By Bryan Hay 

Lafayette alumni, intentionally or not, make a difference every day, which made it all the more challenging for a group of policy studies students to zero in on a select few to produce a documentary about graduates who helped change the world.

“Scant awareness about the profound achievements of Lafayette’s alumni has bothered me for years,” says Mark Crain, William E. Simon Professor of Political Economy and chair of the policy studies program. “Little is known even about the College’s most illustrious and generous alumni, such as the Kirby family and the Simon family. Woolworth’s, five-and-dime, treasury secretary—the knowledge seemed to end there.”

But backed by financial support from Trustee Harry Cherken ’71 and the Gladstone T. Whitman Fund, Crain, along with 14 seniors in his policy studies senior capstone seminar, set out to rediscover these remarkable alumni stories. They have brought them to an even wider audience by producing a documentary, Lafayette Alumni Who Shaped Our World, in partnership with Lehigh Valley Public Media, the parent organization of PBS39, Lehigh Valley’s public television station.

See the complete broadcast. It will air at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) May 7 on PBS39.

For Crain, who has worked with Lehigh Valley Public Media for years on other topical programs involving his students, alumni, politicians, and other public figures, this production has been his most challenging and, perhaps, his most satisfying.Crain found a kindred spirit in Charlie Berman ’24 and started talking with him about a possible documentary project two years ago.

“Charlie is a polymath with unbounded curiosity and energy. Here was a student who was intensely interested in the business history of the Alleghany Corporation, which was run by the Kirby family for almost 90 years,” Crain notes. “Alleghany is one of America’s great enterprises, creating value, constantly innovating and evolving, and solving a host of complex problems. That led to an independent study by Charlie, and then to discussions with Lehigh Valley Public Media about a documentary.”

Faced with the monumental task of focusing on a manageable eight alumni for the program, the students worked with Elaine Stomber ’89, co-director of Special Collections and College Archives and college archivist, who provided insights and encouragement as well as valuable background materials assembled by her and her predecessors, Albert Gendebien and Diane Shaw.

Lafayette Alumni Who Shaped Our World on PBS39

Lafayette Alumni Who Shaped Our World on PBS39

Starting in the fall semester, with their identified list of alumni in hand, the students went to work on detailed storyboards about:

Samuel M. Jordan, Class of 1895, who founded the American College of Tehran and exported Lafayette’s curriculum abroad

George Barclay, Class of 1898, inventor of the football helmet

Allan P. Kirby, Class of 1915, entrepreneur, industrialist, and philanthropist

 Philip Hench, Class of 1916, Nobel laureate in medicine, who helped initiate clinical trials of cortisone for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Haldan Keffer Hartline, Class of 1923, Nobel laureate in medicine for discoveries concerning visual processes in the eye

John W. Landis, Class of 1939, who promoted the “Atoms for Peace” initiative to ease Cold War tensions

William E. Simon, Class of 1952, U.S. Treasury Secretary, financial innovator, philanthropist, U.S. Olympic Committee

William C. Lowe, Class of 1962, father of the personal computer

Senior staff and producers from PSB39 met with students on campus during their class sessions to review and help refine their raw footage, storylines, and other technical details to make the presentation as engaging as possible for viewers. Actor Brian Hutchison ’93 did the narration for the broadcast.

Adding a distinctive voice and a Lafayette personality to the program, Maurice Luker, Lafayette’s executive director of corporate, foundation, and government relations, an early supporter of the project, offers a rich narration on the contributions of each of these world-changing alums as part of the documentary.

“Maurice is a wellspring of historical knowledge about all things Lafayette. He attended one of our first production meetings. His insights and guidance inspired all of us,” Crain observes. “The PBS39 producers saw how Maurice’s commentary could provide a thread to pull the alumni stories together.”

Luker’s support helped bring everything into focus, he says.

“We had already decided to include A.P. Kirby and W.E. Simon, based on the work underway by Charlie and Alexis Laliberte ’24, whose honors thesis is on the manifold contributions of William E. Simon in government, business, and philanthropy,” Crain says. “Students in the policy studies senior seminar picked from that list an alumnus/alumna who resonated with them, and pitched the concept to the group. We then narrowed it down, trying to ensure that the finalists represented a range of fields. We had great options, and the winnowing down was painful.

“We made a decision to focus on nonliving alumni in this initial documentary,” he adds. “We hope to continue the alumni documentary project; Lafayette has a deep bench of alumni who changed the world, and their stories inspire.”

Four of Crain’s policy studies students shared their perspectives about how their work on this project inspired them and shaped their views of Lafayette College.

Ashley King ’24 and Charlize Cramer ’24 worked together on the segment about Samuel M. Jordan.

Ashley King

When working on a project about an individual’s life, one must be careful to tell an honest and holistic story of that person. That said, our policy studies class was very considerate in documenting not only the successes of our alums but also the faults and failings that amounted to them being successful change-makers. This was a very delicate task, but from it, I learned how to story tell meticulously, purposefully, artfully, and critically. I also learned how to fit varied puzzle pieces together—every alum had a unique experience and perspective to be told, and told in an interwoven and connected manner. The interdisciplinarity of the project is what is to be expected of a policy studies class or really any class at Lafayette. It’s a chief tenet of Lafayette, even a virtue, to see education, science, economics, politics, and sports all connected.

I was struck by Samuel M. Jordan’s ability to transport an American education and pedagogy to another nation, not in a prescriptive way but in one that encouraged nationalism, place identity, cultural pride, and educational opportunity. Jordan spurred an education renaissance, which amazingly impacted thousands of people who remark he was a friend to the country of Iran and their “father of modern education.” Someone who walked the same halls as me took what they learned here at Lafayette and, fueled by passion, changed the educational landscape of a nation forever. It’s simply amazing.

Ashley King ’24 and Charlize Cramer ’24

Ashley King ’24 and Charlize Cramer ’24

Charlize Cramer

This project taught me much about Lafayette’s astounding alumni base and how they have done so much inspiring work across the years and the world. More specifically, Lafayette has been a constant driver in its values and curriculum to churn out students with a drive and passion for accelerating in their fields. In Ashley and my section of the program about Samuel M. Jordan, the Lafayette experience was apparent. He brought over Lafayette’s curriculum to Persia, modern-day Iran, and laid the groundwork for the modern education system there. It was so impressive to me that Jordan was willing to go to a foreign country shortly after graduating to begin his transformative work. His passion for education remains engrained in so many alumni of the school he created.

Charlie Berman ’24 worked on the Allan P. Kirby segment.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to get to work with such a distinguished group of people at PBS39 covering something I believe is going to have a long-term positive impact on Lafayette’s campus. I am a tour guide here, and I tell the people I give tours to that Lafayette College is a place with the opportunities of a big school without hyperfocusing or being pigeonholed. This project is a tangible example as we were allowed to put together a documentary based on our vision from scratch and work with award-winning producers to do it.

Charlie Berman ’24

Charlie Berman ’24

Allan Kirby’s legacy lies in the impact he had on the world, as one of the experts says in the documentary … “You know, if you ride a train, if you make a purchase with a credit card, if you purchase a home, you’re living in Allan Kirby’s world.” (Maurice Luker)

Olivia Bamford ’24 worked on the John W. Landis segment with Jon Brantley ’24.

Working on this project has allowed me to really delve into the impacts of a Lafayette education. Through collaboration with different departments and resources, I was able to build a story about John W. Landis that I believe has never been told before. I found it crucially important that even while Landis was promoting the nonviolent uses of nuclear energy, he still maintained a clear focus on giving back to his community, especially at Lafayette.

Olivia Bamford ’24

Olivia Bamford ’24

I think this also speaks to the “Lafayette experience”—those who come here want to come back or pay homage to their alma mater in a way that can only reflect the connections made on this campus. This also goes hand in hand with Landis’ legacy; he took his holistic learning experience at Lafayette and applied it to one of the most controversial and dangerous powers the United States had ever seen, and petitioned for its peaceful utilization.


Categorized in: Academic News, Alumni, Alumni Success Stories, Faculty and Staff, Featured News, News and Features, Policy Studies, Students
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