Features

Voices in the Wilderness

Nii Quaynor ’72, Th’73 • Michael Mothner ’03 • BreeAnne Clowdus ’97 • Beth Baron ’80 • Kirk Klausmeyer ’00 • Tom Beale ’00
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Nii Quaynor ’72, Th’73
A Digital Africa
Computer scientist connects a continent.

When Quaynor returned to his homeland of Ghana in 1979 after a decade studying in America, he was surprised to discover how far behind the continent of Africa was when it came to technology. At the time, he was the only person in the region with a Ph.D. in computer science, and his African colleagues were still using mainframe-like machines the size of refrigerators. “The equipment and the thinking were from decades earlier,” he says. “When I realized the depth of the divide, I thought there might be a way that I could help Africa catch up.”

Nearly 40 years later, Quaynor is widely recognized as a key figure in bringing Africa into the modern digital age. Shortly after his return, he founded the computer science department at the University of Cape Coast, where he still teaches, with the goal of training a specialized tech workforce to help fuel socioeconomic growth. As the World Wide Web became more accessible in the 1990s, Quaynor started Network Computer Systems, the first commercial Internet service provider on the continent. Dubbed “the father of the African Internet,” Quaynor says he recognized the web’s potential early on. “I did not want Africa to miss out on that,” he says. Despite some setbacks, such as a property dispute where the network was based, which briefly shut his company down, Quaynor remains determined to ensure Africa is well represented in global Internet policies and regulations.

In 2000 he became the first African elected to the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit that oversees more than 180 million domain names and 4 billion network addresses across 240 countries and territories. He was also the inaugural chair of the African Network Information Centre, one of five regional bodies worldwide responsible for registering Internet addresses, serving for a decade beginning in 1995. In addition, in 2000 he established the African Network Operators Group (AfNOG), an organization that connects network engineers and technical experts and offers training programs to better their skills. To date, AfNOG has helped more than 8,000 workers in 45 African nations. “I’m happy that there are many young people coming into the profession,” he says. “I think it’s the young ones who are going to make a difference.”

In 2007 the international Internet Society awarded Quaynor its prestigious Jonathan B. Postel Service Award for his work. He was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, too, noting in his 2013 acceptance speech that “enabling people from developing countries to have the chance to benefit from the Internet is still very relevant.” Though the number of Africans using the Internet has increased in recent years, it’s still far below the rest of the world because of educational and economic barriers. Only 29 percent of Africa’s population was active online last year, compared to the global average of more than 50 percent. “There is a technology gap and we have to admit it,” says Quaynor. “We have a long way to go, but the good thing is we have pieces of the puzzle being put in place.” —Heather Salerno

 

Michael Mothner ’03
Golden Beginnings

Mothner was a freshman considering a career in banking when he started a web marketing business in his Gold Coast dorm room to earn extra cash. The service allowed small businesses to list their websites with some 200 different search engines.

By the time he graduated, the company, WPromote, was bringing in about $100,000 annually—and thoughts of banking were left behind. The next year Mothner hired Michael Block ’04, a childhood friend and Dartmouth water polo teammate who is now the company’s chief operating officer. They focused on placing clients’ ads with a search engine that had just gone public: Google. “Our original tagline was, ‘Helping businesses succeed online,’ ” Mothner says. “While we don’t use those exact words anymore, that is what we still do today. We’ve just evolved in size and scope and complexity.”

Today it’s a full-service, integrated digital marketing firm—which Ad Age and Fortune call one of the best places to work in the industry—with more than 600 clients and $50 million in annual revenue. Kelly Mulvey ’93, who joined as chief financial officer about two years ago, has steered the El Segundo, California-based company into acquisitions. With 330 employees and seven offices, it’s the largest private digital marketing company in the country. Mothner says “sweet-spot clients” are like WPromote itself: growth-oriented companies that are “looking to take on 800-pound gorillas” in their industries. The firm also specializes in prompting large, established brands to think more like “challenger” brands.

“We try to skate where the puck is going, not where it’s at,” Mothner says. “We grew on the backs of Google and then Facebook, but we’re agnostic as to what happens next.” —Kaitlin Bell Barnett ’05

 

BreeAnne Clowdus ’97
Digital Composer

Striking posters have long lured audiences into movie theaters, but stage productions still lag behind in terms of eye-grabbing promotional images. Clowdus wants to change that, one photograph at a time.

The Atlanta-based photographer shoots striking, highly stylized photos of theater companies, actors seeking headshots and anyone who wants a fashion-inspired, Vanity Fair-style glamour shot. All must submit to her vision. “You either say yes or no and then you hand over all control,” Clowdus says. “You can’t get in there and try to have an opinion about it.”

Clowdus frequently subs in her own props and costumes and may stay up until all hours photoshopping in rich, otherworldly backgrounds. For panoramic tableaux with many actors, she lights and photographs each individual, then creates a composite from as many as 50 or 100 different images. (View a slideshow of Clowdus’ work here.) Clowdus considers it crucial to put subjects at ease to get the most evocative images. “I think my particular gift is my ability to connect with people,” says Clowdus, who at Dartmouth majored in women’s and gender studies. “My primary goal in photos is to convey the essence of a person or a story,” Clowdus says. “It’s getting to the truth of who somebody is or the story they’re trying to tell.” —Kaitlin Bell Barnett ’05

 

Beth Baron ’80
“A Scary Moment”

Under Baron’s direction, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) joined the International Refugee Assistance Project and others in a lawsuit in March that asked a federal court in Maryland to block President Donald Trump’s revised executive order that barred U.S. entry for travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. “It’s a scary moment,” says Baron, who is president of the 3,000-member nonprofit dedicated to studying the Middle East and promoting education about the region. “At MESA we advocate for academic freedom and Middle Eastern studies at a time of massive violence and displacement in the region and, more recently, at a time of challenges within the United States.”

This isn’t the first fight Baron has led. At Dartmouth in the mid-1970s she was part of the group of women who proposed an early alternative to the song, “Men of Dartmouth.” “Ours was not the version that became the new version, but it is the one that sparked the school to change the alma mater,” she says. She also played soccer on the women’s club and varsity teams. Later, she coached her daughters. Her years on the field and the sidelines helped her decide to join the travel ban lawsuit. “The best defense is a good offense,” says Baron. The judge granted the motion, and the federal government subsequently appealed the decision. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-3 against the travel ban on May 25. The case now heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After studying history with legendary Dartmouth professor Gene Garthwaite, Baron earned a master’s from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, then a Ph.D. in history from UCLA. A history professor at City University of New York Graduate Center, she also directs its Middle East & Middle Eastern American Center. —Abigail Drachman-Jones ’03

 

Kirk Klausmeyer ’00
Natural Data

Klausmeyer grew up romping around his family’s 25-acre farm in rural Maine. He and his father would often walk to nearby Toddy Pond, taking a path past an old maple they nicknamed the wishing tree. “One day there was a big red ‘X’ on the tree. A couple weeks later, logging trucks destroyed our path and cut down the wishing tree,” says Klausmeyer, who was 5 at the time. “Even something so old, majestic and beautiful can just be removed. That was what started my interest in environmental protection and conservation.”

As the senior spatial data scientist at the Nature Conservancy’s California chapter, Klausmeyer spends much of his time applying emerging technology to conservation challenges. He has studied the impact of California’s recent five-year drought by tracking how groundwater supports different habitats. “Some trees are able to live without rain because they can access the groundwater,” he says. “During a drought there’s no rain and people pump the groundwater, so the levels drop. We were able to see where entire forests along these river channels died all at once because the groundwater dropped all at once.”

He also uses Google Earth Engine—a catalog of satellite imagery and geospatial data—most recently to track the creation of a forest that supports endangered species in southern California. “Basically, the forest didn’t exist,” says Klausmeyer. “Then, due to water releases from a treatment plant, the forest just grew in 1994.” His findings are prompting officials to reconsider a proposal to redirect that water to nearby farmers. “By being able to point out that this environment depends on this water source, we can now advocate and say, ‘Can we do this in a way that isn’t going to drastically affect the forest?’ ” —Abigail Drachman-Jones ’03

 

Tom Beale ’00
Organic Artist

Visiting professor of studio art Beale stood beside a brightly painted arch installed on the sidewalk in front of Baker Library on a cloudy morning in early March. A student had constructed the eight-foot-tall sculpture for her final project after Beale challenged his class to produce what he calls “interventions,” works of art designed to transform public space in a creative way. “I’ve tried to teach my students the importance of stepping outside one’s comfort zone and taking risks,” he says. “That’s been a lifelong lesson for me.”

Beale was first challenged to step outside his own artistic comfort zone as an undergrad, when professor Brenda Garand encouraged the budding painter to further his interest in sculpture. He developed a passion, born partly out of economic necessity, for using found and reclaimed materials such as wood, shells and moss to create large-scale organic shapes. (View a slideshow of Beale’s work here.) In 2008 Beale founded Honey Space, a noncommercial artist-run gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Beale considers the venue, described by The New York Times as “one of the city’s strangest art establishments,” among his greatest works. “It was almost like a theater, where I would lift up the curtains and people would enter from the street,” he says. “It was a way to celebrate the idea of art as communication, as experience, and not just as a commodity.”

Since he shuttered Honey Space in 2012, Beale has created installations in Kiev, Moscow and Tasmania. He’s preparing to start his next body of creative work at a new studio in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. The space is currently without heat or running water, and Beale plans to do all the renovations himself. “One of the secrets to being an artist,” he says, “is to keep the expenses low.” —James Napoli

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