Major Exploration – Alumni Profiles


Erik Bruner-Yang ’07 – Business Administration

by Edythe Evans

Photo by Dayna Smith.

It’s five hours before Toki Underground opens its doors to customers, but the cubbyhole of a restaurant perched above a bar along H Street in Washington, D.C., is already busy.

Inside the impossibly small kitchen, owner and chef Erik Bruner-Yang ’07 and a colleague dump buckets of pork marrow bones into cavernous metal pots and set them to simmering on the stovetop.

Behind them, a third member of the team chops fresh vegetables that will season steaming bowls of ramen later that evening. A few feet away, a fourth sorts curly strands of noodles into uniform piles.The restaurant’s bar is papered with invoices as deliverymen come and go, dropping off beverages, crates of plastic carryout containers, and bunches of fresh ginger, garlic, and mustard greens.The deliveries come daily to 1234 H St. NE for two reasons. First, Bruner-Yang will use only the freshest ingredients when whipping up dishes like mom used to make.Second, at 675 square feet, the tiny Toki Underground − Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema referred to the space as a “shoebox” − lacks a walk-in freezer and much else in the way of storage space.

“We pretty much start from scratch every day,” said Bruner-Yang, fueling himself with a Diet Coke during a brief break. “We just make it all over.”

It’s an exhausting process. Bruner-Yang is 28, but he jokes that his knees are 40.

Still, it’s a recipe for success. Since the place opened in April 2011, diners have regularly waited two hours or more to snag one of the restaurant’s 30 coveted bar stools. And afterward they’re still happy enough to post effusive comments on Toki Underground’s Facebook page.

“My friends and I once showed up on a super busy night and were 30th on the waiting list . . . and we waited anyway!” gushed one customer. “It is THAT GOOD, people!”

“Go here. Now. Seriously,” insisted another.

A different fan wrote, “Thank you for existing.”

Readers and the editorial team at Eater DC voted Toki Underground its 2012 Restaurant of the Year. The Post’s Sietsema declared it “the best ramen in the city,” and a recent New York Times travel piece urged D.C. visitors to swing by the restaurant.

On top of that, Toki Underground is where the chefs eat. The really famous ones. Like legendary Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, Spaniard Ferran Adrià − who’s been called “the world’s greatest chef” more than once − and D.C.-based José Andrés of minibar, Zaytinya, and Jaleo fame.

And it didn’t hurt when actor Neil Patrick Harris, in the capital in early December for the national Christmas tree lighting, tweeted to his more than 5 million followers about his visit to Toki Underground.

“Sake, dumplings, tofu, and utterly delicious ramen. A must go,” he announced, posting a photo of his mouth-watering meal for good measure.

That prompted one D.C. foodie to respond: “Let’s all thank @ActuallyNPH for making the acceptable 4hr weekend wait @TokiUnderground now a somewhat acceptable 6hr wait.”

Bruner-Yang shrugs off the celebrity encounters.

“NPH is only going to come once. People like you are more important because they’re more likely to come back,” he told a visitor. “Every day’s a chance to get another regular.”

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Mary David ’07 – International Affairs and Communication

MDavidBecause of her work for human rights, Mary David ’07 was named among the “2013 Top 99 Foreign Policy Leaders Under 33.” In the international list, Diplomatic Courier magazine and the nonprofit organization Young Professionals in Foreign Policy teamed up to identify the most influential foreign policy leaders younger than 33.

“An ardent defender of human dignity, Mary David fights against human trafficking and ceaselessly works for the rights of women and children worldwide,” said Ana C. Rold, editor-in-chief of the Diplomatic Courier.

David, director of public relations for the Foundation for Post Conflict Development, helped draft some of Maryland’s first laws against human trafficking. She was deputy chair of public awareness for the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and assists the Office of Children’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State. She was the United Nations adviser on women and children for the ambassador of East Timor to the U.N. A lecturer on human rights and South Asian American identity, she has spoken at numerous institutions, including Georgetown University and the National Press Club.

David graduated from UMW with a double major in international affairs and communication, then earned a juris doctor from the George Washington University Law School.

“I am truly honored to be recognized among such prestigious and influential leaders from around the world,” David said. “To be one of only 99 selected – and to see what others from the millennial generation are doing – inspires me to effect greater change.”

Story taken from The University of Mary Washington Magazine.

Gerald Ndikintum ’06 – Master of Education

by Erika Jackson Curran ’07

Photo by Norm Shafer

Today Gerald Ndikintum, M.Ed. ’06 is an important figure in the Northern Virginia education community. But not too long ago – before he became an adjunct instructor in the UMW College of Education, before he was chair of the Fairfax County Public Schools Department of English for Speakers of Other Languages, and before he settled in the U.S. – Ndikintum was fighting for the rights of teachers and English speakers in Africa.

A native of Cameroon, Ndikintum developed a love of language early on. He spent 11 years teaching in secondary The Dangers and Powers of Speech schools throughout Cameroon while acting as a teacher representative for a budding trade union. An advocate for the weak, he battled injustices aimed at teachers, women, children, and English speakers. Over time, he found himself getting more politically engaged.

“It was particularly in my fight for teachers and English-speaking Cameroonians that I got very involved with the nascent multiparty politics in Cameroon,” said Ndikintum, 48.

In 1996, he ran for parliament on the opposition ticket and lost by fewer than 100 votes. He ended up losing more than the election. “In Cameroon, it wasn’t a welcome idea to run against the ruling political party if you were a civil servant, and as a secondary school teacher paid by the central government, I had done the unthinkable.”

Ndikintum continued the fight, but six years later he fled Cameroon in fear for his life. A Peace Corps worker who had lived with him and his family helped him leave.

Once in America, Ndikintum settled in Spotsylvania, Va., where he lives with his wife and five children. He got a full-time teaching job at Spotsylvania County Public Schools and started reading about teacher education programs in Northern Virginia and Richmond.   “I liked what I found in UMW,” Ndikintum said. “There was this family feel in the ESL [English as a Second Language] department that made me want to be part of such a family.”

He was pleased with his UMW graduate classes because they focused on instructing ESL teacher candidates on how to work with students through classes such as sociolinguistics, second language acquisition techniques, and multi-/cross-cultural communication.

At UMW, the most important thing he learned was how to conduct scholarly education research. “I relished it,” he said, and it inspired him to pursue a doctorate.

Professor Jo Tyler and assistant professor Patricia Reynolds were influential during his studies at UMW, Ndikintum said. Reynolds’ cross-cultural education class “spoke to me like no other class had done.”

“I was able to understand a lot of things that happened around me. I was able to give a name to the things I did, but most importantly, I had a teacher who was corroborating my feeling that my status as an English learner wasn’t a deficiency but only a difference.

“I really felt empowered, and this increased my desire to empower others.”

Story taken from The University of Mary Washington Magazine.

Christine Exley ’09 – Economics

by Kristin Davis

Photo by Doug Buerlein

Pepper was about to be killed when Christine Exley ’09, then 17, fell in love with the 20-pound pit bull. The dog, shoehorned into a crate, had survived a month − three weeks longer than average − among the constant influx of strays at the animal shelter.

“She never lost her spirit,” Exley said. “I took her home.”

Eight years later, the doctoral student of economics at Stanford University is trying to save dogs on a larger scale. To do so, she’s applying a lesson learned in a freshman economics class at Mary Washington.

Shawn Humphrey, associate professor of economics, taught his students that the discipline could be used to solve real-world problems – and ultimately help make the world a better place.

With so many people looking for pets, and with millions of dogs being killed every year, Exley thought the problem to be solved was in matching them. In early 2012, she and fellow animal-lover Elena Battles started, a company that helps bring together dogs and the humans who want them.

But the flood of pets and people who can’t find one another − what Exley called a “massive market failure” − wasn’t the only problem. “No SPCA is related to another SPCA, no humane society is related to another humane society,” she said. “It’s an incredibly fragmented market. It can be hard to find a dog with characteristics you want.”

A clearinghouse for shelters, rescue organizations, and pet owners trying to find responsible breeders and new homes for their dogs, allows people to search all of these at once by breed, size, age, gender, and other specifications.

Exley, CEO and chief of research, posted on the company website, “In regard to both economics and Wagaroo, I believe in testing everything, and then pursuing what works and changing what does not.” That’s something she practiced at UMW.

A four-year Washington Scholar who received the merit scholarship that covers tuition, room, board, and fees, Exley had planned to major only in math. Then Humphrey’s belief that economics could change the world turned her into a double major.

She “fell in love with the economics way of thinking,” she said, and worked in Honduras with Students Helping Honduras (SHH) building roofs on villagers’ homes before the rainy season. When she told Humphrey about SHH and the humanitarian work there, he wanted to lend a hand.

Humphrey collaborated with Exley and SHH. Eventually they established La Ceiba Microfinance Institution, a student-run nonprofit group that provides loans and educational support in Honduras.

“What I was doing at Mary Washington is what graduate students are usually doing at a larger school,” said Exley, who has undergraduate degrees in math and economics.

She believes her hands-on economics experience helped her get into Stanford. She plans to finish her Ph.D. in 2015, and she wants to teach, like Humphrey. “I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than helping a student on an individual basis,” she said.

But just as much as teaching, and maybe more, Exley said, “I want to save dogs. I want to pursue Wagaroo. I know we don’t have all the answers, but I think we can find a lot of them.”

Story taken from The University of Mary Washington Magazine.