A New School education has enabled generations of alumni to make lasting contributions to their professional fields and to the world.
Alumni Relations periodically asks some of our most accomplished alumni to share recollections of their time at the university, thoughts on how their education influenced their lives and careers, and advice for current students.
Ana Oliveira is the president and CEO of The New York Women's Foundation, a nonprofit that pursues economic security and justice for women and girls. For more than 20 years, she has been a staunch defender of human rights, developing programs for vulnerable populations throughout New York City. The first female and Latino executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, Oliveira expanded services for women, Latinos, and African-Americans affected by HIV and AIDS. Called "an unsung hero" by Newsweek, Oliveira was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to the New York City Commission on AIDS. In a second mayoral appointment, she helped lead an investigation into the barriers to success faced by young Black and Latino men in New York City. Oliveira received her MA in Anthropology from The New School for Social Research in 1984.
She was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities at The New School's May 2012 commencement ceremony.
Ana Oliveira: I chose The New School because I was looking for an academically advanced environment that was involved in the world as well, and one which engages students as thinking and social practitioners, valuing their own life experiences.
The New School valued the reasons for my interest in returning to school, specifically my search for a critical thinking approach. My early memories are of a terrific group of colleagues from different countries and from the United States, and of being in a stimulating environment where I was connected to NYC and current issues.
AO: My studies at The New School in anthropology — with the perspectives of critical anthropology and feminist anthropology — are a fundamental cornerstone of my thinking. They were a capstone to my prior learning and significantly expanded them. Critical and feminist anthropology approaches provided me with additional tools with which to understand the construction of power by de-bunking cultural superiority of self over "the other," and dismantling rigid gender constructs.
I was particularly influenced by anthropology professors Shirley Lindenbaum and Rayna Rapp, for both their impeccable, pioneering, and inspiring work and their mentoring. The work of Stanley Diamond, poet and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Humanities, was also deeply inspiring.
AO: NYWF is a local, public, and participatory community-rooted foundation which seeks to build economic justice for women and families in NYC. The foundation was created 25 years ago and has invested $32 million in local leaders and organizations who are working toward the same goal.
Our grantees are partners — incredible leaders and creators of solutions to deep problems they and their communities face. Resilience, creativity, and the importance of collective action are just a few of the things we've learned from our grantees. Grantee partners are the authors of the change they want to see. The foundation helps by bringing funds, access, and additional visibility to their work.
AO: By partnering with incredible leaders, we are doing our job and building a New York City that works for all. For example, we partnered with influential labor organizer Ai-jen Poo, now director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, when she was just starting Domestic Workers United in New York City. NYWF was their first foundation funder.
We work to democratize philanthropy. We currently have more than 8,000 supporters, who make gifts ranging from $10 to $1 million, and New Yorkers have an active voice in deciding where our investments go. Our grant-making process is participatory, with 150 volunteers annually reading proposals, conducting site visits, and making recommendations to the Board of Directors for where funding should go.
When we are able to convene other foundations and philanthropists, we showcase the power of funding community organizing and working toward broad-based systemic and policy change. Then we are doing our work and influencing philanthropy to invest in justice.
AO: I hope that New School students continue to take the rigor of academics and social engagement into the world. I hope they speak about the urgent need for academics to be partners to civil society in addressing the most pressing issues we face and in building justice. I also hope that they are vocal about defining success not only by how much graduates earn, but also by how much graduates gain by choosing to make a difference in the world toward equality and social justice.
We would love for New School students to join us as participants in the grant-making process. They can learn about opportunities to get involved by
visiting us online.
Rich grew up in Yorktown Heights, New York. After graduating from Parsons in New York City, he moved to San Francisco, against his father's wishes. He worked in one-year increments as an art director for Rolling Stone magazine; Bozell and Jacobs; McCann Erickson; Foote, Cone & Belding; and Ogilvy and Mather, where he met Jeff Goodby and finally settled down.
At Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, Rich's taste and enthusiasm infuse everything he does. He has set a standard for design that has led the agency to compete against the country's leading design studios. His advertising has won every award in the book, from Gold Pencils to Gold Lions, and, along with his partner Jeff, he's been named Executive of the Decade by Adweek. In 2002, he was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame and, two years later, into The One Club Creative Hall of Fame.
The agency now has more than 700 employees serving a diverse group of clients, including Google, Chevrolet, YouTube, got milk?, NBA, Cisco, and Motorola, to name a few.
Rich is equally passionate about projects away from work, from creating his own art to visually blogging for the Huffington Post. He currently sits on the board of Specialized Bicycles and is an adviser to avant-garde stage director Robert Wilson and his Watermill Library. He served for fifteen years on the board of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and just recently he designed a graphic system celebrating the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th birthday.
Rich lives in Belvedere, California, with his wife, Carla Emil. He has two grown kids, Aaron and Simone, and is a proud grandfather to Maple, Will, and Owen.
He considers himself to be extremely lucky to be able to ride his bike over the Golden Gate Bridge to work each morning.
Rich Silverstein: It was an extremely intimidating experience coming from clean, quiet, white, suburban Westchester in my madras shirt and chinos, into a dirty, noisy art factory with very strange people running around.
RS: Nick Chaparos, my graphic design teacher, taught us not only that "God was in the details" but that he also lived at the Bauhaus. I can still see him ripping up a student's project because it wasn't set in Helvetica and worse, had smudges on the back.
RS: Appreciation of the past, enthusiasm for the future.
RS: Don't study my work. Walk around the city, go to an independent movie, read the New York Times, spend time at MoMA, the Armory, Central Park, and do your own thing. You're living in the most amazing city on planet Earth; take advantage of it.
RS: Graphic design helped me carve out my own identity. You'll probably not realize the true effect of art school until a number of years later. I'm answering this question on the very same drafting table used while attending Parsons in 1970, including every X-Acto blade cut and bloodstain.
Good luck and have fun.
Henk-Jan grew up in the Netherlands and came to The New School for Social Research for graduate studies in 1987 after receiving an MA in Economics from the University of Groningen. Though he had intended to return home after completing his studies, a combination of luck, circumstance, and hard work soon altered his plans.
Following his PhD qualifying exams in 1989, Henk-Jan launched his career at the United Nations and has thrived in the organization ever since. His far-reaching career has taken him from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to the Office of the Secretary-General and then on to the World Food Programme and the Peacebuilding Support Office.
In 1999, he published his PhD dissertation (Edward Elgar), which focused on explaining price differences between countries. It provided a bridge between the empirical work he was accustomed to in Groningen and the heterodox theoretical insights he gained at The New School.
He has written on such topics as economic adjustment in Africa, socioeconomic causes of violent conflict, stature as a measure of standard of living, and the impact of high price of nutrition. He currently co-chairs an international process to identify indicators that measure peace building.
Henk-Jan lives with his wife and two children in Bedford-Stuyvesant in a brownstone he renovated with them. He is a carpenter at heart as well as a lover of vintage Italian sports cars. He spends his summers with his family in Cape May Point, where he enjoys reading and the abundant native wildlife.
Henk-Jan Brinkman: I had a fairly conventional economics education at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where I got my MA. I wanted to enroll in a more heterodox graduate program to complement it, and The New School for Social Research offered that.
One of the first things that struck me was the more casual and less hierarchical atmosphere in the faculty. Students called professors by their first names, which was unheard of in the 1980s in the Netherlands. I also liked the close interaction with students in other departments, such as Philosophy and Sociology, which were right down the hall.
New School Alumni: How did The New School shape your worldview?
HB: What I learned at The New School helped me in my career, particularly in providing well-founded alternative policy analysis. Studying with Professor John Eatwell, I explored the whole field of economics, from theory to policy issues. The diverse student body also prepared me well for working at the UN.
New School Alumni: Tell us about your work at the United Nations.
HB: I started working in the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, writing reports an inch wide and a mile deep on economic trends and policies in developing countries. Then I became an adviser to Kofi Annan, the secretary-general, and his deputy Louise Frechette on economic, social, and environmental issues, on which I wrote significant talking points, speeches, and briefing notes. Both positions were miles away from real people.
I then became chief economist at the World Food Programme, which was all about people because of the focus on hunger and malnutrition. Economic analysis followed suit, whether it was a food security assessment in Darfur, an assessment of the impact of the global financial crisis in Ghana or the impact of high food prices on nutrition. I currently work in the Peacebuilding Support Office as Chief of Policy, where my economic background is less pertinent but where my interest in the study of war and peace has come to the fore.
HB: The UN makes a difference in countless ways, from providing food, water, and shelter to people affected by a disaster to supporting health and education services for millions to keeping peace by sending more than 100,000 military and police officers to remote locations. Less visible, but equally critical, are the quiet diplomacy and mediation that keep conflicts from escalating into violence. Setting global norms and standards, ranging from international treaties on human rights to the law of the sea, is less operational but extremely important.
Perhaps most indirect, and more easily derided, is the "talk shop" function. Countries that talk don't fight. Countries that fight need to talk. Only through talk can positions be understood. Only through talk can differences be bridged. Only through talk can agreements be reached to solve global problems. And yes, that can take a long time sometimes — and yet it is worth the effort. For many countries in the world, the UN is one of the few places — if not the only one — where their voice can be heard. I will never forget how the president of the Maldives, in a meeting at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, was able to voice his concern about climate change and unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels in developed countries, which would lead to the disappearance of his country if predictions about rising sea levels would come true. This was probably one of the few opportunities he had to express his views to the leaders of developed countries, which have been the most responsible for climate change.
HB: My hope for New School students is that they not only master the theory but also go out into the world and change it as policymakers.
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