Spotlight Interview: Betsy Rives

Betsy Rives: Strategist, Google

San Francisco, California

WFU Class of 2008

Major: Studio Art

Double Minor: Art History & Women and Gender Studies

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Betsy Rives launched into an MFA program only a year after graduating from Wake. After time in DC and New York, Betsy took the advice of a mentor from Scales' art faculty and moved to Los Angeles. Now a Strategist at Google's San Fran HQ, Betsy catches us up on her current role and the path which led her there.

DeacLink: Working at Google is a dream for many- what's your role in the San Fran office, and what sort of duties does it entail?

Betsy Rives: I am a Strategist at Google within the Real Estate and Workplace Services team, the group that helps design Google’s built environment. Our organization touches everything from desk spaces to transportation and from the food program to local ecology. I am one of 6 Strategists, and we act as internal consultants for the org. We help to solve a wide variety of problems by designing research methodologies, organizational structures, internal technology platforms, and systems guidance. My day to day includes meetings with lots of different people throughout Google in order to carefully understand user needs and identifying areas for growth.

DL: We understand you got an MBA from Yale. How was that? Did you enter hoping to achieve a particular goal?

BR: I actually have two graduate school experiences. I received my MFA in Interrelated Media from MassArt in 2011, and I finished my MBA in Design and Innovation from Yale in 2017 (last May). These were two very different programs, and I entered each for different reasons and with different mindsets.
I entered the MFA program only 1 year after graduating (which was too soon, Professors David Faber and Page Laughlin warned me as such). I started my MFA in the painting program and had the goal to simply make work and make connections. I did just that. I had a wonderful and intense experience, as David said, MFAs are like making 10 years of growth in only 2. The program was mentally challenging and played a huge role in how I think about problem solving, materials, and critical dialog.
After my MFA, I took advice from Page, and moved to Los Angeles. In LA I was fortunately to
land an incredible role at LACMA (the LA County Museum of Art). At LACMA I worked in
Membership and then Education. I worked closely with artists and the public, and I started
developing a new skillset .. data analysis. I was able to use basic data interpretation to increase
the number of students the museum could serve, improve our educational programs, and assist
artists with the challenging process of budget creation. I didn’t know best practices around this type of work, so I decided to go back to school for my MBA. I did not have the slightest idea of what to expect in business school. Yale was a big culture shift for me. I quickly learned that there is a huge world of business leaders that highly value creative thinkers. My art background allowed me to quickly stand out within my cohort. I led the Design and Innovation group at Yale, which allowed me to leverage all of my Wake Forest skills in a new setting.

DL: Did you feel prepared for life after undergrad as you exited WFU?

BR: I graduated from Wake in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis. Page, David, Jen, all of the wonderful crew at Wake, cautioned me against going straight to grad school for my MFA
(rightfully so), but I was a bit lost. I moved to DC because my sister lived there, and I soon found administrative work. I worked at George Washington University as a receptionist until I found a job as a Director of a gallery in Georgetown. I only worked at the gallery for a few months before the owner announced we would be closing due to the economy. I then found another role as an event planner in the legal field. All of the stress of job hunting and job hopping in the first 9 months after school motivated me to apply for grad school, despite not being fully ready.
I don’t know if anyone or anything could have fully prepared me for life after undergrad
(though all of the rock-star professors at WFU tried). However, the greatest gift I have received
from all of the art faculty at Wake was the confidence to take chances and embrace the
unpreparedness. I have had a lot of not-so- glamorous jobs since graduation (from scooping ice cream to crowd-control), but the terrific experience I had at Wake instilled a resilience in me and the assurance that everything will work out.

DL: Throughout your journey, you've picked up tremendous amounts of experience; what advice sticks out to you the most?

BR:  The faculty in the art department provided some of the most stabilizing advice for my career. For example, I remember talking to Jen about how your 30s are so much better than your 20s. It seems silly to say, but I clung to that conversation as a promise that things would get better if I pushed myself throughout the uncertainty my 20s. Likewise, when I was finishing my MFA, I ran into David and Page in New York. Page suggested I move to LA because I was completely lost, and she responded to my skepticism by confidently saying that I could make it work. I followed Page’s advice, and I frequently told myself throughout that tough transition to Los Angeles that I only needed one person to believe in me and I had Page. In fact, I knew I had all of the WFU community supporting me through the wisdom and personal support I received throughout my time at Wake.

Spotlight Interview: Douglas Fordham

Douglas Fordham: Educator

Charlottesville, Virginia

Associate Professor, UVA Art Department

WFU Class of 1995

Double Major: Art History & Economics

Douglas Fordham arrived at Wake Forest without any prior exposure to the arts. In the four years that followed, Douglas would realize his interest in both art history and creating in the studio. Now a professor of Art History at the University of Virginia, Douglas explains how his path has unfolded since undergrad.

 

DeacLink: Tell us about your current role at University of Virginia.

Douglas Fordham: I’ve been teaching at UVA for the past twelve years. I am an associate professor in the art department, which contains the studio and art history programs. My main field is Eighteenth Century European Art with a specialization in British art. My primary job requirement is to teach four classes a year, both undergraduate and graduate courses, and advise undergraduate and graduate theses. I’m also finishing up a book on printmaking and the British Empire in the Eighteenth Century.

 

DL: That all sounds fantastic. Could you take us through your journey to professorship since leaving undergrad at Wake?

DF: I graduated in 1995 and had no idea what I was going to do. I knew I wasn’t done learning and taking courses, and my experience in London studying art history had been particularly significant. I stayed in Winston to work in Wake Admissions for a year, and during that time I researched and applied to programs. I was grateful to have Professor Harry Titus’s guidance during this process, because I pretty much went into it blind. Looking back I believe the unique combination of my double major at Wake (Art History and Economics) helped me stand out; my undergraduate thesis combined the two and was a bit offbeat compared to the majority of applicants. Yale ended up being an obvious choice for me, given the funding opportunity and their incredible center for British Art.

The first few years at Yale were really hard, honestly. Compared to my peers my art historical background wasn’t terribly strong. However, the interdisciplinary work and research training that I received at Wake prepared me extremely well. It’s probably true for many people; you have strengths and weaknesses, and find a way to work it out.

I completed my graduate degree with Yale after seven years, and although they had career services it was still very stressful and difficult finding that first job. I applied to numerous positions. Anything that was remotely relevant. After interviewing for a few different posts, I was thrilled to accept a two-year Postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia in New York. While I was at Columbia I interviewed with UVa and received an offer to teach there.

 

DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

DF: I went to London with an Art History course led by Professor Bob Knott as an undergrad student. I had taken a few other courses in Scales before this point, including sculpture, and my semester in London ultimately sold me on the field of Art History.

Equally influential were my friends at Wake, many of whom I met through Dr. Tom Phillips, the Director of Scholarships. We all came to Wake on various scholarships, and were it not for these opportunities I doubt that I would have gone the route that I did. It’s interesting how many of my friends from that period are still working in the arts, including Phil Archer, Seth Brodsky, and Jude Stewart. A number of us started a fine arts house on Polo Road which served as an extension to the creative activities we were engaging with already. We did poetry readings, created artwork, played music… Seth was a phenomenally gifted guitarist (and now a teaches Musicology at University of Chicago) and held informal music lectures for all of us. He married Jude who was involved in the English department and is now a successful freelance author.

That Polo Road space was very important for us; it was an encouraging place. I actually had zero engagement with the arts prior to Wake Forest. I was raised in Jacksonville, Florida and attended high school in the suburbs of Atlanta. Nothing about my background had exposed me to art; in fact I think I had only been to one art museum before coming to Wake!

 

DL: It’s great that you discovered your passion during undergrad. Do you feel that Wake could do more to prepare undergrads like you for your next steps when they graduate?

DF: I think that Wake’s art department has done an extremely good job hiring junior faculty. Adding new fields and continuing to bring in quality people who are really connected to their field is the number one thing they can do for the success of the students who want to go on. The Venice and London houses also made a big impression on me, and helped to prepare me for a career in the arts. It is also beneficial for graduates to see a track record of success in the arts; I don’t remember such a resource for that while I was there.

 

DL: You mentioned the difficulty of getting that first job out of Yale. What resources were there for you during this job search period?

DF: Yes, I was on the job market for two years. Yale did have some career service help, but they also had a pretty grandiose sense of themselves saying, ‘Just apply and you’ll be fine.’ They’ve now devised a much better support system, from what I understand. People with PhD’s in the arts and humanities are getting jobs in all sorts of fields now, and they’re helpings graduates find employers who look for those credentials.

I essentially searched for jobs through CAA (the College Art Association), which is the professional organization for studio art, art history, and museums in North America. Jobs are listed by academic specialization, which can be quite narrow, so you apply to whatever makes sense. The CAA has an office in NYC but hosts annual conferences, sponsors publishing and research grants, and other programs. It’s kind of like the American Medical Association… a lobby, promotional, and conference organizing group.

 

DL: Now that you’re happily stationed at UVA, how do you like living in Virginia? What is your favorite institution to visit for exhibitions?

DF: I have to say the VMFA (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) in Richmond. I love that museum. They have an amazing permanent collection, host wonderful visiting exhibitions, and have a great team of curators. It’s such an underrated museum, and I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves. I take my classes there whenever I can schedule it.

 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

DF: There are no guarantees in the arts. You do this job because you love the research, the writing, and mostly because you love the people involved in it. I feel incredibly lucky to be in this area where every day I’m dealing with students and faculty that simply love thinking and talking about art.