When we pause and look at our lives, it is fascinating to see how various events unknowingly prepared us for where we are today. As Annie Waterman ‘00 embarks on a new venture AOW Handmade, an international consultancy connecting artisans and buyers around the globe, she sees how each step in her journey prepared her for this new adventure.
Growing up in California in large public schools, Annie, like so many adolescents, struggled to love school. “What I was expected to learn was not relevant to my life. I hate to say this, but I just didn’t care about school until my family moved to Vermont and I discovered Proctor.” She enrolled at Proctor as a junior and immediately engaged in farming and wildlife science classes, took every art class she could in Slobumb Hall, and was involved in soccer, snowboarding and tennis. “All of a sudden, my education became relevant. I was drawn to every class that took me outside the confines of a classroom, and consequently, I learned how to care about learning.”
During her senior year, Annie spent two terms off-campus on Ocean Classroom and Mountain Classroom. “Mountain and Ocean Classroom changed my life. They allowed me to really love learning by showing me how the pursuit of knowledge can be fun. I was physically and mentally challenged, but ultimately learned I had a passion for international travel, adventure, exploration, and experiential education.”
It was the confidence and sense of independence gained at Proctor that fueled her desire to spend each summer during college traveling the world. Annie volunteered at a boy’s orphanage in Mexico where she learned Spanish one summer, and volunteered at a Thai school and taught English the next year. “I always had a desire to travel, but I’m not sure I would have ever had the confidence to do what I did in college had it not been for Proctor’s off-campus programs and teachers like Annie (Tutweiller) Mackenzie who made such an impact on my life.” She adds, “Traveling to libraries around the country on Mountain Classroom and having the freedom to delve deep into the study of a specific topic was so liberating as a student. It is this experiential approach to learning that opened so many doors for me.”
Following graduation from University of Boulder, Annie moved to Prague where she taught English and worked at a photography gallery for a year before moving back to Boulder and taking a job as a designer. For the next three years, she pursued her passion for the arts by designing home decor goods while working directly with artisans and traveling extensively throughout South America. Just as Mountain Classroom and Ocean Classroom opened doors for Annie, this first job as a designer unknowingly launched her into a direction that would define the next decade of her professional life.
After working the next four years for a wholesale business, Annie moved to Nepal to work for Wild Earth Nepal, which works with women throughout Kathmandu to develop hand crafted herbal, body care products. This experience led to her to a job with ByHand Consulting where she traveled the world and helped build a trade show based in New York that connected buyers directly to artisan suppliers.
Each of these experiences led Annie to where she is today, launching AOW Handmade where she reports on various artisan shows worldwide in an effort to help source and identify handmade, artisan suppliers to buyers. “It’s funny, growing up my passion was to be a photojournalist. I took every photography class I could at Proctor and always wanted to travel the world taking pictures and telling stories. I just had no idea I would be doing it within the industry I am today.”
Business is booming as the global demand for handmade good soars, and as Annie prepares for this next stage of her life, she remains thankful to the impact Proctor had on her growth. “Proctor helped mold where I am now through its unique way of challenging students to grow. I have had the confidence to launch my own company because programs like Mountain Classroom and Ocean Classroom were really, really hard. They tested me, challenged me, and made me realize the importance of having strong friendships with those around me.”
Annie’s advice to current Proctor students mirrors her own journey, “Take advantage of all there is to do at Proctor and take part in as many off-campus programs as you can! You won't regret it and you will create memories that you will never forget. Proctor's programs will truly shape who you are, and you never know how they will prepare you for what lies ahead.”