Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler in Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin

For fairly obvious reasons, Harvard Business School keeps very good track of and contact with its alumni. One of the best things they do is their magazine, HBS Alumni Bulletin. Some of the articles are interesting, okay, uh-huh, but the real reason alumni turn this mag’s pages is the Class Notes. Every class that still has a living member has someone who actively solicits personal stories about those individuals. Much of the blather is routine stuff: “My wife sits on the hospital board. I golf whenever I can. And the kids are struggling to make ends meet in NYC on traders’ salaries.”

I skim those entries, looking for the unusual. Like this in the September 2011 issue from a classmate in France:

I’m now preparing for my next show in the famous Théatre des Deux Anes in Paris, well known for its shows of chansonniers for ages. I do not sing, but under the name of Jean du Frout, I write fables which are told by various actors, including myself, and after the fable, a piano improvises on well-known themes related directly or humorously to the fable. Now you can laugh, as have done many spectators of the show in the past three years…We have a house in Brittany where we spend about ten days a month. ‘Frout’ means a tiny stream. I wanted a name related to the famous 18th-century French fabulist, Jean de La Fontaine, but with all due respect, the fountain had to be much smaller. This explains Frout.

Or this:

[We] traveled to the Ecuadorian mountains and rain forest in January, had three sessions with a shaman, and spent five days at an ecolodge and learning from the Achuar people, among other highlights. In May [we] did a week of bareboat sailing in Canouan and the Grenadines on a 40-foot Moorings monohull, and that has become [our] new favorite sailing destination! Two weeks later [we] were in Lima, Peru, producing a 2½-day workshop for 36 young indigenous leaders from 11 countries across Latin America and 11 participants from Peru, sponsored by Chirapaq, a Peru-based indigenous empowerment organization.

And I got a write-up in the class of 1968’s notes:

How many of us get a chance to start a new career at 67? The irrepressible Steve Cotler has just published a children’s book, and he’s zooming around, entertaining and educating kids in schools and libraries from coast to coast. His middle-grades novel, Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything, the first in a series from Random House, is narrated by the (also) irrepressible Ronald “Cheesie” Mack, an 11-year-old from Gloucester, MA. Adventurous, outrageous, smart, curious, and funny, Cheesie sounds a lot like someone we knew in Section D (third row, center section, if I recall correctly). Appropriate for ages 8-12, Steve’s book is getting rave reviews and is in bookstores and available electronically. The second in Steve’s series, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, comes out in June. For a copy autographed by the author, or to arrange an author event at your grandkid’s school, contact Steve.

During the past decade, Steve has also reconnected with the Summer Science Program he attended when he was 16. SSP is a summer residence program in which gifted high-school students complete challenging, hands-on research projects in celestial mechanics. Steve writes: “In 1997, I found a magic bean from SSP’s beanstalk deep in my memories and gave a talk to the future scientists at the 39th annual summer session about connecting creativity to technology. I resolved to rejuvenate and expand what had become one of the longest-lived but terminally tired science enrichment programs in the world. Replanting the magic bean, I became chmn. of an alumni-operated nonprofit that took over SSP, expanded to two campuses, built an endowment, and reconnected with its 2,000-plus alumni. I suspect my work at SSP will live and thrive long after I don’t.”

SSP summer programs are now located on two campuses: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro and Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. SSP appears to be a fairly high-powered operation; the 72 students enrolled in SSP 2011 were selected from 1,054 applicants and will come from 22 states and 14 countries overseas. Our politicians talk about job creation, but think for a moment about what that means in today’s international economy. More than half of the tech startups in this country over the last two decades, including a number of very successful companies, have been created by young tech graduates from overseas. Tech rules, and it’s just beginning. If we were as smart as the overseas kids at SSP, we’d be offering them and their families citizenship instead of making them leave as soon as their student visas expired. Ditto the overseas tech grads at our top universities, whom we expel on graduation. The ship is leaving the dock. We need to get aboard before we get left behind.

We’re not all Wall Streeters!

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