Alumni Stories

Service Beyond Self

Caleb Morse ’03 has a vision: “I think you can have development in beautiful places that doesn’t involve unsightly power lines and the use of oil.”

To that end, Morse has worked tirelessly in countries like Uganda and Kenya to create sustainable economies. He is currently a joint MBA/Masters in Science (Energy and Clean Technology) candidate at Stanford University.

He credits his experience at Webb, especially traveling to Spain with Spanish teacher Javier Valera, with broadening the appeal of international travel: “Because of that trip, I became more open to studying abroad in college,” said Morse.

After completing his undergraduate degree at Pomona College (a major in Economics with an emphasis in mathematics and a minor in International Politics), he traveled to the coast of Kenya, to the countries of Uganda and Rwanda for five months with the intent of starting a nonprofit.

Upon his return to the U.S., Morse went to work for Green Dot Corporation, rising to Senior Business Manager of Major Accounts. Green Dot helps to demystify the process of opening a bank account by offering pre-paid “credit cards” at sites such as Walgreens and CVS, providing much-needed banking solutions to financially underserved populations.

But with each vacation, Morse returned to Africa to help communities in Kenya promote cultural tourism and reduce the destruction of the mangrove forest (productive and complex ecosystems that provide protection and shelter against extreme weather events, such as storm winds, floods, and tsunamis), as well as depend less on the fishing trawlers that were decimating the sea-life population. He lived in a little hut near the village and helped run an ecotourism backpacking resort in Ngomeni, Kenya. The women of the village even developed a clothing line that Morse marketed in the United States. And he did start a nonprofit, World Wide I.M.P.A.C.T., a micro-finance organization that endorses community development projects. In 2012, Morse joined the company TechnoServe and spent the summer in Uganda helping to build irrigation channels to increase local farmers’ self-sufficiency.

As he nears completion of his studies at Stanford, Morse looks forward to new endeavors such as bringing light to the developing world, especially figuring out how to do that in places where there is no electricity. And he will continue to engage in the often at-odds issues of poverty reduction and climate change – with the ultimate goal of leaving the world in a habitable state.

Jan Mitchell Johnson ’86 describes herself as “the kind of person who finds a need and then goes out and creates something to fill it.” She was a middle school teacher in Texas, “minding my own business,” she says, when her principal approached her about writing a grant to the Texas Education Agency for a reading program.

Thanks to her first effort, the school district earned a $250,000 award and Mitchell Johnson secured a new career.

Mitchell Johnson devoted 14 years to Houston public schools as a teacher, technology coordinator, grants coordinator, assistant principal and dean of instruction before leaving in 2002, to start her own grant writing, training and consulting firm, Grantsformation. Since that time, she has won more than $142 million for public and charter school districts and nonprofit clients all over the United States (from Alaska to California to Texas and even Arizona’s Navajo Nation), including two of the 49 Investing in Innovation (i3) grants in 2010 (out of 1,700 applicants). Mitchell Johnson holds a B.S. in Elementary Education, an M. Ed. in Educational Administration and two lifetime Texas teacher certifications.

Through intensive coaching sessions, Mitchell Johnson also enables others to raise money. For example, one Texas school district used what they learned in her sessions to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than one year.

Today, Mitchell Johnson is the Grants Director for Stand For Children, an education advocacy organization devoted to improving public schools and closing the achievement gap. As National Grants Director, she works to build development capacity across all Stand sites while also writing grants to support the agency’s national operations. Jonah Edelman is the CEO and founder of Stand for Children; he is the son of long-time children’s activist Marian Wright Edelman (Children’s Defense Fund).

Though she still does consulting on the side, Mitchell Johnson devotes upwards of 50 hours a week to her work at Stand, writing grants, reporting on the agency’s activities and training the agency’s development managers in the 11 states where Stand has a presence. The agency has a $21 million budget, and most of that is achieved through fundraising, according to Mitchell Johnson.

“I always knew I wouldn’t stay in the classroom,” said Mitchell Johnson. “I fell into this (grant writing), but I’m really good at it.” And her margin of success is the proof.

Jordan Ryan serves as Assistant Administrator for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. He also serves as Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery. In this capacity, he works with developing nations that are prone to natural disasters or conflicts.

“We work with those countries to cope with those crises and assist that population to get back on their feet,” he explained.

As its name suggests, the bureau is also concerned with helping nations identify and mitigate crises before they happen. “Our work is trying to prevent conflicts or alleviate tension before things explode,” said Ryan. That includes helping countries prepare for disasters like earthquakes. “You never can prevent a natural disaster, but you can do a lot more these days to know where the risks are and be prepared,” Ryan explained.

Ryan has enjoyed a long and distinguished career with the UN. He joined the UNDP in China as Assistant Resident Representative in 1991. Between 1993 and 1996, he worked as Senior Assistant Resident Representative, from 1996 to 2001 he served as Deputy Director, then Director of the Office of the UNDP Administrator in New York and from 2001 to 2005, he was Deputy Resident Representative in Vietnam where he was one of the key inspirations for the “Delivering as One initiative,” a program to increase the UN system’s impact through more coherent programs, reduced transaction costs for governments, and lower overhead costs for the UN system.

Ryan always wanted to live an international life. “Even when I was at Webb,” he said, “I always thought it would be wonderful to live and work overseas.”

After graduating from Yale with a B.A. in anthropology and receiving his J.D. from the National Law Center at George Washington University, he joined a law firm based in Saudi Arabia. In the late 1970s, he earned an M.A. in International Relations from Columbia University and became a legal advisor for a firm operating in Beijing. In China, Ryan finally got the opportunity he had been seeking, “I had always wanted to get into the U.N. but never had any luck,” he said. After a brief temp assignment, he joined UNDP in 1991. “One thing I learned at Webb,” he said, “is you just roll up your sleeves and do what you have to do.”

Dr. Kathryn “Katy” White ’87 is the Chief Medical Officer of the Los Angeles Christian Health Centers (LACHC), which, since 1995, has been “a source of hope and healing to thousands of homeless and low-income residents of Los Angeles County seeking care and compassion.” LACHC has two full-time clinics, 11 satellite sites and 85 staff members.

Dr. White joined LACHC in August 2009 as a family practice doctor at the east Los Angeles/Pico Aliso site. Prior to that, she completed her residency in Family Medicine at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and has been working with inner city underserved populations since 2000, at South Central Family Health Center (2000 to 2007) and at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Compton (2007 to 2009). In her new role as an administrator at LACHC, Dr. White moved from being a part-time physician to a full-time (nearly 50 hours a week) problem solver: supervising, hiring and training staff, overseeing clinical care of patients, and working with LACHC’s executive team. She currently works in the program’s Skid Row site, but also see patients eight hours a week at LACHC’s Boyle Heights clinic. “I value the patient time I get,” she said.

An important aspect of her job is networking with medical directors from the 50 or so other clinics in Los Angeles through the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles.

“We learn together,” said Dr. White of the group. “We ask ourselves, ‘how can we do a better job?’ – we truly want to give the best care to the vulnerable people we serve.”

Some of the top health issues Dr. White’s group encounters are mental illness, obesity, diabetes, substance abuse and high blood pressure. At the Skid Row site, Dr. White says that 60-70% of the patients are homeless.

“When people are poor, jobless, homeless … they are also depressed,” said Dr. White of another issue facing the clinics.

The Affordable Care Act has been a bureaucratic challenge, but overall, a good thing, according to Dr. White who says that just a year ago, only 33% of LACHC patients had insurance and now, 65% of the agency’s patients are insured. In fact, the Affordable Care Act has added another layer of managerial reflection, “with better payment mechanisms, we (LACHC) have to think more competitively, because people have other choices and we want to be the clinic of choice,” she added.

In her day-to-day work, Dr. White sees a lot of challenges, but she’s quick to add, she also experiences a lot of resilience among the people she serves, citing the example of one 70-year old patient who last year presented with arthritis, high blood pressure and obesity who recently returned to the clinic having lost 20 pounds.

“It makes my day when I see a patient who makes a change,” she said.

Kayla Yoshida is a busy college student, a senior at the University of Miami in Florida where she is majoring in biology with a concentration in pre-med studies, but she also finds time to volunteer with VIDA, a nonprofit organization that aims to bring people together through service learning to make the world a better place.

Via its medical program, VIDA helps impoverished communities in Central America, while giving volunteers from around the world an interactive, cultural, engaging experience that helps them become better professionals and lifelong volunteers.

Armed with the Spanish skills she gained in grammar school and honed at Webb (where she also volunteered in a homeless shelter, raised money through T-shirt sales for tsunami relief in Japan and, through her participation in ASB, supported youth programs in Pomona), Yoshida traveled to Nicaragua to work in VIDA’s pop-up clinics. While there, she assisted doctors by taking vital statistics of patients such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and patient history.

“My Spanish background at Webb really helped me,” said Yoshida who also enjoyed a three-day, two-night home stay in Masaya and traveled to León and Diriamba.

“They ran out of water while we were there,” explained Yoshida. “We didn’t take showers for a couple of days, but that kind of thing happens to the people who live there at least once a month – they’re kind of used to living with it.”

The VIDA program provides expertise in general medicine, dental health and veterinary medicine. Doctors and volunteers set up mobile clinics in the countries they serve by working with local clinic coordinators, who find locations where the teams can work (schools, community centers, churches, etc.) and inform the greater community about the free services.

Yoshida was so engaged by her experience that she hopes to take a year off to work in Central America after graduating from college and before entering medical school.

“It was a life-changing experience,” said Yoshida. “It was almost culture shock to get back home and have technology and social media. It was actually refreshing and relaxing to live so simply.”

Mimi Issa ’05 is the English Program Coordinator at Ecole Superieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti (ESIH, or translated to English – Higher School for Computer Science) where she develops content-based English courses in the fields of computer science and business administration/economics. ESIH offers bachelor’s degrees in these fields as well as the first year of a master’s program; the school was founded in 1995 in Port-au-Prince and is the first university in Haiti to specialize in computer science and information and communications technology.

In a content-based educational environment, students learn about their subject – in Issa’s case, computer science – using the language they are trying to learn, rather than their native language, as a tool for developing knowledge and so they develop their linguistic ability in the target language.

She was formerly with the Haitian Education & Leadership Program (HELP) for three years where among other duties, she developed and managed their English language program (which is still in place today.

Issa describes herself as having always been a sensitive and compassionate person.

“I believe in social justice – and giving back to the community,” she said. And she also believes that Webb’s rigorous academic environment has helped her to pursue her goals.

“I wouldn’t have been as confident in my dreams and ambitions if I hadn’t gone to Webb,” explained Issa.

As a Gaul, Issa, a boarder, was president of the student council, captain of the water polo team, and she was presented with the Community Service Award for outstanding service to the Webb community and the community beyond the school. At the award service, it was predicted that Issa could well end-up being the first woman president.

She majored in French and minored in sociology at Oberlin College where one of her volunteer projects was tutoring English language learners at a local middle school. She was also very active in the Students for a Free Palestine club and in managing the club water polo team.

Issa firmly believes that “becoming educated is the most successful way to overcome adversity.”

As part of her work at ESIH, she also incorporates MOOCS (massive online open courses) into the curriculum. She utilizes the MOOCs from schools such as Stanford and MIT and develops the components for language comprehension and acquisition.

The field of computer science relies heavily on textbooks and tutorials written in English, so Issa’s work is especially critical. “English is essential for these rising entrepreneurs,” she said, adding that English language skills among the Haitian people are also important for the country’s development and participation in local, regional and worldwide markets.

Neil Goldman is the founder and CEO of Hotels for Hope – he helps his clients create social change through the simple act of booking hotel rooms. Goldman, owner of Austin Hospitality, a national hotel referral and management service said he launched the organization in 2010 because of his company’s involvement with Special Olympics Texas and his desire to make charity a bigger part of his business model.

His goal was to use his extensive industry experience and create a business model that not only makes a difference in the lives of children, but also transforms the way the hospitality industry works.

For each room booked and paid for through Hotels for Hope, the brokerage donates $1 to a portfolio of charities including the Livestrong Foundation and Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin area. That contribution is matched by the hotels, for a total of $2 per room. Hotels for Hope brokers large blocks of rooms for corporations, conventions, and other organizations so the per-room donations add-up – the brokerage has donated roughly $270,000 to date.

To launch the venture, Goldman drew on years of experience in the hotel industry. He graduated from Penn State’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management program and worked at Four Seasons hotels in Philadelphia and San Diego before founding other hotel brokerages. But, he says, “Webb prepared me better than anyone else.”

Today, Hotels for Hope is a thriving business that serves clients and nonprofits around the globe. The company is based on the idea of doing the right thing and is built on solid business practices of innovation, honesty and trust.

“I grew up with a good family who gave me opportunities, and I want to give back,” he explained.

Hotels for Hope continues to give to nonprofits that serve children through programs focused on health, education, arts and humanitarian aid. Hotels for Hope is on track to give more than $1M in charitable gifts by 2015.

Rebecca Goldman modestly explains that her work in international development is just, “doing my part to make the world a better place.”

Goldman is a Food for Peace Officer with USAID (United States Agency for International Development). In that role, she works to reduce hunger and malnutrition and ensure that all people have access to sufficient food for a healthy and productive life. In her efforts to accomplish this, she has traveled to what she describes as “places that few people want to go to,” including Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda and Bangladesh.

“My experiences at Webb gave me the confidence to believe I could do whatever I wanted to do and succeed in it,” said Goldman. “The small class sizes provided me with the opportunity to participate and to think critically.”

She majored in anthropology at Brandeis University and received a Master of Science in Development and Planning, Social Development Planning at University College London. After a two-year period working to promote public-private partnerships at USAID, she joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in a District AIDS Coordinating Office in Botswana.

“I was so fortunate to have that experience, to live in a rural village and become ensconced in the community,” she said.

Today, her home base is Washington D.C., but she is often in the field.

“I love being out in the countries I work in,” she explained. “I enjoy talking to the women about ways they can improve nutrition for their children, and to the farmers about how they can improve their crop yields. I feel at home in the field, and it gives me the opportunity to see how our money is being used.”

USAID, through the Office of Food for Peace, contributes almost $2 billion a year in taxpayer money towards food security programming, and Goldman is responsible for a sizable amount of that. “We work directly with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and United Nations organizations; they do the implementation of the programming, but we coordinate closely with them to make sure people are getting the food and services they need,” she said.

“The American people are helping really, really poor people all over the world, and unfortunately, they don’t always get to see that on TV,” she added. “It’s nice to be able to contribute to the good work our country does.”

Eissa Villaseñor says her time at Webb gave her “the confidence to try new things, even if they were hard.”

She certainly takes on the world as a Refugee Officer at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington, D.C., where she works to help protect the United States and ensure that deserving and eligible people take the limited refugee resettlement spots available on an annual basis.

Though based in the capital, Villaseñor has typically been on the move 50% of the year, each trip requiring four to six weeks of travel depending on the location and caseload. A fluent Spanish speaker, she’s traveled frequently to Cuba and Ecuador, but also to locations in Kenya and Lebanon.

The purpose of her travel is to interview applicants seeking refugee status and to determine whether those individuals are eligible to be resettled in the United States.

Villaseñor explained: “The interview is to determine if the person has been persecuted or will likely suffer persecution on account of five protected grounds – race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. I’m looking to see if they meet that definition.”

Villaseñor must also determine if the applicant has committed certain crimes, or if he/she will be a threat to national security.

“It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s the best job I will have ever done,” she said of her numerous trips to refugee camps and other locations, and encounters with people in difficult circumstances.

Nowadays, she works at headquarters with the policy branch.

“I’ve always been interested in service to others,” said Villasenor. “My family is a family of immigrants.”

After graduating from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish, Villaseñor attended law school at the University of Minnesota. In the year between undergraduate and graduate studies, she volunteered in South Africa with a non-profit working with refugees.

“That’s how that became my focus in law school,” she said.

At times her work is equally harrowing and gratifying.

“When you do these interviews [with refugees], you’re working with vulnerable individuals and families and they’re sharing the most intimate details of their lives, describing why they can’t return to their home countries. These are difficult stories to hear – tragic things have happened to cause them to flee their homes,” she said.

And yet, on the upside, being an officer is “a great way to represent the United States,” she said. “It’s gratifying to know you can help someone come to the United States – to be protected, to let them resume their lives – to go back to work, to have their children go to school.”

Though it can be an exhausting job, Villaseñor said it helps her realize that “we have more in common with these people than we think we do – they want their kids to be safe, they want to do something with their lives. No one chooses to be a refugee.”

Villaseñor says she “recharges” with family and friends. “It’s hard to do this job for a long time because you’re in and out of the United States,” she said.

But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This is where my heart is – in this work,” she made clear. “I appreciate and believe in the mission of our office.”

Peter Emblad, M.D., FACEP, FAAEM, is a busy man: he is a clinical physician practicing emergency medicine at Kaiser Permanente (he was previously head of the department); he brought the concept of a European balance bike to the United States (redesigning, manufacturing and selling it under the name Skuut); he’s married (to a fellow emergency room caretaker – physician’s assistant, Gillian Emblad); he’s a father of two, and he also finds time to volunteer, sometimes halfway around the world.

In 2009, Dr. Emblad took a sabbatical from his day job and went to work in a small local hospital in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, serving the indigenous people of that region. He and his wife were looking for a relatively impoverished country “to remind ourselves and our kids how the majority of the world lives. Living on a lake surrounded by volcanoes in a beautiful setting didn’t hurt.”

Dr. Emblad has also worked with New York City medics in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the islands in 2013.

“It was hard work: some days we saw over 600 patients in austere conditions. We slept in tents. The damage was unfathomable, but the Filipinos we met were incredibly kind, optimistic and resilient. The stories they told will never leave me. One woman hung on to a palm tree and tried to hang on to her three kids when the wind was at its worst. Two of the kids slipped out of her grasp and were never found,” he explained. “How do you recover from something like that?”

Originally from San Francisco, Dr. Emblad came to Webb at the age of 16, which he describes as “a wakeup call to turn my life around.” Guided by that experience and the example of his childhood pediatrician, he enrolled in Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine, earning his medical degree in 1997.

He received his B.S. in microbiology at the University of California at San Diego, completed his internship at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago and his residency in Boston. He joined Kaiser Permanente in 2001.

For several years, Dr. Emblad also served as the medical director for the Presidio Fire Department and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which encompasses all the open land north and south of San Francisco, including Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and Point Reyes Station.

“This was particularly challenging,” said Dr. Emblad, “as many of those locations were fairly inaccessible. That job definitely kept me up at night.”

Dr. Emblad credits his Webb experience with changing his life: “I was unfocused and undisciplined when I was sent there. Webb taught me discipline, how to survive hard work and the importance of developing guiding principles.”