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Spartan Profiles

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Spring 2013
Before construction of the Broad Art Museum, issues emerged between MSU and architect Zaha Hadid.  An alumnus who is one of the nation’s top developers stepped forward for MSU.  He took over the negotiations and eventually got all sides to come to terms, thus enabling the completion last fall of MSU’s  spectacular new art museum.  The hero was Edward J. Minskoff, ’62, president of Edward J. Minskoff Equities, Inc., a New York-based real estate acquisition and development company which owns and manages over five million square feet of office space plus residential and retail properties in Manhattan and other major cities.  “Sometimes the private sector can contribute significantly to institutional decisions, especially complicated ones,” says Minskoff, who, along with his wife Julie, donated $3 million to the MSU project along with a major Jonathan Prince sculpture and a Jasper Johns print.  “We’re glad to be able to help both the design selection and development process.  The end product is a fantastic architectural gem that will bring tremendous recognition and credibility to Michigan State.”  Born in New York, Edward grew up in Washington, DC, Southern California and Detroit.  He chose to attend MSU because, in his words, “I felt (the late) Walter Adams was the most brilliant economist around at the time.”  He calls MSU “all in all a great experience, even though no undergraduate program totally prepares you for the cruel world.”  Edward earned an honorary doctorate from MSU in 2009.  Early in his career, Edward showed his skill for development.  He quickly rose to become CEO and principal of Olympia & York, where he was responsible for 16 new projects, including the World Financial Center.  In 1987, he founded his own company and has developed a reputation for quality buildings, having developed 37 million square feet in 10 cities.  “Architectural integrity is important to me,” says Edward, who has used world-class architects like I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  Edward is a trustee of NYU’s Langone Medical Center and active with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Friends of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles).  Edward and Julie are avid collectors of contemporary art and own a collection that includes works by Picasso, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Frank Stella, Richard Prince and Oldenburg. 
Americans spend $40 million a year buying diet products, whether it’s books, pills, powder or some “magic bullet” solution.  “And yet obesity rates keep climbing,” notes Julie Upton, ’88, a professional dietitian who has come up with a practical plan for improving health habits.  Upton, magazine writer and owner of Appetite for Health, a nutrition communication firm in San Francisco, CA, has co-authored the brand new book, The Real Skinny:  Appetite for Health’s Fat Habits and Slim Solutions (Tarcher, 2013).  “There is a lot of misinformation out there,” says Julie, who runs 50K ultra-marathons in her spare time.  “A lot of the claims being made are misleading or false, but people who are looking for the quick fix will buy into the hype instead of doing the hard work.”  Julie and co-author Katherine Brooking compiled some of the most common bad habits and offer sensible solutions.  “I’ve been a dietician for more than 20 years and I keep seeing the same excuses, over and over again,” says Julie.  “In our book we give you a way to replace your bad habit with a better habit.  This is the only way to deal with what I call our ‘obesigenic’ food environment.”  A native of Ludington,  Julie attended the University of Michigan but transferred to MSU to obtain a degree in nutrition.  “I played all kinds of sports—swimming, track and field, softball, you name it,” says Julie.  “So I became very interested in sports nutrition.”  At MSU, she had professors like Stella Cash, Jenny Bond and Won Song, who she still sees at conferences around the country.  “As an undergraduate I lived off campus and hosted weekly dinner parties,” she recalls.  “So you could tell I was headed into the right field.”  
 For more information about Julie’s work, you can visit
In 1990, he was 23 and had a promising career in corporate finance with GE Capital, Stamford, CT, when he decided to switch gears.  Having been exposed to  extreme poverty when he backpacked around the world to Nepal, India, Thailand, China and the (then) Soviet Union, Jim Ziolkowski, ’89, decided to leave GE to found buildOn, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes urban youths for volunteer work, both in the U.S. and abroad.  “Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education,” says Ziolkowski, who after two decades has been featured by Anderson Cooper’s talk show on CNN and NBC’s Today Show.  “We’ve had some 25,000 urban youths go through our after-school programs.  We’ve built 500 schools in nine countries, and they have been attended by over 300,000 people.”  Jim started to offer after-school programs on volunteering in places like Detroit, Chicago, Harlem and the South Bronx, “where the kids faced major challenges, ranging from gangs to drugs to dysfunctional schools.”  By involving the children in service programs for their communities, says Jim, many of them improved their academics as well.  “Researchers from Brandeis University did a study and found a causal link,” says Jim.  “Even though we’re not an educational program, the kids who participated in buildOn programs had hope and expectations, and that led them to just show up in school—which is half the battle in some cases.”  A native of Jackson, Jim chose MSU (over the University of Michigan) “because of the business school and also because I liked all the people I met during my visits.”  He says he grew on campus, both academically and socially.  He remembers the first school his team built.  “It was in a small village in Malawi,” he recalls.  “I almost died of Malaria.  But I survived.  When you see the smiles on the faces of the village people when they get a new school, it makes all the work worthwhile.”
What do Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Garner, Halle Berry, Eva Longoria and Kim Cattrall have in common—besides being members of the Hollywood elite?  Also, add Christina Aguilera, Queen Latifah, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mariah Carey, Hillary Swank, Vanessa Williams, Carrie Underwood and all the Kardashians.  Answer:  They all wear dresses from the fashion house pamella roland.  Just 10 years old, the label was created by Pamella (VanderLaan) Roland DeVos, ’84, whose designs are now sold by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and other leading retailers.  “We design beautiful clothes made with beautiful fabrics that fit women’s bodies of all shapes and sizes,” explains DeVos, who commutes between homes in Grand Rapids and Chicago to New York City, where her business is centered.  “I make beautiful clothes that provide a great fit and that women can actually wear,” she notes.  A native of Grand Rapids, Pamella was raised in a Maize and Blue family.  “Today we all bleed green,” she says, adding that her daughter Cassandra is a student at the MSU College of Law.  At MSU, Pamella studied business and art history.  “When everyone was at the football game, I was working at Kay Baum listening to the game,” she recalls.  “I was always interested in clothes.”  But after working in public relations in the U.S. and in Japan and raising three children, Pamella looked for a new challenge.  She decided to rekindle her passion for clothes and art, and founded her fashion house.  “The first five years were very difficult,” she says.  “But I had a supportive family and many friends who encouraged me.”  Today she pursues both business and art.  She serves on the boards of both the Grand Rapids Art Museum and New York’s Whitney Museum.  One recent line was inspired by artist Ellsworth Kelly.  Her upcoming Fall 2013 collection was inspired by St. Petersburg, Russia, where she and her husband Dan recently visited.  Her advice to young people?  “Work hard, prove yourself, and follow your passion,” says Pamella.
One acclaimed show this season at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre was The Meaning of Everything, a new comedy written by theater founder and movie star Jeff Daniels.  For co-star Matthew Gwynn, ’04, the role of “A” was an opportunity of a lifetime.  “It has been an incredible ride,” says Gwynn, an associate artist at the Purple Rose.  “We have extraordinary freedom to explore who we are through action.  From fighting to flirting, clowning to crawling, we’ve tried it all.”   Matthew first met Daniels in 2007 when, after touring 10 states with the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, he became an apprentice at the Purple Rose.  “This was about backstage and administrative aspects of theater, and it was an intense experience,” recalls Matthew.  “I found Jeff Daniels to be an inspiration.  He is the consummate professional, affable to fans and fun to work with.  He’s one of the few playwrights who allows actors to develop the script through the rehearsals.”  A native of Farmington Hills, Matthew chose MSU because, he remembers, “The moment I set foot on campus I knew it was the right place for me.  I had the feeling, ‘This is where I belong.’”  He touts his education and MSU’s theatre program.  “I had some great teachers and I had opportunities to be in shows of all sizes and shapes,” he recalls.  “(The late) Frank Rutledge was a mentor.  You might say he was the theatre department.  And (Associate Professor) Rob Roznowski was also very influential.  He taught you how to apply your academic knowledge in the real world.  The whole department was full of wonderful people.”  Matthew looks forward to continuing “greenhousing” at the Purple Rose, which is jargon for a process where a variety of creative types work on scripts to refine them for production.
The Oscar-winning movie Argo dealt with extracting Americans from Iran after militants occupied the U.S. embassy in 1979.  In 1990, a real-life covert operation extracted seven American hostages from Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation—thanks partly to the efforts of the Hon. Carlos Campbell, ’59, former member of naval intelligence and assistant secretary of commerce during the Reagan Administration.  He was one of six people, along with former CIA director Bill Colby and former ISA operative Bill Cowan, who masterminded the operation.  “We created a fake import-export business as cover,” recalls Campbell.  “We were so successful that we got orders coming in even after we finished.”  One by one, he recounts, the “assets” were taken to safety using a variety of guises, routes and rescue modes.  Today Carlos continues to leverage his expertise with hostage situations.  His film company, Initiative Films LLC, produced Kidnapping: Expect the Unexpected, a 2012 documentary that recently premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.  “People who travel need to see this,” says Carlos.  “It’s a prevention tool.  We tell you what pitfalls to avoid.”  He serves on the board of directors of two public corporations.”  A native of New York City, Carlos chose MSU because of his interest in running track at the time.  But he ended up spending most of his free time working all kinds of jobs, ranging from construction to running a pizza delivery franchise.  “I had a total of 21 jobs and by the time I graduated I had $3,000 in the bank,” says Carlos.  “I loved MSU and made lifelong friends.”  From 1959-68, he served in reconnaissance squadrons as a naval flight officer and as an intelligence officer.  Other government service included appointments in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan.  He has hosted several television talk shows in the Washington, DC area and acted in a number of commercials and movies, including The Concorde 
. . . Airport 79 and the NBC television series Homicide.
Mobile technology in cars is growing fast, thanks to the pioneering work of companies like Livio Connect, of Ferndale, MI.  The company specializes in integrating smartphone apps with cars—an effort led by Phil Danne, ’06, the company’s hardware integration head.  “We started with the internet radio, where you can listen to thousands of radio stations anywhere in your house and now in your car,” explains Danne.  “But users want more—they want things like navigation, traffic, weather and news.  Our goal is for cars to have the functionality of a smartphone, where people can access their playlists, contact lists and other apps.”  Already, Livio is enabling the TuneIn App for internet radio in the Chevrolet Spark’s MyLink dashboards.  “That’s one of the most popular car apps,” says Phil.  “Software updates are available over the air.”  Phil grew up in Ann Arbor, and chose to attend MSU, where he majored in computer science.  “I loved MSU,” he says.  “I came in with the deer-in-the-headlights look.  By the time I graduated, I didn’t want to leave.”  During his stay at MSU Phil was very active with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).  “We did a lot of coding competitions, where you have to solve a programming puzzle better or faster than the competitors,” he explains.  “Our advisor was (Associate Professor) Charles Ofria, who I consider a mentor.  All my MSU experience was good for the work I now do.”  Phil notes that mobile technology for cars is an area that is advancing rapidly.  “We want to keep the car dumb and simple,” he explains.  “You produce the car once and it will stay on the road for 10 years.  But we want the car’s functionality to remain very smart, like the phone.”