Panther paths

We interviewed Annie Locke Scherer '08, Mackenzie Sikora '13, and Dan Whitmore '99, to learn more about the rewards and challenges of their work, as well as how they are willing to help mentor and support fellow Panthers. Connect with Annie, Mackenzie, Dan, and nearly 400 other alumni on the PolyConnect platform.
 
Mackenzie Sikora '13

What does your current field of study entail?
I am currently at Boston University, in a two-year MFA program in painting. There are about 30 painters in my program, split between the two years, so there is a really nice community feeling for which I am grateful. The structure is pretty open-ended and mostly revolves around individual studio time and requires a significant amount of self-motivation. It is an incredible feeling to be surrounded by a group of people who are equally as passionate about painting as I am, and while every day isn’t always sunshine and dank memes, the good days tend to outweigh the bad.

What fueled your interest in art?
I have always been a creative person, but it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I actually began taking myself seriously as an artist. It was around that time for me that painting transitioned from a hobby into a passion. It still feels very fresh, and I constantly struggle with imposter syndrome, but I am so grateful that I am able to devote my life to my passions. It wasn’t until I started really painting that I learned how it felt to be proud of myself.

What's the most rewarding part of your studies?
Being able (and required!) to create every day. Not everything I make is successful or something that I am proud of, but nothing beats the feeling of waking up every morning knowing that I am actively engaged in my own growth as an artist and a human.

What is the most challenging aspect of your field?
Honestly? Finances. Not only am I constantly aware of the lack of financial stability that comes with a career in the arts, but it also isn’t cheap being a student in Boston, especially an art student. That said, I have never regretted my decision to pursue painting. The financial instability is something that I have accepted. If I were in it for the money, I would be in it for the wrong reasons.

What does a normal day look like for you?
No two days are the same. Though what every day does consist of is coffee, paint, carbs, and camaraderie. And sleep, if I’m lucky.

What's next?
That’s an excellent question. My parents are very interested in hearing the answer as well. In a perfect world, I will be able to work in a creative field part time and continue painting. During that time, I hope to increasingly show my work in galleries. Eventually, I would like to become a professor, but I am not ready to sacrifice my studio practice for academia just yet.

How are you willing to help fellow Poly alumni?
Any way I can! The decision to pursue an education or a career in the arts isn’t always an easy choice to make, so I would happily walk anyone through the process as candidly as I can. I’m a Scorpio. I tell it how it is.

What advice can you offer to fellow Panthers?
I was a lifer at Poly, and as each new group of students was added to our class, I became increasingly insecure of my own level of intelligence and ability. Poly is an amazing institution, full of so many gifted students, but I often compared myself too harshly to my classmates. It wasn’t until I left Poly that I realized how much the school had actually given me. Even to this day, I catch myself comparing my successes and failures to those of my peers from Poly and beyond. I suppose my one piece of advice is to heed the words of Teddy Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy." But if you’re like me and find it impossibly difficult to avoid comparison, just remember that a 401(k) doesn’t guarantee happiness.

Annie Locke Scherer '08

What does your current role entail?
I'm a researcher and teacher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. I specialize in robotic fabrication and computational design in architecture and teach a graduate level architecture studio focusing on these topics.

What fueled your interest for your career path?
After completing my bachelor's degree, I saw a lot of architecture students straight out of college becoming "CAD monkeys" or detailing corporate bathroom layouts and knew that wasn't the kind of work I was interested in. I'm a maker at heart and have always had a passion for researching new technologies and methods of fabrication. My second master's degree in Stuttgart, Germany, focused on parametric design and architectural fabrication with industrial robot arms. While I was in this program is when I realized this was the kind of specialization I wanted to pursue. Working as a researcher is exciting! I develop new and innovative ways to question industry standards, and in the process, get my hands dirty making prototypes. Architectural research is the perfect medley of mathematics, geometry, materiality, and creativity.

What's the most rewarding part of your work?
Most everyone (including myself) remembers "that one teacher" who took you under their wing, who made you realize you were more capable than you originally thought. Many people carry these lessons for the rest of their lives. After having experiences such as these at Poly, I hope to "pay it forward" so to speak. I strive to be that kind of teacher, “that one teacher” who can inspire and instill that confidence and help others realize their own strengths and potential.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I'm currently working on parametric patterning of fabric formwork for cast concrete, a relatively-unexplored topic. While this is incredibly exciting, it can also be daunting, as there are a limited number of experts to consult with. Luckily, this challenge enables me to learn through making.

What does a normal day look like for you?
On any given day I can be in my office working with Rhino (3D modeling software)/Grasshopper (scripting plugin) to simulate fabric formwork, teaching studio, or be in the fabrication lab casting my newest concrete prototype. I also travel a great deal giving lectures and teaching workshops.

What's next?
This past year I had the honor of being part of the core architectural team for the “Galaxia” Temple at Burning Man 2018. After having met hundreds of like-minded creative makers and builders who have the same passion for teaching and sharing knowledge, I look forward to continuing prototyping and constructing large-scale architecture installations around the globe with this incredible network. I hope to complete my Ph.D. in October 2020.

How are you willing to help fellow Poly alumni?
I'd be happy to answer any questions about relocating to a different country and pursuing a career in academia/research at a university.

What advice can you offer to fellow Panthers?
Do what you love. Not what you're told to love. You'll always regret what you didn't, do rather than what you did.

Dan Whitmore '99

What does your current role entail?
I am the founder and president of Whitmore Rare Books in Pasadena. It’s a pretty grand sounding title for a small shop. We have just one other full-time employee and a handful of people who help out part time. My current role is to do pretty much everything, from negotiating new inventory purchases to packing and shipping when something sells, or taking out the trash! As an entrepreneur, you need to be flexible and prepared to oversee all aspects of the business.

What fueled your interest for your career path?
When I was in law school, I became interested in collecting first editions of the books that I had read and loved. I imagined having a wonderful library filled with old books, the kind of classic wood-paneled library you think about finding in a Jane Austen novel. Over the years, I built up a modest collection, but I also learned about scouting for material, the importance of condition, and I started to make contacts among respected dealers. After a short stint at a big firm downtown, I launched our shop, Whitmore Rare Books. It was a very steep learning curve those first few years and you realized that as a rare book dealer, you only have your reputation to trade on, and that takes years to build.

What's the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of my job is discovering something unique or truly magnificent. We recently had the opportunity to purchase a letter written by Jack Kerouac to his mother, while he was stopping in Denver on his first cross-country road trip, a trip that would later form the basis for “On the Road.” Holding a piece of literary history in your hands, knowing that you have the only one, researching and teasing out new information from that document, these are the thrilling parts of the job. And, of course, the feeling of pride and pleasure when that book or manuscript ends up in the right collection, somewhere that it is truly appreciated.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I love my work, going into the shop each day really is a joy. That said, there are things that interrupt the normal workflow or that add stress. When we moved over to the new shop, we had a few days where our internet went down, and all the technology seemed to fail at the same time. Those were a couple of tense days as we sorted it all out.

What does a normal day look like for you?
On a normal day, I do any and all of the following things: negotiate either purchases or sales; catalog new inventory; check upcoming auctions and dealer inventory for books of interest; pack and ship; plan for upcoming book fairs or our next catalog; and keep the shop clean. It always feels like there isn’t enough time in the day for all the little odds and ends that we have to work through.

What's next?
It’s an old-fashioned word, but perhaps appropriate here (this is an old-fashioned business after all). I feel like becoming a rare book dealer was my calling. I can’t imagine doing any other type of work and finding the same happiness and satisfaction. I feel very fortunate to have discovered this career and that I’ve been able to build up our business over the years. What’s next for me is more and better books. There are always those special books that turn up once in a lifetime. That’s the treasure hunt that keeps all of us chasing the next great thing.

How are you willing to help fellow Poly alumni?
I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was in high school at Poly. But that’s not an easy thing to figure out: The world is vast, and there are so many directions in which you can go. I would be happy to share my own thoughts and experiences with students who are wrestling with those challenges. And, of course, I would love to chat with people about their favorite books, the works that inspire them and perhaps share with them some of our lovely first editions.

What advice can you offer to fellow Panthers?
The best advice that I can offer to fellow Panthers is to follow your passion. Figuring out the areas that bring you joy and then seeking out a career that connects with that is not an easy thing to do. But for those who manage it, the word “work” seems ill-suited to the job.
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