Recalculating route

| January 26, 2015

Life doesn’t always take us where we think we want to go, but its course has a funny way of self-correcting. We spoke to a few alumnae whose careers took a new or unexpected direction. Whether it was a hard turn or a minor adjustment, these women find themselves right where they’re supposed to be.

EDITOR’S NOTE: These stories originally appeared in the Winter 2014 Sweet Briar College Magazine.

Amanda Acuff ’97, mounted officer,
Richmond Police Department

Amanda Acuff ’s day starts with about 1,100 pounds leaning lightly on her stooped back as she picks dirt out of Scooter’s hooves. That’s OK. Once the horse’s feet are free of debris and he is brushed, combed and “tacked up,” she will depend on him for the next six hours as much as he will on her. Grooming is part of the job, but it’s also a labor of love.

Acuff is a 17-year veteran of the Richmond Police Department — the last three assigned to the mounted unit. She graduated from Sweet Briar in 1997 with a B.A. in anthropology. She played lacrosse and was a Bum Chum, both team activities she says helped prepare her for police work. The Honor Code ingrained her sense of honor and integrity. Sweet Briar helped mold a strong, positive sense of self that would let her succeed in a male-dominated occupation, she says.

Amanda Acuff and Scooter in their official department portrait. Credit: Kathy Thompson

The Connecticut native had always aspired to law enforcement out of a desire to help people and solve problems. She joined the RPD six months out of college and spent two years as a patrol officer, followed by 12 with the firearms and narcotics unit. As a detective, she took undercover assignments buying street drugs and “making” a few prostitution cases.

“Those were entertaining experiences; however, undercover work is extremely dangerous and I needed to be constantly alert,” she says.

Despite the risk and sometimes grueling hours, it was satisfying to shut down a drug house, then watch the neighborhood rebound. It was good to develop a local bust into a major case, with the Drug Enforcement Agency or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives getting involved, Acuff says.

But the experience dissuaded her from pursuing a federal law enforcement career as she’d originally planned. She felt she could serve the community better by staying local, she says.

In the mounted unit, Acuff’s duties are the same as any other officer’s, except her cruiser is an American quarter horse. If you’re a suspect on foot or bicycle, you can run if you want, but you should know the quarter horse is named for its exceptional speed over a quarter mile. The “original ATV,” horses are great for patrolling wooded areas or conducting searches for people or evidence, she says.

Her unit covers the entire city, riding or trailering the horses to the assigned area. From horseback they run radar at intersections, answer radio calls and provide high-visibility patrols. If they need someone’s attention, they blow a whistle. If they take a suspect into custody, a van provides transport to lock-up.

Mounted units also handle crowd control. Sitting almost 10 feet in the saddle, they can see into the crowd and use the horses to move people in orderly fashion, Acuff says. Typical events in Richmond include New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July fireworks, and protests at the state capitol.

But Acuff spends the majority of her time in the saddle talking to residents. It’s a good way to gather valuable information and it’s usually a positive interaction.

“As a mounted officer, I serve as an ambassador for the city,” she says. “It makes me happy when I am able to talk to the public about the value of police horses. I will have older citizens approach me who have never even seen a horse in the flesh before. It’s amazing to see children and adults of all ages smile while they are petting our horses.”

Acuff grew up riding, but credits Sweet Briar’s program with improving her “seat,” which helps both horse and rider stay balanced. She trained Scooter, now 10, for police work — a lot of basic dressage movements and learning to be calm on noisy, people- and car-filled streets. She tests his abilities daily and the unit trains twice monthly to maintain group skills, she says.

When she picked Scooter for her partner, he had 90 days to prove himself. Scratch his neck and give him a mint to munch and he’s a happy boy, Acuff says. But there is a bond between them that has to be there to handle whatever the street can dish. She says she is lucky.

“Being able to work with a horse is truly a gift.”

Jennifer McManamay

Theresa Jorgensen ’07, assistant glassblower and teacher,
Glass Blowing Austin

Theresa Jorgensen ’07 was working as an environmental planner and zoning administrator in Amherst County when she discovered her true passion.

Unlike her job, it had nothing to do with what she studied at Sweet Briar — environmental science and math. But it had a lot to do with her upbringing in the small town of Seagrove, N.C.

“I decided to become a glassblower after trying a class in Charlottesville,” she says.

Theresa Jorgensen heats glass to form a bowl.

Raised by two artists — her mother a potter, her father a painter — in a place known for its handmade pottery, she had tried her hand at many different art forms as a child, but wasn’t very good at any of them.

“I was the odd one of the family, being good at math and science and never super interested in art,” she says.

Studying science seemed logical, and Sweet Briar offered the perfect setting. A tour of the environmental labs and riding facilities sealed the deal for Jorgensen, who also loved the idea of working closely with professors and fellow students in small, interactive classes. An avid rider, she joined the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team and was involved in Bum Chums and the Student Government Association.

As part of her major, Jorgensen worked with Professor David Orvos on biosolid usage in Amherst County and continued their joint research after graduation. Her career path was clear — until that art class in 2008.

Once she discovered glassblowing, Jorgensen was hooked.

“It was the first time an art form totally captivated me,” she says. “Glassblowing is very unique in that it is very instantaneous. You can make something and see its shape and color right away. Your skills are all that can hold you back, it’s a medium where anything seems possible.”

After the initial three-hour class, Jorgensen took several more weekend courses in North Carolina the following year. In 2010, she moved to Orrefors, Sweden, where she enrolled in Riksglasskolan — The National School of Glass.

“My family is Swedish, so the decision made sense to me,” she says. Besides, Sweden is known for its glass art.

Jorgensen attended Riksglasskolan for one-and-a-half years, learning various types of glassblowing techniques, most of them Swedish. She began to develop her own unique style, and also learned a lot about herself.

“I am most successful when I have a plan to follow, but I am also laid back enough that if things go completely off the plan, I can let the glass be what it is trying to be,” she says. “My pieces are inspired by classical shapes with unique finishes. I like nature, and the color and texture differences you can find in nature.”

Today, Jorgensen is an assistant glass blower and teacher at Glass Blowing Austin, where she continues to fine-tune her artistic approach.

“I am learning to perfect my trade and how to run a business of my own,” she says. “I hope to learn as much as possible and then move back to the Blue Ridge to open my own studio. I want to be able to make my own creative pieces, work for local businesses and teach people about this amazing art form.”

And she’s getting there. At jorgensenglass.com, visitors can already admire — and purchase — some of her pieces.

— Janika Carey

Anne Vogel ’92, chef instructor, baking and pastry arts,
New England Culinary Institute

When Anne Vogel graduated in 1992, she didn’t have a dream job.

A horse fanatic in high school, the New Jersey native came to Sweet Briar because of the riding program. She majored in biology, minored in chemistry, and was on the winning American National Riding Commission team in 1989, as well as on the Riding Council. Then came jobs as a veterinary and pharmacy technician.

Anne Vogel (right) teaches a first-year student how to make checkerboard cookies in Introduction to Basic Pastries.

But it was her love of baking — and everyone else’s love of her creations — that opened up a new career path.

“[I was] baking cookies and bringing them to work, to the barn I still rode horses at, or to friends’ homes,” she says. “The fact that I was good at it and people were excited about what I was going to make next really fueled my fire and started the passion.”

Vogel decided to follow that passion and enrolled at the New England Culinary Arts Institute. Today, she is a chef instructor in the school’s baking and pastry department, where she has been teaching for nine years.

She still loves making things, but teaching is her favorite part of the job.

“I love seeing it ‘click’ with students,” she says. “I love being able to give them a demo and helping them make that item the next time. Watching them hesitate at first, then gaining confidence, and finally being able to handle that recipe or technique without assistance — [that’s] really magical and I know I have succeeded!”

Janika Carey

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Category: Anthropology, Biology, Environmental Science, Mathematical Science