Alumnae Spotlight showcases amazing Laurel women and the paths they have charted since graduation. Whether they are doctors, designers, artists, authors, scientists, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, engineers, pharmacists, or civic activists or volunteers, Laurel women inhabit nearly all careers and corners of the world helping to make it a better place. Our alumnae and the journeys that they have taken speak to the essence of a Laurel education and what makes this School and the community of women who call it their own distinctive. This space highlights their fascinating lives and the mountains they continue to move.
If you would like to be featured in our Alumnae Spotlight, or know of an alumna who might, please email Megan Findling.
September/October 2017 Alumnae Spotlight
Tabitha Gillombardo ’12
A project for Jeanne Stephens’ Ninth Grade English class set Tabitha Gillombardo ’12 on an intellectual journey across the world—studying the Middle East, living in Amsterdam—before returning to Cleveland a year ago to help advocate for her hometown. After graduating from Laurel, Tabitha earned a bachelor’s degree in government and Middle Eastern studies from Wesleyan University. She studied Arabic to learn firsthand about ISIS and its recruitment techniques in disenfranchised communities. Academic studies of how governments give their citizens access to basic human needs led Tabitha to focus on urban planning, specifically transportation planning, in northeast Ohio. As part of a Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellowship, Tabitha worked with NOACA (Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency), the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization. She staffed the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, a nonprofit that works with mayors, county commissioners, developers, architects, academics and business owners to create a more vibrant, resilient and sustainable Northeast Ohio. Tabitha also independently writes articles on non-traditional security and terrorism post-9/11, and serves as a trustee for the Cleveland Association of Phi Beta Kappa. Tabitha and her sister, Samantha Gillombardo Larson ’99, are proud members of the White Team.
When did you start at Laurel and why?
When it was time for me to start preschool, my sister, Samantha, was already enrolled as a Sophomore at Laurel, so Laurel was my family’s natural choice! With the 13-year age difference between my sister and me, my mom was a Laurel parent for 27 consecutive years!
What are some of your favorite traditions, or fondest memories of Laurel?
I have so many wonderful memories from my 16 years at Laurel. Here are 10 of my favorites:
- Laurel Bananas, Oreo brownies, chicken fajita day, and those perfectly circular chicken patties!
- Mrs. Porris’ dance class. Whenever I hear the song “Mambo Number 5,” I think of dancing at the end of class with my classmates in Mrs. Porris’ studio in the colorful skirts we picked from her skirt bins.
- SkyLab, the visiting planetarium in the Multipurpose Room with Mrs. Farrell!
- The Scholastics book fairs.
- Mrs. Lang’s music class: Her class gave us access to the metallophone and glockenspiels. I loved earning those little strings to tie on the bottom of my recorder when I correctly performed a song from memory.
- Our Fourth Grade primary concert, which was cat-themed for Mrs. Pile. My class sang “Gumby Cat.” I stayed with Katie Gilkeson ’12 while I was in NYC this past May for the American Planning Association’s National Conference and we sang the ENTIRE Gumby Cat song from memory.
- Art with Mrs. Galloway and Mrs. Reagan and art history with Mr. Connell equipped us with the tools to appreciate art, including mastery of the language of art, so that we can intelligently describe what we love, admire and dislike. My love of art history (specifically Impressionism) inspired me to study abroad in Amsterdam! I actually lived two blocks away from where Rembrandt lived!
- The Senior Hallway filled with group work and laughter.
- My Junior year talent show: Alexis Allen ’11 and I choreographed a dance. We had so much fun practicing at Erin and Maggie Killeen’s house (both ’11).
- My Senior year talent show: my girlfriends and I choreographed a NSYNC dance parody complete with costumes. Nancy Eisele, Kat Geppert, Katie Gilkeson, Lilly Harris, Chelsea Jackson, Tory Mintz and I (all Class of ’12) really nailed it.
What is the most important thing you learned at Laurel (something you draw upon even now)?
I learned to be curious. Laurel teachers constantly exposed us to new things to learn. Now, I will not pursue a job that does not intellectually challenge me everyday.
Mrs. Stephens showed me that literature could be a mirror and that the most compelling writing comes from a topic of resonance. For every book, short story, poem or play, I pushed myself to discover the moments that resonated with me. Her classes taught me to first be empathetic and then to be courageous.
Laurel taught me that success is not a threat. Laurel is competitively empowering: students are proud of and celebrate each other’s successes, and we are motivated to become our best selves.
Also, to this day, I remember dessert has two “s” because you want more of it, and angel is spelled “gel” because they use it in their hair—Thank you, Mrs. Shields.
How did you become interested in government and Middle Eastern studies, your majors at Wesleyan University?
For a project in Mrs. Stephens’ Ninth Grade English class, I studied the human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay Prison. I was disturbed by the lack of due process and inhumane treatment of prisoners. From that moment, my dream has been to become a terrorism defense attorney because everyone deserves a fair trial and to be treated with integrity.
I did not want to learn about the Middle East from the sensationalized news media, which often simplified topics to fit American foreign policy narratives. I wanted to understand the Middle East through its cultures, history, and languages. So, I began studying Arabic, international politics courses and Middle East history at Wesleyan.
While studying abroad in Amsterdam in the fall of 2014, I joined the University of Amsterdam’s Conflict Studies Department. Our research was on ISIS recruitment in the Schilderswijk. I translated Syrian news articles into English and became fascinated with rhetoric and framing after explaining to my Dutch colleagues the cultural significance of certain word choices.
My senior honors thesis at Wesleyan analyzes presidential terrorism rhetoric by comparing the ways President George W. Bush talked about al-Qaeda with the ways President Barack Obama talked about ISIS. I created a new speech analysis system that breaks down speeches into the five major threat response frames.
You just completed a one-year position as a Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellow. Can you tell us a little about the fellowship program?
The Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellowship was created in 2016 to develop leaders in the public sector. Ronn Richard, the President and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation, recognized that the private sector has many professional development programs where it can recruit and groom future industry leaders. He believed that the public sector should have the same leadership development program. The fellowship lasts one calendar year and fellows are placed at local public agencies.
One of my favorite moments of the fellowship was being featured on Ideastream’s “Sound of Ideas” in June 2017. Three other Cleveland Foundation Public Service Fellows joined me on the show to discuss public sector appeal for the millennial generation. It was absolutely incredible to be a guest on a show that I listen to regularly!
As part of your fellowship, you worked at the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), the transportation and environmental planning organization for Northeast Ohio. What projects did you help NOACA undertake?
NOACA is the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina counties. I was working in urban planning, specifically transportation planning. This may seem like an odd career step from a double-major in government and Middle Eastern Studies, but my academic studies really were rooted in how governments give their citizens access to basic human needs; extremist groups most often recruit from disenfranchised communities, promising better access to one, if not multiple, basic human needs.
At Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC), I worked with mayors, county commissioners, developers, architects, academics and business owners to develop grant applications and education plans. NEOSCC’s vision is based off the Vibrant NEO 2040 plan, a scenario-planning document that analyzes 12 Ohio counties’ sustainability. It is the only regional plan of its kind because it coordinates public, private, and governmental activities over a massive 12-county region.
What are the biggest challenges that Cleveland currently faces?
In order to understand one of Cleveland’s greatest challenges, we need to explore the city’s transportation history, specifically highway development. Originally, highways were for state-to-state transport but in the 1970s, planners began constructing highways for city-to-city travel. In Northeast Ohio, the highways were constructed in primarily poor and minority neighborhoods, disconnecting them from downtown and the lakefront. Another consequence of the highway system was the nation’s quick transition to car dependency.
The highway system we have today was built with census projections that anticipated 4 million people moving to Cleveland by 1990. Unfortunately, those millions of people never came. The effect? The highways facilitated crippling sprawl because the shrunken city population was exacerbated by speedy travel to less expensive land in second-ring suburbs of Cuyahoga County as well as neighboring counties, like Geauga and Lorain.
What should we do now? Cleveland needs to focus its infrastructure spending on asset management, so that we can take care of our existing transportation infrastructure instead of building more streets and highways whose maintenance we already cannot afford. Take the bus and the rapid when you can to support economically and environmentally sustainable transportation!
How do you see the city changing? What do you love about working and living in Cleveland?
One of the most thrilling things to witness is how downtown and the Flats are destinations once again! I love taking the rapid to work. I love seeing people in Cleveland gear every day of the week. Clevelanders’ grit and collective pride for our city make Cleveland so special. We never give up!
What hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time?
I love beer. I started brewing beer at college (Go Wes!), so it has been really fun getting back into the brewing scene here at home. I love going to Browns, Indians, and Cavs games. I enjoy lifting, biking and power vinyasa yoga.
For the last four years, I have tutored people currently serving time in state and federal prisons. I wholeheartedly believe in workforce development and prison education, so that, upon release, these individuals can find meaningful employment and provide for themselves and their families.
Anything else you would like to share?
For 16 years at Laurel, I practiced taking intellectual risks and believing in my own competence. This Laurel mindset of “knowing my ideas are worth sharing and my voice is worth hearing” encouraged me to independently write articles on non-traditional security and terrorism post-9/11. Currently, I am writing an article that will be published by a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. My piece analyzes American terrorism rhetoric, specifically Americans’ reserved use of the labels “terrorist” and “act of terror,” with a social psychology narrative.
What advice would you give to current Laurel girls?
Always come prepared to class. It is the greatest display of respect for your teachers.
Our classes at Laurel are intentionally designed to be interdisciplinary. Continue to think comprehensively about your studies and the world after you graduate.
Laurel girls have access to so many unique experiences. The joy from these experiences may not fully hit your heart until you have graduated. I urge you to send your teachers a message of gratitude when one of your memories makes your heart smile. I know that it means a lot to them!