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Interview with Barb Helfer

 Profile: Barb Helfer, Pathfinders Chair 2001
By Ben Wyrick

SIGGRAPH 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 comes in.

"The key 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," Helfer explains.
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 more.
There's 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.


This year's word of the conference!

What is a keener?

It is Canadian slang for someone who is very keen on things, perhpas a little too keen.

The KEENER ribbon was one of the favorite ribbons.


This page is maintained by YON - Jan C. Hardenbergh All photos you see in the 2001 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY