December 6, 2000: Class Notes


1991-2000 & Graduate School

Class Notes Features:

Jon Raggett '66 *71 engineers new schools in Africa

Giving poor kids a break: Hans Hageman '80 runs a rigorous, private school in Harlem

A writing machine: Louis Jacobson '92 cranks out story after story after story

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Jon Raggett '66 *71 engineers new schools in Africa

Jon D. Raggett '66 *71 is well acquainted with bridges. As president of West Wind Laboratories in Carmel, California, his own engineering consulting firm that specializes in industrial aerodynamics, the soft-spoken structural engineer has spent the better part of his professional life analyzing the aerodynamics of very large suspension bridges. So it should come as no surprise that for Raggett, the distance between his southern California practice and the parched desert of Mali, Africa, is not quite the span it seems.

For the past two years, Raggett, in his capacity as founding director of the Development Engineering Research Institute (DERI), has helped to fund, design, and build three schools in Africa and one in Honduras. And while he hasn't yet abandoned his day job, it is Raggett's goal to turn his part-time avocation into a full-time profession.

Raggett credits his undergraduate Princeton education, specifically a 1964 geology class, for awakening his sense of international responsibility.

"One day, the professor was talking about natural resources and he made the comment, 'When some of you are developing countries . . . ,' " he recalls. "I remember thinking to myself, 'What do you mean?,' and then it hit me. If we weren't going to do it, then who would? It was the first time that anyone had inspired me to think globally."

It would take Raggett 30 years to make good on his professor's prediction. In 1994 he founded DERI, with the intent of using any and all engineering means to help improve the status of disadvantaged peoples in the world. To date, DERI has concentrated its relief efforts in Mali, a very poor sub-Saharan country with some of the worst educational statistics in the world. Only 25 percent of all elementary-aged school children are actually enrolled in school, and of these, a boy receives, on average, two years of schooling, while a girl receives one. The Malian Ministry of Basic Education builds formal schools and staffs them with credentialed teachers, but the country's need is greater than the government's coffers. This is where DERI comes in.

"We provide 100 percent of all direct and indirect building costs (material and labor) as well as the design for the building," Raggett explains. An average school costs about $11,000 to build. "For $55, we can provide school space for one student for a year," says Raggett. The schools are built by community volunteers under the supervision of two paid Malian builders and a paid Malian supervisor.

Although DERI completed its first construction projects in conjunction with two other nongovernmental agencies, (Building with Books, in Mali, and Save the Children, in Honduras), Raggett hopes that DERI will take over all aspects of future projects in Mali.

And while building a three-room school may appear to be a far cry from analyzing the aerodynamics of a suspension bridge, according to Raggett, it's all about engineering. "Linus Pauling once said, 'Do what you can do,' and this is what I know how to do," he says.

By Kathryn Levy Feldman '78

Kathryn Levy Feldman is a freelance writer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.


Giving poor kids a break: Hans Hageman '80 runs a rigorous, private school in Harlem

Hans Hageman '80 grew up in a drug rehabilitation clinic in New York City, an unusual home with what is for him an inapt name. His parents founded, ran, and raised their three children in what they called Exodus House, at 309 East 103rd Street. Today Hageman, and 309 East 103rd, are back, with a new name and a new mission.

In 1993, Hageman and his brother, Ivan, converted the facility into East Harlem School, which instructs 65 children in the fifth through eighth grades. School is in session 11 months a year from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum and wide variety of extracurricular speakers and activities have helped EHS graduates go to prestigious prep schools such as Miss Porter's and Northfield Mount Hermon.

Prior to founding East Harlem School, Hageman, a politics major at Princeton and a graduate of Columbia University School of Law, spent a few years in private practice before moving to the New York district attorney's office. "I saw a lot of young people or people from the neighborhood in court," Hageman says of the three years he spent prosecuting narcotics crimes. "I started to think about how they got there." Later, he set his sights on creating a school where poor kids would have an opportunity to work for a better future.

EHS charges $1,100 a year in tuition. Many parents "pay" the tuition by volunteering, so Hageman spends a good deal of his time raising funds to cover the private school's operating expenses, which run about $600,000 a year.

He's also helping to set up a similar school in Baltimore and a girls' school in Lucknow, a city in Uttar Pradesh, India. Hageman got involved in Lucknow through a friend from that area, who is concerned about the plight of girls' education. Another impetus, says Hageman, is the relatively cheap cost of educating students in India. His students in New York, who might do volunteer work in Lucknow, can learn invaluable lessons from their counterparts half a world away. Says Hageman, "It's a way for American kids who aren't doing so well economically to see how other children around the world are living."

By David Marcus '92

David Marcus is a reporter for the Daily Deal in New York City.


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A writing machine
Louis Jacobson '92 cranks out story after story after story

There are workaholics, sure. Plenty of them.

Then there's Louis Jacobson '92 - a guy who can't seem to satisfy his journalistic urges with a full-time job at National Journal. A guy who spends much of his evenings, weekends, and what are loosely termed "vacations" finding and writing stories as a freelancer. A guy who can really make you feel like a slacker.

Last year, Jacobson, who writes about lobbying at his day job as a staff correspondent, published 220-something freelance pieces. He writes on science, arts, books, culture, baseball, urban planning, and electoral politics. His contribution roster includes The Economist, The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, The Wall Street Journal, Lingua Franca, Science, and PAW.

The two major trips or so he plans each year are really story-finding expeditions. He'll pick a spot in the country he hasn't visited and, a few months before his departure, make some calls, do some research, then set up interviews. Three or four weeks before the trip, he meticulously plans his schedule. He typically conducts two to seven interviews a day. By year's end, he'll be four states shy of his quest to file from all 51 (he's granted D.C. statehood for this enterprise).

Impressive. But it makes you wonder: Why?

"Basically, I enjoy it," says Jacobson, who majored in the Woodrow Wilson School. "I kind of consider myself to be either a Renaissance man or a dilettante. . . . I just enjoy learning and traveling and meeting interesting people."

Says Caroline Schweiter, copy chief/books editor at Washington City Paper: "He's an animal. I have no idea how he does it." Jacobson recently got 18 stories out of a 12-day trip. "That's typical of him," adds Schweiter. "And he read two books that he's going to review for me."

And when is the last time he took a vacation - you know, a real getaway, with no work involved? In 1998, he and his fiancee, Elisabeth Layton, took a trip together: 10 days in San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, and Napa Valley. "I had been considering doing a story from [Lake Tahoe]," Jacobson says, "and she talked me out of it."

By Lori Robertson

Lori Robertson is assistant managing editor of American Journalism Review, in which a longer version of this story originally appeared. Reprinted by permission of American Journalism Review.


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