The Five Questions series returns this week with Jeff Stauch ’05, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts. Check back throughout the year for more Five Questions posed to our staff and faculty colleagues.
1. As Assistant Director of Principal Gifts, you get to travel around the country and to other parts of the world to ask alumni and friends of the College for their support. How do you get over the awkwardness of asking others for money?
I’m not going to lie: part of me gets enjoyment out of the discomfort engendered in fundraising, and I think that helps me professionally. By the nature of my work, I am always, at some level, bringing people out of their comfort zone by asking them to engage in a significant philanthropic relationship with the college. The other thing to keep in mind is that when you’re actually in front of the donor, they know why you’re there, at least on some level, so it’s easier just to address it. Believe me, I still get the jitters sometimes, but I take that as a sign that I care about the outcome of the conversation. You also have to remind yourself that fundraising on certain days is the art of getting rejected, and that while you are responsible for making the best case for giving, you cannot control how the donor will respond. You have to remember that when the donor says “no,” they aren’t saying, “No, and I hate you,” they’re just deciding that now isn’t the right time to give to Middlebury. The awkwardness part, though, that’s actually kind of fun. It’s like dating: both nightmarish and exhilarating. And generally uncomfortable for both parties at different points in the conversation. And both parties leaving the conversation somewhat bewildered at what just happened.
2. Next spring, you will demonstrate for your shodan (first-degree black belt) in Aikido. Why do you practice Aikido?
Dangerous question, if only because I could talk about Aikido for hours. I got into Aikido completely by accident, actually; it’s been an interest path since I randomly showed up at a dojo in Paris, France, in 2003, during my year abroad. I really fell in love with it in 2005, during my graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where I used it to keep my life in balance. I continue to study it for a lot of reasons, the least significant of which is the ‘practical’ reason of being able to hold my own in a fight; if anything, the more one studies the art, the less we seek out conflict. Aikido brings with it a code of ethics and an opportunity for spiritual exploration. You often find yourself stuck in any technique, and it’s a matter of finding out where you are erring, not your partner. It teaches you about the body, both your own and the body of others. Mitsugi Saotome Sensei, one of the great practitioners of the art, called Aikido, “a philosophy of action,” which I think hits the nail on the head. It teaches you both how to move and how to channel your own desires to respond to conflict violently in a more productive manner. Another teacher, not my own, said that for him, “Aikido is about the chipping away of the ego, not fueling it,” which is another great way to summarize the beauty of the art.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to my two teachers, Jonathan Miller-Lane Sensei right here in Middlebury and Kagan Arik Sensei in Chicago who have both encouraged and challenged me in my training. It is impossible to overstate the importance of good teachers in Aikido and I’m very fortunate to have two of them.
Lastly, I should note that I find myself using the lessons of Aikido in professional settings, too. That’s not to say that I end up throwing a colleague or a million-dollar prospect across the room or break their wrist, but rather I use the principles of centeredness and calm resolution to stand my ground if a donor (or colleague!) is particularly riled up about something. It’s been of great use to me in non-martial situations that are nonetheless conflictual.
3. You have been known to ask first-year students during orientation, “What’s your favorite part about college so far?” What’s the most interesting ice-breaker question you have ever been asked? What’s the answer?
Well, in Boston, when I was managing a canvassing crew that raised money for political non-profits, we had a question of the day every day before we went out to canvass for five hours, so there are a few different ones that come to mind. The one that backfired on me big time was “What was the name of your first pet,” which turned into a sob session in which everyone told us the name of their first pet, all of its relevant and endearing features, and then how it died. So we all went out onto the streets that day thinking about the death of puppies, kittens, parakeets, and guinea pigs. I’ll also make the suggestion that you not ask what someone’s nickname was in high school, as not all nicknames, I learned, were necessarily terms of endearment.
4. Tell us about Pamplemousse.
Ah yes, Pamplemousse. Pamplemousse, or Pampy for short, is my pet rabbit. And whenever I tell people I have a rabbit, they always seem to think it’s a euphemism for something far more sinister; sadly, or happily, the Pampy is an actual, literal rabbit. I’ve had her since March of 2009. I made the decision to get a rabbit while on a business trip with severe food poisoning, which is when all important decisions should be made. She is a mixed breed, all black number who continues to expand. She is excellent at many things, including eating, quickly excreting what she has eaten, chewing wires, cardboard, windowpane envelopes and rubber bands, looking bewildered, and washing her face. I have tried to teach her math and ASL, but to no avail. Singing lessons have also gone unappreciated. I’ve told her she won’t improve without practice, but her passions seem to lie more in eating parsley and tipping over her small, wooden house. On occasion, I take her outside for walks (sporadic hopping, really); she has a bright pink harness/leash. She’s good to have around in my life; she tears around the apartment when I’m home in the evening and before I go to work. She guards the place during the day. I catch myself talking to her a little too often sometimes. Also, I’m of the opinion that all things manly that I do in life are instantly discounted when I tell people that I have a pet rabbit.
5. In Sex & the City 2, Carrie says, “I’m more Coco Chanel than coq au vin.” We hear you’re just the opposite. What’s your favorite thing to cook?
The funny thing is that I was a terrible cook until after I graduated from College. The summer between undergrad and grad school, I was selling shoes in Southern Vermont, living in the barn of a family friend, and the only rent that they charged me was cooking on my days off, so I figured I better learn a thing or two. It’s such a hard question to answer, because I really love cooking (and eating) all manner of things with equal amounts of joy. Given that I run a fair amount, I’m somewhat of a carb freak, so I guess I’ll have to answer by saying that I really love baking my own bread and making my own pasta and then immediately gorging myself on the product I’ve just managed to create.