Piled up on the floor, around a desk and against the walls are balls and balls of brightly colored, variegated yarn. Most of the yarn is handspun and hand painted, created from the colorful remnants of the production of silk saris in Nepal and Northern India. But there is also hemp yarn, soft and fluffy alpaca yarn, and banana fiber yarn.

This is the headquarters of Darn Good Yarn, an Internet yarn company. It is here, in a crowded home office in Stansbury Park, Utah, that Nicole (Mikkelsen) Snow '04 runs the day-to-day operations of the thriving fiber company that she launched just two years ago.

Darn Good Yarn is not only a successful wholesale and retail import business, but is built on principles that reflect Snow's own holistic approach to life and work. The fiber is earth friendly and recycled, and much of it is hand dyed and spun by Nepalese and Indian women's collectives, providing much needed income for their families and their communities. "We follow fair trade practices and none of our yarn is created with child labor," Snow says.

Developing a web-based fiber import business with a social conscience has been a labor of love. It is also a career choice that is a far cry from what she envisioned in her earlier life. The business and technology management major was in the Air Force ROTC program at Clarkson and planned on becoming a pilot. But classes she took with (now) School of Business Associate Dean Kathy Wears, as well as ideas she encountered in her political science classes, provided some of the impetus for that shift. 

Second Acts

There are few, if any, reliable statistics on the number of people who dramatically shift career directions early in their lives or make midlife career moves that result in a change of profession. But numbers do
suggest that many people, whether motivated by a reevaluation of priorities or a downturn in the economy, make significant career changes during their working lives.
Reinventing one's self - whether at the age of 25 or 55 - often requires additional education or skill development. It has also spawned an industry of career coaching, career counseling - even "life transition" coaches. Still, most people who have made deliberate moves that have taken them from one career to another are clear that drive and determination, and a bit of luck, are necessary for a successful transition.

From the Air Force to the Internet

Snow was always ambitious and hardworking. In addition to ROTC, as a student at Clarkson she was very active in sports, residence life and took an atypically high course load. As a sophomore, her outstanding performance at field training meant she had a higher probability of obtaining her first choice of career assignments in the Air Force. When she graduated, she entered active duty as a second lieutenant but had already decided not to pursue pilot training and instead worked in the contract administration field at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Two years later, Snow was offered an opportunity to leave the military early - which she accepted - and shortly thereafter married Michael Snow '05 (EE), a systems engineer at Raytheon. "Although I left the military, my husband's career put us in the field and has kept us moving all over the nation. I needed a career that I could pack up and take with me when he was transferred," she says. As the daughter of entrepreneurs who had watched closely as her parents built up their own business and, now, with a degree in business and technology, Snow decided to launch her own Internet-based business.

Around the Om, an import business which offered wrapped skirts, handbags and other products made from recycled silk saris, was started in 2006 from Snow's house in New Hampshire. When her husband's career with Raytheon took them to California, Snow took the business with her. Within 18 months, the company was turning a profit.

"You really want to do something you love when you are running your own business," Snow says. The problem was while she enjoyed the business, she didn't love it.

She was, however, learning to knit and was getting a few skeins of recycled silk yarn thrown into shipments of clothing. She began to see new possibilities. "I was new to yarn but I loved learning about it. I was also inspired by the story of Tom's Shoes, a company which donates a pair of shoes to people in need for every pair sold. I decided I wanted to operate a company like that - one that could turn a profit and make a difference in the world."

Darn Good Yarn does just that.


Successful entrepreneur Carolyn McGee's '82 (ID) clients come in all shapes, shades and sizes, although they are usually four-legged and shaggy.

As owner of Ashland Pet Concierge, McGee provides in-home pet sitting and dog walking services to vacationers and busy professionals. A certified Reiki Master, McGee also provides therapeutic services to the animals as needed.

mcgeeMcGee got into the business of animal care in 2006 when the Massachusetts-based start-up company she was working for had a major staff reduction and she found herself suddenly out of work. "Manufacturing was largely going overseas or was being moved to targeted areas in the U.S.," she says. "It was challenging to find a job in my field and at my level."

McGee wasn't prepared to uproot her family and move across the country in search of work. She knew she had to do something, but she wasn't sure what was required: a stopgap or a complete career transition. She had spent the last 24 years of her life successfully working in materials management and procurement. But the writing was on the wall.

When McGee graduated from Clarkson in 1982, she was hired into the procurement management training program at Raytheon - the first Clarkson ID student hired into that program. She worked there for five years. It was, she recalls, "a great place to work and provided great opportunities to learn about policies, procedures and ethics."

After McGee left Raytheon, she continued to work in procurement at a subdivision of Litton Industries. When the company began to downsize, McGee successfully transitioned into the commercial marketplace and more into materials management.

"I went on to work for four smaller companies," she says. "I really liked the culture of start-ups, and their needs fit well with my own skill set and personality. I was usually the first materials person in so I set up the policies and management system, and I purchased business systems with the accounting people and helped hire the rest of the team. I liked getting companies up and running and the challenge of doing a little bit of everything."

McGee's genuine enjoyment of "getting companies up and running" and the relatively bleak employment forecast she faced were all the incentive she needed to reinvent herself and begin a new phase in her professional life.

In August 2006, she enrolled in a 20-week entrepreneurship class offered through the Massachusetts Department of Education and Training where she learned how to pitch a business plan and work with web designers and accountants. By October, she had launched the business and gotten her first client.

Four years later she has approximately 100 clients. "Some of my clients work in Boston, which is 45 minutes away so they need care for their pets during the day," she says. "I also work with vacationers and business travelers who prefer to have their dog or cat cared for in the home while they're away. It is a lot less stressful to the animal."

When things get particularly busy, McGee has a pool of part-time workers she can bring in to assist her. 

As a single mother of two school-aged children, the flexibility of the work also makes her complex personal/professional life possible. "I can schedule visits around my kids' needs and I am more available to them," she says.

"I make as much money now as I would be if I were working for someone else," McGee adds. "I really like the animals and people I work with. All my business expenses are deductible and I am in control of my own destiny."


Like Snow, John Rice '63 traded in one career for another based on a decision to find a line of work that better reflected his own values. 

In Rice's case, it was a growing feeling that he did not want to, as he recalls, "develop nastier ways to bomb villages."

"I just couldn't handle it anymore," he says.

The year was 1969 - the height of the Vietnam War - and American military personnel peaked at over 500,000, before President Richard Nixon began troop withdrawals. At that time, Rice was working as a radar systems engineer in the defense industry and American protest against the war was mounting.

rice"There was this growing realization that I did not really want to be involved in this kind of work any longer and there was also the reality of the marketplace," he says. "At that time, there were massive layoffs in aerospace defense after the completion of the moon landings. It was hard to do something peaceful in the industry."

Rice began his career at Martin-Marietta in Baltimore, after completing his master's degree in electrical engineering from Clarkson in 1963. (He also holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology.) He continued to work in radar systems engineering at Westinghouse and finally at General Electric in Syracuse.

When he decided to make a professional move, he went to the only place he could think of where he might find resources to help guide him in his decision making: the public library. "I felt like a kid graduating from high school," he recalls. "I had to educate myself on what career paths were available."

In his own words, he "fell into transportation engineering." At that time, it was a fairly new profession and few universities offered degrees in the field. In 1971, he was offered a fellowship from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to attend Penn State's intensive, one-year program.

Over the next 20 years, Rice enjoyed a highly successful career in the field of traffic engineering. In his first position, he worked (as a civilian) for the Military Traffic Management Command in Newport News, Va., where he traveled to military bases and conducted traffic engineering studies, recommending road and traffic improvements on the bases. He went on to work as a traffic signal engineer, overseeing hundreds of signals, as well as technicians and engineers for Prince George's and later Montgomery (Maryland) counties. He designed signal pole and mounting systems in Bethesda and Silver Springs. He also wrote the proposal for the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Fort McHenry Tunnel off I-95 for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

By the time Rice received his professional engineering license at the age of 52, he had moved to South Carolina and was overseeing signal systems engineering for the state.

"My professional reinvention was born out of the circumstances of changing industries and a changing conscience," says Rice, who is now retired. "I have learned over the years that I am very adaptable."

As the library media specialist at Schuylerville Elementary School in Schuylerville, N.Y., Maria Weeks '98 teaches kids how to find and retrieve information from books, media sources and, increasingly, the worldwide web. Her job, as she sees it, is to help children learn to become "savvy and ethical users of information."

That usually means helping kids to get comfortable with the technology of online search engines and databases. But it also means teaching them how to use the information once it is located. "They need to learn there is a difference between finding information and Googling the ‘answer,'" she says.

Working with technology and thinking through its implications comes naturally for Weeks, who graduated form Clarkson with a degree in interdisciplinary engineering and management (iE&M) in 1998.  "At Clarkson there was always a focus on technology and change," she says. "We were using computers everyday to do multiple things so I am very comfortable, very self-sufficient when it comes to technology. It makes my job easier."

While Weeks had always worked in libraries - both in high school and at Clarkson, she had never thought of it as a potential career. She applied to Clarkson as a business major, but by the time Weeks arrived for the fall orientation she had already decided to switch to iE&M.

After spending a semester in a co-op with General Electric, she graduated and started a job in technical sales at Ingersoll Rand. "I traveled a lot. My territory covered most of New England. That didn't leave me time for pets, much less kids," she says. 

weeksTwo years later, Weeks accepted a job in sales and marketing with a new Boston-based company involved in online equipment rentals. "It was a model, unfortunately, that was a little ahead of its time."

When the company began downsizing a year later, Weeks decided it was time to move on.

It was, in part, a search for a long-term employment solution that brought Weeks back into the library. "I didn't want to just jump into another job, have it for a year or two and then move on. I was looking for a longer-term prospect. The more I thought about it, the more library school made sense."

In 2002, Weeks began a master's degree in library and information studies through the University of Rhode Island and worked full time at the Worcester (Mass.) Public Library. Three-and-a-half years later, she completed the program.

"People are surprised when they hear I went to Clarkson and that I sold construction equipment," she says. "But it also gives me credibility. We are involved in construction right now and trying to tackle the challenge of how to move 20,000 books. Because of Clarkson and my previous experience, I have a seat at the table."


"At my age you don't think about second careers, you think about opportunities," says Elmer Gates '50.

Eight years ago, at an age - 72 - when most people are knee-deep in retirement, Gates seized a business opportunity. 

The man who had spent nearly 50 years in the industrial manufacturing business saw an opening in the financial services industry to reintroduce a community banking model, and buck the recent trend in banking towards consolidation and depersonalized services.

"Customer service had deteriorated and dissatisfaction was widespread in banking," Gates says. "Too many senior executives today run companies to enrich themselves. They are not focusing on the shareholders or empowering the people they employ. And they don't put the customer first."

Gates didn't know much about banking, but he knew a lot about relationship building. "In marketing and sales, building and maintaining relationships are everything, but banks had lost sight of this. I knew I would be successful if I could bring relationships back into banking and apply to financial services some of the strategy lessons I learned in industrial manufacturing."

A mechanical engineering graduate from Clarkson University, Gates served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Korea during the Korean conflict. He then enjoyed a rewarding, highly successful 31-year career with General Electric prior to joining Fuller Company, a manufacturer of large equipment for the cement industry, in 1982 as president and chief operating officer. At that time, Fuller's growth was stagnant. But over the next eight years, under Gates' direction, the company became a world leader in the industry.

"Because I was able to turn Fuller into a first-class company and global leader, people trusted me," he says. "When I said there is room for a community banking model, they believed me and invested."

gatesIn 2001, the first Embassy Bank for the Lehigh Valley opened in a construction trailer. "A bank is not a building," he says. "A bank is people. We built up the bank to $52 million in assets in that trailer. We used to call it ‘Bank in a Box.'"

Today, Embassy Bank for the Lehigh Valley has six offices in Allentown and Bethlehem, Penn. A seventh branch has recently opened in Easton. Gates currently serves as lead director of the board after serving eight years as chairman.

The company that promised to "tear down the barriers between bank staff and customers" has not only succeeded, but flourished. It maintains its emphasis on one-on-one consultations, and offers services that include everything from courier banking and refreshment centers to financial seminars and special banking programs designed for kids.

"We've assembled a great team of outstanding, fun-loving professionals who embrace the culture of winning through an unusual focus on our customers, quality in all that they do and by never making a committment they don't intend to keep," says Gates. "They do whatever it takes to satisfy our current and prospective customers. I always feel better whenever I leave one of our branches than when I went in."