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Ruth Schneider retires after 29 years of service

STANFORD -- When staff members at the Career Planning and Placement Center had to pick a point person to organize the content of the center's new home page on the Web, the choice was unanimous: Ruth Schneider, a longtime veteran of the center who has served as its director for the past 10 years.

"She's a real Web advocate," says Lynne Dotson, the center's associate director. "We gave her the title of Webmaster because she coordinated the written part of our homepage."

Schneider's enthusiasm for cyberspace is "typical Ruth," Dotson says. "If something is coming around the corner and she thinks it's a good idea, she will go for it. She is very much a forward-thinking person." After 29 years of service, Schneider is retiring Aug. 30.

Colleagues roundly praise her ability to encourage innovation and her willingness to consider seriously every idea proposed by her staff.

"She encourages input from all levels, whether a person is exempt or non-exempt, full time or part time, or has been here for a long time or just a few months," says Al Levin, the center's assistant director. "We work well as a team and Ruth has been a key part in making that happen."

Her natural inclination to bring people together and make them feel at ease was evident at the annual holiday party she hosted at the center. "We are known for having the best holiday party on campus, with the best food and the best decorations," Levin says. "Ruth creates a real family atmosphere and we invite staff from different departments to come."

On Aug. 24 co-workers and friends gathered to pay homage to Schneider. "It's time," she says simply of her decision to leave the center after nearly three decades of service.

Actually, if things had gone according to her original plan, her time at the center would have ended years ago.

Schneider joined the center in 1967 and had expected to go into public school administration after receiving a master's degree in education at Stanford. But just before graduation, she somewhat reluctantly gave up a post at a nearby school district to become assistant director of what was then known as the Placement Center.

Ralph Keller, one of Schneider's professors and director of the center, had asked her to take the post when it became vacant only weeks before graduation. She agreed partly as a favor and partly because she was flattered that Keller chose her from among the many education graduates. Besides, she expected the job to be a temporary one.

"I said that if I could get released from my contract, I would do it for one year, but that's all. It has been a very long year," she quips.

She stayed that long because "it turned out to be the best job in the world," she says, with a broad smile. "Working with absolutely delightful, highly motivated students, faculty and employers has let me put my feet into so many different areas every day. I've had all the variety in the world here."

While colleagues are sad to see her go, they are certain she will embark upon the next phase of her life with the same zest that has typified her approach to the projects she has undertaken at the center over the years.

"She's moving on to new adventures," Levin says. "She has always loved to travel and now she will have the opportunity to do more of that."

Photographs and sketches of a safari to Africa; a visit to Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan capital in Peru; and a rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon grace the walls of Schneider's office. She has visited more than 80 countries to date, a never-ending adventure that began several years ago when her son worked for Pan Am. During those four and a half years, she vowed to take full advantage of parental benefits. "I was determined not to wake up one day when he would no longer be with the airlines and experience the 'if only's,' " she says.

She's not wasting any time adding another trip to the list. On Sept. 18, she is off to Australia for a six-week camping trip.

"It's a way of telling myself that I don't have to be back in two weeks," she says.

But her office, decorated with green plants, photographs, colorful wall hangings and a carved hippopotamus figurine propped on the corner of a peach-colored sofa, looks so lived-in that it's hard to imagine Schneider's last day is soon approaching.

To prepare for this final departure, she has spent a large part of the last month organizing old files, many of which she hadn't opened in years.

"It's been so much fun, going through them and remembering," she says, as she pointed at the 12 file drawers spanning the length of one wall. "That's 29 years of collecting stuff."

Some of her most memorable times at the center include:

  • Collaborating with Jing Lyman and members of the Stanford Faculty Women's Club on the 1968 production of a book titled Going into Labor, A Bay Area Woman's Guide to Employment and Education. "It was especially memorable because of the enthusiasm of the women who were working on it," she says. "In many ways, it was a first. The editorial consultant was Anne Miner, who subsequently became Stanford's first affirmative action coordinator."
  • Working at the center during visits from Dow Chemical recruiters during the Vietnam War, when protesters set fires in waste baskets, climbed over partitions separating the interviewing rooms while interviews were in progress and carried furniture out of the office. "The top of one desk was adorned with a well-entrenched secretary as it disappeared out the door," she recalls.
  • Receiving their first computer in 1984, a gift from Hewlett-Packard that no one knew what to do with. "One person was trained in its use," Schneider says. "If someone else had a special project that could benefit from a computer, that individual would receive a 'quick fix' training session from the one knowledgeable soul."
  • Raising sufficient funds for the center's building renovation. From 1982 to 1985, the center's low, stucco-clad building in White Plaza underwent a $500,000 renovation. During the project, Schneider worked closely with architects and designers, often with a toolbox in tow. When she needed $85,000 above university funding to add a few finishing touches, she raised it from corporations that recruit on campus. "The most unusual in-kind gift was the carpeting ­ one company donated fiber, another dyed and wove it, and another installed it," she says.
  • Learning that students, through the Council of Presidents, had gone to bat for the center and convinced Provost Condoleezza Rice to eliminate the last proposed cut of $50,000 from the center's budget.
  • Finding out that Jim Scott, an advisee who graduated in 1975, had been selected as president of Punahou School in Hawaii. Returning to his high school alma mater in 1995 "was a dream come true" for Scott, she says.

Helping students like Scott make their dreams come true is what Schneider cherishes most about her career at the center.

It is also what she will be remembered for, when she retires. It's a spirit that is reflected in her parting advice for students:

"Take control of your own life. Always be planning and looking forward to the next step. Make sure your work is something that you enjoy doing. It will occupy approximately 80,000 hours of your life."



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