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Spartan Profiles

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Fall 2012


One memorable Super Bowl ad features a tot dressed as Darth Vader applying “the force” to a Volkswagen Passat (which his dad starts by remote control). First run in 2011, the ad earned the top ranking from an MSU faculty panel led by advertising Professor Bruce Vanden Bergh. The ad was created by the Deutsch LA advertising agency in Marina del Rey. Agency founder and CEO Mike Sheldon, ’82, notes that the ad has surpassed 53 million views on YouTube. “It’s actually the most watched commercial in TV history,” says Sheldon. “We showed it worldwide. The return on investment was off the charts—something like a $130 million value for an investment of $3.5 million. We got way more free media (than paid media).” The reason it worked, says Sheldon, is because “it tells a story and you want to root for this kid to make something happen.” Mike himself may have “the force,” as his agency, founded 15 years ago with four people, now boasts 460 employees and more than $1.5 billion in annual billings. His client list includes Volkswagen, Target, Playstation, Dr. Pepper, Snapple and HTC. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mike chose to attend MSU for a simple reason. “The advertising department is second to none,” he says. “People will hire someone with an advertising degree from MSU sight unseen.” At MSU he became the sales manager of the State News, an experience that proved very helpful, as did professors such as Martin Stock and Vanden Bergh. Aft er graduation, Mike moved to California to pursue both advertising and his favorite sport, motocross. He opened his agency aft er getting out of his comfort zone and meeting advertising maverick Donnie Deutsch. “Aft er 15 minutes we both knew we’d have a world class agency,” he says. “I tell people to get out of their comfort zones. Take risks, do something out of the ordinary. You never know when you might be inspired.”


When Working Woman magazine decided to honor the 25 people who have done the most to help women in the work place, it selected Sue Shellenbarger, ’72, the creator and writer of the Wall Street Journal’s “Work & Family” column—which she launched in 1991 and is still going strong, many awards later. “I basically invented the beat,” says Shellenbarger, who has lived in Oregon for two decades now. As the chief of the Journal’s Chicago news bureau, she felt the conflict between her work and being a mother of several children. “I felt a sense of life becoming an endless compromise, so I decided to leave the paper (in 1992),” she says. She then began freelancing a series of columns about work and family, and they became so popular that in 1994 she was rehired as a columnist, working from home. “It was what Malcolm Gladwell calls a confluence of events,” says Sue. “There were a lot of baby boomers in the same spot and at the time, it was not OK to say you had a conflict. So my column raised a lot of awareness.” Sue grew up on a farm in Leonidas and attended MSU because “that was our family school.” She studied to be a writing teacher, but was so inspired by some of her professors— notably the late Nathan Hensley—that she eventually switched to journalism. Aft er completing a graduate degree at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she worked for the Chicago Tribune and in 1980 was hired by the Journal. Sue loves being a columnist. “It’s very hard work, but being able to work from home allows me to work in between the kids’ track meets and school conferences,” she notes. Today her writing has evolved to include the science of raising children, the psychology of success, and stories that involve the sociology of family and work. Besides writing, she does radio shows, podcasts and videos. For one recent column, she re-took the SAT test for the second time, 40 years later. “The score I got would not have qualified me for MSU today,” she says with a chuckle. “Times are tough for kids.”


In 2004, frustrated by the lack of takeout food choices on the Internet, Matt Maloney, ’98, and Mike Evans, Chicagobased soft ware engineers, decided to change things. They founded GrubHub. Com—a site where you can type in your address, locate nearby delivery restaurants along with menus and coupons, and order takeout with a simple click. The idea caught on in a big way. “We’re the number one food ordering business in the country,” says Maloney. “We help local restaurants be found by diners and we off er a full service experience. We’re the easiest way to bring restaurants to you.” GrubHub currently is associated with more than 15,000 restaurants and covers more than 300 cities, “including the major metro markets and the top university communities,” says Matt, the company’s CEO. “We account for more than $250 million in sales. On average, over 25 percent of a restaurant’s gross sales is through us. We want to put the pedal to the metal and define this industry.” With new headquarters in the Loop—its root op overlooks Millenium Park—and more than 300 employees, Matt has his sights set high in a business that was not in his thinking when he enrolled at MSU. A native of Spring Lake, he was a high achiever who had his choice of colleges, but picked MSU because “during a campus visit I really, really liked the feel of the campus and the people.” He majored in natural science, worked in a chemistry lab, and met his wife Holly. “MSU gave me a deep, multidisciplinary education that provided me with a foundation for everything I’ve done,” says Matt, who gives special credit to his experience working for MSU Radiology. “The radiology director, Jim Potchen, was an amazing guy,” he recalls. “He was on the supercutting edge and we had some really fantastic conversations.” Potchen helped connect Matt with a medical imaging group at the University of Chicago, but ironically, Matt’s savvy with computers surfaced and is now his passion. The fastest growing part of his business is mobile, says Matt, who’d like nothing better than to attend a football game in East Lansing—and perhaps put in a food order at the Peanut Barrel.

As a mother of two young boys at home, she knows the desirability of noise reduction. As General Motors’ head acoustic engineer for the Chevrolet Malibu, she makes it her business to minimize internal car noise. Kara Gordon, ’94, M.S. ’97, admits that it’s impossible to eliminate all noise, but notes with pride that the 2013 Malibu is the quietest ever. “We think it’s important because with all the new technology involving voice recognition, none of that will work if the car can’t hear you,” she reasons. That’s why she spends so much time testing and analyzing at Milford Proving Ground. “We deal with various types of noise—engine noise, road noise,” she says. “We test over all kinds of different surfaces, including the cross-groove concrete that is prevalent in Asia.” Gordon says that aerodynamics engineers help contribute to car quietness by working on the outside. “They help the car slip through the air, which not only makes it quieter but also reduces drag so you can get better mileage.” A native of Grand Blanc, Kara says she picked MSU partly because many of her friends were bound for East Lansing, and also because of the wide variety of options that MSU offered. “I had very little knowledge about careers then,” she recalls. “I was an artist but I was also good in math and science. So I wanted to try out as many things as I could.” She actually tried engineering because someone told her she’d never make it. “But I found out that I could be really creative, so I could combine my two loves (math and art).” Kara touts her MSU education and lauds Clark Radcliffe, her mentor in mechanical engineering. “I worked a lot in his vibration lab—and acoustics is a part of vibration engineering,” she notes. “You learned to do measurements and a lot of handson things that really prepared me well for my current job. My MSU experience was fantastic.”


The true crime genre may be relatively new, but it has been popular for centuries. Few literary criminologists today have been more prolific than R. Barri Flowers, ’77, M.S. ’80, who has published more than 60 books and three dozen short stories and accounted for several crime show episodes on television. His most recent book, Masters of True Crime (Prometheus Books, 2012), is an anthology of 17 riveting murder cases. Flowers, a 2006 inductee into the MSU Criminal Justice Wall of Fame, wrote one of the stories—the case of serial killer Donald Miller, a fellow criminal justice major at MSU. “It was eerily ironic to have a serial killer in our midst,” says Flowers, who was a freshman at MSU when Miller committed some of his crimes. Barri notes that people have been fascinated with true crime stories for centuries. “People were captivated and fascinated by true crime stories because they can get close to living their worst nightmares from a safe distance,” he says. “People are still writing about Jack the Ripper a century later.” A native of Detroit, Barri credits MSU with instilling his current passion. He cites Zolton Ferency and Ralph Turner as mentors—both were thesis advisors. “They gave me a lot of support and steered me in the right direction,” he says. He started writing about true crime with The Sex Slave Murders (1995) about Gerald and Charlene Gallego in Sacramento, CA, where he used to reside. Th is year, from his base in Oregon, he will publish six books—including a couple of mysteries set in Hawaii, a romance novel (Forever Sweethearts, about two MSU sweethearts who reunite 25 years later on a reality show), and a textbook (The Dynamics of Murder). Flowers also has a presence in social media via such outlets as Facebook and Twitter (his handle is @rbarriflowers).


Golfers who watch the Golf Channel have noticed an on-air personality who seems ubiquitous, appearing on the daily Morning Drive, providing tournament and news updates and helping out host Martin Hall perform his weekly Golf School. MSU alumni might have seen Holly (Niederkohr) Sonders, ’09, either as a member of the 2007 Big Ten women’s golf championship team or as a sideline reporter for the Big Ten Network in 2009. “I’m having a lot of fun, even if I have to get up at 3 a.m. every day,” says Sonders (her stage name). In June, she interviewed her former MSU teammate Sara Brown aft er Brown won on the Symetra Tour. “Th at was really cool,” recalls Holly. “We talked about MSU a lot.” She has also played in a number of pro-ams. “I played with Webb Simpson and Rickie Fowler, and right aft erwards they went on to win a tournament,” she notes. “So now everyone jokes that they want me as a pro-am partner.” Viewers want more of Holly, which is why she will host her own show this fall—Playing With the Pros, playing lessons from the top professionals. “I really like the instructional part of it,” says Holly, who is enroute to becoming a certified golf instructor. A native of Columbus, OH, Holly was recruited by many southern schools but decided on East Lansing aft er a four-hour meeting with MSU coach Stacy Slobodnik. “Th at was it,” says Holly. “Stacy made quite an impression. She’s an incredible lady. She’s turned MSU into a force in college golf.” Holly says she now understands the value of her golf experience. “Golf has meant everything,” she says. “It has taught me so much about life. I now realize everything Stacy did with me was for a reason.” Aft er graduation, Holly worked briefly at WBNS-10 TV in Columbus, and reported news for KATV in Little Rock, AR. But she has found a great home at the Golf Channel.


In recent months, comparative evolutionary genomicist Julie Horvath, ’96, has been working on a project that explores how odors associated with microbes living in armpits determine people’s choice of mate. “Yes, it’s sort of gross . . . But also intriguing,” chuckles Horvath, who works at the Nature Research Center— the new $56 million wing of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. “Everyone loves it (the project), and we’re actually involving visitors in data collection,” she adds, noting that the research is part of (N. C. State’s) Rob Dunn’s “Your Wild Life” project, which started with studying microbes found in belly buttons. A big part of the museum’s mission is to engage the public and make science more interesting and understandable to the public. Th at may also be why Julie keeps primate skulls in her glass-enclosed lab. “They always get kids’s attention,” she notes. A native of Okemos and daughter of an MSU professor in criminal justice, Julie touts her experience in undergraduate research at MSU with helping shape her career passion. “My favorite mentor was molecular pathologist Karen Frederici,” recalls Julie. “I did research related to diseases of goats and cows. It was a great experience and I got to present at some conferences. Working with goats was dirty and stinky—that’s why I don’t like goat cheese—but it was a lot of fun.” Julie obtained her doctoral degree from Case Western and went to work at Duke University, where she is still an adjunct professor, to do genomics research of lemurs. Julie recently was able to renew a grant for a collaborative study of rhesus macaques. “I love my work,” says Julie, who also serves on the biology faculty of North Carolina Central University in Durham. “Every day is a new day. I meet interesting people every day. Just as I loved undergraduate research at MSU, I am now a part of a great lab group and we’re in a public setting that is bringing in tons of interested people to science and research.”