Blair’s annual Young Alumni Skeptics has become one of the most-anticipated presentations of the year, as recent graduates return to campus to share their experiences as collegians and young professionals. On November 5, filmmaker Vanessa Black ’06, cancer researcher Marissa Mattar ’08, Navy LT Craig Stocker ’08 and U.S. House of Representatives legislative assistant Patrick Maillet ’10 joined the Blair community in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration for the 2019 Young Alumni Skeptics. The event, moderated by history teacher and longtime Skeptics coordinator Martin Miller, PhD, began at 7 p.m.
The Blair community looks forward to welcoming these Young Alumni Skeptics panelists:
Vanessa Black ’06
“I doubt I would be a filmmaker if it weren’t for Blair,” said Vanessa, executive producer and director at BLKFLM, the production company she founded in 2014. After taking her first video class with former director of video studies Judith Kampmann at Blair, film became the medium through which she—a shy student—expressed herself. “Judith taught me all the basics of filmmaking, and we established an after-school program where we created weekly videos for Friday School Meeting. I became obsessed with film as a way to express ideas and break down barriers, and that all started at Blair.”
Vanessa matriculated at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where internships with industry heavy-hitters, including The Kennedy / Marshall company and MGM Studios, gave her a taste of “real world” filmmaking—and she loved it. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in production in 2010 and worked in smaller roles on large Hollywood projects before moving to New York City in 2012 to focus on the commercial world.
A stint in director sales at RadicalMedia was the impetus for Vanessa to break out on her own and build a directing reel. “My first directing project was about the youth behind the headlines of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution,” she said of the work that also marked her first foray into a political hotbed. “I was interested in how young people were using the Internet to create real revolutions, from their screens to the streets.” #UkraineRising launched her into branded impact filmmaking, where she has since crafted powerful projects on climate change, supply chains, women’s issues and much more, and created campaigns for a host of brands, including Google, Vogue, Gap, Cadillac and Under Armour.
In her current role, Vanessa specializes in impact advertising for large brands, foundations and nonprofits. On any given day, she could be meeting with production companies, writing scripts, presenting treatments alongside budgets, editing film or shooting on location with her film crew. “It is a really fun job,” she said. “I am always on my toes and growing on a daily basis.”
Vanessa acknowledged that her passion for world issues stems from her days in Dr. Miller’s history class and her leadership of Blair’s Multicultural Student Union. “I love that I went to school with kids from around the globe,” she reflected. “We all had unique relationships to current affairs. Blair’s multinational student body really shaped the way I see the world.”
Marissa Mattar ’08
Marissa’s lifelong interest in science stems from her innate drive to “figure out why things are the way they are.” Today, she is doing just that on the front lines of cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where she is a research coordinator in the Antitumor Assessment Core Facility.
In this role, Marissa has helped lead the effort to develop an academic Patient Derived Xenograft (PDX) program that is now the largest such program in the world. As part of this research, scientists implant human tumor samples in immunocompromised mice. The resulting tumor models retain the histologic and genetic features of the human donor tumors. The models are then used to test the efficacy of novel treatments or treatment combinations, especially targeted therapies. Marissa was hired as a research assistant in 2014 to work on the then-fledgling PDX program, and, as she put it, “The program has grown with me.”
Currently, she works with a team of four research assistants and several lab technicians in Sloan Kettering’s PDX program, which, in the past five years, has generated more than 1,600 tumor models from over 159 unique subtypes and created a preclinical database that has become an institution-wide resource. Her responsibilities include assisting with experimental design to test treatments, managing data acquisition and analysis, serving as a liaison between the clinic and the lab to ensure both parties understand goals and processes, and helping to write publications and grants.
Driven by the knowledge that she and her team are helping people in a direct way and that their work “contributes to a greater good,” Marissa thrives on the constant challenge and learning that are part of her job. Her undergraduate days at The George Washington University were not unlike her professional life: She completed a challenging biology major and psychology minor and took on several volunteer roles that focused on helping others, including as a healthcare intern at the Arlington Free Clinic and as a family advocate with Health Leads.
Marissa credits her four years at Blair, where she served as a prefect and member of the Blue and White Key Society, with helping her develop her work ethic, time management skills and a network of friends with whom she regularly keeps in touch. “Blair impacted my life tremendously. The person I am today is largely attributed to my time at Blair. The Blair community is truly something special. It’s been easy to connect with other Blair alumni since I graduated,” she said, adding that fellow Bucs remain among her closest friends.
LT Craig Stocker ’08, USN
A 2012 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) with a bachelor’s degree in oceanography, Craig’s career as a Navy surface warfare officer has taken him around the globe over the past seven years. He began with back-to-back tours aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106), serving as first division officer and then as the ship’s navigator. Craig spent nearly 25 months at sea conducting operations or training during his four years with the Stockdale and visited ports worldwide.
Beginning a shore tour in 2016, Craig trained to become a warfare tactics instructor specializing in anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare and then spent 20 months teaching at Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, Rhode Island. Since February 2019, he has been studying for his master’s degree in defense and strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport. Upon graduating in March 2020, he will return to sea as operations officer on the USS John Finn (DDG 113), homeported in San Diego.
A member of the Buccaneer cross country, swimming and crew teams during his postgraduate year, Craig credits his Blair experience with preparing him to succeed at the Naval Academy in ways he never would have imagined. “Everything from living away from home to taking challenging academic classes gave me an advantage,” he said. “Athletically, Blair’s outstanding coaching staff, facilities, environment, spirit and competitiveness allowed me to push myself physically and mentally to levels that made follow-on progression at USNA smooth and almost easy.”
At USNA, Craig was a four-year javelin thrower for Navy track and field, and he took on a variety of midshipman leadership roles. The summer between his junior and senior years was especially busy as he helped train the incoming class of 2015, interned at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and completed a five-week training and assessment with the Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Training and Evaluation Unit 1 in San Diego.
Craig’s brother, Matt, is a 2011 Blair grad, and his father, Craig Sr., is a longtime member of the School’s grounds crew. Every time he returns to campus, his appreciation for Blair’s “real family atmosphere” is renewed. “No matter how much the faculty and staff change, I’m always greeted by a familiar, smiling face,” he said. “I’m forever grateful to be a part of the Blair family because Blair is part of my family, too.”
Patrick Maillet ’10
A legislative assistant to U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN-04), Pat is working in an arena about which he has always been passionate: government and politics. Before he came to Blair—following in the footsteps of his mother, Patrice Maillet ’77, sister, Kaitlin Maillet Matyasovsky ’04, and brother, Matthew Maillet ’06—he candidly admits that he didn’t quite know what to do with that passion. Enter his faculty mentors, including Dr. Miller, Associate Dean of College Counseling Joe Mantegna, former history teacher Jim Connor and his four-year advisor, English teacher Bob Brandwood, each of whom helped him hone in on what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go in life.
“Blair had an extremely profound impact on my life,” said Pat, who served on class council all four years at the School and as a senior prefect. “Aside from providing me with some amazing, lifelong friends, Blair taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin and to lean into what interests me.”
Pat matriculated at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, where he had the opportunity to participate in a program that taught him not only the “what and why” of government, but also the “how” of crafting public policy. He wrote a column and served on the editorial board of The Michigan Daily, the university’s student newspaper, and developed a healthy obsession for Michigan football and basketball before heading to Washington, D.C., with his bachelor’s degree in public policy.
Unable to find a position on Capitol Hill as a newly minted college graduate, Pat accepted a job at a D.C.-based online educational company. “After working there for just under a year and applying for what felt like 500-plus jobs, I landed an entry-level position at a government relations firm,” he said. “I formed working relationships on the Hill in my 18 months with the firm when something finally opened up in Rep. McCollum’s office.”
Since beginning work in Congresswoman McCollum’s office in May 2016, Pat has advanced through several positions to become a legislative assistant. In this role, he covers a portfolio of issues for the Representative, including healthcare, transportation and housing. In addition, Pat attends evening law school at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus Law School, where he will earn his JD in May 2021.
To watch their full presentation, click below: