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What does a Brown graduate do with a liberal arts education and major in Religious Studies?


I feel considerable distance from that 18-year-old who first took a course in Religious Ethics and Moral Issues at Brown where I was introduced to stellar theologians who continue to influence me to this day and initiated an understanding of power, faith and gender relations.

I began my studies at Brown with an eye toward international development and aid work. This aspiration was shaped by growing up in Alaska and witnessing the tremendous impact of a resource rich state overtaken by rapid growth and significant displacement of local indigenous populations and culture. That experience prompted my career long interest in how major changes - violence, resource wealth and depletion and cultural lenses shaped whole generations and possible strategies toward empowerment and resiliency. I ended up majoring in Religious Studies.


I subsequently participated in the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford and went on to earn my MA in International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

This was 1987, and I was selected by the new Governor of Alaska Steve Cowper to run the governor’s international affairs department. Alaska shares a border with the then Soviet Union that was heavily fortified and foreboding, separated by only 2.3 miles in one place. Mikhail Gorbachev relaxed travel restrictions and supported the first ever Soviet American Polar Ski Expedition, the Bering Bridge Expedition of 1989. My job quickly evolved to co-organizing the American side of the expedition – and skiing as one of three women on the team-- and brought my experience with indigenous peoples to re-unite families long separated by the “Ice Curtain” of the 1940s. I wish you could have seen the faces of Eskimos when they saw their children and husbands and wives for the first time in 50 years.

I brought my experience with me to Seattle to work at the Russian America Foundation. In 2010, I began helping to educate girls and families in Afghanistan after the brutal impact of the Taliban. I became Executive Director of Sahar, and led the 10-member board to build schools for girls in Northern Afghanistan, educating 250,000 girls over my ten years as ED. After traveling there numerous times and seeing the war zone trauma effects on the lives of the girls and their communities, I sought training at Harvard’s year- long program in Global Mental Health and Refugee trauma. This training helped me relocate as many Afghans as possible who were threatened by the resurgent Taliban on the eve of the 2020 US led pullout. It also helped me to support underground schools where girls’ education continues. All these transitions opened time, space and the opportunity to explore my future in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

I have raised two children, Nicholas (31) and Allie (28). Nicholas is based in Seattle and travels the world performing music. Allie lives in New York City and is an urban planning consultant. I’m an avid outdoors person and enjoy skiing, open water swimming, bicycling and playing with Bean, our Havanese dog. My husband, Robert Herr, is an ER doctor and we enjoy our time on Whidbey Island outside of Seattle.

Critical thinking & service. These are the qualities my Brown education gave me. That nuanced balance between innovation and creativity has led me to a dynamic professional life in the global arena.

You can reach Ginna Brelsford at (206) 818-9793. Her e-mail address is

Wow! More than 100 people from our class registered for "Smart Medicare: Steps to Getting it Right," a special Zoom class meeting presented by Nancy Schwartz, a fellow Brown grad, on June 7, 2022. 

In case haven't didn't noticed, we are not exactly "spring chickens" anymore.

Many of us are approaching that age when Medicare benefits start to kick in. But the choices we face can be bewildering: Should I opt for a "Medicare Advantage Plan," or something else? When should I get started on this important decision? What does it all mean?

Nancy delivered an in-depth look at the key factors we face in choosing a workable, affordable Medicare plan. To see a video version of that presentation that Nancy gave at the Maplewood Library in New Jersey, click here, or or read the Medicare Enrollment Guide​ (PDF). You may call Nancy directly at (862) 216-0445 during normal business hours. For Nancy's Facebook page, click here now. Her e-mail address is:


Carrie Noland '80 writes: After 35 years of teaching—at Columbia University then the University of California, Irvine—I have retired. I've published four books on 19th and 20th century artists/writers from Arthur Rimbaud to Patti Smith, Aimé Césaire to Merce Cunningham, and I've learned much from teaching the large population of 1st generation students at UCI as well as graduate students both in the United States and Europe. I had the privilege of directing the UC system's education abroad program in France, where both my children, Julian (now 32) and Francesca (now 26) were able to go to school and learn French. A grandmother of two, I intend to spend my retirement starting a new career as a fiction writer. I'll also spend more time advocating for action against climate change and for the protection of voting rights with a political organization I adore—Sister District. Join me! A shout out to my friends from the classes of 1979, 1980, and 1981: May you all be thriving.


Howard Yaruss '80 writes: “After a career in law, I started teaching economics—a subject that has fascinated me since college. This led me to write a book that brings together my best classroom hits / anecdotes / analogies: Understandable Economics (September 2022, Prometheus Books). I still live in New York, serve on my local community board (the Upper West Side), and I am active politically and would love to hear from classmates.”

Eric Sirota ’80 ScM writes: “My musical, Frankenstein, based on Mary Shelley’s novel, played Off-Broadway for three years prior to the pandemic and was filmed as a movie and released in January on I’ve written and am now developing a new musical, A Good Day, about a widowed artist who is brought into the life of his childhood girlfriend—his first love, his muse—who spurned him 50 years before, and who now has Alzheimer’s. I’ve been married to artist Cara London for 29 years and am still doing physics research at ExxonMobil and living in Flemington, New Jersey, where
I’ve been for 36 years.”


Susan Hurwit '80 continues to love her work as a child and adult psychologist in private practice in Newton, Mass. Her story The Space Between Human Beings, created as a response to people’s curiosity about what happens in play therapy, has moved audiences at Boston area story slams. Her article “Finding the Perch: Psychotherapy During Times of Mutual Uncertainty and Grief” was published in Now single with two adult children, she enjoys small music venues, attending Buddhism and psychotherapy conferences, and finding quiet in the stillness of nature.

Diana Davis Williams '80 writes: “After many years working in South Africa in arts management, art tourism, and cultural policy, I have moved to live outside Lisbon with my husband Nick. We have semi-retired here on the Portuguese Riviera. We are enjoying life within the burgeoning art scene here, exploring the trails of the Sintra hills, and playing lots of tennis and golf. Please get in touch if you are in the area at”

Jim Sweetser '80 writes: “I’m retiring from Sweetser Law Office PLLC on December 8, 2022, at age 65. One of my sons is taking over and kicking me to the curb. My wife Dee and I have five kids who are now adults. No grandchildren yet. We will be staying in a vacation home on the Big Island in Hawaii during the winter months and on Lake Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, the rest of the time. If Brown friends are in the area, look me up to get together. Retirement should be a good time to renew friendships and a new page in the journey for us all. Not done. Just transforming.” Contact Jim at; (509) 998-0671.

Jonathan Schwartz '80 launched Climate Media Exchange and just filmed the Red Rebels, a stunning street mime troupe. His series on health and safety in the motion picture industry is soon to be released by Audacious Film and Digital.

CLASS NEWS & NOTES: Connecting with Each Other

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