Voices in the Wilderness

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe ’81 • Aileen Yingst ’91 • Christopher Swift ’98 • Tom Paskus ’89 • Matthew Dickerson ’85 • Case Hathaway-Zepeda ’09

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe ’81
Freedom Fighter

Human rights advocate champions Internet access for all.
An ambassadorship may seem like a plum assignment, but the post President Obama offered Donahoe in 2009 was anything but. The president tapped Donahoe to become the first-ever U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC)—a body previously boycotted by the United States and described as “highly dysfunctional” by The New York Times. “Colleagues and friends I respect told me not to take the job. They thought the HRC was hopeless and that I’d fail,” she says. But where others saw a bureaucratic basket case, Donahoe saw opportunity. She believed “principled pragmatic engagement” could help build a more effective institution. “To me, any opportunity to move the dial on human rights globally was worth the risk. It turned out to be a gold mine opportunity for the United States to exert influence and promote our values in a way that exceeded our expectations,” says Donahoe, who stepped down from her U.N. post at the end of last year and now continues her advocacy work as director of global affairs for Human Rights Watch.

The 2011 crisis in Libya was a turning point, she says. When long-time leader Muammar el-Qaddafi responded to an armed rebellion with a brutal crackdown, the U.N. general assembly voted to revoke Libya’s membership in the council—the first time a country had ever been ejected for human rights violations. Donahoe says that while this move may seem obvious from afar, it represented a major step for the HRC. “In the past, countries protected one another,” she says. “We consciously worked to change those dysfunctional dynamics.” Donahoe’s ambassadorship also gave her a chance to make progress on an issue that’s become increasingly important to her: Internet freedom. During her tenure she helped persuade council members to pass a resolution affirming rights to freedom of expression and association online. “We had a window of opportunity and we acted,” says Donahoe, explaining that as recently as 2011 many governments had not yet grasped the potential of the Internet to disrupt their grip on power. She doubts the resolution would pass today.

Internet freedom might seem an abstract issue, but it keeps Donahoe up at night. “Many people in my life, even my husband [eBay president and CEO John Donahoe ’82, a former Dartmouth trustee], are mystified by my passion on this issue,” she laughs. “But it became obvious to me early on that Internet freedom is the new battleground. If you don’t protect the platform where people exercise their rights, then you’re not protecting their rights.”

Donahoe has spent most of her adult life with John in Silicon Valley, raising four children—including Thomas ’09 and Catherine ’15—and earning degrees from Stanford (J.D. and a master’s in East Asian studies), Harvard (a master’s in theological studies) and Cal-Berkeley (a Ph.D. in ethics). “I’ve been infused with the tech culture that exists here,” she says. Donahoe sees “serious threats” to the free flow of information online and the ability of people worldwide to exercise their rights online.

From her new post at Human Rights Watch, Donahoe promotes a system of Internet governance that stays the hand of authoritarian regimes. She seems invigorated by the challenge. “Even when everyone else’s eyes glaze over, follow what speaks to your heart. That’s where you’ll have an impact,” she says.
—Andrea Useem

Aileen Yingst ’91
Green Planet
In the month of June the Mars rover Curiosity trekked across the Hanover Quad, through the Robert Frost Pass to Moosilauke Basin, where it stopped to take a photo of Baker River. Why was the rover bleeding green on the red planet? “For no other reason than the fact that I went to Dartmouth,” says Yingst with a laugh. Yingst is a University of Wisconsin professor and the deputy principal investigator of the Mars Hand Lens Imager, the camera mounted at the end of Curiosity’s arm. “I do a lot of the tactical, operational work: deciding where the rover’s going, what type of images we want to take in what order—and figuring out the best science to do every day,” she says. “Living on Mars is a little like being in college: You’re surrounded by your friends and your colleagues and you’re all working together to do something really exciting—and you’re all a little sleep deprived.”

Since landing on Mars in 2012, Curiosity has made momentous discoveries about the planet, including the identification of a mudstone—geological evidence for a habitable environment. “As far as I’m concerned, the Curiosity mission is already a success,” says Yingst. “The purpose of Curiosity was to look for environments where life might have been able to arise and grow and live—the answer is already yes, but we want to know more about the context of how and why that environment occurred.”

Currently, the rover is driving as fast as it can to Mount Sharp, located in the middle of the Gale Crater. “Mount Sharp is interesting to us because it is a tall stack of sediment. Each of those layers gives you a different set of environmental conditions under which they formed—this great cross section of Martian history,” says Yingst. It’s on this journey that Curiosity set foot on the Hanover Quad, a 1-kilometer square mapped and named after the College prior to the rover landing. Together with fellow Mars Science Lab colleague Lauren Edgar ’07, Yingst had the privilege of titling Martian targets, sending a nod to her alma mater from another planet.
—Minae Seog ’14

Christopher Swift ’98
Taxonomy of Terror
In Kandahar in 2005, Swift was woken by a group of young men pointing Kalashnikovs at him. “All I could say was, ‘Good morning, brother, how are you?’ ” he recalls. His interpreter handled the situation. “They put their guns away, and 10 minutes later we’re all sitting on the floor eating like nothing had happened.”

Swift put himself in similarly tense situations for the next seven years as he conducted academic field research in combat zones across the globe, interviewing the people who lived in affected areas. He traveled to Afghanistan, Dagestan on the Chechen border, the West Bank and Yemen. The research informed a master’s and Ph.D. in international studies from Cambridge University and a J.D. from Georgetown.

Today he’s an adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown, an attorney at Foley & Lardner, a frequent media commentator on issues of national security and terrorism and a term member on the Council of Foreign Relations. Understanding what drives terror—and which groups are threats, which groups aren’t—has given him a voice in policy discussions. “You can know everything in the world about a particular subject, but if you can’t help a policymaker implement policy, that academic knowledge isn’t terribly useful,” says Swift. “On the flipside, if you’re just a lawyer and all you know is process, you don’t have any substance to share.”

His objective: To create a predictive model of behavior for how local indigenous insurgencies interact with Al Qaeda. He wants to give the government—and the American people—the language needed to understand the parameters of a conflict. “I’ve had too many students get blown up or have some catastrophic injury without knowing who the enemy was, without knowing what the plan was and what the end game was,” he says.
—Carolyn Kylstra ’08

Tom Paskus ’89
Number Cruncher
Paskus calls himself a “research geek.” The former psychology major spends his days designing research studies and analyzing quantitative results. His subjects: the nearly half-million student-athletes who compete in college and university sports around the country.

As the principal research scientist at the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Paskus and his team publish findings that guide the policy decisions of the NCAA’s member institutions. “We bring data and try to make their discussions based in real data instead of anecdote,” Paskus says. The range of research questions that Paskus’ team has studied match many of the general concerns in higher education (ncaa.org/about/resources/research). Recent studies have examined student-athletes’ academic performance, substance abuse, rates of concussions and mental health issues. “I design a study, collect some data, write something up, and it could be in front of a committee or in policy discussions the next week,” Paskus says.

At Dartmouth, adjunct professor Paula Schnurr saw Paskus’ strength in quantitative analysis. Quantitative psychology was a new field when Paskus went to work for the NCAA while he was a graduate student at the University of Virginia. Although Paskus says the field is still evolving, he sees psychological research shifting toward the quantitative. “We have a much bigger voice than we previously did,” Paskus says. “A lot of college presidents and other university administrators are much more comfortable dealing with data than they were 20 years ago, and they welcome our presence in meetings that we weren’t invited to 20 years ago.”
—Gavin Huang ’14

Matthew Dickerson ’85
The Master of Middle-Earth

What does fracking have to do with Frodo, or Middle-earth with mountaintop removal? Everything, says Dickerson, who has spent the last three decades dedicating himself to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien and how the British author’s seminal works—The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit—from the mid-20th century resonate today. “It’s never didactic,” says Dickerson, who was turned on to Tolkien by English professor Marion Singleton as a Dartmouth student. “It’s got a moral lesson, a philosophical lesson, but it’s in the midst of a good story that deals with the most important aspects of human experience.”

Dickerson earned his Ph.D. in computer science at Cornell and now teaches at Middlebury College, where he is also the director of the New England Young Writers Conference. He is a prolific author and has published several books on Tolkien and medieval fantasy. Tolkien, he says, wrestled with many of the issues that we now face, from environmental concerns and healthy agrarianism to war and torture. Dickerson’s recent analysis of Tolkien, Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien, earned him rave reviews from naturalists and scholars alike. Although Peter Jackson’s enormously popular films (his third movie in The Hobbit trilogy is due in theaters in December) have exposed new generations to Tolkien’s characters, imaginary world and environmental vision, says Dickerson, they glorify battles in a way the author never did.

“His writing is a bottomless well,” says Dickerson. “You can continue to return to it and find that you may have taken gallons and gallons and gallons out, and you go back an hour later and the spring is filled in again. Every time I read or reread Tolkien, I learn something new.”
—Sarah Tuff Dunn

Case Hathaway-Zepeda ’09
Magic of Metal
Hathaway-Zepeda grew up fashioning makeshift necklaces and bracelets with wire salvaged from the family garage and beads picked off the street. She created her first piece of “hot” jewelry —made using a torch—as a Dartmouth undergrad. It was a simple, silver band ring, and she’s been married to jewelry making ever since. “I always think of my jewelry as an experience,” she says. “Does it jingle when you wear it? Is there a little piece you can spin while you’re waiting for something? There are hidden, very small moments in my jewelry.”

Now a seasoned artist with an M.F.A., she has returned to the roots of her jewelry-making career as artist-in-residence at Dartmouth’s Donald Claflin Jewelry Studio. There, Hathaway-Zepeda works as a professional artist while helping undergrads create original work in the studio, teaching workshops, and presenting community and class lectures. “I am constantly inspired by the students,” she says. “We have econ majors and studio artists alike coming to the studio with different goals, visions and experience levels. We all feed off each other.”

This fall Hathaway-Zepeda is focusing her energy on Flame and File, a jewelry line of hammered silver. “Giving myself the restriction of hammered silver has pushed me to think about how creative I can be,” she says. “I don’t like to ground my jewelry in recognizable objects. There is always more imagination within the abstract.”
—Rianna P. Starheim ’14


Alumni Books
New titles from Dartmouth writers (May/June 2022)
Inspiration Unearthed
Artist Karyn Olivier ’89 digs into history.
Vox Clamantis in Deserto

A special issue in celebration of Dartmouth’s 250th anniversary

“Sandy” Alderson ’69
The New York Mets president on America’s game

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