I help you tell your school's best stories.

The Right Medicine for Global Health

Posted: August 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

sju logoFrom the Summer 2014 issue of Saint John’s Magazine:

Most doctors are hardwired to help. They want their patients to live healthier lives. They want to make an impact in their clinics and in their communities. And for doctors who graduated from Saint John’s University, there’s often a pull to think even bigger. “Saint John’s nurtures the idea that we should be part of the larger global community, and that it’s important to make things better for those in need,” says anesthesiologist Ryan Jense ’98. “We’re asked to pursue these ideas in many different ways.”

Jense isn’t the only Johnnie who feels that way. We talked to five doctors who have traveled the world to help those who need it most. Often, they say, their patients are not the only ones who benefit.

Read the rest of the story here (PDF).

By Any Other Name

Posted: August 13th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

MaunualFrom the Summer 2014 issue of The Grinnell Magazine:

Plenty of people agonize about if (and how) they should change their last names when they tie the knot. But few people tackle the problem with the zeal of Caryn Platt ’92 and Paul Helwing in the months before their 1994 marriage. Both were eager to change their names to something different, because they felt it represented a concrete way to show that they were embarking on a journey together. The question was how to find a name that perfectly captured their new union, while also recognizing their pasts as individuals.

First, they tried to tackle the problem through technology; Helwing wrote a computer program to generate new last names based on the letters of their birth names. The only problem was that the program worked a little too well: Helwing tried to print out the results at his office over a weekend and returned on Monday to a 2-foot-high stack of pages. The printer was still running.

Next, Platt bought packages of refrigerator magnet letters, then pulled out four sets of the letters in their last names . They invited a few friends over, mixed up a batch of margaritas, and had their friends rearrange the letters like a high-stakes game of Scrabble. The right combination could result in a name that would be carried forward for generations. Still, although the results were better, they weren’t sure they’d found just the right one.

Read the rest of the story here (PDF, p. 20).

Case study: When the story is just a starting point

Posted: July 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: higher education, Writing | Tags: | Comments Off

MaunualCollege commencement is the time, quite literally, for pomp and circumstance. And when professors shift to emeriti status, they’re typically recognized at the ceremony through formal citations that describe their scholarly accomplishments and service to the school.

But when Grinnell College’s Rachel Bly asked me to write the school’s emeritus citations, I wanted to take a different approach. At Grinnell, teaching is paramount. Professors electrify their classes with powerful ideas. And their impact lasts for a lifetime: many students carry their professors’ advice with them into their careers and lives.

In the past, Grinnell’s citations highlighted professors’ scholarly work over teaching successes, but I wanted to flip that emphasis. Why not showcase the work that professors say they were most proud of?

To learn as much as I could, I collected more than 70 stories from alumni, who shared their memorable moments, favorite sayings, and remarkable lessons from these professors.

I used these stories, along with CVs and phone conversations with the professors themselves, to craft short citations that captured these professors’ dedication to their students, the enthusiasm they shared in the classroom, and the high standards they demanded that  their students meet. Through these stories, I hoped to share the profound influence they had on generations of Grinnellians.

The citations were a success, and Bly says she was relieved to have someone else focusing on the details. “[I knew the project was] in such good hands,” she says. “I love that I can just send you everything and I don’t have to give it another thought. I know they will be perfect!”

But that’s not where this story ends. Because I could use just a tiny number of the anecdotes I collected, I spent hours compiling, editing, and organizing the stories that alumni offered, and I shared them directly with the professors themselves. Though this was not part of the assignment, it became clear to me that the professors should know the kind of impact they had had during their decades at the school.

Professors were grateful, even overwhelmed. Said one professor: “Congratulations.  I have managed NOT to cry about retiring … until this morning.  You were so kind to take the time to put together these documents for all of us.”

For Grinnell, the nominal goal was to have written citations for a ceremony. But I understood that the real goal was to recognize and honor the incredible careers of longtime professors. That meant crafting citations that highlighted their best work. And it also meant using the materials I had collected in a way that would recognize them in a different and more personal way.

Many times, the traditional approach to a project is the right one. But whenever possible, I also want to improve on what’s already been done. I want to think more broadly about the best way to tell a story, and the best way to accomplish the larger goal.

Read the citations here. And to find out how I can help you think bigger about your projects by contacting me at erinspeterson [at] gmail.com.

Taking on Climate Change

Posted: June 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: higher education, Writing | Comments Off

From the Summer 2014 issue of Minnesota Magazine:

Climate change often evokes hazy visions of a grim future. But Kristin Raab’s focus is on this generation. Raab (b.A. ’92, M.P.H. ’00, M.L.A. ’09) is director of the Minnesota Department of Public Health’s Climate and Health Program, which helps shape the state’s public health policy on climate change. It is funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Raab’s degrees from the U—a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in landscape architecture and epidemiology—make her uniquely suited to understand and communicate how extreme weather affects health. She spoke with Minnesota about how the changing climate is leading to an array of measurably increased health consequences.


Read the rest of the story here.

Choosing Second

Posted: June 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

From the Spring 2014 edition of St. Edward’s University Magazine:

As a talented golfer growing up in Sugar Land, Ryanne Haddow ’14 always assumed she’d play for a college team in Austin. She just figured it would be for the University of Texas, a Division I powerhouse.

But when Haddow met St. Edward’s head golf coach Jennifer McNeil at a golf camp the summer after her sophomore year of high school, she began to think she might be focusing on the wrong Austin-based school. She loved McNeil’s approach and goals for the Hilltopper program. And she realized that a Division II school, unlike UT’s sprawling Division I program, might actually be a better fit for her. Haddow wouldn’t have to compromise her education to pursue her ambitious athletic goals — and she had a chance to make a real impact on a strong program. “When picking colleges, I had two choices,” Haddow recalls. “I could see limited playing time at a Division I school, or I could go to an elite Division II school, see lots of playing time, and have a great chance at competing for a national championship,” she says.

In the end, Haddow says the decision was easy: She chose St. Edward’s. She’s excelled at golf, making second-team All-America. The Kinesiology major has also made the dean’s list.

For many athletes, Division II sits in an unfamiliar space between the well-funded and highly competitive Division I schools, and the scholarship-free, participation-friendly Division III schools. But St. Edward’s University athletic director Debbie Taylor says that students like Haddow represent the best of what Division II offers. “Division II is a middle ground,” she says. “It’s about balancing the academic, athletic and social life of students.” Division II might not get as much attention as its business-like big brother, Division I, but at St. Edward’s, coaches and players emphasize that it can offer an experience that’s just as compelling.

Read the rest of the story here.

From Hamlet to Hans

Posted: June 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: higher education, Writing | Tags: | Comments Off

From the Summer 2014 issue of Minnesota Magazine:

Santino Fontana (B.F.A. ’04) landed a Tony nomination for his work as Prince Topher in Broadway’s Cinderella and he played Hamlet at the Guthrie Theater. But these days, he’s known planetwide as the voice of Prince Hans, the manipulative baddie in the Disney juggernaut Frozen.

Fontana, who is known primarily for his Broadway chops, won the role of the narcissistic Hans by wowing the movie’s casting director with a delightfully arrogant version of West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty,” starting with “I Am Pretty.”

Read the rest of the story here (scroll past the first alumni profile).

Lifetime Achievements

Posted: June 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: higher education, Writing | Comments Off

MaunualTo celebrate the careers of four longtime Grinnell College professors moving to emeriti status, Grinnell asked me to compose short citations to be read at commencement. The citations highlighted the professors’ teaching, their scholarship, and their service to the college.

Though such citations are designed to be both short and formal, I collected more than 70 stories from alumni and professors to find ways to illuminate their warmth, their generosity, and their lasting influence on students and on the college.

Click here to link to a 2-page PDF of the citations.

The Hunger Game

Posted: May 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: higher education, profile, Writing | Comments Off

From the Spring 2014 issue of St. Olaf Magazine:

When food writer and editor Nick Fauchald launched his Kickstarter campaign last spring for Short Stack Editions, he suspected there would be demand for the small, beautifully handcrafted cookbooks. He just had no idea how much demand. “We were scared, once we went live, that nothing would happen,” he said of the campaign’s $50,000 target. “But we had reached our goal within the first five days.”

By the time the crowdsourced campaign had wrapped up a few weeks later, he and his business partners had raised over $92,000. It was more than a successful fundraising campaign. It was an opportunity to begin changing the way a new generation sees cookbooks by offering publications that were more targeted and trustworthy than the sprawling internet and more nimble than the slow-moving world of cookbook publishing.

Read the rest of the story here.

A Whole New Ball Game

Posted: April 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

From the Spring 2014 issue of Macalester Today:

For Twins fans, Joe Mauer is the hometown hero with the sweet swing and enviable sideburns. For community programs manager Josh Ortiz ’05, Mauer is the guy who lights up the room at the local children’s hospital, joking with kids eager for a light moment. Before he departed for the Pirates, Justin Morneau was more than just a homer-slugging first baseman: he was the guy who made time to visit the nearby homeless shelter with an armful of Twins souvenirs and tickets to give away. “In my job, I get to see that so many of the players are more than just great athletes,” he says. “They’re great people.”

Working in community programs for the Twins wasn’t an obvious career step for Ortiz, who double majored in neuroscience and psychology at Macalester while playing first base for the Scots. But even as he dug into schizophrenia research at the University of Minnesota after graduation, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had to give a career in professional baseball a shot. He applied for—and landed—an internship with the Twins’ ticket sales department and soon moved into community programs.

Read the rest of the story here.

Takin’ It Slow

Posted: April 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off


From the Spring 2014 issue of Denison Magazine:

As a culture, we love speed. We love our food fast and out Internet faster. We love instant gratification, speedy delivery, and accelerated learning. But what do we lose when we prioritize efficiency over, well, just about everything?

We asked faculty, staff, and students who take a more contemplative approach to share how slowing things down just might make life a little better.

Read the rest of the story here.