Matt Santucci

2014 Graduate

Recent graduate Matt Santucci ’14 has always loved to travel, and although he is a freshman at Marist College, he’s admittedly spent more time in Europe than Poughkeepsie during the past few months. As a participant in Marist’s Freshman Florence Experience program, Matt has had the unique opportunity to spend his first year abroad, completing his foundational coursework at Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute in Florence and living the history, literature, and philosophy he’s studied throughout his student career.

The transition from American culture to one that really “savors life,” as Matt puts it, has been an easy one, and while his knowledge of Italian was certainly an advantage, he also credits Chase for much of his success. Thanks to the School’s rigorous academic program and classes with Nedra Gusenberg, Elizabeth Herman, and Jim Wigren, he was well-prepared to not only appreciate the culture that is all around him but also to manage his schedule and find ample time for traveling, making new friends, and even rowing for the local club-- Società Canottieri Firenze. His passion for rowing was also sparked at Chase and he thanks Head Coach Lincoln Turner for instilling a love of the sport and the discipline required to successfully balance academics and athletics.

In addition to schoolwork and sports, Matt has also traveled extensively around Europe, sometimes with his classmates but often on his own. One of his favorite excursions was a recent Christmas trip to Germany, where he caught up with a Chase alum and toured many of the sites he had studied in his senior-year independent study project with Jim Wigren. Another high point was an early visit to the Netherlands, where he, a huge World War II buff, joined massive crowds and two former members of the British Airborne Forces to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.

Having journeyed to Milan, Venice, Sienna, Germany, Genoa, the Netherlands, and Florence, what’s next for Matt? He hopes to transfer to an Italian university and major in Finance and Economics, but first, he’s headed back to Florence for the spring semester and several more adventures, including Carnevale in Venice, Easter Mass in Rome, and a trip to England to catch up with the veterans he met in the Netherlands!


Liz Carlson

2003 Graduate

Liz Carlson ’03, reports that her career in theatre came about almost inadvertently.

At Chase, she channeled her life-long love of the arts into drawing and sculpting while admiring her older sister Jenn Carlson, ’01 on the stage from afar. But in her junior year, Liz reports that classmate Sarah Palumbo ‘basically forced me to take up acting. She enrolled in an acting class and soon after was able to muster the courage to try out for Cabaret, in which she landed the role of Lulu. ‘Then I was hooked.

In her senior year, she performed in the school production of Towards Zero, by Agatha Christie, and in the spring ’02 musical Working.

Liz pursued theatre extracurriculars at Loyola Univ. in Maryland, taking part in school productions and also enrolling in several acting and theatre history classes. In her junior year at Loyola, Liz was selected to direct the student-run theatre company, The Poison Cup Players, at which time she directed her first formal full-length play, Taking Sides, by Ronald Harwood.

Liz moved to NYC in 2007 to pursue an MFA in Directing at The New School, after which she worked as a freelance director/producer. She has assisted many master directors Off-Broadway, notably Michael Greif (Rent, Next to Normal) on a new musical Giant and David Hyde Pierce on a revival of The Importance of Being Ernest at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

In 2013, Liz was named the new Artistic Director of Naked Angels, a well-known Off-Broadway theatre company, and she received the prestigious Drama League Directors Project Fellowship for nascent theatre directors. She reports that her role as Artistic Director of Naked Angels has dovetailed nicely with her freelance directing career.

 Liz wanted to end her alumna profile with this “I should also add that Bob Cutrofello was and still is a huge source of encouragement.”


DJ Haddad

1995 Graduate

DJ Haddad ’95, was excused for being really tardy in getting his updated bio to us for the spring 2014 edition of Magpie. He has two small children and just purchased and moved into a new house. Baby #3 is on the way. And he is the owner and creative director of Haddad & Partners, an ‘interactive design and marketing shop’ that he founded in Fairfield

DJ says that after graduating from Chase, he attended Parson’s School of Design, totally at the behest of two former teachers, Mr. Herger, and Mr. Ryan. “Mr. Ryan sold me on the school, and Mr. Herger sold me on NYC.” He studied illustration and painting and intended to sell himself as an editorial illustrator when he graduated in 1999. An unfortunate mishap with his entire professional portfolio (all originals – left on a subway) and the serendipitous arrival of the ‘tech boom’ simultaneously forced and allowed DJ to diverge off the artists’ path; he scrambled to reinvent himself and “quickly taught myself the necessary design programs over the course of one sleepless week.”

DJ landed his first job as a graphic designer for a ‘dot-com’ and gave up commercial illustration for good. He says that he has not, to date, regretted this artistic shift, as he claims that he is a “far better graphic designer that I was an illustrator.”

Haddad & Partners has amassed a prestigious array of clients over its short seven-year life: Capital One, Pfizer, Sallie Mae, Citigroup, Barclays, Advil, ChapStick, Hall’s Cough Drops, and Trident are just a few of his notable accounts. DJ, however, exhibits humility when discussing his accomplishments and is ready and generous in his credit to Chase Collegiate. “I have worked with graphic designers who are far better than I ever could be. BUT: there aren’t a ton of designers with the social skills and business sense . . . to clearly communicate their vision . . . or take a serious beating on poor design and still maintain the confidence to try again . . . “ DJ ascribes these qualities and his “well-rounded education” to the level of instruction and the personal attention given him in the small classrooms at Chase. He claims that his education at Chase gave a boost to his sometimes flagging attention span and anemic ambition and that he has reaped abundant rewards in the professional world as a result of this early educational nurturing.

Now exclusively a graphic designer, DJ says he still occasionally draws in his sketchbook. “But now that I have kids, my repertoire consists mainly of Ninja Turtles and Ursula from The Little Mermaid. What artist doesn’t love drawing tentacles anyway?”


Jenny Dixon

1968 Graduate

Jenny Dixon ’68, who has been the Director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in Queens, NY for the past 11 years, has a long and impressive educational and professional record. She earned a BFA in painting and a BS in Arts Education at the University of Colorado and a Masters in Public Policy at Columbia University. Between these two degrees, she had the good fortune to work for the formidable Doris Chanin Freedman, NYC’S first Director of Cultural Affairs. ‘In the few years we worked together, she gave me a complete foundation in the city politic and the ways of the NY art world.’ When Ms. Freedman died in 1981, her family appointed Jenny to carry on her legacy as the Director of her non-profit, the Public Art Fund. Here, she worked with numerous artists including Isamu Noguchi. Guided by Ms. Freedman’s spirit, Jenny was instrumental in securing the passage of NYC’S Percent for Art legislation and the establishment of the City’s Percent for Art program. The law requires 1% of the construction costs of all city-owned buildings be allocated to art. After this resounding victory for city art, Jenny went on to lead the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for a dozen years.

After a brief interval directing the Bronx Museum in the early 2000s, Jenny found her métier in the world of Isamu Noguchi (1904 – 1988) and became the Director of his eponymous museum in Queens. Known for his sculptures, public works, stage sets, and furniture design, Noguchi was a preeminent Japanese American artist and designer who gave definition to 20th Century modernism. His museum in Queens is the only museum in this country that was not only founded by an artist but also designed by that artist and dedicated solely to his/her work. Jenny has also been an instructor of art, from the early days of teaching grades one through twelve as the first art teacher at the Fishers Island School, to more recently as an adjunct professor at Cooper Union, Parsons, and NYU.

Jenny credits her time and lessons at SMS as valuable scaffolding to her development as an artist, administrator, instructor, and leader in the art world. She claims that her grandmother, Esther Schmidt, SMS 1904, ‘introduced me to a world of aesthetics and lovely things . . . no doubt something she too got out of the school.’ Jenny recalls particularly that she thought it was ‘cool’ that SMS had a separate building dedicated to art, an ‘oasis’ where she would secrete herself and become absorbed in the world she loves. ‘The pleasure in art making was very much a part of my life at SMS, from the wonderful theatre productions to hanging out in the art studio or looking at art books in the library when I was supposed to be doing something else.’ 


Dita Carley

1964 Graduate

Dita Carley ’64 is the 4th generation in her family not only to continue the tradition of Saint Margaret’s School, but also to become a working artist. Her great-grandmother, Elsie Rowland Chase (wife of Frederick Starkweather Chase, who founded McTernan School) was an accomplished artist who drew and painted with pastels, pencil, and oil. One of her paintings hangs in the Mattatuck Museum. Her daughter, Ethel Chase also painted extensively in pastel and oil. Ethel’s daughter, Elsie, mother of Dita, is an accomplished ceramicist and watercolorist.

Dita studied art at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, and then finished her degree at the University of Washington, Seattle. There she was fortunate to study under Jacob Lawrence, the preeminent American painter known for his depiction of African-American life through his ‘dynamic cubism.’ Later, back East, she had the opportunity to study under the renowned German painter Wolf Kahn at the Vermont Studio Center.

Dita’s work was represented by Francine Seders Gallery in Seattle until their closing this past December.

Dita has been teaching art for many years, starting with a program for children at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, and then, after moving back to Connecticut, at the Neighborhood Music School, Audubon Arts Program, Cold Spring School in New Haven, Mattatuck Museum, Yale University Professional Development, Litchfield Historical Society and Guilford Art Center.

She is pictured here with her creation “Outworn Heart,” based on the poem “Into the Twilight” by William Butler Yeats.