Profile: Barb Helfer, Pathfinders Chair 2001
By Ben Wyrick
is a big conference. Organizers expect an estimated 40,000 people
will pass through the Los Angeles Convention Center on their way
to courses, papers, panels, sketches, and various exhibitions. Navigating
the barrage of activities is a daunting prospect for first-timers.
That's where Barb Helfer and the Pathfinders orientation program
is to pace yourself," Helfer recommends. Deftly paging through
the 192-page Program & Buyer's Guide, Helfer recommends events
to her clients based upon their interests. "You can get really
bogged down . . . and not see things you actually need to,"
Pathfinders is located in the South Lobby, next to the SIGGRAPH
office. Attendees ranging from the merely curious to the hopelessly
befuddled drop in to speak with SIGGRAPH veterans like Helfer, whose
first SIGGRAPH was in 1988.
As chair of the Pathfinders program, Helfer leads a team of counselors
who staff the Pathfinders booth, meeting one-on-one with SIGGRAPH
"newbies" (no appointment necessary). Everyone on the
team is a SIGGRAPH veteran, most with ten years of experience or
a certain amount of enthusiasm permeating the Pathfinders area.
It's evident that Helfer lives and breathes SIGGRAPH--just look
at her ribbon collection: trailing from her nametag are no less
than seven ribbons--"Pathfinders Chair", "SIGGRAPH
Online Committee", "Keener", "Blonde like Lynn",
"Symposia Committee", "Speaker", and "Siggeek".
Upon inquiry, Helfer explains that "Keener" is a Canadian
term for a go-getter who is also laid-back, and that "Blonde
like Lynn" is an inside joke referring to Lynn Pocock's (SIGGRAPH
Conference Chair) blonde hair.
For first-timers who may not have such an illustrious ribbon collection,
never fear--Pathfinders clients are rewarded with their very own
white ribbon which reads: "Navigated by Pathfinders."
"Hopefully some of my excitement rubs off on other people,"
says Helfer, whose first SIGGRAPH experience was less than spectacular.
Helfer knew virtually no one at the conference and felt out of the
loop. Her story is similar to that of Pathfinders founder John Fujii,
whose first time was also disappointing.
The inspiration for Pathfinders came from the positive experience
of co-founder Scott Senften. Senften's first time was several orders
of complexity easier than that of Fujii and Helfer, thanks to a
mentor who guided him to all the right papers and parties. Senften,
Fujii, and Helfer compared notes of their experiences and decided
to create a mentoring program, Pathfinders, which began coaching
clients in 1998, ten years after Helfer and Fujii muddled through
their first SIGGRAPH.
Not only does Helfer highlight prospective events for clients, she
also befriends them. A crucial component of Pathfinders is making
people feel welcome, and Helfer takes pride in telling about how
she ran into clients at the Courses Reception last night.
"I wish everybody could have my experience," Helfer says.
Pathfinders is making that happen.
word of the conference!
It is Canadian
slang for someone who is very keen on things, perhpas a little
ribbon was one of the favorite ribbons.