Stories

Alumni Stories

Nicole Claire Wahle Ritchie ‘01,
Competes in the Pan Am Games July 2015

nicole ritchieNicole Claire Wahle Ritchie (on the far right) got the 4th grade chin-up award at Putney Central School.  At Hilltop Montessori Middle School, she thought it would be fun to scale their three story school building.  At Putney School in 2004, on Long Spring with Joe Holland’s group of students, she rowed from Putney down the Connecticut River to the Long Island Sound and began to realize how happy she was just being out on the water.

This July 12-15, Nicole and her doubles rowing partner, Lindsay Meyer, will represent the US in the XVII Pan American Games in Canada (see details at www.usrowing.org).  The 41 nations in North and South America will compete in the Games. Nicole graduated from Bates College in 2009 and was captain of the rowing team. During her time at Bates, Nicole was named a Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association First Team All-American three years in a row, and her team competed successfully at all levels, including the NCAA championships.

Pan Am Trials Final photos

Upon graduation, Nicole continued competitive training at the Vesper Boat Club, one of the historic clubs on Boathouse Row in Philadelphia.  That move brought her into a community of rowers of all ages.  This is a sport that rewards hard work more than talent.  Nicole combines five hours of daily rowing practice with coaching high school students from a variety of Philadelphia public and private high schools.

We wish Nicole and Lindsay the best at the Pan Am Games in July!

 

Irene-Shamas

Irene Shamas, ’09

Whenever I am back in town, I make sure to stop by Hilltop and say hi, check in with my origins. Hilltop is where it all began–literally, as I started attending at age 5, but also in a more meaningful sense. Hilltop is where I found my voice, my feet, where I was not only challenged, but expected to think critically and deeply, questioning and interacting constantly with my surroundings and my communities. No matter where I go–to the Putney School, BUHS, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, the Prague Film School–or what I am studying, I know it all connects back to Hilltop, the foundation upon which I stand today and everyday.

After graduating from Hilltop in 2009, I began high school at The Putney School, hoping to find some echo of the learning environment I had grown so accustomed to at Hilltop. It didn’t end up being the best fit, so the following year I decided to transfer to Brattleboro Union High School. Attending BUHS was an interesting experience that, while not always entirely enjoyable or incredibly fulfilling, I do not regret. By my junior year, however, I’d had enough and was feeling
incredibly stuck and frustrated. I missed the excited teachers, the in-depth conversations, and most of all the bold expectations that every HMS teacher has of each of their students. I wanted to be challenged and pushed in ways that I was not experiencing at BUHS. And so, after graduating a year early, I began attending Bard College at Simon’s Rock, an early college in Great Barrington, MA.

Being at Simon’s Rock, I have reconnected with many of the attributes of Hilltop’s classrooms. I am not just expected to work hard and think deeply, but I am encouraged and mentored as well as being surrounded by other inspired individuals. Almost all of the classes are of comparable size to my nine person middle school class and most are held seminar-style around a table. I have been so lucky to have found somewhere that again encourages me to be excited to learn.

At Simon’s Rock I primarily studying acting, and spent this past summer at Shakespeare & Company in Lennox, MA at their Summer Training Institute. I am now in my Junior year at Simon’s Rock, but am spending the entire year at other institutions. This past fall I attended the Prague Film School where I studied acting for film, and this coming Spring I will be at the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’neil Center attending their 14 week theatre intensive. It is very exciting to be encountering so many new places and experiences. Wherever I go, I go with the sense of self I garnered at Hilltop, and with a critical and gracious eye, because there is so much beauty in the world, and Hilltop showed me how to see it.

 

Shoshanna Bass ’01

IMG_0848 (2)About a year ago, I moved back to Vermont in order to be closer to my growing family and participate as much as I can in my parent’s puppet theater, Sandglass. I have spent the last 5 years in Boulder, Colorado where I finished school at Naropa University with an interdisciplinary degree in performing arts, peace studies and tai chi. I was also working full time with anaerial dance company, Frequent Flyers, performing, teaching and running numerous programs for youth at risk in the Boulder/Denver area. I was also dancing in a salsa company, Salsako!, with whom I participated in competitions including the World Latin Dance Cup in Miami, in which we came in 4th.

Life was busy and fast moving and I had many collaborations going, it seemed all around a very successful career time. Yet I yearned for the Vermont land that knows my footstep and that I feel nurtured by; my two nephews were growing up and I did not want to be the removed aunt they only heard stories about; and I was searching always for people whose artist’s ideas inspired and met my own, until I realized I was actually looking for the artistic vision and community in which my parents worked.

The possibility of returning to the Brattleboro area was made possible when the New England Center for Circus Arts offered me a full time position, teaching a variety of aerial disciplines as well as dance and physical theater.

Last January I inherited my mother’s Flea Circus. Though family trades are somewhat of a lost tradition and maybe a more old-fashioned approach to career making, as a daughter of Sandglass nothing has ever made more sense to me than to maintain the art of my parents’ creations and invest in the longevity of this puppet theater, which has accompanied me through every stage of my life. It has been a great honor and a blast to perform this beautiful show alongside my eldest sister who is now performing my mother’s hand puppet show, Punschi.

This summer I participated in the SITI Company’s physical theater training program as well as my parents’ own puppetry training program. I also organized a dance retreat with a colleague in Maine, and in the woods alone, removed from phone service, internet, and electricity I realized how important a simply and minimal life style is to me.

My current project is renovating an old trolley car into a tiny home. In some sense this is a commitment to some roots and a more long term lifetime in Vermont, but there is also the precaution that my Trolley Home is built on wheels just in case… who knows?

 

Allan Olson ‘98

Allan-Ollson-2After leaving Hilltop, I attended Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH) for highschool. I earned a BS in Civil Engineering from Johns Hopkins, a M. Eng in Structural Engineering from Cornell and just recently an MBA from the New York University , Stern School of Business.

I’m currently a Senior Structural Engineer with Arup in New York City. Arup is a multidisciplinary engineering firm with offices around the world (www.arup.com). We collaborate with architects, providing the technical design (structural, mechanical, electrical mostly) behind some of the most famous built projects. Our first major job was the Sydney Opera House in the 60s. Recent works include the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube stadiums from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, new theaters and public spaces at Lincoln Center, the Second Avenue Subway and the Greenfield, MA transit center (out of our Boston office!).

As a structural engineer, I am trained to design the load-carrying elements of buildings and other structures (columns, floors, beams). My primary function is to work with the architect to achieve their vision using conventional and economical building practices. The architects I work with like to push the boundaries of design, so it can be quite challenging, often requiring the application of basic principals of physics to achieve something unprecedented.

Recent projects of mine include: Lincoln Center, new theaters and public spaces; (2) new subway stations in Toronoto; (2) new towers for the Columbia Business School and an art installation in an upstate New York sculpture park.

On a personal note, I got married in 2010. My wife and I took a deferred honeymoon in 2012 to Europe and the Middle East for a month visiting Jordan, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. The photo is of us in  the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan. We’ve been to Thailand several times (where my wife is from). My wife is finishing her residency in Pediatrics next summer and I just finished my MBA at NYU Stern (completed part time), so we’re looking forward to a bit more free time!

 

Sophia Marx ‘07

IMG_2377 (2)After attending Hilltop from Primary through 8th Grade, Sophia graduated from Brattleboro Union High School and the Windham Regional Career Center Dance Program.

She relocated to New Jersey, and then to Manhattan, taking open ballet classes at Peridance and Broadway Dance Center while receiving private instruction from her mentor, Heather Gehring. She also trained and performed on scholarship at the Garden State Ballet School in Rutherford, NJ, and worked as an apprentice with the NYC dance company, Gehring Dance Theatre.

She attended summer programs at the prestigious Boston Ballet School, Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Chicago and was accepted as an advanced student at Manhattan Youth Ballet, where she is now beginning her second year.

Sophia is open to connecting with any aspiring young dancers. Contact Amelia for Sophia’s email address.

 

alumni-geologistEvelyn Mervine ‘98

I have fond memories of my years at Hilltop. My teachers at Hilltop nurtured my curiosity and love of books and nature and gave me a strong academic foundation that positioned me well to further develop my skills and knowledge during my later studies. Even now that I have finished with many long years of study, I strive to keep learning always. I feel very fortunate to work in a job where I can explore the world and learn about its geological history.

I attended the Westover School for Girls at the recommendation of Tonia Wheeler, the former head of school of Hilltop. Tonia attended Westover herself and thought that the school would be a good match for me. I really enjoyed attending a small all-girls boarding school. While at Westover, I lived in Jordan for 5 months as an exchange student, and I participated in a special math and science program known as Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). This program was run by Westover with support from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

In 2006 I obtained a B.A. from Dartmouth College, where I double majored in Earth Sciences and Arabic Language & Literature. While at Dartmouth, I participated in a semester long geology field program in the Western USA known as “The Stretch”, and I worked in Mukul Sharma’s geochemistry laboratory for three years. With Mukul as my supervisor, I wrote my senior honors thesis about the geochemistry of some alkaline-rich lavas in India. I also spent two summers working in a geochemistry laboratory at Florida State University.

In 2012 I obtained my Ph.D. in Marine Geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution joint program in Oceanography. I wrote my thesis on rates of natural carbon sequestration in peridotite in the Samail Ophiolite in the Sultanate of Oman. An ophiolite is a slice of oceanic crust and mantle that has been uplifted and exposed on land. Peridotite is a rock that comes from Earth’s mantle (generally, it is located at least several km below Earth’s surface). When peridotite is brought to Earth’s surface, it reacts swiftly (compared to other rock types) with water and carbon dioxide and alters to secondary minerals, including carbonate minerals that store carbon dioxide.Understanding natural carbonation of peridotite is important because it is a poorly-understand part of the carbon cycle. In addition, understanding natural carbonation of peridotite is important for helping scientists to understand if anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions could possibly be stored in carbonate rocks, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and thus combating climate change.

During graduate school, I travelled to the Sultanate of Oman three times and spent a couple of months in the field mapping and collecting samples. I was also a research scientist on a 50 day oceanic expedition to the Ninetyeast Ridge, a chain of volcanic seamounts in the Indian Ocean. As part of my coursework, I also went on geology field trips to Costa Rica, Barbados, and Switzerland & Italy (to visit the Alps).

After I finished my Ph.D. in 2012, I decided that I did not want to pursue a career in academia (at least not a traditional academic career), so I applied for jobs in industry. My husband is South African and also a geologist. When I graduated, my husband was working for a company called AuruMar, a marine gold exploration company that was formed as a joint venture between De Beers and AngloGold Ashanti. Over a few years, AuruMar carried out offshore gold exploration all over the world– most notably, offshore South Africa, New Zealand, and Alaska. Since I was American and had a background in marine geology, AuruMar hired me to work on the Alaska project. I worked for AuruMar for a year and a half, based in Cape Town, South Africa, with significant field work in northern Alaska, before the joint venture was unfortunately shut down at the end of 2013. Fortunately, my husband and I were both hired by De Beers in January 2014. I currently work as a Senior Marine Geologist for De Beers Marine. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but I also spend some time working in Namibia since that is where De Beers mines diamonds from the sea. I really enjoy working as an industry geologist– De Beers is a great company to work for.

My husband and I love to travel. We are fortunate that we are able to travel often as part of our work. For vacation, we’ve travelled extensively in the US and South Africa and have also recently visited the beautiful tropical islands of Zanzibar and Mauritius. We are currently planning a trip to visit friends in Australia next year.

 

alumni-claire-macedoniaClaire Griffith ‘03

Since leaving Hilltop, I attended Bellows Falls Union High School. After graduating, I think my Hilltop upbringing gave me the confidence to take a ‘gap year,’ during which I apprenticed with a local quilt maker, waited tables, and spent four months in the Republic of Georgia compiling an archive of traditional music for a choir. The relationships I forged on this trip have endured until today, and in 2010, I co-organized a tour to bring this choir back to the States.

Meanwhile, I attended Grinnell College out in Iowa, majoring in Political Science and concentrating in Russian, Central and East European Studies. I spent a semester studying in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, and after graduation returned to the region on a Fulbright to teach English in Macedonia. I fell in love, and found another teaching position at a high school, where I taught English and Social Studies, and, whenever possible, traveled around the region. I just returned from two years in Macedonia.  It’s good to be home!

 

Breton Schwarzenbach ’06alumni-breton

After leaving Hilltop, I attended BUHS and applied a creative drive encouraged by a Hilltop education. I spent a semester studying in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, Northern India. While there, I lived in some villages along the Line of Control with Pakistan and began an ongoing photography project with the Brogpa, an ethnic minority divided by the Indo-Pakistan border.

I’m currently finishing my last semester at Colorado College and majoring in Fine Art. I’ve been able to return to Ladakh twice with support from grant funding and the Edith Gaylord Prize in Asian Studies. Both times, were spent living and working with Changpa Nomad communities along the Tibet Border. I also worked as a guide on a mountaineering expedition up Stok Kangri (6150 m). I’m interested in indigenous relationships with land and resources and exploring that with my camera. I have two shows of my work with the nomads slated for next year. One will be in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Helena, Montana.

The summer after my junior year, I worked as a researcher for the State of The Rockies Project traveling throughout the Rocky Mountains meeting with ranchers, Government agencies and I helped publish a report on innovative conservation efforts out West. I have plans to continue making art and pursuing work abroad and I’m very grateful for Hilltop. It showed me the rewards of engaging the world, and having creative confidence.

Some of my work from India and other artwork at:

www.bretonschwarzenbach.com

 

“I have fond memories of my years at Hilltop. My teachers at Hilltop nurtured my curiosity and love of books and nature and gave me a strong academic foundation that positioned me well to further develop my skills and knowledge during my later studies. ”
— Evelyn Mervine, '98
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