Kate Knight ’01: Following Your Bliss Into Social Enterprise

Kate Knight ’01

Following Your Bliss Into Social Enterprises

by Melissa Lynch ’06

Ever since experiencing the boredom of volunteering stuffing envelopes in high school, Kate Knight ’01 knew she wanted to do something socially beneficial but also intellectually engaging.  A combination of geography, foreign language, urban planning, and economics courses at Dartmouth taught her that a business model could be used to do something helpful to people, a concept that led her to a career in microfinance.

Kate used her time at Dartmouth to the fullest, utilizing her extracurricular activities as opportunities to learn.  She praises the DOC Trips program as a “smart way to get people comfortable in the outdoors,” and was deeply involved in the program, from leading a trip herself to participating on Hanover Croo and Climbing Croo.  Kate also joined Dartmouth’s Nordic ski team, despite never having skied before college.

Kate spent a transfer term at Cornell University in Rome.  There, she took the opportunity to talk with students at another institution about options after college, and learned about careers in the social enterprise sector. Frustrated by the corporate recruiting she saw at Dartmouth, Kate organized the school’s first social enterprise career fair to encourage students to “interact with alumni who were involved in non-traditional careers.”  The career fair, still held annually, involves non-profit organizations that offer sustainable salaries to employees, which Kate felt was essential to attract and retain successful students to the non-profit world.

She also emphasized the importance of going abroad as part of a full Dartmouth education. “You have to get out of Hanover,” she said, “and love coming back.” Motivated by a desire to learn Spanish, she spent a term in Chile working with an environmental group with the aid of a grant from the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.  Later, she also spent a term in Barcelona improving her Spanish and working for Spanish Professor Francine A’Ness

“What sets Dartmouth apart,” Kate said, “is the way it encourages you to take the reins of your education and shape your whole experience.”

A year after graduating, Kate was approached by the founders of DREAM, Mike and Jesse Foote ‘01 and Jon Potter ‘01, to aid them in the transition from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization. Kate helped the organization craft a business model and provided a foundation for DREAM to grow into the successful program it has become.

Although she had already signed to begin work with a strategy consulting firm after graduation, Kate first completed a three month summer internship at Unitus, a small start-up microfinance institution in Seattle. Microfinance, which involves providing financial services for low-income clients, combines both of Kate’s career goals—helping people to better their lives while utilizing an interesting and challenging business model.  At the end of three months the company extended a full-time offer, which she accepted rather than going into strategy consulting.

Kate worked with Unitus until the summer of 2006, helping to develop the organization from a small start-up of six  employees to one of the most successful microfinance institutions in the country.  Unitus has won a number of awards recently, including the 2006 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Fast Company Magazine Social Capitalist Award in 2006.  During her tenure there, Kate also spent a year in Bangalore, India, establishing a Unitus branch there.  Kate has now left Unitus to pursue an MBA from Columbia University in order to “round out her education.”  No matter where her MBA takes her next, it seems likely that Kate Knight will always be using her education and passion for learning to make a difference in the world.

“Follow your bliss,” Kate says. “Find what you love to do and go do it.”

Jethro Rothe-Kushel ’03: The Film Prophet

The Film Prophet

by Julia M. Plevin ’09

There is something supernatural about Jethro Rothe-Kushel ’03. Maybe it stems from the fact that he shares a first name with biblical Moses’ father-in-law or that he was a religion major and his most impactful class was called “American Prophets.” That he got his start as a filmmaker on Pharaoh’s Streets only adds to the prophetic air that surrounds him.

“Pharaoh’s Streets” was the name of the documentary that Rothe-Kushel made the summer after his freshman year at Dartmouth. Inspired by a Sociology class called “Urban Blues” about homelessness in downtown Los Angeles, Rothe-Kushel applied for a grant from the College for money to make a documentary on the subject. Upon receiving the grant, he took the project very seriously. He became fully committed to his documentary and ended up working on it through the following year, taking it to film festivals around the globe.  It was this one project and the idea that something he created could have an impact on people even when he was not around that made him decide to take filmmaking “from a small little hobby to a life mission.”

While Jethro knew he wanted to do something with movies, he majored in religion because it was a topic he wanted to explore. He does see a connection between movies and religion and did his final paper on the movie Fight Club. He also believes that in “some weird way, movies do share a similar purpose to religion,” reasoning that movies are like storytelling to large groups of people. Films become ritualized and communities exist around the stories. “These days,” he says, “people grow up more on movies than on stories in church, synagogues, or mosques.”

A native of Silver Lake, Los Angeles, Jethro grew up around cinematography. Many of his friends had parents in the film business and he had had some experiences on a set before college. Far away from sunny Los Angeles, Jethro continued to explore his interests in cinema and new media while at Dartmouth. Groups on campus, such as Milan and Sheba, paid him to create small videos that could be sent through blitzmail. In 2000, there were videos on the Internet, but it was not yet common to send movie clips over blitz.

Six years out of college, Rothe-Kushel is already well on his way towards his “life mission.” After graduating, he received a grant to do a film on religious rituals. From there, he first got a job as an unpaid Production Assistant for a short film. He was next recommended to do the same job for a feature film.  He walked into an office one week before production, to a first time director who had spent his days doing effects for The Ring and Fifth Element, but did not know the first thing about directing a feature film. This gave Rothe-Kushel an opportunity to take on more responsibility. He started to work with the director and became an Associate Producer. From there, he has produced films and television and directed several MTV music videos. He also has worked as “the new media guy” for non-profits, helping them create content and strategize. He makes breaking into the industry sound so straightforward and easy. He alludes to karma as he says “it all started from volunteering my time.”

Rothe-Kushel understands that the film industry is very challenging because lots of people want to make movies or be involved in documentaries. Professor Jim Brown in the Film Studies department told him that succeeding in the film industry is less likely than making the NBA draft because it is challenging and hard to navigate. While Rothe-Kushel seems to have weathered the journey quite well, he notices that in entertainment and media, there is “no one along the way who has really taken me under their wing.” Therefore, he was instrumental in the creation and development of Dartmouth Alumni in Entertainment and Media Association (DAEMA), to create a community of Dartmouth alums. To bridge the gap of Hanover to Hollywood, he created mentorship and internship programs.

Rothe-Kushel recommends that Dartmouth students interested in this field should “run away if they can,” but provides advice if the student has the same higher calling that has motivated him. First, the student should work to build a community of people she respects professionally and, of course, get involved with the Dartmouth alums in entertainment. Rothe-Kushel acknowledges that the financial aspect is hard to overcome because it is a challenge to find the money to support projects. He takes on the role of Benjamin Franklin as he advises aspiring producers to save at least ten percent of every check. Additionally, it is important to become familiar with the technical aspects, such as editing programs, cameras and lighting, and literary aspects, especially being able to understand how to craft a story.  Most importantly, he adds, is to have good “emotional intelligence” so that “you can motivate people and manage yourself.” If you can motivate yourself and others, you will “achieve your goals in films or anything.”

Rothe-Kushel does have goals for the future and keeps challenging himself. Next on the list is to direct a feature movie and continue to direct music videos. As a freelancer, he has to take his own advice and build community around him. He claims he has no one looking over his shoulder but himself, but that does not seem to be true. There seems to be a higher power watching over him and helping him to achieve his life mission of impacting people now and for many generations to come. Inspired by other writers, life experiences, music, art, and God, Rothe-Kushel will continue to create films with a lasting impact.