Jane Bishop Varda ’69
Jane Bishop Varda ’69 figured on one medical career in the family when she married Darryl Varda ’68, who went on to a medical degree from the University of Iowa and became a highly-regarded neurologist.
But two careers? Jane held the title of secretary/nurse for 21 years in a local elementary school in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area, where she and Darryl live.
“The nurse part was strictly unofficial,” Jane laughs. “When I took the job as secretary, I was sort of thrown into the nurse role. I looked after all the students’ sniffles and minor boo-boos. I only called Darryl three or four times with a question.”
The Vardas met at Cornell. Darryl lettered in football, basketball, and belonged to Gamma Tau Pi. Jane was a Phi Omega, busy in student government, Kippers, and seemingly all over the Hilltop—until students learned Jean, her identical twin sister, was a classmate.
The Vardas, like other alums from the 1960s, are shifting into another phase of their lives: Retirement.
Jane, who took the elementary school position after their third child entered high school, pulled the plug three years ago. Darryl, in private practice for more than 30 years, is affiliated with St. Mary’s Hospital, scaled his schedule to four-day work weeks, trains future physicians at Michigan State University, and says he is a year from retirement.
Travel looms big for them, with a trip to New Zealand high on the list. Their three children are in Denver, Seattle, and Bozeman, Mont., where there are two grandchildren in each city to spoil.
David Welter ’76
What role can a liberal arts education play in the workplace? David Welter ’76 says it was perfect preparation for him in education, a career that saw the Cornell alum honored as the 2012 Iowa Middle Level Principal of the Year by the School Administrators of Iowa.
Welter has been principal of Holmes Junior High in Cedar Falls since 2000 following stops in administration, teaching, and coaching in Sioux City, Iowa State University, and elsewhere in Cedar Falls. In addition to being honored in the State Capitol in Des Moines, this fall he was recognized in Washington, D.C., by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Not one to waste time, while on Capitol Hill he plans to interact with other winners to “pick their brains on effective strategies” and meet with members of Congress regarding education issues.
Four years at Cornell, honing skills such as problem-solving, analytical reasoning, collaboration, leadership and perspective taking in multiple disciplines, were essential for his success.
Welter liked history and thought about law at first, but had no career path in mind. Classmates provided diversity and experiences that helped him mature, but faculty provided “aha” moments.
In particular, William Heywood and the Rev. Richard Thomas fueled his passion for history and education. Professor Melvin Hetland convinced him that, with his growing interest in leadership and mentoring, education was noble and necessary.
“I decided this would allow me to continue pursuing things I most enjoyed, while incorporating them into a career in which I would enjoy going to work every day,” Welter said.
Clay Davis ’82
Starting a second career is not that unusual, but last year Clay Davis ’82 moved to a remote Alaskan city to open a new chapter in his life.
After 20 years in the U.S. Army, Davis joined the U.S. Forest Service as a Lands Specialist assigned to the agency’s office in Sitka, a community of just under 9,000 residents on an island off Alaska’s southeastern coast.
The city, reachable only by boat or airplane, is surrounded by snowcapped mountains and millions of acres of forest. It sits on a sound and commercial fishing is a major industry. Diners in restaurants can observe whales jumping in the sea.
“I arrived in Sitka by ferry, the first week of last March,” said Davis. “This wasn’t a big move since I was stationed at Fort Lewis (Wash.). Still, my wife and family thought it would be good if I came and lived here a while to make sure I really liked it before they joined me.”
As a Lands Specialist, his duties center on administering federal environmental regulations, which means anything from monitoring hydro-electric dams to recovery of minerals. He spends a lot of time dealing with local and tribal governments and the State of Alaska.
Davis was a political science and art major at Cornell, but took courses in the military, developed an interest in environmental science and mammals. This led to an M.S. and part-time teaching jobs while in the military. “I spent the last year in the Army looking for positions that would work for me,” he said.
Davis noted that his family lives in a costal rain forest, and added this: The winters are milder than those on the Hilltop.
Stacy Panfil-Parsley ’93
When Stacy Panfil-Parsley ’93 was in fourth grade she told her friend Ramona, “When I grow up I am going to live by the water, marry a man who loves children, and teach kindergarten so I can coach gymnastics in the afternoons.”
Fast forward 31 years and Panfil-Parsley lives at Lake Tyler, is married to a man who just so happens to love children, and coaches gymnastics.
After graduating from Cornell, Stacy moved to Tyler, Texas, and secured a teaching position. Since it was summer, she filled her days coaching gymnastics and quickly realized that was her real passion—so she resigned her teaching job.
Panfil-Parsley and her husband, Martin, own and operate Texas East Gymnastics, founded by his parents 42 years ago. The gym has produced numerous state and regional champions, college scholarship recipients, USA National Team Members, and a competitor in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Trials. Most recently, the gym and coaching staff was ranked by MeetScoresOnline.com as the sixth most successful overall competitive gymnastics facility in the United States, and third most successful on the women’s competitive side.
“The passion I saw and felt from my professors at Cornell inspired me to find a career that I absolutely could not live without,” she says. “When I met Martin, the passion was there. Add a little, OK, a lot, of hard work, love and trust and you’re ranked as one of the best in the nation.”
Katrina Pielli ’00
A childhood love for the mountains and nature of Idaho stayed intact as Katrina Pielli ’00 journeyed to Iowa to pursue English at Cornell College.
“I always loved the outdoors, but thought the only opportunity to work in this field was something in the sciences, which never really interested me,” she says. “I took Professor Allin’s environmental politics course and this class completely changed my perspective! His thoughtful teaching style and course material challenged me and helped me realize my passions could be a career.”
Pielli is the senior policy advisor to the deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy, working with the White House and state agencies on smart grid, energy efficiency, industrial, and utility policy. She recently completed a federal temporary transfer to the White House Council on Environmental Quality where she served as the deputy associate director for energy and climate.
“What drives me professionally is protecting the environment and the air we breathe through a focus on clean energy,” she says. “There are so many opportunities for my work to help save businesses money and reduce pollution. This wide reach is very rewarding.”
Pielli said Cornell stood out during the recruiting process because of One Course At A Time. “It was different and the college was small. I didn’t want to be just a number—I wanted to feel like my professors cared about my studies. I wasn’t disappointed! I regularly feel that Cornell prepared me well for the workforce. The student body is diverse and welcoming. The faculty’s genuine interest in your success is unparalleled. In particular, Politics Professor Craig Allin and the late English Professor Stephen Lacey ’65 are truly remarkable.”