle in 1993 when he painted the first of three large pieces of Christian religious art. After seeing the first, his minister was inspired to perform a dedication service, and members of the congregation asked for prints. Since then, Needle has donated prints of his artworks to a variety of Christian denominations and universities.

"I spent my life teaching art appreciation and art history, but I wanted to do those paintings to show that I was taught well at Washington University and that I am still using the skills I learned from inspiring, great teachers there."     

--C. B. Adams