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Zach Powers '10

Ann Mooney '03, senior program manager, National Geographic Society Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
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From Dreaming to Doing

Ann Mooney ’03 admits she still gets a little starstruck.

Mooney, a relatively new member of the research team at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., works alongside Sylvia Earle, a pioneering marine scientist.

“I’ve done no fewer than six reports on this woman and dressed up as her for career day in third grade,” Mooney said with a laugh. “She sits just down the hall from me.”

Mooney, who earned a degree in biology at Pacific Lutheran University, is a senior program manager at the National Geographic Society. She’s tasked with building a new program called Beyond Yellowstone, a conservation program in the greater Yellowstone National Park ecosystem that aims to conserve major migrations of large mammals.

“It’s just starting, so right now I’m doing a lot of program development,” she said, “working on timelines, budgets and partnerships with research institutions.”

Mooney’s career in conservation began in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, serving as a contractor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Ecosystem Program. She spent most of her workdays in the same place where she made countless memories as a member of the PLU swim team — in the water.

“My job consisted of what’s called toe-boating,” she said. “Snorkeling while being pulled behind a small boat looking for derelict fishing nets that have been snagged on the reef.”

In 2006, Mooney moved south, to the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, where she researched seawater chemistry and earned a Master of Science in biology.

In 2014, following stints at Hawaii’s Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the University of North Carolina, Mooney moved to Washington, D.C., first to work for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, then at the agency’s Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement.

Ann Mooney '03, senior program manager, National Geographic Society Washington, D.C. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
Ann Mooney '03, senior program manager, National Geographic Society Washington, D.C. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
Ann Mooney '03, senior program manager, National Geographic Society Washington, D.C. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

Saving the world, Mooney says, is the goal of many environmentalists. She shares that large-scale goal, channeling it into her work on Beyond Yellowstone. “I try to harness that feeling to work on saving something specific,” Mooney said.

Mooney says she always dreamed of working for National Geographic, citing the organization’s commitment to using scientific findings to tell powerful stories.

“You need a compelling story to make people care,” she said. “When people care, they can start influencing decision-makers and public policy. And that’s what enables significant change and lasting solutions.”

Kate Monty and Dmitry Mikheyev with a neon SpaceWorks sign in downtown Tacoma, Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
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Performers on and off the stage

Kate Monthy ’04 and Dmitry Mikheyev ’10 are, among many things, performers.

Monthy graces audiences as an accomplished ballet dancer and choreographer. Mikheyev, also known as Dominique D’Amour and Mylo Precious, dazzles in drag and burlesque shows around the Pacific Northwest.

While both of them are comfortable center stage, it’s their performances behind the scenes at Spaceworks Tacoma that help fellow artists’ passions flourish.

Spaceworks, a joint initiative of the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, launched in 2010 with the goal of activating Tacoma’s empty storefronts and vacant spaces with art and creative enterprise. Today, Monthy and Mikheyev fill two of the program’s five staff positions.

Spaceworks has grown into a backbone of the Tacoma arts community in the past seven years. The organization has partnered with hundreds of do-it-yourself artists, small businesses and fledgling nonprofits, injecting the city’s creative class with the know-how and confidence to thrive.

The foundation of Spaceworks’ mission, Monthy says, is helping local creatives grow their skills, resources and capacity.

“Not everybody knows the 14-point plan to becoming a successful small business owner,” Monthy said. “A lot of times people just have two: the drive and the talent in making something. Spaceworks helps artists learn how to be a bit more business minded, how to write budgets, to plan strategically.”

Monthy, who majored in political science at Pacific Lutheran University, serves as Spaceworks’ development coordinator, a position she says “entails cultivating a lot of relationships in Tacoma with people who are interested in investing their time, money or other resources in our work.”

Monthy’s natural gifts and charisma, her teammates say, is key to the success she’s enjoyed at Spaceworks.

“It takes a certain personality to be successful at fundraising,” said Heather Joy, Spaceworks’ manager. “Kate has such a way with people that it makes you want to join forces with her and do whatever it is she is suggesting you do.”

Before Spaceworks, Monthy learned how to connect with potential donors, volunteers and collaborators while serving as an administrator at Tacoma City Ballet and co-founding a nonprofit called MLKBallet, which provides tuition-free dance lessons to Tacoma-area youth.

“I’m definitely a self-taught fundraiser and nonprofit person,” Monthy said. “I’ve just learned from experience how to cultivate relationships and get people to believe in what you’re doing.”

Mikheyev, who studied art history as well as publishing and printing arts at PLU, is the marketing coordinator at Spaceworks. “My job includes a lot of social media, blogging, feature writing and graphic design,” Mikheyev said. “Other people do the work, and I just talk about it.”

Kate Monty and Dmitry Mikheyev with a neon SpaceWorks sign in downtown Tacoma, Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
Kate Monty and Dmitry Mikheyev with a neon SpaceWorks sign in downtown Tacoma, Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
Kate Monty and Dmitry Mikheyev with a neon SpaceWorks sign in downtown Tacoma, Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

Mikheyev, who grew up in Russia, is quick to downplay his impact at Spaceworks, but his colleagues insist otherwise.

“Dmitry brings to life in stories everything that we do, which is invaluable,” Monthy said. “He bumped the level of all our communications way up. Everything is enhanced thanks to him.”

Mikheyev is also known in the Spaceworks office for his boundless vivacity. “He is full of energy, as a person and as a marketer,” Joy said. “His work always feels bright, fresh and new.”

Monthy and Mikheyev maintain their creative lives outside Spaceworks — Mikheyev as his stage personas, and Monthy as a choreographer and dance instructor at Tacoma School of the Arts as well as Harbor Dance and Performance Center. Arts leaders close to Spaceworks say hiring working artists helps make the program more effective.

“The secret sauce of Spaceworks is that it is a creative organization,” said Amy McBride, Tacoma’s arts administrator. “Having working artists and creatives at the core of it is important to understanding the needs of the community and responding in creative ways.”

Joy believes the trust built between Spaceworks and its clients is a product of the peer-to-peer relationships shared by individual artists and Spaceworks staff members.

“They’re part of that community themselves,” she said of Monthy and Mikheyev. “They’ve experienced the highs and lows of being an artist and small business owner, and they can relate by sharing.”

Monthy and Mikheyev say they’re thankful for the opportunity to serve a program that serves their community.

“It’s wonderful that we get to come to a job where our sole purpose is helping other artists,” Monthy said. “I can’t think of anything better.”

Scott Foss ’91 on the rooftop of the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
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Scott Foss ’91

Washington, D.C. (March 20, 2017)- When Scott Foss ’91 enrolled at Pacific Lutheran University, he dreamed of becoming a paleontologist and pursuing a career outdoors conducting research. Now, he’s a senior paleontologist at the Department of the Interior. Foss serves as a policy adviser and resource director in Washington, D.C., 30 years after his dream began.

“Working on the bureaucratic side we call ourselves ‘paleocrats’ because we’re actually interpreting the science for government,” Foss said. “Field research was what I always wanted to do, but a big part of what I do now is coordinate everything that goes on in the field.”

Foss earned his research and resource management chops on the American West, serving as a National Park Service paleontologist and museum curator at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon, and later as a regional paleontologist with the Bureau of Land Management headquartered in Utah. Along the way, he earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Northern Illinois University.

In 2012, Foss relocated to Washington, D.C., to assume his current role, one he likens to an orchestra conductor. “I don’t get to play an instrument anymore, but I’m right there for everything that happens,” Foss said. “I know about every fossil that’s being discovered before it hits the news. I know who is working where and on what. That’s the excitement of it, being on the edge of everything going on in paleontology.”

Foss juggles a variety of hats in an average week at the office, ranging from policy expert to to public relations officer.

“I spend a lot of time helping to develop policy as well as reviewing other proposed policy, thinking about how it could affect paleontological resources,” Foss said. “We work on and review a lot of environmental impact statements and assessments, making sure they are adequate for paleontology.

“We’re also really big in the planning and management process of public lands. If there is going to be a pipeline, right-of-way or an energy corridor that may affect a lot of paleontological resources, I get involved and explain how it will affect those resources or not affect them.”

Scott Foss ’91 describes his PLU experience

PLU is just a great school, my experience there was really good. I have a lot of friends from my PLU days and those are the active friendships in my life that go back the furthest. I went through the geology program at PLU and have stayed in contact with the faculty throughout my career.

I knew I wanted to become a paleontologist by the time I arrived on campus. I’ve always been interested in a lot of different things, and I was able to pursue them at PLU, knowing that I would eventually have to set them aside to focus on paleontology. I took a lot of classes to do with art, writing and literature coursework. I also played tuba in the wind ensemble and the crazy pep band PLU had back then, known as “commando band.”

I’m really glad in retrospect I did it that way. That would be advice I’d give any current student — look forward and prepare for your desired career, but don’t feel like you have to immerse yourself in it as an undergrad, because you have your entire life to do that.

A natural maven, Foss’ role in D.C. has also required him to play the role of connector. “If we need to know something about paleontology here in Washington I know the person in the field who has that information,” Foss said.

He’s also developed a rapport with a wide range of media members. “After a new discovery, I’ll get a lot of calls from news services and connect them with the right expert to talk to,” he said.

Foss regularly fields inquiries from unlikely sources, as well. “I get a ton of calls from producers in Hollywood,” he said. “They’ll call me up and say (for example) ‘I need to know all about tyrannosaurus rex.’ I’ll ask them if they need to know North American or Asian T-Rex, and from there we’ll narrow it down and figure out who in the field they should talk to.”

Foss is passionate about his work in D.C. and enjoys living with his family in nearby Virginia. Yet, as it did throughout his PLU schooldays, his heart often pangs for the outdoors and the great expanse of the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West regions.

“It’s very exciting here basically all of the time, but I miss the field tremendously,” said Foss, who still owns and frequents a small vacation home in rural Oregon. “My life is in the West, and I’ll be back there again someday.”

Martha Spieker ’16 serves as the Press Assistant and Legislative Correspondent in the Washington D.C. office of Congressman Derek Kilmer. (Photo by John Froschauer)
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Martha Spieker ’16

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan 30, 2017)- At this time last year, Martha Spieker ’16 was halfway through her senior year and serving as president of the Associated Students of Pacific Lutheran University (ASPLU). Now, the Politics & Government and Hispanic Studies double major works in Washington D.C. on “The Hill,” as the Press Assistant and Legislative Correspondent in the office of Rep. Derek Kilmer.

Rep. Rick Larsen in his Washington, D.C. office, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)
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Learning listening on the job

Rick Larsen ’87 is the first to admit that serving in the United States Congress has changed him. Larsen, who was first elected in 2000, says his job has taught him to be a better listener.

“I may have brought in a certain set of traits and skills 16 years ago that were somewhat appropriate for the job, but after the last 16 years of hundreds of town hall meetings and phone calls, elections and campaigns, I’ve had to change quite a bit,” Larsen said in his office in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. “There’s still the part of me that is gung-ho about the things I want to do and what I want to work on, but over the last several terms I’ve learned a lot about intentional listening.”

Larsen said one thing he’s learned, especially with constituents, is the importance of staying in the moment and resisting the urge to start brainstorming solutions while he is listening. “My brain always flips into ‘OK what do we need to do about it, and how,’” he said. “That can sometimes be to my detriment because it gets in the way of my listening.”

Larsen, a democrat, represents Washington’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of Island and San Juan counties, as well as portions of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

In explaining the value of listening, Larsen harkens back to 2009, when the country was entrenched in debate over President Barack Obama’s proposed Affordable Care Act. To accommodate the large crowds hoping to speak to him about the ACA, Larsen said his staff moved a town hall meeting to Everett’s minor league baseball stadium. The experience left a lasting impression.

“I think I had the largest town hall attendance in Congress that year with 2,800 people at that one event,” Larsen said. “It really changed my view about how to structure our outreach to the people I represent.”

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Larsen has become an expert on domestic and global policy. But he also believes that part of being an authentic leader and elected official is admitting that he doesn’t have an answer to every constituent question. Often, he says, that sort of honesty can come at a cost.

“I’ve learned that sometimes you have to say you don’t know the answer, and you have to prepare people for that,” Larsen said. “Sometimes it may be difficult for people to accept, because they’ve come to ask a specific question and they want an answer to it.

“But it’s unfair, as well, to give them an answer that is useless or unformed,” he added. “The key, in my view, is to prepare, know your stuff, but don’t imagine you’ll know the answer to everything.”

After nearly two decades in Congress, Larsen has specific advice for citizens meeting with their elected representatives. The crux of his guidance — cut to the chase.

“You may only have 15 minutes, that means you might not have the chance to explain the whole story,” Larsen said. “You have to give enough of the story and then the punchline in that time frame.”

Larsen admits he can grow weary of meetings where constituents recite specific language given to them by advocacy groups. “You don’t need to use the talking points given to you by an association,” he said. “You’re actually living this, so share what it means to you. It’s much more memorable.”

Active listening is at the core of Larsen’s political ethic and personality, but he says that even the most effective listening doesn’t necessarily result in agreement. “I’d love to agree with everybody but that’s not going to happen.”

But, Larsen stressed, he can promise he will listen to what they have to say.

“You can take it or leave it, and I can’t help it if you disagree with it,” he said. “And you can use that to judge me every two years.”