Our very first Five Questions candidate was President Ron Liebowitz. Here we are, almost a year later, and Special Assistant to the President Dave Donahue joins the club.
1. You started out at Middlebury as a student (Class of 1991!) and now you’re the Special Assistant to the President. In between, you’ve been Associate Dean for Library and Information Services and Associate Vice President of Operations in College Advancement and a dean in Student Affairs. What’s it like to have held so many different roles at the College?
It has been great. It’s allowed me to take on new challenges, to gain new skills, and to learn different parts of how a college operates first hand and up close. The variety has been very stimulating. At the same time, I’ve been able to maintain the continuity of being with one employer and to create a network of friends and colleagues that I continue to work with all the time. This last point is really important. Sometimes in a place as big as Middlebury, getting something done can be about knowing the right person to contact. And although it was entirely by accident, my career at Middlebury and the different jobs I’ve had (going all the way back to being a student) have been the perfect training for what I do now. I also really enjoy seeing people on campus whom I knew as a student and relating to them now as a peer and a friend.
2. What’s the best adventure you have ever been on?
It’s hard to pick just one, so I will tell you about a few. I spent a summer studying Spanish in Mexico at the Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico. Every weekend we traveled, and at the end of the program I took a week and hiked in the jungle. Over the course of the program we visited Palenque, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Monte Alban, the ruins at Tikal, Bonampak, Yaxchilan, and the Rio Usumacinta. It was awesome and permanently changed my world view. I grew up in Lowell, MA, so the idea of “studying” during the summer or going abroad were both pretty foreign concepts to most my friends and high school classmates. It was impossible to be there and not get caught up in the ruins, the culture, and the history. The other adventure was a 35-day car camping trip with my wife, who at the time was my girlfriend. We traveled all around the West and by the end of those 35 days, we pretty much knew we could make any situation work and that we were ready to spend our lives together. We also saw parts of the country that I had never seen from Idaho, to Arizona, to Montana, to Seattle, WA. Finally, every time our family (three kids and wife) travels, it’s a major adventure, especially when we get on an airplane!
3. When you were a student, you played on the football and lacrosse teams. We hear you like to cycle and you were spotted out on the links this summer. What’s one physical activity you’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t gotten around to yet (or maybe never will)?
I’d love to try surfing. The attraction is two-fold. First is purely for the sensation of riding a wave. I’ve done some windsurfing, which I’m terrible at, but the sensation of being powered naturally is pretty special. I imagine the sensation of riding a wave would be even better. The second attraction is warm weather, not that all surfing takes place in warm weather climes, but the picture in my mind is definitely a warm weather one. A close second would be log rolling. I like the idea of head-to-head competition, balance, footwork, and water. Maybe I have a water obsession.
4. Has a liberal arts education served you well? If so, how? If not, please explain. Please cite at least one example.
My job is all about projects and communication. Some projects are in areas that I know a good deal about and are very much in my comfort zone. Others are completely new. The first step is to learn about the industry/area. I believe part of a liberal arts education is learning how to learn, learning how to identify critical information, and how to discern what is important from what is not. Project work is all about figuring out what needs to be done. The other important aspect of my work is communicating, whether it is in written or spoken form. If you can’t communicate effectively with people, you can’t get much done. I’d say a liberal arts education has served me extremely well on both fronts.
5. Andy Warhol once said that everyone is famous for 15 minutes. What happened during your 15?
Wow, that’s a really hard question. I’m tempted to believe that maybe my 15 minutes is ahead of me, but that may be wishful thinking! If I had to pick 15 minutes, I’d go with a bunch of 5 minute blocks. I acted as a reader for the book Think Big Act Small by Jason Jennings; I’ve done a few interviews over the years for the paper and many years ago on WCAX; I won a write-in campaign for the school board in Cornwall, VT in a hotly contested election; and I’m childhood friends with Mickey Ward, the main character in the movie “The Fighter.” Added together, I’m thinking that is close to 15 minutes, but I’m pretty sure I’m stretching the definition of “famous!” Truth be told I’m actually pretty comfortable out of the spot light, but I appreciate the opportunity to be part of Five Questions!