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"SDS keeps you informed, engaged, and excited — Who doesn't want to be a part of that?"

Marketing strategy guru Leslie Farnsworth helps Hopkins re-engage alumni in their 30s and 40s as chair of the Krieger School's Second Decade Society
Posted February 18, 2016
Left to right: Leslie Farnsworth, A&S '96, Kimberly Hsu-Barber, A&S '95, former SDS National Chair, Natasha Yamaoka, A&S '94, former SDS Career Committee Co-Chair Left to right: Leslie Farnsworth, A&S '96, Kimberly Hsu-Barber, A&S '95, former SDS National Chair, Natasha Yamaoka, A&S '94, former SDS Career Committee Co-Chair

If you can't find entrepreneur and Krieger School alumna Leslie Farnsworth at one of the two Houston-based firms she founded, turn your eyes northeast. Far northeast. To Baltimore, where she leads the Second Decade Society, a leadership development board for alumni 10 to 20 years out.

"Leslie has come to campus and to so many events over the past year, it's been extraordinary," says Lindsay Esposito, assistant director for volunteer leadership in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and manager of the Second Decade Society. "She places Hopkins at the forefront of what she does."

The Second Decade Society is dedicated to enriching the student experience for Homewood undergraduates and preparing them for life after Hopkins.

Members of the volunteer board make a tangible impact through career services and counseling, summer internship grants, and the Florence "Meg" Walsh Leadership Award — a $25,000 stipend given annually to one graduating Krieger School senior to design and conduct an international independent project.

Farnsworth, A&S '96, founder and CEO of FrogDog, a national branding and marketing strategy consulting firm, and owner of Twin Flames Properties, a commercial real estate developer, rolls off the board this summer following her tenure as chair. She shares her thoughts with Rising about what's behind her fierce dedication to Hopkins and her favorite memories from her Second Decade service.

Why is Hopkins so important for you to support, even from thousands of miles away?

I had so many great professors, Nancy Streuver, Dick Macksey, to name a couple. It was a formative experience in the truest sense of the phrase. People assume that because I own a marketing strategy company that I have a business or communications degree. I don't. I majored in humanities — the history of ideas, how people go from thinking one way about a topic to another. And that's basically marketing, isn't it? That started at Hopkins.

What prompted you to re-engage with Hopkins as a volunteer leader?

You don't realize when you're at Hopkins, as a student, how lucky you are to be surrounded by brilliant people doing cool stuff. Then you graduate, move away, and your conversations with other people are so different. I missed the Hopkins people. When I moved home to Houston, I looked up the Alumni Association chapter and eventually served on its board and as its president for a few years.

What have you enjoyed most about your time on the Second Decade Society?

A lot of what we do directly engages current students at Hopkins. I feel like I'm making a difference. I can empathize with them and remember what they're going through. I’m established in my career now, but it wasn't too long ago that wasn't the case.

Can you give an example?

We heard a student last fall describe her Walsh Leadership Award project, which was to start a street newspaper in South America, something to engage and help the homeless. When she got there, though, she ran into a lot of frustrations because she'd made some incorrect cultural assumptions. She had to do a lot of improvising, and some parts of her project just weren't doable.

She seemed really disappointed, so I and some other members of the Second Decade Society spoke with her afterward. I told her that she'd had a hugely valuable life and learning experience; that this is exactly what you go to Hopkins for. You try, you hit a wall sometimes, and you struggle to come up with another solution. It was an eye-opening experience for her.

What's been your biggest priority as the board's chair?

Clarifying our strategy. Our board is engaged, but the focus has mostly been on "What do we need to do this year?" rather than an overarching strategy from which everything cascades. We've had some confusion about what the dues were going toward, what activities we're expected to take part in. I'm working to clarify that organizing principle to have better engagement with the dean and the school and better use our time and money. It's not sexy, but it's important.

Why is this alumni leadership board important for the Krieger School and Hopkins?

Membership in the Second Decade Society coincides with an age when alumni are starting to pick their philanthropic priorities. Dean Beverly Wendland has been wonderful about engaging with us, looping us in to her school and campaign priorities.

We also listen to presentations not just from the Krieger School, but other areas of the university. I've realized that they're telling us about a variety of things to find out what lights our fire and to stay involved after our time on this board.

The Second Decade Society keeps you informed, engaged, and excited — and ready to give back. Who doesn't want to be a part of that?