'I Collect Experiences'

Carrie Newman ‘88 sometimes uses the word “magical” to describe how some of the opportunities in her life have come to pass.

But there’s little magic about it.

Newman is the executive director of the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra, the latest stop in a winding journey of a career that has included the Peace Corps, graduate school, healthcare management and a public charter school. More than magic, the journey has been made possible by a passion for learning and a willingness to jump at new opportunities.

“I collect experiences like some people collect knickknacks or books,” she said. “I collect skill sets and hang on to them.”

Newman grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., and came to Pacific University in part for its distance from home.

“I only had one goal: to go out of state, as if that was a destination in and of itself,” she said, laughing.

She wanted adventure and a school with a physical therapy program. Her parents were thrilled that, with her financial aid package, attending Pacific University cost about the same as staying in town and going to Colorado State.

Before she ever came to Pacific, though, she had changed her plans from physical therapy to medical school, and within the first week, changed her mind again.

“I decided I don’t really like sick people all that much,” she said.

Before the first semester was complete, she was immersed in the exploration of a liberal arts education.

“I was already on a path of, ‘Wow, what is out there?’” she said. “I was just fascinated by all the students around me. I was absolutely hooked.”

Ultimately, she discovered that her mind looked for patterns, and both biology and sociology were disciplines that examined the organization of the natural and human worlds. By her senior year, she realized she had taken enough courses to double major.

Along the way, she continued collecting those experiences. She was selected as Oregon’s one representative to a nationwide student leadership program. She was appointed the student representative to the Pacific University Board of Trustees. She played the cello in the school orchestra. And, she developed close relationships with many of her professors, Byron Steiger and Dave Boersema among them.

(I met Newman in Dave Boersema’s cozy office in Drake House. It was Newman’s first visit back to campus, but the pair pulled no punches ribbing each other, even 25 years later. “There were all these people who positively influenced me, and then there was Dave Boersema,” she teased. “Every professor here is a character in that fun and funny way, except Dave Boersema.” She even pointed to Boersema’s frequent unofficial field trips to Dairy Queen as the reason she gained the “junior 15.”)

One day, during her senior year, Newman recalled overhearing another student talking about a Peace Corps recruiter talking to students in Bates House.

“I ran over there,” she said. “I think I pushed the girl aside and got in front of her in line.”

She hadn’t known that the Peace Corps was in her future, just that she wasn’t quite ready for graduate school or a career — and when she heard the idea, it stuck.

“That’s happened over and over in my life,” she said.

The Peace Corps wasn’t looking for sociology students, but they were enlisting biology students — so that double-major paid off. After graduation, Newman found herself spending three years in central Africa, helping with aquaculture projects.

When she returned, she started graduate school, studying health policy at the University of Chicago. (That early medical interest never completely left her, she said.) Then, she spent more than 15 years in health administration, putting her undergraduate understanding of organizational systems to work in business, finance, operations and more.

“It’s always about organizational systems, how to manage a business, how to thrive,” she said. “It always felt logical.”

In 2009, she returned home to Fort Collins and took a job with the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra. On the surface, it may seem different from her years of healthcare administration work, but ultimately it’s still about understanding organizations, she said.

And, that experience of playing cello back at Pacific offered “that little grain of rice that tipped the scale” in the hiring process.

It all comes back to Pacific University, she said.

“It all comes together right here,” she said. “The teaching that goes on outside the classroom, the value of the professors, the student body, that’s un-replicable. That is unmatched, in my experience.

“I ascertained a few years ago, I would never have taken a different path than a liberal arts education.”

“The basics,” she said, are critical thinking skills, the ability to write, and a curiosity about the world. The rest just builds on itself.

“You’ll have to fill in some gaps, so you might as well start off with what you love,” she said.

Then, be open to the possibilities.

“That’s what I tell my own teen boys: Work really hard so doors open, then choose what door to go through.”

Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013