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“I got the idea for my novel in December 2011,” says Amy Spitzfaden, 23, who earned a literature degree from MUM the following year. “The first sentence came to me, and that’s what got me started. The protagonist feels she’s ‘missing’ someone but doesn’t remember who it is. I liked that concept, though I didn’t develop it at first.”
The story did gel over time. A key moment in what would become Amy’s first novel, Untold – winner of the Inkfingerz award 2013 – took place during a storytelling class given by MUM Media & Communications instructor Cullen Thomas.
“For homework we had to write a certain number of pages each night,” says Amy. “So I decided to start into the story. What was really helpful was that Cullen asked all these leading questions, like ‘Where is this missing feeling coming from? What happens then? What does the scenery look like?’ I thought about it all, and saw mountains and forests and trees, and before I knew it the book was starting to happen.”
Amy found much-needed support and writerly tools in MUM’s literature department, which prepared her to work through a full-length novel. Professor Nynke Passi “was amazing at teaching technique and giving guidance,” Amy says. “It’s such a respectful community. In a lot of writing classes you can get the feeling of competition. At MUM, everybody is so happy to listen to everybody else’s writing. I loved that.”
Amy’s book tour for Untold included a stop in Fairfield, Iowa, home of MUM, for readings as well as a radio interview on KRUU on the show Writers’ Voices. You can listen to the show here.
Currently Amy works in marketing at Publishers Single Copy Sales Service (PCSC), a consulting company based in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The company’s focus is on magazine publishing, sales, and distribution. Amy manages social media, works in promotion and offers client support.
In 2013 Amy married Ravi Both, whom she met when both were students at MUM. Ravi, a native of Holland, works as a web developer and SEO expert, also at PSCS.
Written by Warren Goldie
“I’ve found that my Transcendental Meditation practice is invaluable after a busy day in the office,” says Asher Fergusson, 29, who graduated Valedictorian from MUM in 2008 with a degree in Maharishi Vedic Science. “It gives me the mental space to find solutions to what otherwise might have been an insurmountable hurdle. The idea for a solution just magically comes out of no-where and this often saves me countless hours of time. It really does make me ‘lucky’ in all kinds of situations, it’s great!”
Asher came a long way from the beaches of Sydney, Australia, to experience the transformational power of Consciousness-Based-Education. At 18 he hopped on a plane and headed across the ocean with only enough personally saved money in hand to pay for one year of tuition. “This was one of the best decisions I could have made. My undergraduate degree was the highlight of studying at MUM. I focussed on knowing my Self which I think is crucial for a businessman. There are so many ups and downs in the business world and you have to keep a clear mind to be able to navigate through the ever-changing obstacle course. No other university in the world offers this kind of education, it’s truly unique.”
Upon completing his undergraduate degree, Asher became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Galaxy Ninja, his own startup Internet marketing business which he successfully ran for 6 years before selling it in 2014. While he was CEO of Galaxy Ninja, Asher earned his second degree from MUM which was an MBA in Sustainable Business.
As an Internet marketer, he specializes in fields such as Search Engine Optimization, viral content creation and Facebook Advertising. He has helped countless small businesses successfully compete with billion dollar companies.
Now Asher is the Chief Marketing Officer for a new startup based in Fairfield called bizHUMM. This website is a free resource that teaches people the steps to starting a business and also how to grow existing businesses. “At bizHUMM I’m applying all the knowledge I gained during my MBA at MUM and from running my first startup, Galaxy Ninja. It’s so fulfilling to apply my degree and help businesses all over the world start and grow. We often get emails of praise from far off places like Gambia, Malaysia and of course locally in the US,” Asher said.
Asher is also known as a top travel blogger for India travel tips. As a student at MUM he had the opportunity to visit India multiple times and gained many important pointers that help travelers avoid getting sick and understand temple etiquette (among other things). He said, “Several of my friends who went to India got sick or scammed because they were unprepared and so I was compelled to write my blog to help people avoid the pitfalls and instead be able to enjoy the amazing spiritual power that India has to offer.
Asher currently lives in Maui, Hawaii with his wife who is a fellow MUM grad as well as a singer-songwriter/ poet, Lyric Benson Fergusson. When Asher isn’t surfing the Internet, he is out surfing the waves in front of their beachfront home. He grew up surfing in the ocean everyday as a young man, and now feels blessed to return to it after so many years living on mainland U.S.A.
“This is how the story starts…”
“Everything is connected,” Dr. Elena Burkeland says. And she should know—her journey to MUM and beyond is a perfect example.
Born in Piatra Neamț in Eastern Romania, Elena began having powerful, deep spiritual experiences in the late 1980’s. However, spiritual philosophy and psychology were forbidden subjects at Romanian universities under the country’s communist government. “My experiences weren’t ordinary,” Elena says. “But I couldn’t find anyone to relate to my experiences, to give me the guidance, the knowledge, and to support me. So there were no answers.”
Prohibited from studying philosophy or psychology at her university, Elena instead earned a veterinary medical doctor degree. She continued to record her experiences in journals throughout the next decade while working as a national food inspector in Iași, one of the largest cities in Romania. After Romania’s communist government failed in 1989, she sought out books on spirituality from libraries.
Elena says that she had to find out “Who am I, what is my potential, why are we different? I started to have existential, universal questions: where I came from, why do I miss so much all the stars, all the planets, why do I feel such a connection to everything in the universe, why do I empathize and have such sensitive perception and intuition?” She also “wanted to understand the functioning of the brain, and why some people have some experiences and perception and some others do not. I was very curious to understand psychology.” She read all the literature on these subjects that she could find in Romania, but still, she did not find any satisfying answers. “Something was missing, was incomplete,” she says.
But Elena persisted. “All that made me to not choose an ordinary life—to settle down like my mother would have liked, to get married, to make children, to stay in the same town.” Her persistence paid off quite fortuitously. In 1999, while working on the side as a translator for a visiting group of American Rotarians, Elena met Darrell Burkeland, and the two quickly became close. “When I saw him, I knew it was him,” she says. “I felt I remembered him.” Darrell proposed to Elena, the two soon became married, and Elena immigrated to the U.S.
Coming to MUM
Elena moved with Darrell to Madison, Wisconsin, in October of 1999. Darrell suggested traveling and seeing the world together, but Elena continued to search for the answers she desired. “That strong desire to find my answers, that fire was so burning for knowledge and for truth in me,” she says.
Within a few months, she discovered MUM when searching online for universities related to spirituality and psychology. So, instead of traveling the world and going on cruises, in March of 2000 she and Darrell visited MUM’s campus in Fairfield, Iowa. There, she met with MUM professor Dr. Fred Travis, who suggested Elena learn the Transcendental Meditation® technique (TM), which is practiced by all MUM students. The day after arriving, Elena learned TM.
Elena immediately felt connected to MUM. Driving around campus, she saw that it was “such a simple place,” she says, and when driving near the Domes, she felt a strong feeling in her heart and stomach. She asked her husband to stop the car; she felt that something connected to her experiences was here. When she asked her TM instructor about the Domes and learned about the TM-Sidhi Program and Yogic Flying (an advanced meditation program), she said, “That’s it, this is the place.”
Elena began her studies at MUM in the fall of 2000 and earned an M.S. in Psychology, also winning an Outstanding Student Award. While at MUM, she took the TM-Sidhis course, and Darrell learned TM as well. In 2001, her sister Laura joined her as an MUM student.
After graduating from MUM, Elena earned one more degree, an Ed. S. (Education Specialist) in School Counseling from Argosy University in Sarasota, Florida. Since then, she has worked as a teacher and school counselor. She and Darrell live in Florida, and she currently works as a school counselor at Port St. Lucie High School in Port St. Lucie, Florida. She now feels able to help students who have questions like she had.
“To fulfill yourself, MUM is the best place.”
Elena’s MUM experience was fulfilling and transformative. “At MUM, I felt like for the first time in my life, regardless of where I’ve traveled around the world, this was the only place where I felt—although it’s very simple—like home. I felt whole.”
Elena says that MUM definitely enabled her to become more successful in her career. The courses at MUM “helped me to handle situations and to counsel students and to deal, in a more productive and efficient way, with everyone—supervisors, colleagues, students. I have gained very fast respect of everyone and success, and very good relationships.”
Elena emphasizes that the most important part of her MUM experience was the profound personal evolution that MUM’s Consciousness-Based Education℠ promotes. “Yes, definitely, MUM prepared me to be successful,” she says. “But it was not success that I was searching for, because I know what I am capable of. What I was searching for was to maintain that equilibrium, that peace within myself. Success was secondary—it just came based on what I became after having my soul, my mind, my consciousness more refined.”
She goes on to say that “to fulfill yourself, MUM is the best place.” She cites the TM-Sidhi Program as particularly transformative. MUM, TM, and the TM-Sidhis “changed everything. Before, in Romania, I had dissatisfaction, not full happiness, and [MUM and TM] changed the whole dynamic.”
MUM feels so strongly like home that Elena still returns every summer to meditate in the Dome and recharge. “I tell everyone I’m going home.” She says MUM still makes her feel “happy, fulfilled, and nourished.” She combines this with a very active life in Florida, where she has two cats and loves swimming, fashion, opera, and taking morning walks on the beach with Darrell. “I love life!” she says. “I live 200% of life.”
Written by Madhava Martin
“There is very little I have today that I could not trace back to my education at MUM,” says Felix Lluberes, founder and CEO of Position Logic.
During some of the financially toughest times in recent history — the economic downturn that began in 2008 — Felix was busy accomplishing something that even in good times few entrepreneurs can manage: building up a small business that would be named to the prestigious Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in the U.S.
A computer science bachelors graduate from MUM, Felix started Position Logic in his home before expanding it to more than 42 employees in four U.S. states and two countries. In 2014, this high achiever won the Distinguished Entrepreneur Award from the Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University, and was named to the Gulfshore Business “Forty Under Forty,” celebrating successful young business leaders in Florida. Felix lives in Naples, Florida with his wife Andrea and their three children, Bianka, Romulo, and Felix.
Felix Lluberes grew up in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, raised by parents whose education did not exceed 8th grade. He attended the local Maharishi High School, located just three blocks from his home, where he learned the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique at age 12.
He grew to love meditation and Maharishi’s teachings. In 8th grade he decided that he wanted to attend Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa after graduating from high school.
However, his family’s financial limitations made that seem like a far-flung dream. “I thought that if I applied myself for five or six years, I might get a scholarship,” says Felix. In the spring of 1989 he received word from MUM: he’d won a full tuition scholarship. Felix arrived in Fairfield in August 1989.
Not yet proficient in English, he enrolled in an ESL program before embarking on his degree work. His first moments on campus felt like a dream come true. “Just being able to see the Domes, see the campus, it was amazing,” recalls Felix. “I started to meet the students. That was the beginning of an unbelievable family, unbelievable friends who became lifetime assets.”
He chose computer science as a major and earned his BS degree in 1994. He landed his first job at a Fairfield company and then relocated to Kansas for a position developing security frameworks. After working a few more jobs in software development, his breakthrough came in 2003 when he created a platform for asset management and GPS tracking.
Based on that technology, Felix founded his company, Position Logic, which within six years earned the Inc. 500 distinction. “In our Naples office alone, where I spend most of my time, we have 42 employees representing 19 different nationalities,” says Felix. “It’s an international family, just like at MUM. It’s something I’m very proud of.”
Felix attributes much of his career success to what he learned and experienced at MUM. “The faculty there mentor you,” he says. “You get the sense they really care about the students. You can easily approach individuals who sit higher up. They are so accessible, so open, so able to help you. And they do so in a very kind manner.” At MUM, he says he learned to look at things from a deeper level.
“I can see from a different point of view than most people,” he says. “I can relate just about everything back to nature. That’s important.” Felix credits MUM for helping him gain a business advantage, and sees the practice of TM as enabling him to function better. “I call it true clarity,” he explains. “TM plays a critical role in anything I set out to do. It gives me that center, that peace that is necessary to do the right thing at the right time. “I am so lucky to have had this education and experience,” he says. “It has been such a blessing throughout my life.”
Written by Warren Goldie
“As a writer you have this sensitivity to the world, where you feel everything and see everything, and everything affects you,” says Leah Waller, a poet and creative writing instructor who graduated from MUM in 2007. “Consciousness-Based℠ education and Transcendental Meditation respond to that. They have a way of bringing you back to center. You feel a sense of peace.”
A poet who’s been published in literary journals and whose book, Under the Cedar Tree, had a soaring debut in Amazon’s top ten list for poetry, Leah currently teaches in the English department at Northern Arizona University, a position she was offered over 50 other applicants.
Back in 2003, before enrolling at MUM, Leah checked out other colleges, sometimes finding herself shockingly far afield from what she was seeking. “At one school, I was sitting in a room full of girls with bleached blond hair, black mascara and mini-skirts. I didn’t finish the campus tour.
“MUM, on the other hand, was coming from a higher place. That’s what I wanted.”
Leah discovered MUM and Consciousness-Based education to be an incubator for her writing talent. Especially influential was the support of MUM literature professor Nynke Passi.
“Ninke had a way of gently but firmly guiding my writing in the right direction,” says Leah. “She’d do it in a way that was inspirational and made me want to write more.” In contrast, many university writing programs are weighed far more heavily toward high-pressure peer and instructor critiques which often invite “tearing down,” rather than sensitively tending to the sometimes tenuous creative spark in young writers. “They try to poke at you so that hopefully in the depths of despair you’ll find some inspiration.”
Not so at MUM, which provided techniques and a philosophy that opened up Leah’s creative jets and helped her find her voice as a writer. “At MUM I wrote all the time,” she says. “I had amazing support. Thinking back, I took it for granted how creative I was.”
After she graduated, Leah worked in Fairfield (home of MUM) as a technical recruiter and also with indie publisher First World Publishing, where she worked her way up from administrative assistant to managing editor of a news publication.
In 2011, she enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at Northern Arizona University with a dual thesis in poetry and nonfiction writing. In addition to her studies and teaching responsibilities, she was assistant managing editor of Thin Air, a student-published literary magazine.
As an instructor at the university level, this creative writer feels she’s found her ideal profession. “Teaching is a wonderful experience,” says Leah. “I knew it was for me.” And her on-the-job performance proves it. Leah was rated by students as one of the top three teachers in the university’s 30-instructor English department.
Leah’s advice for young writers seeking a school where they can develop their gifts and learn the craft? Find a university that will support all aspects of your creative growth — like MUM. “It’s a great place to learn writing,” she says. “MUM is a haven for creativity.”
Written by Warren Goldie
An MUM graduate in 2004, Emily Marcus, M.D., completed medical school at Johns Hopkins University to become a “hospitalist” — a medical career that didn’t even exist two decades ago. Hospitalists work exclusively in hospitals rather than in clinics or surgical wards.
“It was the specialization that best suited my interests, “ says Dr. Marcus, 32, who in August 2014 began work as a physician at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. “The field of hospital medicine is growing fast. It’s now common for hospitals to have doctors who practice only hospital medicine to care for the admitted patients (as opposed to their primary physicians). I enjoy the pace and variety of medicine I see as a hospitalist, and that I get to work as part of a team.”
Dr. Marcus also chose the specialization because of the workplace teaching opportunities available at hospitals. As an instructor-physician, she teaches medical residents from the University of Maryland.
Dr. Marcus’s background, perspective, and early life experiences are somewhat unique among physicians. Few doctors come out of holistic educational backgrounds such as Dr. Marcus, who attended grade school at Maharishi School in Fairfield and earned a bachelor’s degree in holistic medicine at MUM. Both schools offer Consciousness-Based℠ education, which emphasizes the holistic development of students and includes regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique.
“Generally, holistic medicine can be effective in combination with modern medicine, especially for preventative practices,” says Dr. Marcus. “At MUM, I learned a lot about nutrition, diet, and lifestyle modification for prevention and treatment of disease. Subjects like nutrition aren’t taught much in medical school. But it can be a useful tool.”
Dr. Marcus’s views were also shaped by her formative experiences as a doctor practicing in developing countries, part of her medical school education. On trips to Honduras and Tanzania, she worked in clinics and hospitals challenged by the lack of modern equipment and resources.
“You learn a lot when you have very limited resources,” she says. “You have to rely on the physical exam, and be conscientious in the tests you choose. It was a great opportunity to work closely with the doctors there, to exchange knowledge on both sides. But it was also sad to see people struggle with illnesses that are easily treatable in the U.S.” She hopes to do more global health work in the future.
Dr. Marcus’s interest in becoming a doctor “evolved,” she says, starting at MUM, where her initial choice of major was mathematics. When she moved to the Physiology and Health track which focused on Consciousness-Based health care, things began to change. “That sparked my interest,” she says. “Ultimately, though, I decided to take a more traditional route.”
After graduating, she worked in a genetics lab in Iowa City and then started a two-year post-baccalaureate pre-med program at University of Iowa before being accepted at Johns Hopkins University Medical School.
She had her residency in internal medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan, and worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the world’s top cancer hospitals. And she worked in a primary care clinic in Queens, New York.
“There’s nowhere like New York,” recalls Dr. Marcus. “I had patients from all over the world and from all walks of life. I worked with amazing doctors. It was a great experience.”
During her residency in New York, Dr. Marcus maintained a long-distance relationship with Christopher Dunn, her boyfriend who in July 2013 became her husband. Christopher, a classical guitarist, graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University.
When asked about the ways in which her MUM experience has carried forward in her life, Dr. Marcus responds, “MUM and Consciousness-Based education helped me to become more centered. I had a very stress-free college experience, which helped me stay focused on what I wanted to do. I was able to maintain a balanced perspective in a field that can be both mentally and physical challenging. That was really helpful to me.”
Written by Warren Goldie
As a boy growing up on a dairy farm in Ames, Iowa, Josef Biechler never imagined the distant lands where his love of farming would take him. Now, at 25, he manages 18 small research farms (along with a dedicated team) as a soil scientist in Costa Rica, doing work sponsored by the Rodale Institute, a highly respected nonprofit group at the cutting edge of organic farming, and The Carbon Underground, an organization dedicated to reducing atmospheric carbon levels through sustainable agriculture.
Josef’s research focuses on organic practices that “sequester carbon,” enabling farms to become carbon negative — meaning that they emit less carbon into the atmosphere than is retained by their crops. The hoped-for result is a reduction in the greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming and climate chaos.
The path to Josef’s fascinating career led directly through Maharishi University. In fact, attending college at all came as a surprise to him.
At 20, finding the jobs he’d worked unfulfilling and unsure how to improve his family’s farm, Josef decided to visit the MUM campus, 150 miles away in Fairfield, Iowa. What he found there intrigued him.
“It was a huge change of scenery from what I was used to and the kind of people I had been around,” he says. “I liked the healthy lifestyle, the one-class-at-a-time, and the consciousness-based approach. But the ultimate draw was the Sustainable Living program. My parents use sustainable farming practices. It’s totally aligned with my ethics.”
At MUM Josef became an expert in composting, and started a soil lab (which is still operating). In his senior year, while brainstorming about possible careers with Tara O’Brien, a fellow Sustainable Living student, they decided to start a consulting company.
“We wanted to take the work directly to the farmers,” says Josef. “We figured we could travel and see a lot of farms.” They founded Red Clover Consulting, giving it the mission of “restoring natural resources by working to shift the current paradigm of ecosystem management from one of control to one of harmony and balance.” The company found local clients and runs a lab that serves the community.
In late 2012, the course of Josef’s life changed radically. He received an email from Luna Nueva Farm in San Isidro de Penas Blancas, Alejuela, Costa Rica. “They asked me to come down for three months to help with their composting,” says Josef, who met the farm’s co-owner, Tom Newmark of New Chapter, Inc., a manufacturer of organic herbal supplements that are grown there. Newmark, a committed environmentalist, enlisted Josef to help out in the carbon negative research.
“I’m really passionate about this,” says Josef, who runs the research trials. “We’re seeing what’s possible when farms use the best sustainable and biodynamic
Many variables are being tested; the most important one is soil carbon level. Soil samples taken from the farm’s organic lots, biodynamic lots, conventionally-tilled lots and chemical lots are all sent to labs for chemical analysis. Software programs track the carbon footprint of each. “We can compare and contrast how many tons of carbon we’re sequestering versus how much we’re releasing,” says Josef.
Josef may help to set up similar research farms in other worldwide locales, including, possibly, Thailand. “We want to test in many different biomes, from sub-Saharan Africa to rainforest Africa, to grasslands and forested areas. Our goal is to determine the best practices for reducing the carbon footprint, which will then help to mitigate climate change.”
The work also involves social outreach, which carries the hope of providing financial aid and crop insurance to small family farmers worldwide. “There are more than 500 million small-holder farms in the world,” says Josef. “Two billion livelihoods are directly related to these farms. With enough funding, we can provide subsidies to farmers who are moving to sustainable practices. Then, if their crops don’t make it one season, for example, it won’t destroy them financially.”
For Josef, the workday is a long and a familiar one. He typically wakes up at 4 am to do his Transcendental Meditation® practice, and will often work 15 hours a day. There’s much to be done and he wears many hats — managing farm crews, supervising, taking samples, doing microscope work, and even performing Human Resources and accounting.
Josef has no problem with any of that. “I love it,” he says. “It’s a lot of physical and intellectual activity. I grew up with a farm schedule. I know it well.”
Though many experts say it’s too late to do much about global warming and climate change, Josef embraces a “Think global, act local” view — though he is, in effect, doing both.
“So much of what we hear is doom and gloom,” he says. “They say ’We’re running out of time, it can’t be fixed.’ Well, I’m working towards a solution, every day. I’m working toward making a difference. To me, that’s very fulfilling.”
Looking to the future, Josef will remain at work on the Costa Rica research project. He just signed a 5-year contract that will take him until January 2019. After that, his hope is to find funding to sponsor further research, perhaps at his family’s farm in Ames, Iowa.
Written by Warren Goldie
“I have a big plan up my sleeve,” says Pat Nesberg Freeman, who realized a long-standing dream when she founded Rock River Café in 2009, a “vegan and gluten-free-friendly” family restaurant in the town of Chatham on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The restaurant is unique in that it fully supports sustainable and local food sourcing practices and menus. With the café’s success, Pat founded a second restaurant, Rock River Lunch Bag, in 2011, near Rocks National Lakeshore (see photo, below).
The menus Pat has created practically define wholesome home-cooking. Breads are baked fresh and locally. Eggs come from farms “down the road” where chickens and cows roam the fields. Fish is harvested from nearby Lake Superior.
Pat’s plan in part involved securing an education in business, which she pursued at MUM. Prior, she had spent eight years in the U.S. Army as a supply sergeant, stationed at bases in Fort Campbell, KY, Fort Drum, NY, and Stuttgart, Germany. After she left the military, she began taking business courses at Bay College and Northern Michigan University with the intention of starting her own business.
And she began working in restaurant and services management positions. Pat was director of guest services at Lakeshore Hotel on Mackinac Island, dining room manager at the organic, whole foods restaurant Sweet Water Cafe in Marquette, and operations manager at Food For Thought, an organic food manufacturer near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The direction of Pat’s life shifted dramatically in 2002 when she attended a lecture in Chicago by Dr. John Hagelin, professor of physics at Maharishi University, on the Unified Field Theory. Soon after, Pat learned the Transcendental Meditation ® technique and decided to enroll at MUM. She earned her MBA in 2005.
“For me, the remarkable thing about MUM was the breadth and depth of the educational experience and the acceptance that there’s much ‘bigger’ things available than a given goal-oriented path,” she says. “That’s a large part of what MUM was to me.
Since it’s founding, Rock River Café has developed a reputation as a “conscious” business that supports sustainability, local sourcing and Earth-friendly practices.Sauces and dressings are made from scratch with simple ingredients and well-considered recipes. Pre-prepared foods are used only sparingly and chosen carefully, considering the non-GMO, fair trade, organic and sustainable practices of the manufacturers. Each cafe location offers a different menu and different style of service, though they they all source local food and operate by the same high standards.
Pat’s plan is well on the way to being realized. She plans to further explore her interest in organizational theory, intrigued by the study of organizations’ complex interactions within their ecosystems. “I want to investigate this deeper while working on a PhD in the near future,” she says. Pat’s final word on her time at MUM? “MUM was a place where I could think and believe and be myself in a supportive atmosphere. And interwoven throughout the day was the practice of TM, which allows you to touch base with the depth within. For me, that was perfect.”
Written by Warren Goldie
Dr. Keith Levi, professor and chairman of MUM’s Department of Computer Science, earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the University of Michigan after receiving a BS in psychology from MUM — and had his pick of job offers following graduation. He took a position at Honeywell in Minneapolis as a senior research scientist, and thrived in the stimulating work atmosphere.
But he was also aware that “something” was missing. It related to what he’d experienced as a student at MUM.
“I worked with many brilliant, well-known scientists,” recalls Dr. Levi. “But often they were caught up in ‘the parts.’ What was missing was that fulfilling wholeness of knowledge that I had experienced at MUM. My professors at MUM — people like David Orme-Johnson and Michael Dilbeck — projected a clarity of mind, an inner peace and a deep level of consciousness. I knew that’s what I wanted, and that was the direction I wanted to go with my life.”
Keith grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He learned of the Transcendental Meditation® technique at the age of 18 while at the University of South Dakota, following in the footsteps of his older brother, who had become a meditator the previous year. Finding the practice to his liking, Keith decided to further explore TM by enrolling at MUM in 1975 (then called Maharishi International University, or MIU) to experience its Consciousness-Based℠ education approach. While at MUM he became a TM teacher and even earned a Doctorate of World Peace.
In 1979, he entered graduate school at the University of Michigan, pursuing his interests in mathematical psychology, behavioral decision making, and the modeling of perception and memory. He explored the intersections of mind and technology. “There is a lot of overlap between cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence,” he says. “Psychologists use computational models to understand human information processing, and artificial intelligence researchers use models of human information processing to design intelligent software systems.”
Levi family: Keith and Pam, front row. Back row, far left: son Matt and wife Kristen. Back row center: daughter Heather, then to right, daughter Erin. Far right: Heather’s husband, Ben, plus assorted grandchildren.
At Honeywell, he further pursued these areas in research & development, becoming expert at writing grants and competing for research contracts. On one project, he was principle investigator on a technology that used psychological modeling to try to create a “Star Wars R2-D2-type” computer system to aid pilots. He worked on projects for the U.S. Air Force’s Wright Research and Development Center, the Office of Naval Research, and the United Nations’ Industrial Development Office. Along the way, he published and presented over 50 technical papers.
In the midst of all this fascinating work, Dr. Levi and his wife, Pam, had been trying to figure out a way to realize their long-standing dream of moving back to Fairfield, Iowa, home of MUM. In 1990, that dream came true when Dr. Levi accepted a teaching position at MUM.
Now, it’s almost 40 years after he first came to MUM as a student. And there are no regrets. “Both Pam and I feel deeply that the best and most important decisions we have ever made for ourselves and our family were the ones that brought us to MUM,” says Dr. Levi.
Indeed, the University has benefited greatly from Dr. Levi’s vision and hard work. He co-founded the MUM Computer Professionals MSCS program, which has become one of the largest MSCS programs in the U.S. As of 2014, it has enrolled over 2,200 students who have gone on to work for over 1,000 U.S. companies. The program has a 98% placement rate for graduates and they earn an average starting salary of $70,000 per year.
Dr. Levi notes the uniqueness of MUM’s approach to computer science education. “Our department is more professionally oriented than most computer science master’s programs,” he says. In fact, MUM’s computer science faculty is known for keeping up to date on the fast changing technologies in the software and computer technologies fields, and teaches directly to market needs.
When asked how being on MUM’s faculty compares with being a student, Dr. Levi sees as many similarities as differences.
“There is a common bond at MUM regardless of one’s role,” he says. “It’s related to the experience of the Self — that quiet place in one’s awareness, the place that does not change. While it may become clearer and more familiar over time, the essential experience of wholeness, of inner awareness and pure consciousness always remains the same.”
Dr. Levi adds, “To me, that simple but very profound experience is the essence of Consciousness-Based education, the essence of Maharishi’s knowledge, and the essence of the University.”
Written by Warren Goldie
Kate Vigmostad, an MUM graduate in 2007, says she found the perfect balance of assured direction and nurturing support in her professors in MUM’s art department. In particular, she benefited from the guidance of Jim Shrosbree and Jill Brown, the department’s chairman and program director respectively, who helped her to blossom as an artist.
“I was really inspired by them,” says Kate, 28, who teaches dance at Morning Star Studios in Fairfield, Iowa. “They understand how to nurture creativity without a heavy hand. They use just the right amount of influence on the student’s work, helping you find your own creative voice.”
Following her graduation from MUM, Kate worked for six months as a video editor at the David Lynch Foundation’s TV channel. Then she traveled, studying a dance movement analysis method called The Axis Syllabus in locations as diverse as Santa Cruz, Calif., Italy, and the Czech Republic.
Kate returned to Iowa in 2008 and enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program in Dance at the University of Iowa (UI), where she was awarded the prestigious Iowa Arts Fellowship. While at UI, Kate created more than six original dance works, taught four undergraduate courses, and performed frequently.
In 2010, Kate’s interests took her to the West Coast. In San Francisco, she worked for the nonprofit organization, Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education, instructing at-risk youth in the Transcendental Meditation® technique, as well as in movement. She helped implement the Quiet Time program, a highly successful TM practice in schools.
In Marin County, just north of San Francisco, she taught dance full-time (12+ classes per week) to teens and adults at Roco Dance and Fitness, a premiere studio. She choreographed more than 13 unique dances for student performances.
Over the last few years, Kate has continued to grow and expand as a dancer, performing for Becca Rozzell and The Riley Project in San Francisco, and producing her own original work in several dance concerts. Her choreography has even been shown in Korea.
In 2013, she co-created the Mid to West Dance Collective, which had its first show in December 2013 in San Francisco. “This last year with the Collective has been huge for me,” says Kate. “And this is just the beginning. We’re planning to do shows every year.”
She will also start an MA in filmmaking at MUM in fall 2014. One of her goals is to creatively marry dance and film.
“I’ve always loved making videos,” says Kate, who has made short films at both MUM and the University of Iowa. “I want to get deeper into the technical aspects of filmmaking and continue to explore my love of dance. My goal is to tell stories through movement and dance.”
As an undergraduate at MUM, Kate felt she’d come to understand herself better, which she then used as a springboard going forward in her career and in her life.
“At MUM I was able to figure out what was most important to me,” she says. “I learned how to prioritize the things in my life. That created a strong foundation that’s helped me make decisions big and small along the way. That’s been incredibly valuable for me.”
Written by Warren Goldie
An experienced financial manager, Emmanuel Titus spends his workdays administering a high-net-worth family estate, a job which involves handling a vast amount of details to ensure that his client’s financial matters are compliant, profitable, organized, and adapted to today’s ever-changing financial, tax and legal environments. His main focus is on investment management, estate planning, and reporting for his client’s many partnerships, trusts and foundations.
Following his graduation from MUM with a BA in Business (1995) and an MBA (1996), Emmanuel began work as a consultant in Fairfield (home of MUM), assisting startups and midsized companies with business plans and financial and tax matters. In 1998, he took on a more exclusive role managing and administering a single client family’s estate and its extensive investment portfolio.
“I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to most effectively adapt and evolve as the market changes,” says Emmanuel, who must constantly reassess how to best manage the estate.
“The larger the estate the more complex it is,” he says. “Currently we manage over 50 investment partnerships. That’s a lot to administer, review, report, and follow up on. So we have to keep up with new policies in estate planning, create strategies and perform ongoing due diligence to diversify the portfolio, assess tax ramifications, and keep up to speed on what strategies will work best from a risk-reward standpoint.”
For the last five years, Emmanuel has also been providing financial advice to the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, a K-12 school, as an elected member of the board of directors.
MUM’s Consciousness-Based Education? approach gave him a leg up in the financial services field, says Emmanuel — as did the flexibility he found in MUM’s business department, which helped him to become a Certified Management Accountant, or CMA.
“I did directed studies focused on the CMA track,” he says. “The department helped me tremendously. Getting the professional certification [CMA] gave me an edge. On the personal side of things, MUM gives you a strong foundation in personal growth and development. That’s a very powerful asset that helps you gain the confidence to go out and explore a business career. I benefited tremendously from it.”
Emmanuel sees MUM’s more profound educational approach as providing practical and tangible career and life advantages.
“A lot of what goes on in the stock market, for example, is driven by fear and greed,” he says. “It can be very easy to let your life be ruled by negative thoughts. MUM’s programs, and especially the practice of Transcendental Meditation®, give you the tools you need to maintain a level of peace and equilibrium to deal with challenges and to adapt and make good decisions. Whether it’s in business or personal relationships — like with your spouse and kids or your friends — that is very practical and effective. Incorporating all that gave me a strong foundation for a successful life.”
Emmanuel grew up in Paris and Marseilles, with an Indian father who had immigrated to France from Pondicherry, India and a French mother. Emmanuel came to the U.S. in 1991 to attend MUM. He met his wife, Caty, also an MUM alum, on campus at MUM. Their three children all attend the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment.
Written by Warren Goldie
Alex Cequea, Editor in Chief of iPhone Life magazine, has a bucket list of the things he wants to do most in life. If the one he’s already checked off is any indication of his imagination and determination, then he will probably achieve every item on his list. On June 2013, Alex gave a speech that broke the Guinness Book of World Records mark as the longest marathon speech in history at more than 36 hours (See entire speech, which was streamed live by MUM’s MUMtv here).
When he’s not setting world records, this Venezuelan-raised writer and motivational speaker manages content of Fairfield, Iowa-based iPhone Life, a technology magazine sold in 60 countries at venues that include Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Best Buy, airport stores, and thousands of newsstands all over the world.
Alex, 31, got his start in publishing as an MUM student in 2008, when he saw that the university had no student-run newspaper. So, he decided to start one. A year later, after organizing students and lobbying the university for permissions, Alex brought his vision into being as the monthly paper, Conscious Times, which published student articles, reviews, cartoons, and editorials.
“Basically I got an unintended crash course in everything you need to know about publishing,” says Alex — which led to his landing a job at iPhone Life. Alex recalls how he caught the eye of the magazine’s owner, Hal Goldstein. “Pretty much the only thing he saw on my resume was that I had run the student paper,” says Alex. “He said, ‘Oh my God, you’re the one who did this. This is great.’” Alex started in the marketing department but within a couple of months was made Associate Editor.
In July 2011, Hal retired and sold iPhone Life to Alex and two other senior staff, David Averbach (now CEO) and Raphael Burnes (Chief Technical Officer). Hal retained a minority stake in the company and stepped back completely from all day-to-day activities. At the time, the company’s staff numbered six — although the payroll could not accommodate them all. So Alex and his partners went without pay, hoping to grow the publication quickly. Within six months, circulation of the print edition increased as did ad revenue from the magazine’s print and digital channels. Since then, the publication has grown significantly. Today, iPhone Life has 15 employees plus 20-30 freelance writers and bloggers. Readership of the print edition stands at 650,000 — plus hundreds of thousands of visitors to the website monthly.
Alex first heard about Maharishi University in 2005 when he was living in Boston. He’d become intrigued by the school’s Consciousness-Based Education approach. The previous year he had left the University of Houston. “At the time I was mostly interested in exploring my spirituality, and I was willing to put college on hold for awhile,” he says. “Until I’d heard about MUM, it had never occurred to me that there could be a university that combined spirituality and academics.” He started at MUM in fall 2006, majoring in business. “It was incredibly powerful to be at a place alongside peers who were on the same wavelength as me,” he says. “That was the biggest thing I was yearning for in Houston and Boston. MUM was heaven. Everyone I met was a potential friend. And many of those friendships are still going on.” As for his love of motivational speaking, the gregarious, indefatigable Alex continues to develop his formidable skills. In 2011, he placed in the top 200 speakers worldwide (out of 25,000) in the Toastmasters International Inspirational Speech Contest. In 2013 he decided to go after the world record longest speech marathon. “My goal for the marathon was to achieve something unique and hard that would inspire people to do extraordinary things.”
This rising star also has the distinction of being one of the first 8,000 tech industry insiders to use and review Google Glass (photo, right), Google’s futuristic eyeglass frames that have a computer screen built into the lenses, a so-called “wearable computer.” Watch Alex’s presentation about Google Glass.
Furthering his career as a speaker, in 2013, Alex was the main host of the CTIA iZone Innovation Stage, where he presented, moderated panels, and conducted on-stage interviews.
What are Alex’s future plans? Will he be staying in Fairfield? “Yes, absolutely. It’s been amazing to build a business here. We employ a lot of MUM alumni. As for going to MUM, it was incredible. There was so much I got out of it. The top thing I took away were the lasting connections I made with people.”
Written by Warren Goldie
There are website designers — and there are website designers. While some have put up sites here and there, Benek Lisefski has worked on some 100 websites for clients in the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia over a 10-year career in which he almost never lacks for work. Projects, in fact, usually find him, through word of mouth, referrals, and companies who surf their way to his impressive portfolio.
Benek Lisefski (pronounced li-sef-skee) is a kind of perfect storm of design and tech talent. Many pros today specialize in HMTL coding, graphics design, user interfaces, SEO optimization, or jQuery interaction, but Benek is a rarity in that he’s expert in all of those areas.
Benek, 30, lives in Auckland, New Zealand with his wife and son. He grew up in Fairfield, Iowa, home of MUM, and was MUM’s class valedictorian in 2005 (along with his twin brother, Alek).
“I’ve always been artistic,” says Benek. “In middle school, one of our projects was to build basic web pages. I realized how easily you can publish something online, and the power that comes with it. I decided right then I wanted to make a living at it.”
Benek landed his first web design jobs while a student at MUM, including one for a university in the Bahamas which was referred to him by Media & Communications professor Gurdy Leete. After that, Benek built up a portfolio which grew to include many innovative websites for companies large and small.
Having to be constantly creative for clients, year after year, however, can have its challenges. “You don’t want to be repeating yourself design-wise or doing the same things,” he says. “I see a lot of web designers struggling to come up with new designs day in and day out; many of them burn out or stop enjoying the work.
“I still love it,” says Benek, who has a defense against hitting that kind of wall. “”One of the reasons I can maintain a high level of creativity across my projects is due to the practice of TM and what I learned at MUM.”
He says, “The MUM education grounded me, gave me the self-assurance that comes with relying on a greater power source than just yourself. If you have some contact at that level, you can be more successful at what you do. Nature will support you. Things work out, even when they’re challenging.”
Benek uses the principles of Maharishi Vedic Science in his web design work. But how?
He cites the example of white space. “Designers often feel like they have to fill up the screen and not leave anything empty,” he says. “But empty space can be as important as space that’s filled with content. Vedic Science tells us there can be a lot of power in empty spaces. The relationship between something dynamic and something empty can be an effective design tool. It’s something I use in my work all the time.”
Benek is currently several months into an intense job developing an innovative web app with a San Francisco Bay Area-based start-up, among other projects.
When he’s not in his home office working, Benek enjoys exploring the dramatic beauty of New Zealand locales with his wife, Jenny, a native Kiwi, and their one-year-son, Leo.
Benek’s final word on MUM? “I’m super glad I went. It’s one of the reasons I love what I’m doing so much.”
Written by Warren Goldie
As an MUM undergraduate, Vincent Bataoel understood how to use a college education to launch a career.
The career he wanted was clear: sustainable building construction expert. What he needed was a path to get there. So, as part of his directed studies program at MUM, Vincent thoroughly researched the many environmental standards certification programs available, and after weighing the pros of cons of each, settled on becoming a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP).
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — it’s a collection of rules and standards that sustainable construction experts use to create high performance buildings. High performance LEED-certified buildings use less resources and provide healthier work and living spaces than traditional buildings.
Vincent’s first opportunity came after he graduated from MUM, when he heard that a local company, Cambridge Investments, wanted to construct a LEED-certified office building for their employees. “I took a leap of faith and contacted them,” says Vincent, who landed the contract and completed the project successfully. “That was the beginning of Above Green.”
Vincent, 30, and his wife, Above Green co-founder Nelina Loiselle, then built on that first real-world success. “’We reached out and started to network with architects, engineers and contractors,” says Vincent. Before long, more work began to roll in.
Based now in Middleburg, Virginia, just outside Washington D.C., the company is thriving, having completed more than 100 projects for clients that include the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, Bank of America, and United Arab Emirates. “We run about 20 different projects at any one time,” says Vincent, who not only leads project work but manages the company’s day-to-day operations as well.
MUM, Vincent says, was an important contributor to his personal development. “Being there allowed me to chart my course forward and think deeply about who I wanted to be,” he says. “It also gave me the tools I needed to make it happen.”
Consciousness-Based Education, Vincent says, “helped me stay balanced, and has given me a deep sense of self that has translated into confidence that I bring to the table working with clients.”
Vincent is truly living his passion — growing a business while making the planet a safer place. He speaks often at conferences in the U.S. and abroad about LEED and has been a volunteer at the White House Office on Science and Technology Policy. Recently, he was a visiting scholar with the National Defense University and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
But what really matters most to Vincent? It’s the satisfaction of working daily with a close-knit team. “I’ve been fortunate in being able to give my friends and colleagues jobs,” he says. “As we expand, we bring more great people in. That’s what’s most gratifying to me.”
Written by Warren Goldie
One experience stands out in particular as a crucial turning point in Nelina Loiselle’s college days at MUM. She had an important decision to make that presented a tough choice: face her fear and go forward or pull back and play it safe. The outcome of her decision has helped to shape her future.
Nelina had no problem mastering the complex architectural rendering software required in her senior year directed studies program in environmental science. But when asked to teach a class about it, that was another matter. “I didn’t know how that was going to go,” she says. “But it turned out well. I liked it. I liked being in charge, being a leader. I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
Now, four years later, Nelina has carried that lesson forward as Executive Vice President and Marketing Director of Above Green, a company she co-founded with her husband, fellow MUM grad Vincent Bataoel. Above Green builds high performance LEED-certified green buildings.
As managing partner, Nelina, 26, often finds herself in leadership roles, at construction sites and in meetings, directing builders, engineers and architects, many of whom are much older than her. “That teaching experience gave me the confidence I needed to lead these project teams,” she says. “I run meetings and I’m comfortable with it.”
In the highly competitive world of federal contracting in Washington, D.C., Above Green stands out as a rising star in the sustainability construction field, having completed more than 100 projects to date for federal, military and commercial clients.
Nelina’s strategic vision and marketing skills have been a big part of that success. She architects the company’s presence at conferences in the U.S. and abroad, expertly handles client needs, and often goes deep into the technical work of assuring that compliance and environmental standards are being met for projects.
But Above Green isn’t just another small business. It’s core staff is made up of MUM grads who practice TM. Transcending daily helps not only each person but the company as well — especially when customer service is a top priority. “Meditation helps with stress management and helps you be more compassionate with customers,” says Nelina. “And that’s of utmost importance.”
Have the benefits of MUM’s Consciousness-Based Education carried forward for Nelina personally? “Absolutely,” she says. “Consciousness-Based Education helps develop your self and your personality. Meditating with classmates, having time to talk about things like SCI, helps you get to know yourself better. It translates in the work environment as increased confidence.”
When Nelina isn’t at the office or on business travel, she’s often engaged in an avocation that she is very passionate about. An avid horse lover, she rides dressage in Virginia’s beautiful horse country, near the quaint town of Middleburg where she and Vincent live.
Written by Warren Goldie
“I’ve always been concerned about how to create a better world, how to help women in the arts, and how to find ways to help people live peacefully,” says Anna Bonshek, an internationally known digital media artist and writer whose career has taken her to the far corners of the world.
Anna’s art installations have been exhibited in Australia, England, Hong Kong and the U.S. Her articles on art and creativity have appeared in magazines and journals that include Artlink; New Art Examiner; Body, Space and Technology; Artists’ Newsletter; and Consciousness, Literature and the Arts. She holds a degree in painting from the prestigious University College London and has curated art exhibitions at Des Moines Art Center and the Institute for the Creative Arts at University of Northern Iowa.
A woman of many interests and an inveterate traveler, Anna is director of Prana World Group, a company that consulting services on art, publishing, design and Vedic architecture.
In 1992, Anna worked with her husband Lee Fergusson, a higher education professional and environmentalist, to found a university in Cambodia. Working closely with the Cambodian government, they started Maharishi Vedic University which opened to more than 5,000 student applicants (for 550 available seats) who enrolled in programs that ranged from business to architecture.
Anna, who is a prolific writer, has authored several books. While Mirror of Consciousness and The Big Fish explore the intersection of creativity and consciousness, Heniek: A Polish Boy’s Coming of Age in India During World War II, tells the story of her father, a Pole who was deported to Siberia at the age of 12 and escaped to India to lead a fascinating, adventurous life. Heniek was heralded personally by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk
Anna also contributed to Consciousness-Based Education and Art, which was released in 2011.
Anna credits her education at MUM as critical to her artistic process and successes.
“For an artist the most important thing is to find a way to reach maximum creativity,” says Anna. “MUM’s Conscious-Based Education helped me to do just that. The school is inspiring and energizing. There is no place like it. Learning at MUM enlivens the field of creativity and helps to establish the experience of all possibilities, which supports whatever activity you’re engaged in. Consciousness-Based Education is an unquantifiable gift, as is MUM.”
Born in England, Anna lives with her husband, Lee Fergusson, on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Written by Warren Goldie
Lee Fergusson is very good at running multimillion-dollar companies — when he’s not founding universities in locales like Cambodia and Australia, authoring studies used by governments to establish environmental policy, or leading large-scale environmental clean-up projects.
A graduate of MUM in 1991, Lee began his career in higher education, shifted gears into telecommunications, and eventually found his passion working in environmental remediation. Environmental remediation focuses on the removal of contaminants and pollution from soil, ground water, surface water, and sediment to protect human health and the environment.
As Chief Executive Officer of Virotec International Ltd, Lee manages company operations and oversees remediation projects. Virotec has offices in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. He’s also CEO of Greenhouse Australia, which provides consulting services to the coal seam gas industry.
Lee’s early career was spent in higher education. Among his achievements, he worked with the Royal Government of Cambodia to establish a new university in Preah Veng province which has graduated more than 2,000 students in business, management and agriculture. He established a similar college in Melbourne, Australia, offering a curriculum fully accredited by the State Government of Victoria.
A thought leader frequently at the forefront of his field, Lee has been a featured speaker at environmental conferences in Hong Kong, London, Cannes, Barcelona, Colorado Springs, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. His articles and research papers on mining, sustainability, and environmental waste have been published in more than 15 professional journals. His work aided the Australian government in joining the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. He has authored two books, ViroMine Technology: A Solution to the World’s Mining Megawaste and Virotec: A Ten-year Story of Success in Environmental Remediation.
During the telecommunications phase of his career (through 2001), Lee ascended the corporate ranks, serving as president and CEO of USA Global Link, Inc., a $2 billion telecommunications company. Later, he was CEO of Global Online India, Inc., then a $500 million NASDAQ-listed company.
Interestingly, prior to receiving his PhD at MUM, Lee earned an undergraduate degree in visual arts, and even, for a time, made his living as an artist. But it wasn’t until he enrolled at MUM as a mid-career professional that he decided on environmentalism.
“I can honestly say that studying at MUM was the turning point in my career,” says Lee. “The focus at MUM is on the development of consciousness, which means that everything that’s presented is done so in the context of one’s own consciousness. That makes everything relevant and fresh. I had never before experienced anything as profound in a learning environment. The approach felt like a fulfillment of all that education can be.”
Lee believes that a higher education curriculum that does not include consciousness development is incomplete. “Without that, education is nothing more than fact gathering and, if you are lucky, skills development,” he said. “Nowhere in modern education does a concern for the health and well-being of the student come into the picture as well as it does at MUM.”
Lee and his wife, MUM alum Anna Bonshek, accepted the 2012 Environmental Management Award (photo above, with Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate).
In 2013, the couple published the book, Maharishi Vedic University in Cambodia: Educational Reconstruction and Social Renewal, chronicling their experience as rectors of the university as well offering a history of education in the country since Cambodia’s independence. See more about the book here
Lee and Anna live on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Written by Warren Goldie
Put your money where your … heart is?
According to Stuart Valentine, that’s the best path to wealth and happiness. While typical investment pros spend most of their time managing their clients’ investments, this socially responsible financial adviser does that and more — he helps clients define their “destiny path,” and then builds an investment portfolio to support it.
“It’s fulfilling to invest in ways that are consistent with your values,” says Stuart, echoing a growing sentiment in today’s business world. “And it can be very profitable, too.”
Stuart is senior partner at Centerpoint Investment Strategies, a company he founded with the mission of aligning wealth acquisition with social responsibility and personal development. Stuart, who has been practicing Transcendental Meditation and the advanced TM-Sidhi program for more than 30 years, sees each investment as a creative act, a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.
“How many stories have you heard about cash-rich people who are living miserable lives?” he asks. “I take a different view. I see money as an opportunity for self-revelation and empowerment.”
Stuart believes that every success must start within the individual — at one’s core or “center,” which is why he named his company Centerpoint. The company has been highly successful over its 25-year history, and has a significant client list.
The Consciousness-Based℠ education Stuart received at MUM has helped in many ways. “It allowed me to observe unvetted belief systems at a deep level and see business in a new light. It gave me an executive perspective into the language of business.”
After completing his MBA in 1986, Stuart worked in options trading, an emotionally charged, hyper-competitive battleground where he drew often on the principles of Consciousness-Based education. “I found I could be totally clear and objective in witnessing and understanding the markets. What I learned gave me a real competitive advantage. My daily meditation practice allowed me to handle the high stress that comes with working in that environment.”
Today Stuart labors in the decidedly less stressful small town of Fairfield, Iowa, creating socially responsible wealth for clients from his comfortable office on 4th Street. He gives time often to promote social responsibility in business and is a frequent speaker at alternative energy and investment forums, an often-interviewed radio show guest, and a writer of numerous articles and white papers such as Green Investing. He is also co-director of The Sustainable Living Coalition.
Does making money have to be at odds with spiritual and social development? Not at all. “I work to connect money with people’s heart field,” says Stuart. “Your money is an extension of yourself. Rather than turning it over to some faceless manager on Wall Street, why not use it to create a world that charms you?”
Written by Warren Goldie
In 2004, Ray Baptiste was working as a project manager at a large telecommunications firm in Barbados. Over a 20-year career she had held a variety of positions, from quality control engineer and technical specialist and right up into management. But her current company had been experiencing some turbulence, and Ray started thinking about making a change.
So, when a new telecommunications company arrived in Barbados, Ray was intrigued by the small, upstart firm. Her technical and managerial skills had been in ascension. She’d had an eye on the market. Then, one day, out of the blue, an executive from the new firm called her and asked to meet.
“We met on a Friday, I remember it well,” says Ray. “He said, ‘I want you to manage my company.’ I said I’d like to think about it. He said, ‘Sure. Take the weekend.’ Let me know on Monday.”
Though it was risky to leave her secure job for a fledgling, unproven firm, Ray accepted the executive-level position — but not without a few jitters. “It was like jumping off a cliff with your eyes closed,” she says, “Somehow though, I knew I was going to grow wings and fly.”
As it turned out, she did. As General Manager, Ray ran day-to-day operations for the company (which provided technology that enabled businesses such as banks to connect and communicate with their branch offices). “We were a tiny company with a big footprint,” says Ray. She thrived, reveling in the intense high-pressure work.
But there were costs. “The technology field is really stressful,” she says. “Just about every client wants something right now.” Ray says the focus on Self she cultivated while at MUM has paid off, as has her daily meditation practice. “Being able to have that reconnection helps me constantly. It’s made a huge difference.”
Ray came to Transcendental Meditation® early in life. “We grew up around the TM center in Barbados,” she says. “I learned to meditate when I was 13. My dream was to go to MUM. I remember doing all this research about the university. I wanted to understand what it was like. I had a year of college in Barbados, but I made up my mind I wanted to come to the U.S. I wanted to be at the school that practices Transcendental Meditation.”
She earned a degree at MUM (then MIU) in Electronic Engineering in 1991. Twenty years later she returned for an MBA in Sustainable Business. In between, she became an expert in telecommunications and IT in Barbados.
While many IT projects go on behind the scenes, some are high profile. On one project, Ray worked with INTERPOL, the famed international police organization, which sought help in setting up criminal tracking systems at police stations across the Caribbean. Ray managed the implementation, leading a team that ensured that INTERPOL’s software ran smoothly and the organization could communicate with offices in France, Spain, and Miami.
Another project had Ray using technology to help children on Barbados. “We were hired to help provide Internet connectivity to all 120 schools on the island,” she says. “That project gave back so much to the country. It’s really gratifying to do work like that.”
When Ray isn’t at the office, she can sometimes be found being a BADASS’n — that’s “Barbados Diver’s Association,” the scuba diving club Ray meets up with to explore exotic ocean locations and view the rich aquatic life around Barbados.
She says, “I try to bring a certain level of consciousness to bear in everything I do.”
Written by Warren Goldie
There are MUM alumni career success stories — and then there is Marci Shimoff. An MUM grad in 1979, Marci is the woman’s face of the biggest self-help book phenomenon in history as co-author of six bestselling titles in the Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul series. Her most recent books, Happy For No Reason and Love for No Reason are also New York Times bestsellers.
In all, Marci’s books have sold more than 15 million copies and have been on the New York Times bestseller list for 118 weeks. She’s been interviewed on hundreds of TV and radio programs, hosted a PBS documentary, and was a featured teacher in the international film and book phenomenon, The Secret. She also gives frequent keynote addresses on topics such as peak performance to corporations worldwide.
Her time at MUM, Marci says, played in important role in career successes.
“The people who have been really fundamental in my career are the people I went to MUM with,” she says. “I got my first job from an MUM graduate. My co-author, Carol Kline, was in my class at MUM.”
After graduating high school, Marci had enrolled in a large university near her home in Northern California. But she left after only one semester. “I felt unfulfilled,” she recalls. “I wanted more. I wanted more meaning.”
Already a practitioner of the Transcendental Meditation technique (since the age of 16), Marci had been aware of MUM and decided to try the school out. “When I arrived I felt like I’d found my tribe,” she says. “Everything about the school resonated with me. Most important, everything was taught in the light of consciousness, in truth and wisdom. I loved that the basis of my education was the development of my own consciousness. At MUM, I had a quantum shift in my level of happiness.”
As a young teenager, Marci had been interested in the deeper dimensions of life. She was driven to gain wisdom and wanted to find ways to share it with others. When she was 13, she’d been enthralled watching the great motivational speaker, Zig Zigler, move an audience with an inspirational talk. “When I saw that,” Marci says, “I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”
After MUM, she went on to UCLA and earned an MBA, specializing in organizational behavior. Her goal was to lead workshops on subjects such as stress management and communications skills, as a way to bring enlightened thinking and practices into the corporate world. She gave trainings to large groups at Fortune 500 companies including General Motors, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AT&T, and others.
She was a good motivational speaker but she wanted to be a great one. To improve her skills, she sought out motivational speaking expert Jack Canfield (who would later become famous as the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul) for guidance. Jack became Marci’s mentor. Her skills increased dramatically and she found herself working constantly.
Then the breakthrough happened, the inspiration that sent her career rocketing into the stratosphere. It was the fourth day of a week-long Transcendental Meditation retreat. “In the middle of my meditation,” she says, “a light bulb went off in my head and I saw the words, Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul.”
Excited by the revelation, she phoned Jack Canfield, who loved the idea. So did his publisher. Soon Marci was working on Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul. Two years later it was published and became an immediate bestseller. Over the next several years, Marci would go on to co-author five more Chicken Soup books, each one a bestseller. She’d become a publishing sensation.
Eventually, Marci says, “I’d cooked all the Chicken Soup I could cook.” She became interested in researching happiness, and wrote Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out and Love for No Reason: 7 Steps to Creating a Life of Unconditional Love, Like all of Marci’s books, they were received well and heralded by authors and celebrities, including Dr. Mehmet Oz, Marianne Williamson, and John Gray.
Today, Marci splits her time among several projects. She continues to inspire global audiences with her keynote addresses. Frequently approached by media for her insights and advice, she is interviewed often. She mentors future speakers and authors in an intensive workshop setting. And she partcipates on the board of directors of the Transformational Leadership Council, an exclusive group of 100 top leaders in the self-development field.
And, of course, she’s at work on her next book.
“This all happened from a vision I had when I was 13,” says Marci. “I knew I would be traveling the world and speaking to audiences and inspiring them. I also knew I’d be connected to a community of spiritual people. As for MUM, it was invaluable to me. I am grateful beyond measure for my experience there.”
Written by Warren Goldie
“Inspirational.” “A gifted motivator.” “The hit of the conference.” These are the kinds of comments heard from attendees of Jim Bagnola’s workshops, offered to corporations and government agencies in the U.S. and internationally on “The Art of Becoming a Professional Human Being,” a series that teaches employees how to shed limitations and find greater personal power.
An MUM graduate in 2011, Jim is a corporate educator, international speaker and executive coach. His book, Becoming a Professional Human Being: How to Enjoy Stress-Free Work and Personal Happiness Using the Mind/Body/Work Connection, was released in 2012.
Jim credits MUM for a formative and unique educational experience. “MUM has its focus on the knower and the known both,” he says. “How do we expand the conscious capacity of the knower? It’s not only about changing the hardware (the brain) but also changing the process of knowing, the software. That was the focus at MUM.”
Of his experience in the classroom at MUM, Jim says, “It’s interactive. It’s engaging. It’s having students teach each other. It engaging the student’s brain as much as the teacher’s brain. It’s reading an article or a piece of science and talking about it and then going deeply in the main points and how they relate to us and the world. The experience at MUM was exhilarating. The professors all stood out.”
As the former manager of world-famous master magician Doug Henning, Jim knows how to weave entertaining and fun — but always practical — experiences into his speaking engagements, which is appreciated by workers who must often sit through less-than-spellbinding presentations in their jobs.
Jim’s client list reads like a directory of Fortune 500 corporations and top government agencies. He has worked with thousands of companies as diverse as Shell Oil, U.S. Department of State, Mariott Hotels, Motorola, Scotiabank, NASA, and the United Nations. He serves as executive coach to many corporate executives.
Jim’s teaching techniques combine real-world knowledge he gained during 25 years in the corporate world with mind-body awareness exercises developed to break through personal limitations.
His teaching philosophy is based on the idea that thoughts and emotions can directly influence physical health and well being. His workshops employ many such techniques, giving participants first-hand experience in learning ways to change harmful thinking patterns in order to improve health, happiness, and success.
In this video, Jim illustrates the relationship between worker health and workplace management style.
In addition to his corporate work, Jim gives freely of his time to many social causes. He sits on the board of advisers for Leaders Romania, and is a frequent lecturer for AIESEC, an international educational foundation based in Rotterdam. In 2012, the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Bucharest, Romania awarded Jim the title of Doctor Honoris Causa (photo, right), an honorary PhD. Jim is also a member of the board of trustees of Olive Branch Foundation in Ohio.
Above all, Jim urges people to turn within and awaken to their inner power. “Bring who you are to what you do,” says Jim. “That’s what I help people develop.”
Learn more about Jim on his website.
Written by Warren Goldie
Amy Van Beek has built residential neighborhoods, designed commercial office buildings, co-founded an off-the-grid community, and equipped corporate and government buildings with high-tech renewable energy systems. She’s earned a reputation as one of the top green building experts in the Midwest, and has been featured in the news and on TV.
So how did a MUM fine arts grad who was a children’s book illustrator end up at the center of multimillion-dollar building projects?
Amy got her start in 2004 when her dad, philanthropist and real estate developer Doug Greenfield, began construction of several homes near the MUM campus in Fairfield, Iowa. When he was called away unexpectedly, he asked her to help out on the project.
“I thought it would be a great way to make some extra money and do some traveling,” says Amy, who had just completed a BFA in painting at MUM. She took to the work immediately. “I fell in love with running a construction project from start to finish, managing the tasks, taking the design work to completion, shepherding it the way to through the sales process. It brought me more joy than anything I’d ever done.”
Soon after, Amy co-founded Greenfield Properties with her dad, and she began designing and constructing housing developments and commercial properties around Fairfield, focused on using sustainable practices, non-toxic materials, and renewable energy technology whenever possible. She built Campus Cottages, The Ideal Building, Utopia Village residences, and homes in nearby Vedic City.
But perhaps the most satisfying project of all was Abundance EcoVillage, an off-the-grid community that allowed Amy to go deeply into cutting-edge sustainable building practices. Working with co-founders Michael Havelka and Lonnie Gamble, she helped to build a subdivision of homes that derive all their power from solar and wind energy.
Today, Amy is busy expanding Ideal Energy, Inc., a renewable energy design firm she co-founded with her husband, Troy Van Beek, an ex-U.S. Navy Seal turned sustainable builder (and an MUM graduate in 2006). Ideal Energy brings clean energy to businesses and government clients in Iowa and across the U.S. Projects often involve installing solar panels such the array (photo, above) at Fairfield’s AmyRam Building. Amy and Troy were married in Bali in 2012.
Amy’s Earth-conscious solutions are always practical and often ingenious. One of her projects required demolishing a building — at an estimated cost of $100,000, and would have included most of it going to a landfill. But she invited in the local Amish instead, who dismantled it manually in exchange for its scrap metal.
“It was wild to see,” recalls Amy. “About 20 Amish showed up and they took the building apart by hand using no power tools. In the end, we spent about $10,000 on the final demolition which consisted of removing the concrete slab from the ground.”
Though Amy had grown up in Fairfield, her route to studying at MUM wasn’t a direct one. She first spent a year at a respected art academy in Connecticut, but with not so great results.
“I remember being shocked about their attitudes regarding creative work. The view of some of my professors was that being creative comes out of a place of suffering,” she says. “Frankly, I was stressed out there. Everything was a struggle.”
Amy decided to return to Fairfield, transferring into a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at MUM.
“The philosophy at MUM is that you’re most creative when your physiology is well rested and you’re contacting the infinite source of creativity on a daily basis,” she says. “I remember having so many ideas I had trouble keeping track of them. I loved the nature of the routine that they had structured, which helps in taking really good care of yourself.”
Written by Warren Goldie
In the mid 1970s, Rene Hernandez was working as an undersea scuba diver on the research vessel, NOAA Oceanographer, cruising out of the Seattle Marine Center to the equatorial Pacific Ocean. An oceanographic technician, Rene assisted scientists in carrying out deep ocean mining studies.
She liked the job well enough, but she also yearned to do more than just collect seawater and bottom samples and operate a winch. “I wanted to be one of those researchers,” she says. “They were doing all the cool stuff, all the science.” To join their ranks, she found, would require an advanced degree.
Using the money she’d saved up from her job on the ship, she enrolled in the BA program in biology at MUM (then MIU), and after that went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience at MUM as well, opting not to attend a larger, more well-known university that had offered her a full PhD scholarship. “I wanted a more personal, hands-on educational experience that a only smaller school could offer,” she says. “At MUM we had easy access to faculty and weren’t just a number. It was a good fit for me.”
In 1984, she traveled to Newport, Rhode Island to attend her sister’s graduation ceremony at Navy Officer Candidate School. Finding herself in the midst of the military world, things suddenly clicked into place. “It was so orderly and organized. You understood exactly what was expected of you,” she says. “I found that quite charming. I wanted it. But I didn’t know if they took scientists.”
They most certainly did. Rene enlisted in the Navy for four years as a commissioned officer. Finding it to her liking, she signed up for four more years. Now, 25 years later, she’s still signing up for more. And still loving it.
Rene is a research physiologist who studies combat causalities. An expert in traumatic brain injury and PTSD, she is responsible for insuring that correct protocol is followed by Navy medical researchers. She’s the person who insures that studies are moving forward, often helping scientists to clarify and develop their ideas, and giving support in any way she can. She has editorial control and final say on the content of published research. “I’m the Navy voice for medical research in combat casualty care programs,” she says.
Because she often works with the written word, Rene says that learning how to write well was one of her most valuable take-aways from her time at MUM.
“During our core courses we had to write a paper every week,” she says. “We got a topic on Monday, submitted our paper on Wednesday, got it back corrected, then did a rewrite by Friday. It was an incredible, formative experience. It’s made all the difference in my work today.”
In her spare time, Rene helps ailing children and the families of injured soldiers. She’s ridden her Virago 750 many times in the annual Ride for Kids motorcycle ride to raise money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. As a volunteer for Marine Parents, she brings dinners to the parents of wounded warriors receiving care at the National Naval Medical Center hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.
Interestingly, TM is showing up more and more in the U.S. military setting. The U.S. Department of Defense awarded MUM a $2.4 million grant in 2012 to study stress reduction in veterans. And the nation’s oldest military college, Norwich University, has adopted the TM program in their curriculum.
Rene learned TM when she was 16 and has practiced it ever since, even during her two years at sea. “I started young,” she says. “It’s all I know.”
Written by Warren Goldie
As a former U.S. Navy SEAL and paramilitary security specialist, Troy Van Beek has been to some of the most dangerous places on the planet. He was lead sniper on the president of Afghanistan’s security team. He’s ridden on hostile roads notorious for car bombs and IEDs — commonplace when working in the Middle East. “Ninety miles an hour with your hair on fire was basically how we lived,” he says. He was good at it.
But he’d always had a strain of the seeker in him, and after his tour of duty ended Troy was drawn to investigate his spiritual side. Now a civilian back in the States, he wanted to find that kind of path for himself.
“I googled ‘enlightenment’ and the town of Fairfield came up,” says Troy. That piqued his curiosity, so on a trip to visit family in Michigan, he detoured south to Fairfield, home of Maharishi University of Management. “It was an amazing place,” he recalls. “It was filled with people who were in conversation about their spirituality. I was immediately taken by it.”
Troy enrolled at MUM in the BS program in sustainability. Soon after, he met Amy Greenfield, an eco-architectural designer who would become his girlfriend. Amy had been working with others in Fairfield to develop an off-the-grid sustainable community out on 185th street. Troy picked up on her passion for sustainable technologies and Vastu architecture, which matched up nicely with his own interests and aspirations.
Troy had always wanted to make world a better place, even as a soldier where he fought for others’ freedom. MUM helped to bring that dream into fruition. “Finding MUM was a blessing,” he says — even though, at first, acclimating to being on the peaceful campus was “akin to walking on the moon in comparison to the life I lived for 12 years.”
At MUM he deepened his spirituality through the practice of TM and immersed himself in sustainability studies. Before long the grip of the past began to ease up. “MUM gave me the ability to defrag my brain and body,” he says. “From that I’ve been able to take in a whole new world of possibilities.”
In 2009 Troy founded Ideal Energy, as a way to bring wind and solar power technology to corporate and government clients in Iowa and beyond, so they could run their businesses on lower cost, clean energy. For projects, Troy brings together a team of engineers, building performance specialists, security professionals, social change experts, renewable energy consultants, and architects (many of them MUM grads) to work on jobs that often involve installing massive wind turbines and vast arrays of solar panels.
Once a warrior on the battlefield, Troy looked within himself and decided on a different direction. “If I wanted to see positive change,” he says, “I knew I had to embody it myself.”
Troy and Amy married in 2012 and live in a cottage in Abundance Ecovillage, Fairfield’s thriving sustainability community. The village generates all its electricity from solar and wind power, uses sustainable materials, and maintains a small environmental footprint.
In 2012, Troy’s company, Ideal Energy, completed a breakthrough project, installing a 54,000 watt solar panel at Sky Factory, a producer of virtual skylights and window panels (see video below). The solar panel meets all of the company’s power needs. “It’s the first light manufacturing plant in the state to be net-zero [needing no outside power],” says Troy. “It’s waking people up that this can actually happen.”
Thank you to Oprah’s Next Chapter and Fairfield’s KRUU for some quotes and photos
Written by Warren Goldie
You can read this profile to learn about Lyric Benson, the daughter of actor Robby Benson and singer Karla DeVito, but to really understand her, you’ll want to listen to “My Heart is the Sun,” an exuberant, eco-psychedelic, hip-pop song that trumpets Lyric’s spirit in a way the written word simply can’t. Access the song, which is featured on her debut album, Lyric’s Love Light Revolution, here.
A writer, poet, actor, and singer, Lyric grew up the child of Hollywood success, but found her own unique path to creating and performing. And to higher consciousness.
Lyric’s dad was a film and TV star in the 1970s and 1980s (One on One, Ice Castles, The Chosen) who became a TV director of more than 100 popular sitcoms including dozens of episodes of Friends and Ellen. Her rock singer mom had belted out songs with the likes of Meat Loaf and Blue Oyster Cult, and soloed ahead of Rick Springfield.
Lyric also worked in “the Industry” as a screenwriter at age 18, writing scripts for a Hollywood production company affiliated with Sony Pictures. As an actress, she performed on the TV shows Evening Shade and Modern Love.
Though she was drawn to the bright lights and to the thrill of performing, Lyric had a powerful yearning to experience the deeper dimensions of life. “I always wanted to know, what’s the meaning of all this? What is the point of existence?“ says Lyric.
At 18, she read Autobiography of a Yogi, the story of an Indian guru’s journey to enlightenment. It was a revelation. “That ignited an urgency in me,” she says. “I really felt I understood it. I thought I could function like that.”
A year later, she learned the Transcendental Meditation technique, which gave her a way to deepen her experience of herself and of life.
“Learning TM was incredible,” she says. “I was enthralled by the experience of silence. I had some health issues at the time that cleared up. My insomnia fell away and suddenly I could sleep.”
In 2001, Lyric came to the MUM campus on a Visitors Weekend. “I was immediately struck by how happy and kind everyone was,” she says. “The environment, the silence, and the program were amazing.”
She enrolled, and in 2006 earned a BA in Maharishi Vedic Science. She spent the next several years focused on an inward journey, practicing the TM-Sidhi® program (an advanced module of the TM technique), and immersed herself in studying and experiencing higher states of consciousness in a retreat program called Mother Divine. And she continued to write.
In 2011, Lyric emerged from retreat with a strong desire to express what she had experienced in art and in action. “I wanted to put the poetry I’d been writing into music,” she says.
Working with her multitalented actor dad, Robby Benson — who is also an accomplished musician and composer, and thevoice of the Beast in Disney’s animated feature, Beauty and the Beast — Lyric’s Love Light Revolution was born in 2011.
The album describes Lyric’s own spiritual journey. “First there’s love, the desire for union, to know who you really are in your heart,” she says. “The light comes in because there’s that aha moment, and that’s what transforms, what causes, the revolution.” Fans of the album include Charlie Sheen (photo right).
Her time at MUM has always remained close to Lyric’s heart. “MUM was awesome,” she says. “It’s a school that’s all about diving into the Self, experiencing the peace within, and then kicking butt in activity in whatever way you’re given to move and flow through life!”
Written by Warren Goldie
Question: How does a grassroots community radio station in Fairfield, Iowa, a town of 9,000, manage to get in-person interviews with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Candy Crowley, Amy Goodman, and Joe Biden?
Answer: By virtue of being located in Iowa, noteworthy because the state’s caucuses are the first major event of the presidential races, drawing frequent visits by nominees and the media — and through the hard work of radio visionary Jimmy Moore.
Solar-powered KRUU radio airs an astonishing 80 locally produced shows — in a county of only 16,800 people. Its music library contains tens of thousands of songs. Radio shows are broadcast around the clock.
Much of the credit for KRUU’s success goes to station manager Jimmy Moore, whose tireless work helped to birth the station in 2006 and who continues to drive its momentum.
To say that Jimmy is passionate about radio is an understatement. “Radio done right is an incredible experience,” says Jimmy, who earned an MBA from MUM in 1985. “It’s pure. It’s intimate. From the listener’s perspective, it’s just you and the person talking to you.”
Jimmy and his friend Roland Wells got the idea for the station in the early ’00s. Jimmy had been working as a tennis pro, musician and TM teacher. He’d been traveling a lot — to Spain, France, Switzerland, India, the Philippines, Mexico, England, Bahrain. Then he decided he wanted to stay put in Fairfield and dive into something that would have real meaning for him.
Jimmy and Roland drew up engineering specs for a community radio station and secured approval for a broadcasting license. Jimmy held town hall meetings to gauge community interest. It was there.
With donated funds, they purchased a modest brick one-story building on Second Street and set up a studio. Alliant Energy donated a 200-foot freestanding broadcast tower. Green Building Supply provided a floor. Pfizer pitched in some furniture. In all, a lot of individuals and organizations chipped in. But when launch day came around, Jimmy wasn’t quite ready for it.
“I begged the advisory board to put it off for two weeks,” he recalls. “They told me that things would be just as crazy then, so just go ahead and do it now.”
At that moment, Jimmy recalled a piece of advice given to him by his father. “He used to say, ‘Do something, even if it’s wrong.’ So I went ahead and jumped in.”
Filling up programming slots wasn’t a problem in Fairfield, with its many artists, writers and thinkers. “There are a lot of people here with a lot to say,” says Jimmy with a wink and a laugh.
Early radio shows included “Politiking with Ari Berman by a twenty-something graduate of Fairfield’s Maharishi School who would go on to fame as a TV commentator and political journalist. BBC Filmmaker and MUM professor Stuart Tanner did a current events show of NPR quality, which still runs today.
The music library grew to require terrabytes of disk storage. The station’s online broadcast, KRUUFM.com, started to draw more listeners, many from more than 40 countries.
Today, the station boasts an impressive catalog of shows, which include Around the Town, Free Speech Radio News, Blues Oasis, Planet Erstwild, Lyrical Venus, La Nueva Hora Latina, Fringe Toaste, Filmosophers, Icon Art Radio, Eclectic Audiophile, and more. Jimmy is frequently an on-air host.
While attending MUM in his MBA program, Jimmy learned the value of being a part of a group focused on creating greater consciousness. “At MUM I learned that anything is possible,” he says. “I learned that it’s important to take personal responsibility for what you do. Responsibility is something that’s inside of you, not outside.”
Jimmy works frequently with MUM today, both as an instructor and as a recruiter of talent for the station. “The Media and Communications department is one of the shining lighthouses of the university,” he says. What he learned there informs all of his work at KRUU.
“This radio station is a rich, aural mosaic,” says Jimmy. “It gives voice to this community. I’m grateful to be a part of it. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Written by Warren Goldie
As a young documentary filmmaker looking to get started in a very competitive industry, Déjà Bernhardt had an advantage: she was living directly in a filmmaker’s dream — a non-stop heart-rending adventure that swirled perpetually around her world-famous mother, Robin Lim, a midwife with a larger-than-life personality whose humanitarian work in Indonesia had won her the Alexander Langer Award for Peace in 2006 and CNN Hero of the Year in 2011.
Déjà hardly had to travel farther than the family dinner table for ideas and inspiration for her early work. “There’s no shortage of things to film when you’re following my mother around,” says Déjà, 37.
Déjà’s filmmaking journey started in 2000, when she signed up for a video editing class in MUM’s Media & Communications department. “I was addicted after that,” she says.
Inspired by MUM’s international students from Mozambique, Déjà traveled to Africa to work on “Chimio Means Little Heart,” her first student documentary, about the transmission of AIDS through breastfeeding and the stigma that surrounds it. Next, she filmed “Ubuntu” in South Africa. Then came her feature-length documentary “Guerrilla Midwife,” which follows Déjà’s mom, Ibu Robin (“Mother Robin”), on a mesmerizing journey as she helps Indonesian women amid the wreckage of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Many of Déjà’s films have been globally influential in promoting humanitarian efforts, and continue to play in festivals worldwide.
Déjà credits her experience at MUM as being formative in her creative vision. “MUM made me the filmmaker I am today, the kind who seeks out the deeper layers in a story, who looks for how things connect up together. Which can be hard to do as a filmmaker; it’s much easier to make a film with only one storyline and one thread. It’s my nature to go as deep as I can.”
Déjà’s recent work has shifted in the direction of narrative storytelling. She’s just completed filming a TV pilot, “Returning to Ananda,” which she wrote, directed, and stars in. Shot in Fairfield, Iowa, home of MUM, the pilot is now in post-production.
“It’s about a woman who returns home to a small town,” Déjà says. “She realizes that everything she thought was missing from her life is actually right there in front of her. It’s an edgy, dark comedy. Anyone who’s ever been touched by Eastern philosophy — and especially people who are seekers — will relate to it.”
Once the pilot episode wraps, Déjà plans to pitch it to cable networks including HBO and Showtime. She has written several additional episodes which she hopes will form the start of season one.
Creators of TV pilots often find it difficult to get a foot in the door at the networks and cable stations, but Déjà will probably get her shot, thanks to her recent Student Academy Award nomination, which is no easy accomplishment.
Déjà’s 2013 narrative drama short, “The Midwife’s Husband,” (watch the trailer) won a Regional Student Academy Award, and was subsequently nominated for the National Student Academy Award, for which Deja traveled to Los Angeles to participate in Hollywood ceremonies. (Student Academy Awards® nominees have gone on to win more than 50 Oscar® nominations and Oscars.)
Born in Santa Barbara, California, Déjà Bernhardt is the oldest of eight siblings. Her parents moved the family to Maui, Hawaii when she was four, and to Indonesia when she was 15.
Déjà lives in Austin, Texas, with her daughter, Zoe, 15, and is pursuing a Master in Fine Arts in Film Production at the University of Texas with the goal of teaching filmmaking. The rest of her family, including her mother Robin Lim, remain close and maintain houses in Bali.
MUM and its teachings continue to be an influential force in Déjà’s life and work.
“Maharishi’s knowledge is part of my heart, it’s ingrained in everything I write, everything I do,” Déjà says. “I’m so lucky to have had an education at MUM and to have my TM practice. My experience at MUM was so profound. It’s where I learned that everything I do affects everything else.”
Déjà’s next film: An indie feature called Half Angel, set in Hawaii, which she hopes to shoot within the next 18 months.
Learn about degrees in Media & Communications at MUM
Written by Warren Goldie
“Support of nature” is a term sometimes used to explain why positive events occur in your life when you live in harmony with universal or natural law. Life flows more smoothly. Positive things happen. Opportunities arise.
That may have been the force at work 17 years ago when Alan Phillips decided to start a vocational college in Vancouver, Canada in media arts studies — just as the city was poised to expand into an international center for the film, television and gaming industries, making it the perfect location for such a school.
Thus, Vancouver Institute for Media Arts (VanArts) got off to a great start, and today, still thrives.
“This is the third largest market in North America for film, animation and visual effects work,” says school founder Alan Phillips, who graduated from MUM in 1991. “Vancouver is only behind Los Angeles and New York.”
Support of nature? Perhaps. Good business sense and hard work, definitely. And maybe a little luck thrown in.
Four years after earning his MBA from MUM in 1991, Alan developed a business plan for the school and secured investors. In 1995, VanArts was born as a private career training institute.
A critical step was hiring Academy Award winning animator and director Lee Mishkin to head up VanArts’ animation program. Mishkin, a long-time Hollywood insider, had had a storied career at UPA, Warner Brothers and DePatie-Freleng Studios that spanned four decades. He’d worked on dozens of films and TV shows, including “Mr. Magoo,” “Batman,” “Jetsons: The Movie,” and “The Simpsons.” With Mishkin onboard, the Walt Disney Studios offered their endorsement and support, including annual visits by a top executive.
Over the years, the school expanded to include diploma programs in visual effects, game art & design, broadcasting, acting, digital photography and web development, in addition to its 2D and 3D animation programs. Faculty arrived from big name studios, including DreamWorks, Electronic Arts, and Industrial Light and Magic. VanArts graduates started being hired to work on movies such “Avatar,” “The Dark Night,” “Harry Potter,” and “Life of Pi.”
Today, VanArts is ranked #11 in the world on Animation Career Review’s “Top 100 Schools for Animation, Gaming and Design” list. It carries a #1 ranking in Western Canada.
As the school’s founder and president, Alan Phillips had built the business from the ground up. The education he received at MUM, along with his practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM), has played a significant role in his success.
“I loved my time at MUM where the central focus of all study areas is consciousness,” says Alan. “The professors were all very knowledgeable in their fields, many having graduated from top universities in the U.S. It was a precious time that I will never forget.”
Alan has been doing a regular practice of TM for 43 years. “Tapping into those quieter levels of awareness has helped me stay focused and clear in challenging situations,” he says. “When you build a business, you find yourself in many trying circumstances. TM has been a huge benefit. It helps me think through challenges effectively and solve problems more easily.”
Alan, a TM teacher himself, intends to make learning the practice of TM available to all VanArts students and staff.
Learn about degrees at MUM in Media and Communications.
Written by Warren Goldie
Like a modern day Johnny Appleseed, Justin Cutter (and partner Nick Runkle) travel the country planting seeds and spreading the word about the benefits of organic, natural food. Unlike Johnny Appleseed, however, they do it from an 18-foot box truck complete with a fully functional greenhouse in the back.
The project, called Compass Green, introduces sustainable agriculture practices to students and adults through presentations and demonstrations given at schools, camps, and organizations across the U.S. The focus is on Biointensive mini-farming, a technique that can produce large crop yields in small spaces.
In 2011, Justin and Nick (also an MUM grad) were looking for an attention-getting way to get people interested in food production issues — and certainly found one. “When we roll into town, people who wouldn’t give a hoot about sustainability or farming say, ‘Why is that guy driving around in a truck with veggies growing in the windows?’” says Justin, 29, a MUM grad in 2006 and co-founder of Compass Green. “That’s our opportunity.”
Nick got the idea for the project when an artist who had been using the large-windowed truck as a mobile art gallery put it up for sale. At the time, Justin had been working in Mendocino, Calif. on a farm owned by renowned agriculturalist Jon Jeavons, the pioneer of Biointensive mini-farming. Justin and Nick purchased the truck, and Compass Green was started.
“People think that agriculture means pesticides, herbicides, genetically-engineered crops and tractor combines,” says Justin. “What we do is show them there’s another way, one that’s more beneficial for the farmer and the land.”
Justin speaks with conviction about sustainable farming and the harmful influence of the corporate food industry. He’s taught thousands of students, parents and farmers about sustainable practices. But back in 2002, when he was starting out as a student at MUM, he wasn’t as sure of his path. He had switched majors a few times, from theatre to business and finally to Maharishi Vedic Science (MVS).
In MVS, Justin knew he’d found the right program. Maharishi Vedic Science takes students deeply into the knowledge of the Vedas, the ancient wisdom texts of India. A program unique to MUM, it illuminates the nature of reality and the true makeup of the Self.
Some of the people in Justin’s life, however, didn’t see the practicality in such a degree. “My friends and family were saying, ‘What are you going to do, go into some big company, smack down your Vedic Science degree and ask for a job?’” says Justin. “I told them the kind of place I would want to work would ask me about it and what it means. Which would give me a chance to explain that I spent time learning the basic operating rules and principles that underlie all systems in life.”
Justin sees the degree as highly practical. “Those principles,” he says, “have been applicable to everything I’ve done in my life, from working as a sailor trying to run an efficient ship to starting youth groups and educational organizations. The same rules that allow a tree to grow and transfer nutrients can be applied to a business or a relationship.”
Maharishi Vedic Science takes students inward to the Self, rather than outside of it, for knowledge. “I’ve always understood that the most important thing in life is to find your own fulfillment and happiness,” says Justin. “Vedic Science allowed me to explore the big questions of life. Who are we and what is our purpose? What is this world and how do we move through it with grace and efficiency? The MVS degree was incredibly valuable.”
Justin says he developed life skills at MUM in a way that would not have been possible at other schools. “At MUM I learned how the world functions, and how I function. That has kept me stable and kept my creativity awake, so that when I see opportunities I can take them, and when I don’t see them I can make them.”
Article: “A Mobile Greenhouse Project Pit-Stops in L.A.” LA Weekly
Written by Warren Goldie
Annie Blecher has found a way to see the world — while making it a better place. Annie has been to 20 countries in six years since graduating from MUM in 2005. She is in charge of business development at Maharishi Institute, a nonprofit university founded by an organization that has pioneered the “virtually free” education movement of South Africa. Located in Johannesburg, the university is in its sixth year of operation.
Annie and her team have helped educate some 5,500 disadvantaged youth — students who likely would have remained in hopeless poverty otherwise. Maharishi Institute also helps place graduates in jobs. These grads earn a combined $32 million per year, much of which goes back into helping disadvantaged communities and families.
Annie discovered a passion for international work while a student at MUM. She studied in Italy, India, and China as part of MUM’s Rotating University. Chinese culture particularly resonated with her, and she was determined to return there.
After graduating from MUM, Annie set out for the San Francisco Bay area to do non-profit work for the David Lynch Foundation and the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education. Already a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation® technique (she was certified in Fairfield), she taught meditation in Bay Area schools and in the department of Education.
But the world abroad had worked its way deeply into her being. Especially China. And so, in 2007, Annie took a job in Beijing at a partner university to MUM, which also used Consciousness-Based education℠ (CBE) as its foundational philosophy. Annie understood full well the tremendous benefits of CBE, which she’d experienced at MUM, and enthusiastically promoted it in China.
“CBE really changes students,” says Annie, 29. “They develop an ability to stand up and speak, to have the confidence to articulate what they’re feeling. They come to believe in themselves.”
Working tirelessly to find ways to expand CBE in China, she learned about a university in South Africa, also using CBE, along with other innovative educational breakthroughs. Without knowing it, she had found her future home, spouse, and work.
“I was asked to research the man who would be my husband,” Annie jokes, speaking of Taddy Blecher, director of Maharishi School in Johannesburg, South Africa (photo, above). “I was interested in the model of education he was using as a solution for poverty alleviation in China. They were doing great things.”
In 2008, Annie visited the university — and never looked back. “I fell in love with the students,” she says of the disadvantaged youth from South African townships who attend Maharishi Institute. “I loved the country.”
Annie moved to Johannesburg and took a job in development at the school. And she learned about social entrepreneurship, a practice she embraced.
“Social entrepreneurship is about making a difference sustainably,” says Annie. “It’s about a business being profitable, yet also doing good. Social entrepreneurs are business people who want to do business in ways that uplift society and change inequalities.”
Already an expert in Consciousness-Based education, Annie found herself connecting with the wealthy international community of large corporations and philanthropists seeking to fund worthwhile causes — such as Maharishi Institute — that work to educate the disadvantaged and alleviate poverty. Maharishi Institute makes significant financial support available to poor youth, giving them a cost-free education in most cases.
Over the past several years, Annie and Taddy have met with many organizations and participated in conferences all over the world (see photo, top, with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus), spreading the word about Consciousness-Based education, which she had experienced firsthand during her own schooling at MUM.
“Going to MUM gave me the courage to go out into the world,” she says. “I haven’t lived in the U.S. in over five years, and even though I miss my friends and family and always love coming home, I feel comfortable anywhere in the world. MUM’s system of education gave me that deep inner stability. I don’t think I’d be here today if it weren’t for that.”
Today, Annie continues to work at changing the status quo for the historically disadvantaged of South Africa. Her development work includes fundraising, marketing, donor management, and corporate partnerships.
“Until a poor child has access to equal opportunities in education that can change their lives, we won’t have true equality here,” she says. “Consciousness-Based education is the tool we’re using to make it happen.”
Annie recently received the MBA she started in Beijing. She did it through Maharishi Institute, which has set up a corporate university with the second largest telecommunications company in Johannesburg. MUM in Fairfield is the distance education provider.
Written by Warren Goldie
“The main benefit of MUM and Consciousness-Based Education for me was learning how to become clear within myself,” says Shane Zisman, 32, an MUM graduate in 2003 who went on to earn a law degree at Vermont Law School in 2011. “Once you’ve done that, you can actually watch your desires manifest in the world through the support of nature.”
Or, some people might just call it good luck.
Shane says he observed evidence of that support showing up just after he graduated from law school. It was late 2011, and the economy was still sluggish with jobs hard to find. “People in my class were told by interviewers they were competing against a thousand applicants,” he says. “You were lucky if your application was even reviewed. I wanted to work in the public sector in environmental law, which is what most everyone else wanted, too. It’s a crowded field.”
Even with all the competition, Shane received not one but three job offers — in Vermont, Colorado, and Fairfield, Iowa, home of MUM. He credited not only his excellent academic record for all the interest, but also his consciousness-related work, his daily Transcendental Meditation® practice, and the benefits of those efforts. He accepted the Fairfield position at Earth Open Source, a nonprofit organization that challenges the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizer and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture.
Earth Open Source believes that these technologies pose a danger to health and the environment. Instead, they support agroecological, farmer-based systems that conserve soil, water, and energy and that produce healthy and nutritious food free from unnecessary toxins. The organization’s funding goes mainly into scientific research, policy formulation, and sustainable rural development.
As program officer, Shane works on projects that are largely international and center on sustainable rural development. He has shepherded several agricultural development initiatives forward, including one recent effort to help an eroding medicinal herb farm in the forests of Nepal. Over time, he has established several programs that train local farmers in sustainable methods of agriculture.
Though Earth Open Source’s work is far reaching, Shane works primarily in Fairfield. “I spend most of my time developing programs, seeking funding, and managing them from the U.S.,” he says.
Shane also works for The Global ID Group, also Fairfield based, a sister company of Earth Open Source. On a recent project, Shane helped to establish a certification program to verify that soy in Eastern Europe is free of GMOs, and which will ensure that growers use fair labor practices and are compliant with European law.
Shane couldn’t be happier doing this kind of work, which uses both his legal skills and his passion for sustainability and social justice. “I couldn’t have scripted a more perfect job for my interests,” he says.
In his spare time, Shane enjoys exotic vacations (such as a recent trip to Bali and South Korea), beach volleyball, hiking, basketball, and watching his brother’s touring band perform.
Written by Warren Goldie
Chris Kein had been working for two years as financial controller at ObjectNet Technologies, an Atlanta-based IT support and services company, when top management asked him if he might be open to a job change.
“They wanted me to work directly with customers,” says Chris, who graduated from MUM with an MBA in Accounting in 2010. What his superiors had noticed was that Chris possessed the ideal qualities of a high-tech salesman: a gregarious, easy-going nature, the ability to communicate persuasively and listen well, and a masterful understanding of enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology, his company’s stock and trade.
So I thought, ‘Why not?’,” says Chris. “I wanted to be as saleable in the market as possible.”
His new position in business development required that he travel to customer locations to try to secure new business. And he thrived at it, landing many lucrative contracts and eventually being promoted Vice President of Business Development. Now, five years later, Chris is the company’s Chief Operating Officer, leading West Coast operations from his offices in Sunnyvale, California.
Chris also runs business development for HCM Solutions, based in Singapore, and Sharp Gurus, based in Mumbai, India. His talent lies in finding firms in North America in need of software development, product development, human resources, and IT training, and then connecting them up with onshore, nearshore and offshore experts who can fill those needs.
Chris’s main focus is on providing SAP support and maintenance to customers. SAP is software that runs the infrastructure, “Whereas small companies might use QuickBooks,” says Chris, “the huge multinationals often use SAP (or Oracle or PeopleSoft) to run their businesses.” SAP, as a company, claims more than 300,000 customers worldwide.
Installations of SAP code tend to be very complex, and invariably companies need help in updating, repairing and customizing the software and systems that use it. To avoid the high cost of full-time software developers, companies will often turn to outsourcing. “Basically they want less expensive labor,” says Chris. “We provide that. We fill in the gaps. It may be staff augmentation, or sometimes a combination solution is most cost-effective — for example, instead of two senior-level people in the U.S. we might offer one in the U.S. and one in India.”
In his quest to find new business, Chris puts his drive, affability, and ingenuity to work in any number of ways.
“I’m the kind of person who tends to do a lot of networking,” he says. “I attend meetups of professionals and recruiters. I will often mix social events with business. I go to activities put on by ethnic groups. I play golf. I donate to local associations. I see these all as opportunities to talk about my company. I’m fairly well known in the community.”
Says Chris, “In my personal life, I generally don’t slow down at all. That’s where Transcendental Meditation comes in. Since I started, I’ve seen tremendous changes in my personal and professional life. TM is the real advantage of MUM. You could pay a million dollars looking for something as effective, but I doubt you’d find it.”
Chris spends a lot of time on the road for his job — and the road sometimes leads back to Fairfield, Iowa, home of MUM.
“Every year I come to MUM to give a workshop on SAP Finance to the accounting students,” he says. “I really enjoy it there. The faculty are wonderful, friendly people. On top of that there is Iowa, which is so beautiful. Whenever I go to MUM I tell my company, ‘I’m going back to my hometown.’”
Written by Warren Goldie
In today’s globally interdependent economy, executives and employees are working more and more with people from other cultures, and in some cases, must relocate to other countries for their jobs. How hard is it to adjust to a new culture? What is the best way to prepare for it?
If you’re the executives at Verizon or Vodafone, prepping to send sales teams to Japan, Germany, France, and the U.K., you bring in Tom Morgan to give a cross-cultural sensitivity training workshop to your employees.
If you’re Disney studios attempting to understand why your animated film didn’t go over so well in India, you retain Tom to present a primer on the fine points of Indian arts and culture. If you’re the artistic director of Cirque Du Soleil trying to mold a show that audiences in China, Korea and Dubai will love, you sit Tom down in the first row to watch a rehearsal and then use his feedback to adjust the show.
“I help people build intercultural skills,” says Tom, a cross-cultural consultant with 18 years of experience, who holds one-on-one work and group business trainings for several of the largest corporations in the world.
Topics Tom typically covers include the host country’s culture, the adjustment process, dealing with culture shock, and differences in communication styles. He uses the Bennett Scale to diagnose a client’s “stage of cultural sensitivity,” and then customizes his training based on that starting point.
“As they progress,” says Tom, “they experience higher states of awareness of the host culture, ultimately arriving at a stage where they are able to integrate that culture. In effect, they’ve expanded their consciousness to include the other culture.”
Tom relates that view to his experience of Consciousness-Based Education at MUM. “They’re both about developing consciousness,” he says. “Both have helped me to see how unity and diversity can work together.”
Over his 20-year career, Tom has helped his clients and their families relocate to more than 50 countries, working with more than a hundred Fortune 1000 companies and organizations that include Boeing, General Motors, the U.S. Marine Corps, Nestle Purina, and Chevron.
His interest in cultures grew out of his vibrant early family life in Pittsburgh, PA. “One of my uncles studied at Harvard Divinity School and was an expert in Asian religions,” recalls Tom. “I had relatives in the Peace Corps. We were Quakers and our tradition was to have guests over. We’d have Indian gurus, people from Nigeria and Japan, all sorts of interesting people.
“In my twenties I traveled a lot. I spent three years in India, I taught in Nepal, I worked on a peace project in Nicaragua. I was outside the U.S. for six years, which had a huge impact on me. I was fascinated by cultural differences. I knew I wanted to work in the field.”
In 1993 Tom began to read prolifically on the subject. He called authors. He took courses at the Intercultural Communications Institute in Portland, Oregon. He networked.
At a conference in Washington, D.C, he met the executive director of the U.S.-India Business Council. “He told me his staff had never had any intercultural training,” says Tom, who seized on the opportunity. “I made a proposal to him and soon I was in D.C. working with his staff.” From there, Tom founded Tom Morgan Intercultural Associates, picking up new clients and gradually building an impressive client list.
Tom says his education at MUM has helped quite a lot in his work.
“It’s helped in every way,” he says. “The knowledge I gained at MUM is woven into everything I do in this field. Intercultural communication is all about elevating consciousness.”
Toim particularly values the focus on Self he experienced while a student at MUM. “I really liked that I was able, over and over, to connect the details of what I was learning to the study of the Self. That was one of the most important things for me.”
When Tom isn’t working, he can sometimes be spotted in some cozy coffee shop, finger-picking on guitar with his band, Skunk River Medicine Show. Or, when he’s abroad, he takes pleasure in expanding his gustatory consciousness at restaurants that showcase local dishes.
Written by Warren Goldie
Ned Roberts isn’t your typical Human Resources professional.
While most Human Resources (HR) workers handle the essential, largely bureaucratic functions such as payroll, employee benefits, recruiting, posting of regulations, and training, Ned Roberts found an HR niche that is holistic and proactive, which has given him an opportunity to work on interesting projects with several Fortune 100 companies.
Starting out in his first HR job at Crocker Bank in San Francisco in 1984, Ned quickly discovered routine Human Resources work to be ill-matched to his aptitudes and interests. “I was more interested in HR as a way to improve organizational culture,” says Ned, who graduated from MUM in 1981 with an MA in Higher Education Administration (he also has a BA in Psychology). “That’s what I wanted to do most.”
And he has done just that. Over a successful career, Ned has helped shape key Human Resources processes at top corporations including tech giants eBay, Oracle, and cNet in the Bay Area.
When Crocker Bank was acquired by Wells Fargo in 1986, Ned was working in employee relations, traveling often to bank branches throughout the Western U.S., interviewing managers and employees, identifying areas of potential risk. He excelled at it.
At his next employer, Citibank, he stepped up the career ladder as manager of HR information systems, where he developed a skill for data analysis and strategic reporting. His reports made their way up the executive chain of comment to top decision-makers at Citibank’s New York City headquarters. In addition, he was Human Resources director of several remote bank branches.
Even with all his corporate success, Ned had started to feel stymied working in HR departments that he felt failed to understand their potential to make larger contributions to the organization. So, in 1994, he left the 9-to-5 world to become a full-time HR consultant. “I knew I could contribute more that way,” he says.
Ned specialized in performance management and competency modeling — ways to slice and dice mountains of data on employee performance and HR processes, and wring meaning from it all. He built competency management systems (competencies being traits related to employee success in various professions) for clients, many who went on to become Internet-era behemoths, such as eBay. “I was hired to build a performance appraisal system for them when they had about 200 employees,” he says. Today eBay is a multi-billion dollar company with more than 13,000 employees.
Over the years, Ned’s work helped to make organizations more effective at getting the most from their people.
Being smart, skilled, creative, and able to leverage new knowledge for each new job was key in Ned’s ability to land lucrative contracts and produce high quality work — as was the clarity he gained through his 30+ year practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique, which he also did daily as a full-time MUM student.While at MUM, Ned was particularly impressed by the University’s well-structured curricula. “Many of the things at MUM are really done brilliantly,” he says. “I was in awe of many of the faculty there, and their dedication and knowledge. The way Consciousness-Based Education is taught at MUM is fantastic.”
In 2012, Ned returned to MUM to share knowledge gained from his years of work in the corporate world. He taught a course on strategic Human Resources as part of the University’s MBA program.
Today, Ned and his wife, Judi Green Roberts (also an MUM alumnus), live in Truckee, a charming mountain town in Northern California. “I’m retired now,” says Ned, even though he still consults on the occasional HR project — when he isn’t hiking or traveling with Judy, or singing in the OK Chorale, a six-person barbershop quartet (photo above, Ned in the red shirt).
Written by Warren Goldie
“Emotion drives my work,” says Mikaila Maidment, 33, a children’s book illustrator and graphic designer who often develops product packaging, logos and websites. “Feeling an emotional connection to a character or a subject is the spark that gets me going.”
After graduating MUM with an MFA, Mikaila opened a studio in Fairfield, not far from the university. Her time filled up quickly with professional jobs. To date, she has illustrated seven children’s books, and works often creating designs and images for companies that include Heavenly Organics, AERON, and iPhone Life magazine. Currently she’s at work illustrating a children’s book written by a Canadian author in both English and Chinese.
Mikaila’s book assignments usually begin when a publisher (or sometimes the author) sends her a manuscript. “As I read it, instantly I’ll start picturing the characters and settings in my mind,” she says. “I start with thumbnail sketches, marrying what the author wants with what the text needs, and figuring how to get it all to work together.” View Mikaila’s website.
As she readies to put pencil or brush to paper, Mikaila bathes her studio in music chosen to evoke the mood of the book, playing songs that can range from Mozart to Matisyahu to Brett Dennen. As she begins to sketch, she often has no idea what she’ll come up with.
“I don’t have a huge agenda going in,” she says. “I try to approach it from a place of innocence.” In starting to work, Mikaila opens herself to a transcendent experience.
“Sometimes, when I’m working there are moments where there’s no separation between what I’m thinking and what my hand is doing. As an artist, you try to tap into a deeper reservoir and then wait for the spark of inspiration,” she says. “You get pulled in. You follow it. When I’m done I step back and look at the work and think, ‘Oh, that’s what that was.’ But while it’s happening, I’m not intellectually aware of what I’m doing. It’s a different, heightened kind of focus.”
Mikaila has been drawing and painting since she was a small child growing up in British Columbia, Canada. She learned the necessary technical fundamentals such as tone, color and shape at MUM, where she earned both a bachelor and masters degree in fine arts.
She notes a striking difference between MUM and other art programs. “Many schools place a heavy emphasis on critiques, which can sometimes be done in a destructive way,” she says. “Students are ripped down and built back up based on the views of a teacher or a program. I know artists who’ve had to unlearn what they learned because there was so much fear around it.”
She goes on, “Issues like ‘Is what you’re doing relevant, modern, and contemporary’ become more important than giving students what they need as individuals. Of course, it’s important to be aware and informed, but when you’re starting out, you need to feel comfortable and safe.”
The small class size at MUM helped Mikaila blossom as an artist. “I felt nurtured there,” she says. “The students were cared for, like seeds cultivated and allowed to grow. We had critiques, of course, and guidance, but I never felt ripped down or less-than.”
While at MUM, Mikaila took on outside commissions, working on everything from designing Bar Mitzvah invitations to illustrating PhD dissertations to painting a wall-sized mural at a carwash. “It was a picture of a train,” she recalls with a laugh. “I was really proud of it. The first time you get paid to do what you love to do, it’s a rush.”
After graduating from MUM, Mikaila traveled to Ireland for more than a year, where she toured the country painting murals at pubs and other locations. Mikaila has been practicing the Transcendental Meditation® technique since she was 12. “Meditation is a huge part of my life,” she says. “And so is authenticity. I’d always known that if I wanted to create art that was true to myself, that going within and being in the Self would have to be part of the process.”
On her future plans, Mikaila wants to continue expanding her book illustration career. “I’d especially like to work with the larger publishing houses,” she says. “Also I want to illustrate and write my own children’s book, do artist residencies in foreign countries, and write and illustrate a travel book.”
Written by Warren Goldie
Fresh out of college in 1984, the last thing Gabriel Okong’o Akura wanted was to start his teaching career in a place like Rageng’ni, a remote Kenyan village of less than 100 people. He would have preferred to remain in his hometown, the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Nairobi, where he could not only teach but also pursue work as a journalist. But city teaching jobs were hard to come by, and the village position was all he could find.
Now, nearly 30 years and five university degrees later, including a Doctor of Education from the University of Missouri and a Master’s degree in the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI)* from MUM, Akura plans to return home to help those same Kenyan villagers as a sustainable agricultural entrepreneur and educator. He is already working with financiers to make it happen.
“When I started out I was frustrated in the villages,” recalls Akura, who prefers to go by his last name. “But I did well. I ended up liking it. I realized that teaching was my calling.”
Akura went on to teach biology and geography in various schools in Kenya, including Pangani Girls High School, a top national school.
In those days in Nairobi, advertisement slides were projected in movie theaters before films. Akura saw one that captured his interest: a promotion for the Transcendental Meditation® technique. He soon learned TM. A few years later, in 1991, he received a scholarship to attend MUM (then MIU) and came to the school for his master’s degree.
“I was really into Maharishi’s knowledge,” says Akura. “I was excited to come to MUM. A lot of my colleagues who came over from Kenya with me studied business. I just wanted to learn about consciousness.”
Akura, who is currently an assistant professor at MUM, views Consciousness-Based Education, which is the approach used at MUM, as ideal for people who want to make a difference in the world.
“It’s great for students who are trying to connect the dots in their lives. When you look at what’s going on in the world, you can start asking the deep philosophical questions. You can get idealistic. You see a lot of suffering out there and you want to do something about it. You want to contribute, you want to right the wrong. That leads you to look within for answers. People who are like that relate well to Consciousness-Based Education and MUM.”
In 2004, Akura earned a Doctorate of Education at University of Missouri, and worked at the school’s Center for Human Origin and Cultural Diversity, developing curricula and teaching. His doctoral dissertation explored the nature of scientific knowledge.
Recently, he took his educational aspirations in a different direction at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, where he earned an MA in Theology in 2012. “I’d been nonchalant about my faith,” says Akura, who is Roman Catholic. “I would go to church on Christmas and Easter but that was it. After I started TM, I became more attracted to my religion. I got deeper into it.”
Currently, Akura is studying sustainable business at MUM as he becomes more involved in projects to aid his country. Working remotely, he interfaces with Village 14, a group of 14 retired Kenyan bankers who are bankrolling many projects designed to help the villages. He also travels back home to lead professional development workshops in inquiry-based science and environmental conservation for village teachers and students (photo above, Akura on top left).
Mangos, guavas, and passion fruit grow wild in many Kenyan villages but often go unharvested. Akura, along with Village 14, plans to change that. “We’re bringing in sustainable farming practices and helping villagers find markets in which to sell their produce,” he says. “These crops are ideal for juices and jams, which are in demand all over the world.”
Although he works from the U.S., Akura looks forward to his return to Kenya in the next few years, when he will complete a full circle — from the young man who did not appreciate village life to the seasoned professional working passionately to help villagers adapt to and thrive in the modern world.
Written by Warren Goldie
When asked about the experience of moving to the U.S. to attend MUM after growing up in Iran, Mehdi Pakfetrat responds like the software engineer that he is: with numbers and percentages.
“I’d say 70 percent of what I experienced at MUM is the general American experience,” says Mehdi, 32, who lives in the Virginia suburbs west of Washington, D.C. “It’s about the freedom in American society and the opportunities available to individuals in pursuit of their goals.”
The other 30 percent of his American experience — the time he spent at MUM — he came to understand was so unique only after he left campus to start working a paid internship. He worked in several U.S. states, including Florida (American Express), Texas (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs), Chicago (Zurich Insurance), Phoenix (Bank of America), Seattle (Expedia), and Boston (Pegasystems). In the process of seeing so much of the U.S., he came to realize how out of the ordinary life at MUM was in comparison.
“The MUM culture really stands out to me,” he says. “People are so relaxed and down to earth. Many are soft spoken and kind. It comes out of the practice there. Everybody is conscious of stress and what it does to you. They’re challenging it with the lifestyle and the meditation.”
In 2011, after three years of business traveling as a consultant, Mehdi decided to take a full-time position and stay in one place for a while. Now a resident of McLean, Virginia, he is lead application engineer at Asurion, a technology protection company, where he provides technical leadership insight and design solutions. Prior, he had been a senior systems architect.
Living amid the hustle and bustle of the Washington D.C. metro area, Mehdi has gotten well acquainted with the challenges of “70 percent” America. “In our daily life we get used to stress and we think it is normal,” says Mehdi. “At MUM everybody was aware of it, they understood the negative impact in their lives. They didn’t ignore it or look away. They did something about it.”
Born and educated in Iran, Mehdi earned a BS in software engineering there, but after graduating in 2003, he caught the travel bug. “I wanted to go see the world,” he says. “Not only for an education but for the living experience. I had dreams and I wanted to follow them.”
His first move took him to Armenia, geographically close to Iran. There he learned to speak conversational Russian within a year. He heard about MUM and became interested in it. At the time, he had been considering enrolling in European universities. But he was impressed by MUM’s fast application process, which contrasted sharply with European schools that took many months to qualify to attend.
“I came to Iowa,” he says. “I lived on campus. The surprises began as soon as I arrived. MUM was a very international environment. Everyone was so friendly and nice. When students needed something, the community was there to help. I’d go to the dining hall, it was easy to sit at a table with complete strangers and have a totally friendly conversation. Many things gave me a great surprise. I thought, ‘I like this place.’ I didn’t want to leave it.”
Written by Warren Goldie
When Charlie Fritsch makes a sale, it’s usually a multimillion-dollar deal.
An MUM grad in 1978, Charlie is owner and Chief Executive Officer of MBA Hotel Brokers, a commercial real estate firm that brokers the sale of hotels. (Hotel brokers find, list, and sell hotels, while guiding buyers and sellers through the myriad of details necessary to complete the transaction.)
And Charlie is very good at it. Last year alone, Charlie and his company sold 12 hotels at an average sale price of $4.7 million. One property, a resort hotel in upstate New York, is valued at $23 million. In 2103 he expects to sell as many as 20 or more. And though his focus is largely in the U.S., he just returned from trips to Tunisia and Morocco, where he will broker additional hotel sales.
It might come as a surprise to learn that this successful businessman is also a passionate teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique. A native of the Baltimore area, Charlie became a TM teacher in 1973 and has taught the technique to more than 100 people.
History at MUM runs deep in Charlie’s family. In fact, Fritsch family get-togethers can be akin to MUM alumni reunions. Three of his six children graduated from MUM. Carrie (photo, far left), earned a BS in Chemistry and Biology, Elisa (middle) holds a BA in Literature and Writing, and Jaime (far right) earned a BA in Business and Sustainable Living. Charlie’s wife, Jean, stands beside him in the back row. Daughter Pia (second from right) is currently enrolled at MUM, on track for a BA in Fine Arts.
“Awakening the genius within is MUM’s specialty,” says Charlie. “I wanted my children to experience that.”
Back when he was deciding on a college major, Charlie was most interested in psychology and spiritual development, and had no idea he would eventually find success in the business world. “‘Business was the last thing I wanted to study,” he says.
But his interest in the mind and in behavior did in fact translate to the business world. After a few courses at Essex Community College (where he met Jean), he came to MUM, then called MIU, and started to feel a pull toward entrepreneurship. He founded his first company with a partner in 1978, called Sunsprout Systems, which automated the growing of alfalfa sprouts in quantity. When the company was sold, it was valued at more than $1 million.
In 1984, Charlie tried out real estate — and found his niche. His first acquisition was the historic Albion hotel in Westminster, Maryland, which he renovated as an historic rehabilitation project (thus getting crucial tax credits) and converted it into apartments. The project was a success.
In 1995, he moved into commercial properties, selling his first Bed & Breakfast, which led to selling three hotels. In 1996, he earned a brokerage license and founded MBI Hotel Brokers, Inc., a company which today employs four associate brokers (who sell hotels), and one mortgage broker (who arranges financing).
“This business is not a hard sell, real-estate-agent-at-the-kitchen-table pressing someone to ‘sign here’ kind of thing,” he says. “It’s about being a trustworthy consultant to the seller, as well as helping the buyer put together all the components to make it happen. For me it’s about helping people realize their financial goals by maximizing value in the sale of their assets.”
Charlie gives credit to MUM for helping him find his niche in the business world. “My education at MUM gave me the confidence to strike out on my own and become an entrepreneur,” he says. “While knowledge of any specialty can be taught and learned, the intelligence to be balanced and fulfilled comes from within. That’s what MUM taught me.”
Written by Warren Goldie
MUM alumnus Tristan Webb recently finished his PhD in complexity science at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom. His research focused on the use of computer modeling to study the neuroscience of decision making. Tristan’s efforts have helped to advance our understanding of issues such as speed/accuracy trade-off, “noise” in the brain, and communication among the brain’s cells, or neurons.
Tristan has been programming computers since the age of ten. He came to MUM in 2003 and completed a BS in mathematics, receiving the Outstanding Student Award in mathematics. Then he went onto earn an MA in computer science.
“Tristan’s careful attention to his practice of Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program over the years has enabled him to develop the expanded vision and refinement of intellect necessary to succeed in his studies and to integrate his studies with his inner self and with his life plan,” says Anne Dow, chair of the Mathematics Department.
“While at MUM, I saw a correlation between the regular practice of Transcendental Meditation and my general happiness,” says Tristan. “TM has really helped me with my focus and mathematical reasoning ability while I was learning complexity science.”
After graduating from MUM, Tristan earned an MS in complexity science from the University of Warwick. While studying in England, he taught parallel programming at MUM’s Computer Professionals Program via distance education. Then he decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Warwick, where he is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher.
“I’ve spent the last few years researching computational neuroscience,” says Tristan, “developing computer simulations of realistic firing patterns of neurons and applying that knowledge to our understanding of cognitive function. My hope is that I can take part in some of the scientific breakthroughs that will certainly happen in the coming years.”
Written by Warren Goldie
Eric Rusch, owner of Breadtopia, enjoys the challenge of being a small business owner and online breadbaking expert. His web-based business has created a vibrant online baking community and features recipes, articles, product research, educational videos (created by and starring Eric), personal correspondence, and a Baker’s Store of carefully chosen products for sale, from baguette pans to bread boxes to dough scrapers.
Want to learn how to bake a grilled sourdough pizza with a perfect crust? Watch this video. Looking for the “best of the best” in breadbaking cookbooks? Peruse Eric’s Baker’s Bookshelf. Need help in choosing a grain mill? Read his informative review.
Eric graduated from Maharishi International University in 1982 with a BA in Business. Early in his career he worked as a salesman for several Fairfield companies, and even began a few business ventures of his own. But it wasn’t until December 2006, when he launched Breadtopia, that he invented his dream job.
“Going to MUM was great preparation for working in business,” says Eric. About MUM’s Consciousness-Based Education approach, he adds, “It’s about a deeper experience, one that informs all sorts of aspects of the work you do. It’s holistic. It covers so much. MUM was a fantastic experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
Eric shares his love for baking with his wife Denyce, who once owned a bakery. The husband and wife team combined their skills and expertise to build Breadtopia from scratch. As preparation, Eric spent a year studying Internet marketing, while Denyce contributed her lifetime of graphic design experience to create a fun, informational, and alluring website.
More than just an online store, Breadtopia is a community of home-based bakers who share recipes, stories, and knowledge. The Rusches attribute the website’s success in large part to the free online baking videos, as well as the close interaction they maintain with site visitors and customers. “People like to support a family business,” says Eric. “Being able to say you’re from Iowa also establishes an immediate trust.”
Eric finds Fairfield, Iowa ideally suited for an Internet business. Overhead costs are low and its central location in the U.S. makes shipping efficient. He runs his business with one full-time employee and part-time seasonal help. The Rusches also appreciate the like-minded, health-conscious community and wide range of cultural and outdoor activities that are available in Fairfield.
But managing all the diverse aspects of running a business can be challenging at times. Eric’s 38-year practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique helps him handle the pressure. “Having the time to meditate is a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle,” says Eric. “It’s like going on a vacation. It makes so much possible.”
Written by Warren Goldie
Nabin Khanal, 42, grew up in Gaushala Bazar, a village in the Mahottari district of Nepal, in circumstances of extreme financial challenge. The village lacked plumbing facilities, power, and running water. Bathing had to be done at the river. Nabin sometimes had to wear the same pair of shoes for two or three years running.
But he was a good student, determined to rise above his circumstances, and Nabin eventually found his way to Bangalore University to earn a Bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1995.
After learning of MUM, he applied and was accepted in 1999. He secured a visa at the U.S. embassy and was all set to go — except for one problem. Although his tuition was covered, he didn’t have the $825 airfare for the flight from Kathmandu to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Fortunately, an acquaintance offered him a loan, which he accepted — but only reluctantly, given his personal values — with a resolution to pay it back within one year.
Nabin arrived at MUM with two suitcases in hand: one filled with clothes and the other with computer science books. A determined student, he excelled in his on-campus studies and, in 2001, prepared for a paid internship, a part of the Computer Professionals, or Compro, program.
MUM’s job placement office organized a phone interview with Microsoft Corp., and Nabin was hired as a software test engineer to work at their Redmond, Washington headquarters. On the day of his first paycheck, Nabin knew exactly where it was going. “First I sent a financial gift to my parents,” he says. “Second, I paid back the loan. It felt great to do that, finally.”
Over the next few years, Nabin was promoted several times, from engineer to lead engineer to engineering manager. Today, he is a group program manager, managing 30+ employees worldwide and a multimillion dollar departmental budget.
“I like to have a career plan,” Nabin says. “What’s next? What should I learn now? Where do I want to be in five years?”
But it wasn’t always that way. Reflecting back on his initial job search as he was completing studies at MUM, he felt lost. “I didn’t know how to look for a job,” he says. “I didn’t have vision, I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have a clue. I just knew developer job.”
In fact, many international students who come to the U.S. for the MUM Compro program face these same challenges.
MUM’s job placement service helps these students find jobs. And Nabin has become a part of that process, coming to MUM periodically to teach a software engineering workshop that is focused on technical knowledge but which also includes valuable, hard-earned career guidance such as how to develop job search and career strategies, networking, and interviewing.
“Now I have perspective, I know what success looks like,” says Nabin. “If you do this, here is where you get to. I tell students, ‘Go to where your strength is, not just toward getting a job.’ But you have toknow what it is first.”
Why travel all the way to the MUM campus in Fairfield, Iowa to give the workshop?
“I want to give back to MUM and its students,” says Nabin. “I’m gratified when I learn that a student has gotten a job. They tell me, ‘The things you taught me, the interview questions, I knew what to say.’” In fact, Nabin has been adviser and mentor to many of MUM’s internship students who have gone on to work at Microsoft.
Nabin also wanted to be a continuing part of a Compro department that had helped him so much, particularly when he first arrived in the U.S. “The department was always there with their support,” he says. “It’s not everywhere you get that kind of care and attention.”
When he’s not working, Nabin enjoys being with his wife, Nabita, and their twin daughters, Abhilasha and Akanksha. He enjoys working in the yard, cycling, and serving in local communities.
The distance he’s traveled from his early days in Nepal is never far from his mind. Nor is the help he found along the way. “If not for MUM, I would not be living the kind of life I have,” says Nabin. “I am blessed to be part of the MUM family. MUM is a part of my success story.”
Written by Warren Goldie
In August 2010, Supriya Vidic stood at a crossroads. After six years of decorated service in the U.S. Army, including spending more than a year in Iraq, the Fiji island native had fulfilled a goal she’d set for herself in her mid-teens: to see the world. By the age of 25, she’d been to 19 countries. But after she had left the military, Supriya was at a loss.
“Many of my military friends were starting careers in government contracting and were going back to Iraq and Afghanistan. Others went to universities to study subjects like business and psychology. Some struggled with depression, PTSD, and behavioral issues. But no one seemed truly fulfilled. As I thought about this, I realized that not one person I knew, civilian or military, was truly happy.” Supriya wanted to find a different path.
As a soldier, she had supervised field missions, led teams in the combat theater, participated in diplomatic conferences, worked at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and ran strategic communications for generals and staff officers. In her spare time, she learned Arabic and volunteered in the intensive care ward of a hospital that served Iraqi nationals.
“I had accomplished a lot and should have felt on top of the world,” she says. “But I didn’t really know who I was or what I really wanted to do.”
Supriya, who revered aspects of her Vedic heritage (the Vedas are the ancient sacred texts of India), decided to use Google in her quest for direction. She searched for a university.
“I googled ‘Vedas’ and ‘GI Bill’,” she says, hoping to find a school that could marry those two seemingly disparate needs (the GI Bill helps veterans pay for college). “The only school that came up was MUM.” She spent time poring over MUM’s website.
“When I got out of the army, the very next day I was sitting in a classroom at MUM.”
Supriya studied Media & Communications, immersing herself in coursework and the practice of the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique. She discovered a passion for writing and marketing. With the department’s help, Supriya worked internships at Galaxy Ninja, StartaGIG, Dean Draznin Communications, and the David Lynch Foundation.
Today, Supriya helps shape communications at both the David Lynch Foundation and the Maharishi Foundation, organizations that promote TM. She oversees fundraising, outreach, image management, web content, and social media marketing. She lectures to audiences and coordinates projects with celebrity meditators including Russell Brand, Ellen DeGeneres, Donna Karan, and Oprah. Her interviews with wounded veterans have helped contribute to landing a $2.4 million research study on TM and PTSD, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Supriya, ever the indefatigable networker, grabbed the opportunities available at MUM, which are there for all students to enjoy. “Because the campus is small there is a real connection between students and teachers,” she says. “The networking opportunities I found at MUM led to my jobs. And because people are so sharp and creative due to the meditation, there is support that helps you find the hidden potential in you.”
MUM’s Consciousness-Based Education℠, based on the teachings of founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, takes an approach that values the learner as well as the learned. “Maharishi approaches everything as if it’s a subjective experience — nothing is object oriented,’ says Supriya. “The ‘you’ is just as important as the ‘other’ or subject. When you take that view you really see the totality of things.”
Supriya developed a clarity of mind at MUM that continues to grow with her TM practice. “I see not only the fragments of what I’m approaching, but the complete picture,” she says. “Even when I focus on specifics, when I’m down in the weeds, I can hold the big picture at the same time. That’s incredibly practical because it allows me to work smarter and better.”
Supriya credits two organizations that remain near and dear to her. “My success today is because of the military,” she says. “And as for MUM, it’s prWritten by Warren Goldieobably the best thing that ever happened to me, along with TM. It provided the nurturing I needed, when I needed it.”
Currently Supriya is a graduate student at Columbia University, working toward a Master of Science in Strategic Communications. In addition, she works full-time and is a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique.
Written by Warren Goldie
In the fall of 2009, software developer and manager Vikas Narula sat at his kitchen table with his wife, Priya, pouring out his heart about how frustrating and unfulfilling his corporate job had become. After more than a decade of 9-5 work, he had risen through the ranks to a director level position at Virtual Radiologic, a patient-care company serving 27,000 facilities. But he felt empty. The fact that he’d just had a huge disagreement with his boss made things even worse.
“I was miserable,” says Vikas, now 42. “My wife looked at me and said, ‘Just quit. We’ll figure something out.’ She knew I was not in a healthy place, and wanted to support me. But making a change was a risk. We had two young kids and a mortgage to pay.”
For three years, Vikas had been exploring an innovative business idea he’d discovered while attending an MBA program in Duke University’s distance education program. It was really just a hobby — a hobby that would become a company.
The idea centered around the concept of informal networks in the workplace. It explored how work often gets done in ways that are very different from what the traditional organizational chart might suggest. Vikas was intrigued, and studied it deeply. But when he started to search for software tools that would easily allow a manager to map those kinds of relationships and dynamics, he found none. So, working with a classmate, Vikas decided to build his own.
Thus Keyhubs was founded, a Minneapolis-based management software and consulting firm that Vikas has since grown steadily, and which serves clients that include Accenture, Medtronic, Thrivent Financial, Boston Scientific and Bremer Bank. Its fascinating business model has been covered in Forbes, Upstart Business Journal, and Twin Cities Business magazine.
Vikas, who graduated from both Maharishi School for the Age of Enlightenment (MSAE) and MUM, starts working with a new company by asking employees some nontraditional questions: Who do you hang out with? Who do you trust? Who do you rely on to get work done when you’re in a crunch?
That kind of information allows Keyhubs to uncover a company’s “hidden organization” — the informal network of relationships between workers which is how things truly get done.
“Our software takes that data and creates visual maps that show us what’s really going on,” says Vikas (see map, above). “We learn who the influencers are, what the actual team dynamics are, where the troublesome gaps and silos are. Once we uncover that, we can help managers deal with challenges more effectively.”
Entrepreneurship and spirituality may seem like an unlikely combination, but for Vikas the two are related. A graduate of MUM in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Vikas takes a deep view of his work in the business world.
“To me, entrepreneurship is more than about making money,” he says. “It’s really a spiritual journey, a journey of self-discovery and growth. MUM taught me that. MUM gave me a perspective on life that helped me see things beyond the material. It helped me understand what matters most.”
Vikas brought that level of perspective to a difficult time he went through in spring 2009, when he became gravely ill. “I had a taste of what it is like to be on your deathbed,” he says. He began to think about what was truly important in his life. He reflected on service work he’d done at MUM, including starting the student groups, Organization for a New Earth (ONE) and co-founding Eco-Jam, both aimed at increasing awareness of sustainability.
These experiences, along with his “deathbed” encounter, led him to start Neighborhood Forest, a social venture dedicated to giving free trees to school children every Earth Day. Since 2010, Neighborhood Forest has given away over 2,500 trees, involving more than 5,000 children in the Twin Cities area. His brother, Vivek Narula, runs the organization.
“So many things I’ve done in my life I can tie back to MUM and MSAE,” says Vikas. “All my successes I owe to the support, the knowledge and the community I found there. It’s where the seeds were planted in me to become an entrepreneur. MUM is the reason I have the confidence to do what I do now. I’m incredibly thankful.”
Written by Warren Goldie
Tegan Perry cofounded Galaxy Ninja, a boutique Internet marketing and social media promotion firm, in 2010. With a name like Galaxy Ninja, a prospective client might expect an immense, devastating attack on their business problems, resulting in soaring solutions. Judging by one recently completed project — a stunning website developed to promote a new master’s degree in filmmaking at Maharishi University — clearly the company has proved that they wield considerable talent.
Tegan’s route to Internet marketing was not a direct one. Her first stop after graduating from MUM was a job in Ukraine in sustainable agriculture, a full-time position that grew out of an MUM internship.
In Ukraine, Tegan assisted on projects focused on improving composting methods and using soil microbiology techniques to create higher crop yields. After the project concluded, Tegan traveled to Vlodrop, Netherlands, home of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of MUM, and of the campus of Maharishi European Research University (MERU), where she met up with MUM classmates Asher Fergusson, Eric Carter, Joey Del Re, and David Jung — who would become the cofounders of Galaxy Ninja.
While in Vlodrop, Tegan & Company began working on social media and Internet marketing projects to promote the TM organization and increase views of videos of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation on websites such as YouTube.
Encouraged by their successes on these projects, the team returned to Fairfield, Iowa (home of MUM) to start a company in earnest — Galaxy Ninja.
Over the next years, contracts were landed and work accumulated. Galaxy Ninja helped the firm Conference Calls Unlimited achieve a Top 5 ranking on Google — higher even than free conference call providers, and Wikipedia and Skype. For TM.org, Galaxy Ninja orchestrated a robust social media campaign on Facebook and YouTube which led to dramatic increases in people learning the Transcendental Meditation technique.
The company became expert in search engine engagement tactics, search engine optimization (SEO), online advertising, web design, conversion optimization, and content marketing, helping organizations including the David Lynch Foundation, iPhone Life magazine, Green Building Supply, and Centerpoint Investment Strategies.
Today, Galaxy Ninja employs a small, young, distributed workforce with employees and contractors in Fairfield, Iowa, Sante Fe, New Mexico, and Herkenbosch, Netherlands. Tegan and coworkers occasionally pick up stakes and work in locales as exotic as Istanbul, Turkey, where she and her husband, David Jung, and Asher Fergusson worked for a month in 2012.
While at MUM, Tegan says she benefited from MUM’s growth-oriented atmosphere and philosophy. “There were two things I found to be particularly helpful,” says Tegan, 25. “One was learning how to self-direct. That came out of some of the directed studies programs I participated in under the guidance of my MUM professors. The other was the emphasis on relationships. One of the best things for me was the people I was thrown in with. I knew those relationships would be valuable. They were and still are.”
Tegan gained in self-knowledge while at MUM. “I learned amazing life skills — skills I won’t have to ‘unlearn’ later in life. Skills that have allowed me to connect to my spiritual sense, to stay healthy, and keep stress levels down. Sometimes I notice those things missing in my peers who went to other universities.”
Currently, Tegan runs Galaxy Ninja from the outskirts of Herkenbosch, a small town in the Netherlands, where she lives with her husband, David, who is Dutch. However, she is considering a return to Fairfield to pursue further education. Does she miss Fairfield?
“I miss the strong sense of community and the implied focus on health and creativity you find at MUM and in Fairfield,” she says. “It’s something I didn’t fully realize until I moved away.”
Written by Warren Goldie
When Heather Hartnett’s boss pulled her aside at a fundraiser hosted by their nonprofit foundation and asked her to interview someone on camera, she readily agreed to it. But when she took a seat under the Klieg lights in the small backstage studio opposite Ringo Starr, that was another story.
Next up was Mike Love of the Beach Boys. Then Ben Harper and Sheryl Crow. And Russell Brand. Later it would be Jerry Seinfeld.
“I was nervous, you can imagine,” says Heather, 29, now Director of Development at the nonprofit David Lynch Foundation, which hosted the gala Radio City Music Hall concert in 2009. “Ringo was really sweet. Each interview got a little less nerve-wracking.”
While Heather still does interviews for the foundation’s TV station, dlf.tv, she spends most of her time engaged in a newfound passion: inspiring philanthropists and celebrities to donate their time and resources toward the foundation’s mission of healing traumatic stress through the practice of Transcendental Meditation. The focus is on serving inner-city students, veterans, and women and girls who have suffered violence and abuse.
“This wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be involved in,” says Heather, who works with a talented team at the foundation’s midtown Manhattan offices. “I’m from a family of entrepreneurs. But the more I learn about this world, the more I realize that social impact is something I’ve always been involved in, and always will be.”
The seed of that interest was planted during her years as a student at MUM. “I chose MUM because I wanted a holistic education,” she says. “What I got was a sense of community and the desire to make a social impact. The students were conscious of the people around them and the community they were creating. We were thinking of ways to give back.”
Heather’s first jobs out of college included working at a venture capital firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then, when David Lynch, auteur filmmaker and long-time champion of TM, gave a talk in Berkeley, Heather was moved to volunteer for the organization.
She worked in schools, with veterans, and taught TM to kids with ADD and ADHD. Later, the foundation’s executive director Robert Roth offered her a job at dlf.tv, and she dove in, even though doing nonprofit work hadn’t been on her radar screen until then. From there, hard work and a can-do spirit carried her up into positions of leadership in the organization.
“There’s a vast world of philanthropy out there,” says Heather. She cites a unique advantage held by the David Lynch Foundation in fundraising. “A lot of nonprofits have a tough time connecting their donors to the work they do. But since anyone can learn TM, our contributors get to touch what the populations we serve experience. We’ve had a huge receptivity because of this.”
Heather and her team organize and manage awareness events that are often high visibility, celebrity-studded affairs, such as 2012’s Jazz Gala Benefit hosted by TM meditator George Stephanopolous and featuring jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalas, and Wayne Shorter.
“All the celebrities have been fantastic,” Heather says. “They’re so generous, giving their time and connections and contacts to help our mission. This year Katy Perry ‘gave’ her birthday to the David Lynch Foundation — in lieu of gifts — so that more people could learn TM. It’s been incredible.”
Heather credits her experience at MUM for opening her up to the power of inspired people working together — and for helping her build the confidence to think big. “I came out of there feeling that I could do anything my heart desired.”
Written by Warren Goldie
Watch Puki Give the Commencement Address at Maharishi School Graduation 2014 (her section starts at the 16:18 point in the video).
Puki Freeberg’s career as a full-time teacher of the Transcendental Meditation® technique may not have happened but for some gentle pressure applied from a quarter that proved impossible to resist.
“I was about to graduate from MUM and I had this vague plan I was going to South America to learn Spanish and volunteer and immerse myself in a different culture,” says Puki, 26.
Two months earlier, before graduation — and before that plan could jell — she received a phone call from filmmaker and TM advocate David Lynch, whom she’d met when she volunteered at the David Lynch Foundation as an MUM student. She recalls the life-altering conversation fondly: “He said, ‘Puki, you’re going to become a TM teacher and move to Los Angeles and run the show there.’ I said, ‘Whatever, David, I’ll think about it.’ He said, ‘No, Puki, you’ll do more than think about it.’ I said, ‘Okay, we’ll see.’”
The next day, while eating lunch in the MUM dining hall, Puki sat beside a friend who was about to travel to Bulgaria for a Transcendental Meditation teacher training course. Suddenly she knew what she had to do. “The universe was trying to tell me something,” she says. She signed up for the course, traveled to Bulgaria and became a certified TM teacher.
Today, Puki works for the David Lynch Foundation in Los Angeles as its program director — just what David Lynch wanted — teaching TM to teenagers in schools like New Village Charter School, an all-girls public high school where Puki has worked for the past three years. Most of its students are Latina girls, age 15-18, many of whom are pregnant or parenting, or who for various reasons have not thrived in the traditional school setting.
“I can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing more than this,” says Puki. “It’s fulfilling to share a tool and knowledge as profound as TM with these populations that so desperately need it. And at the same time, I’m growing and evolving, and waking up every morning doing something I love.”
Puki also spent years as a volunteer TM teacher at Children of the Night, a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing children from prostitution. Her work there was profiled in Los Angeles Magazine.
“Seeing these girls engaged in a positive, creative, and healthy activity makes me so happy,” says Puki. “I leave behind any preconceived notions of who these kids are. They’re amazing, regular teenagers.”
On one of her more adventurous philanthropic activities, Puki takes part in an annual skydive as part of a fund-raising and awareness event held by 18for18, an organization benefiting the Somaly Mam Foundation, which aids women and children who have been victimized by sex trafficking.
Puki’s experience at MUM taught her that the sky indeed is the limit for young people who are motivated and willing to work for what they believe in.
“At MUM, I gained the most important thing I could have gotten out of an education,” says Puki, who was president of her MUM class. “I felt a deep connection with myself and a knowingness that everything is working out as it should. When I go out into the world I feel that I can do just about anything — anything I’m passionate about. That’s because of the knowledge about myself and my potential I gained at MUM. For me, that is more practical than anything I could have learned at any other university or educational setting.”
Puki and her puppy Harlen live in downtown Los Angeles (photo above, on the roof of her apartment building), a neighborhood she has come to love. “Downtown has more of a community vibe than anywhere in L.A. I’ve been,” she says. “I’m friends with all my neighbors. We’re like a family.”
Going forward, Puki plans to continue working with the David Lynch Foundation. “I’m committed to making sure TM carries into the next generation,” she says.
Written by Warren Goldie
The year was 1984, and Gary Saint Denis was living the life. A successful stock broker at Merrill Lynch in Beverly Hills, he was in his early 20’s, energetic, optimistic, financially successful, and reveling in the beach life of Santa Monica. What he really wanted to do, though, he had yet to attempt. When he did manage to realize his vision, it would include founding and running a company worth $50 million — and helping millions of people in need.
Gary grew up in suburban Connecticut, transferring out of Bryant University in Rhode Island to attend MUM (then MIU) in 1974. “My initial college experience was hollow,” says Gary, who recalls picking up an MUM course catalog and being enthralled by what he found in it. “I told my parents that’s where I want to go.” He enrolled at MUM as a philosophy major.
In his senior year, Gary became intrigued by the stock market and investing. After he graduated, he returned home to Connecticut to start an investment company with three MUM classmates. Quickly it thrived. But Gary had always been enchanted by sunny southern California, where he’d been on vacations, and wanted to move there.
He cold-called several stock brokerage firms in Santa Barbara, landing a job at EF Hutton, where he ranked #1 in his class as a new trainee. In 1982, he began work at Merrill Lynch in Beverly Hills.
“What I really wanted was to start my own business,” says Gary, who had always been struck by companies that were beholden to the bottom line at the expense of the needs of everyday people. “I wanted to start a business that didn’t have a conflict of interest built into it, one that could be successful and a service to society. And I wanted to create a work environment where people would love to come to work.”
In 1986, Gary co-founded 1-800-Dentist, a dental referral service, with partner and MUM classmate Fred Joyal. The company started out in a miniscule 300-square-foot office in Santa Monica. Today, 24 years later, it fills 30,000 square feet, employs a workforce of 300, and helps 4.5 million people find dentists each year.
“My experience in starting 1-800-Dentist was directly an outgrowth of my time at MUM,” says Gary. “I loved being around like-minded people and helping to build that community. That was part of what we were trying to do with the company. My years at MUM laid the foundation for that.”
In 2011, after more than two decades serving as Chairman and CEO of 1-800-Dentist, Gary sold most of his interest in the company to the financial services giant, Bain Capital, who bought it out. At the time of the sale, 1-800-Dentist was earning $50 million a year.
What next for this entrepreneur and expert at developing business models that provide services that improve people’s lives? In 2011, Gary founded Trusted Hands Network, based in Encino, Calif., a firm that matches seniors with the home care services they need.
Says Gary, “We help ‘the silver tsunami’ — elders who want to age gracefully and at home.” Trusted Hands Network comprises over 500 rigorously-screened home health care agencies that provide seniors with the highest quality certified services available on the market.
Sometimes, Gary’s business ventures yield unexpected, serendipitous outcomes. Like back in 1986, just after he had started 1-800-Dentist with a handful of employees. One of them was a young woman named Joanie, who Gary was interested in. “Soon we were madly in love.” The couple married in 1987.
In 1990, their son Remy was born. Daughter Eva is currently a 19-year-old undergraduate at MUM studying business.
Gary’s family is steeped in the MUM tradition. His sister, Linda, an MUM graduate, married Chris Hartnett, another MUM grad, and their children, Heather, Kristen and Grace all graduated from MUM. Heather is a new MUM trustee and Kristen married Matt Levi, an MUM grad and the son of MUM professor Keith Levi. And the MUM connections don’t stop there. Gary introduced his sister, Sandra, to Jack Cross, one of Gary’s MUM classmates, whom she married.
“I’ve stayed in contact with many of my friends I met at MUM,” says Gary. “MUM altered the course of my life in so many ways.”
Gary sees a deep connection between his successes and the education he received at MUM. “You really do create your own reality,” he says. “As Maharishi used to say, ‘The world is as you are.’ I’ve had the good fortune to have financial success, live in paradise, have a wonderful family, and enjoy good health. At 57, I’m grateful to be able to savor the nature of the relative and enjoy the Creator’s handiwork. I’ve been very lucky, and I never forget that.
Fun Fact: In 1997, Gary bought a scenic bluff with 4 cottages on it from the Beach Boys’ Mike Love.
Written by Warren Goldie