The Face of UNH
A professor shares her love of history on TV
by Virginia Stuart '75, 80G
Ellen Fitzpatrick was standing in a crowded elevator at a Boston hospital when a nurse in scrubs looked her up and down and announced, "You look just like someone I saw on television last night." Then, a pause. "Are you the person I saw on television last night?"
Ellen Fitzpatrick is the UNH historian millions of people have seen on TV—every night during the 2004 Democratic Convention and regularly on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" ever since. As a result, complete strangers—a highway toll taker, a motorist at a rest stop—often recognize her. "Aren't you the professor at the University of New Hampshire?" they ask. "She has become the face of UNH for many people across the country," notes colleague Jeffry Diefendorf, who believes her work as a "public intellectual" has benefited the public, the university and her students. Now that work has earned her the UNH Alumni Association's Award for Excellence in Public Service.
Fitzpatrick is an active scholar of American history and has written several books. But unlike most academics, Diefendorf notes, she shares her knowledge, live, on national television. She's willing to be "on call," answer unanticipated questions and receive unsolicited advice: one viewer advised Fitzpatrick to fire her hairdresser, and a former professor contacted her for the first time in 25 years to point out a grammatical slip of the tongue and warn her to "watch your language!" Not to mention the pressure. "There's a moment when the lights go up," says Fitzpatrick, "and you realize it's live and you can not afford to screw up."
Like many other historians she knows, Fitzpatrick believes that growing up with a grandparent in the household gave her an added appreciation for the past. At 11, she watched John F. Kennedy touch down in a helicopter in her hometown of Amherst, Mass., in October 1963 and give a speech at the dedication of Amherst College's Robert Frost Library. That event, followed by his assassination less than a month later, gave her a keen sense of "how history happens and how quickly things change."
Today she speaks of the past with a kind of reverence, as something that must not be misused for political expediency. She rights the wrongs of misrepresented facts, reminding viewers that contrary to "quite a bit of bluster by Democrats in the press" today, it actually took Congress a very long time to cut funding for the Vietnam War. And she points out analogies she thinks are not quite apt, like parallels the Bush administration has drawn between World War II and the war in Iraq. Invoking the past is like quoting the Bible, she says. "People can always find something to support their point of view."
In the Spotlight
A Step Up
Some help getting started on a career is just what students need
by Rachel M. Collins '81
Cara Hayward '08 is convinced she wouldn't be heading to New York City's Times Square after graduation if she hadn't been part of UNH's Pathways mentoring program.
"The number one thing I got out of all of this—having three mentors—was confidence," Hayward says. "As a young person, you don't really know what it's like out there."
With the help of volunteer mentors each of the past three years, Hayward created a path leading to a job at New York's Lehman Brothers, where she interned last summer. "They [the mentors] were there to say, 'Hey, it's going to be OK,'" she says. "'Let's break down your goals one at a time so you don't get overwhelmed by the whole process.'"
Though it's difficult to believe Hayward is easily overwhelmed—she has juggled her entrepreneurship major and English minor with a four-year stint as a Figure Skating Club member and volunteer work as a peer adviser at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics—she says she wasn't always as outgoing.
"I've always been friendly," she says. "But after the Pathways program and going through school, I am certainly more willing to talk to anyone. I'll get anyone's story and learn what I can."
Hayward's three mentors were John Stech '93G, now CEO of Chrysler in Russia; Ted Dey '84, who works in financial services with Morgan Stanley; and Erik Dodier '92, an entrepreneur and a founder of PixelMedia in Portsmouth, N.H. "My first mentor helped me brainstorm my interests and find an industry I could be passionate about," Hayward says. "He also gave me pointers on how to create a work-life balance and make time for everything that is important to me." Dey helped her organize a résumé make professional contacts and field the questions she would face when competing for internships. "He eased my nerves about the whole process," Hayward says.
With Dodier, Hayward says, she focused on "how to be the best manager" armed with the skills she has learned through her college coursework. "We learned about it in class," she says. "But he gave me the 'This is how it really is' view on it."
Dodier agrees that Pathways is a good idea for students. "In general, it's a good way to connect the students to the outside business world," he says. "It gives them a sense of what really goes on."
Pathways began three years ago as a joint effort between UNH's Career Center and the Alumni Association. "Pathways is really a complement to what students learn in the classroom," says Bethany Cooper '94, manager of employer relations and recruiting at University Advising and Career Center. "And the students make amazing connections." This year a student interested in medicine had the opportunity to "scrub in" on a surgery.
At the same time, Pathways is offering alumni the opportunity to "connect with the school while often reconnecting with the faculty," she says.
That may be why last year more than 100 students applied to be part of the program; 53 were paired with a mentor. "If people are interested in being part of the program, they should contact the University Advising and Career Center," Cooper says. "We are always looking for good student-alumni matches."
Hayward knows the value of good matches. "If the resources were available, I wish there could be a mentor for everyone," she says. "I can't wait for the day when the opening meeting for Pathways has to be in the Whittemore Center."
To find out more about Pathways, visit www.unh.edu/uacc/unhpathways.html.
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