Alumni Speak on Campus

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David Gutelius (on the right in the black sweater) speaking to a business class

Two accomplished alumni, Kristin Van Vleck (US’86, C’90) and David Gutelius (C’93), spoke to College students on consecutive days last week, along with visiting classes to share experiences in their respective fields and offer post-graduation advice. Both also expressed a keen willingness to be career contacts for students.

After graduating from the College with a degree in business administration and political science, Van Vleck spent seven years in the financial services industry and then earned a law degree at Harvard University. She worked in corporate law for several years until the events of 9/11 compelled a career change and she joined the U.S. intelligence community, where she serves as a government analyst. Her current position led to the title of her talk, “The Cyber Trail That Can Never Be Erased.” As she explained, “I’ve seen firsthand that once your image and information is online you have lost control of it, and it can never be fully erased. This isn’t something to be feared, but it’s extremely important to be alert, use good judgment, and affirm that everything you post is reflective of your highest self.”

Championing the Liberal Arts

During visits to history, political science, and mass communication classes, Van Vleck illustrated how a liberal arts education can lead to a wide range of career opportunities. “My Principia education prepared me in ways I never could have foreseen,” she said. “Principia professors and administrators uniquely see the 'perfect man' in students, resulting in their willingness to engage them in a broad set of studies and experiences. At Principia, I was encouraged to 'leave the old for the new' both as a Christian Scientist and as a student of the world. This boundless thinking is imperative to my current work as an intelligence analyst.”

The following day, students heard from David Gutelius (C’93), venture investor and veteran of five Silicon Valley start-ups, whose talk, “Thinking about Starting Your Own Business Someday?” drew a crowd of budding entrepreneurs. Gutelius explained, just as Van Vleck had, that he could never have planned the way his career has developed. After graduating from Principia with a double major in history and world perspectives, he worked in North Africa for two years before earning an MA and PhD in economic history at Johns Hopkins University.

Technology That Saves Lives

While working at SRI International, a nonprofit research institute established by Stanford University as a center of innovation, Gutelius met others interested in combining machine learning and the study of social networks. “We saw opportunities to connect data to real life situations post-9/11, including artificial intelligence that can solve perplexing national security problems,” Gutelius explained.

“I’ve been privileged to work on a wide range of projects, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s PAL program,” Gutelius continued. “One of my most prized possessions is a handwritten note from the three-star general in charge of all U.S. Army training, expressing appreciation for the role our product played in saving lives on the battlefield.”

Along with SRI colleagues, Gutelius also managed technology development for Siri, the virtual personal assistant that was later acquired by Apple. He subsequently founded and sold two companies, Social Kinetics and Proximal Labs. After the sale of Proximal to Jive Software, Gutelius joined Jive as chief social scientist and was part of the team that took the company public in 2011.

In 2013, Gutelius founded The Data Guild, a mission-driven technology incubator in Palo Alto, California, that brings together experienced data scientists, social scientists, designers, and engineers with diverse backgrounds to pioneer new technologies. “Diversity is strength,” he emphasized. “I’ve learned that the most effective way to innovate is to build an interdisciplinary team. And I can say the foundation for this comes from my Principia education, where I was encouraged to explore questions from many angles.”

Students Pitch Business Ideas

During his visit to Professor Dale Matheny’s Integrated Principles of Business class, Gutelius spoke about developing an idea, creating a business model, considering economies of scale, and attracting venture capital. Teams of students pitched business ideas to Gutelius on the spot, and he provided immediate feedback.

“Clarity of purpose and deep empathy are key skills,” he advised. “Be passionate about the right things, not just making money. Also, we have an edge as Christian Scientists because we have a different sort of compass. That’s kept me focused on how I can make a difference.”