Stavis wants national attention for Dartmouth

by Maura Henninger | 1/24/97 6:00am

Not everyone would associate a career singing classical leider and oratorio with a career promoting Dartmouth in the national media, but Laurel Stavis, the College's first director of the newly established Office of Public Affairs, sees a connection.

Though she spent 15 years as a classical music singer, Stavis most recently worked in public affairs at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. before coming to Dartmouth.

She said the connection between the two seemingly incompatible careers is communication, which she finds rewarding in any form.

Stavis, who has hectic schedule in her new job, discussed her life and her work while also brainstorming with Public Affairs science writer Nancy Serrell about ways to highlight the College's Arctic studies.

Songs of the past and future

After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1976, Stavis went on to pursue a 15-year career in classical music, singing specialized forms of classical music.

Stavis said she was extraordinarily fortunate to perform material she loved so much for such a long period of time. In 1987, she accepted a job at Wellesley as director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, and during her stay here, she discovered that singing and public affairs were similar occupations.

"They both involve taking information and conveying it to a larger audience," she said.

Stavis said 95 percent of her current job is covering the College's important projects and research. She said her job is more than just press releases and spin control.

"There's a reward you get from communicating that I found in both" music and public affairs, she said.

One of Stavis' main goals as Director of Public Affairs is to raise the College's visibility in the national media. Stavis hopes to make it simpler for journalists to get to the College, as well as to make their lives easier once they are here.

One way Stavis said she hopes to accomplish this task is by making ample use of Dartmouth News Service technology that allows members of the College community to be interviewed on the radio from anywhere in the country with crisp, clear audio.

She also hopes, through the Dartmouth News Service's publications -- Vox of Dartmouth and Dartmouth Life -- to expose interesting campus issues and stories of national interest.

Associate Director of Public Affairs Roland Adams said he and the rest of the staff of the Public Affairs Office are fully committed to Stavis' plans for the future.

"Laurel is a sincerely idealistic person who has already demonstrated the depth of her commitments to Dartmouth," he said. "It is really unusual to find such a balance of a genuinely nice, as well as effective and capable, person."

Life in Hanover

Stavis said she was first confused when reading President James Freedman's speeches before coming to the College. She was mystified by Freedman's statement, "Dartmouth celebrates its sense of place."

"Dartmouth is not just a college, it's a destination," she said. "The more I get to know it, the more amazing it becomes."

She apparently feels the same way about the Upper Valley. Since arriving at Dartmouth, she has looked for ways to get involved in the community in order to get to better understand the area.

With all of the challenges of a new job before her, Stavis seems to find little spare time to pursue her interests.

"What spare time?" she jokes.

An avid reader, she said she enjoys reading books about American history. In addition, she is always looking to add to her collection of 19th and early 20th century literary magazines, in which she finds a limitless source of information about how we experience life as a society and how very different things are now than they were.

But it is Stavis' only child, 12-year old Steven, who consumes most of her time away from the office. She said she finds it a constant challenge to balance her time between work and family.

"It's never easy being a parent and having a demanding job," she said. "Whether you're a mom or dad, you sometimes feel torn."

Her husband works for a company based in Massachusetts and has a job which keeps him traveling quite a bit -- but which also allowed him to easily move from Massachusetts to New Hampshire.

"You are constantly asking questions of yourself as a working parent," she said. "'Am I spending too much time at work, not enough time at home?' It's tough to know the balance."

Almost on cue, at the end of her briefing with Serrell, Stavis' phone rings. It is her 12-year old son, Steven.

"Aced your test, huh?" the proud mom gushes. "What did you get? A 132? Oh my god, I'm so proud of you. The sooner I get off the phone, the sooner I can get home to look at your test," Stavis says into the receiver.

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