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Sarah Calhoun '00 was among entrepreneurs invited to the White House in November to attend the Business Leaders' Forum on Jobs and Economic Competitiveness.
Calhoun, founder and owner of Red Ants Pants, a Montana company that creates work wear for women, said "the White House did a great job of getting feedback from business people who are trying to create jobs."
And, she said, her liberal arts education did a great job of preparing her for leadership not only in business but also in service, as evidenced by her new nonprofit Red Ants Pants Foundation, which focuses on women's leadership in context of working family farms and ranches in rural areas.
As part of her journey to D.C., she made the 90-minute drive to campus to visit key mentors from her student days, including economics Prof. Brendan Cushing-Daniels (left in photo), Director of Experiential Education John Regentin (right), and Center for Public Service (CPS) founding Director Karl Mattson (not pictured).
She said her CPS experience taught her the importance of "building bridges between communities," an idea enshrined in her foundation's mission statement. An environmental studies (ES) major, Calhoun served as the CPS's environmental issues program coordinator during her time at Gettysburg. As a first-year student, she took part in a CPS immersion trip to the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, which sparked her interest in the West and her eventual move to a small ranching town in central Montana. After instructing for Outward Bound and leading trail crews for years, she got fed up with wearing men's workpants, so she started Red Ants Pants in 2006. "Even the company's name is a tribute to hard working females, of the insect variety, anyway," says the White House website's article about Calhoun, who "was inspired by the social structure of red ant colonies, which are made up of primarily female workers, 'meaning that it's the women who do all the work!'" A humorous Red Ants Pants commercial is on YouTube.
She gained practical wilderness experience through the College's extensive outdoor experiential education program. Regentin and the Gettysburg Recreational Adventure Board (GRAB) "helped me with so many things beyond the classroom, like people and mediation skills you need across all industries," she said, noting that dealing with difficult wilderness situations taught her to think creatively.
Gettysburg's unusually wide-ranging environmental studies major helped Calhoun in an unexpected way, pointing to the inherently exploratory nature of the liberal arts. "The only reason I took econ was that I needed it for my environmental studies degree," she said, but the experience of studying with Cushing-Daniels proved pivotal. "Something sank in, obviously," she said. "I learned the basics of business in economics."
The "arts" in liberal arts made an impression too. The first annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival, which she developed and organized, attracted over 6,000 people. Festival-goers came from Canada, the East Coast, and Europe. The second annual event is planned July 26-29, 2012.
"Her Main Street storefront in the small ranching town of White Sulphur Springs, Mont., is the headquarters and distribution center for her business," says the White House website. "In September 2011, Calhoun was a U.S. delegate at the APEC USA 2011 Women and the Economy Summit, in San Francisco, hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton." APEC stands for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.Posted: Mon, 2 Jan 2012