Susan Stout graduated from St. Mary’s in-the-Mountains in 1968. Since her days as a student, she has embraced and epitomized the School’s mission: “We are a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in our Episcopal heritage, we prepare and inspire students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.” The same tenets have guided her education, career, and life. It was at St. Mary’s that she discovered her curiosity and passion for studying and learning. To those who knew her as a student leader at St. Mary’s, it was clear she would have a bright future. Susan has had an amazing journey, and although she insists it was all serendipity, it is clear that her character and dedication to improving the lives of others are what brought her so far.
Like other students of that era, it was skiing that brought Susan to St. Mary’s in 1965, but it was in the classroom where she was inspired by her history teacher, Lynn Sanborn, who taught a “life-changing” course in Chinese history. She stayed at St. Mary’s for three years emboldened by the education she received, particularly noting communication skills and writing taught by Deborah McIlwaine, the wife of Head of School John McIwaine. Even during the turbulent and fast-changing times in the 1960s and 70s, Susan discovered she liked to study and spend her time in the library.
Desiring to stay close to the mountains, Susan chose to go to the University of Colorado and started in the political science department. It was there that a professor recognized her intellect and quest for knowledge and encouraged her to go to a college with a strong Asian studies program. Susan transferred to Vassar College, where many of the women in her family had studied. After college, Susan and her roommate worked in India, traveling to the hill station towns in the south. They helped in clinics that were just beginning to serve family planning in the area. They traveled further in Asia including Nepal, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Susan wanted to stay and attend graduate school in Hong Kong. Instead, she moved back to the United States for graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she received a fellowship to study public health. A two-year master’s in public health led to a further two years, earning a doctorate of public health in health administration, with an emphasis on population policy. A degree requirement was field service, and though she had wanted to do it in international family planning, Susan’s advisor instead recommended she work for North Carolina’s family planning bureau. While there, she gained firsthand experience in tracking results, budget planning, and evaluating the success of a program, which became a backbone for her future work on international health. This experience made her an attractive candidate to teach employees at the World Bank Group since the bank was becoming interested in population issues. Susan found it might be a good place to work permanently. She started as an intern and then after three years worked on population and family planning in several African countries. She subsequently was able to parlay a consultancy at the bank into a full-time position through persistence and proof of the knowledge and experience she could provide from her work in North Carolina. Her position at the World Bank in international family planning with a focus on population, health, and nutrition programs and policy led to assignments in India, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Vietnam.
Highlights of her time at the World Bank include being in Afghanistan after the Taliban was defeated and working on health and HIV/AIDS policies in Vietnam. She noted that the Vietnamese government was the smartest government she worked with in terms of family planning and population. One of the more frightening times was in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, where she served as an advisor to the Ministry of Health and escaped during on-going uprisings, bombings, and civil war.
Susan’s interest in statistics and results were keys to her expertise in population and other studies. Over 25 years at the World Bank, she worked to improve the effectiveness of maternal and child health programs in more than twenty countries. Susan worked for the World Bank’s independent evaluation group in the mid-1990s. Donors and lenders to the bank wanted to see efficacious investments, but too few of the bank’s health projects were adequately monitoring results. Following this work, she returned to the bank’s operational work, and to help improve the bank’s health investment portfolio. Subsequently, she helped to coordinate the monitoring and evaluation of the Bank’s HIV/AIDS programs in at least ten countries in Africa. She was then recruited to lead an organization-wide effort to improve the measurement and use of information on results in decision making.
After retiring in 2008 from the World Bank, Susan took on several consultancies and taught at Georgetown University’s Department of International Health. Her teaching experience reminded her of the importance of good writing skills. She met too many students who needed to strengthen their skills in this craft. She is grateful she learned how to write, first at St. Mary’s and later at Vassar.
As a role model for other alumnae/i and current students, the School is grateful to Susan for sharing her story. When asked to do so, she responded, “I am especially pleased to do this, since I strongly believe that the success I have enjoyed—both professionally and in friendships—ties directly back to St. Mag’s!” Although she is modest and self-effacing about her accomplishments, it is clear that it was her curiosity, courage, and compassion, in addition to perseverance, that led to her success. Susan writes, “Thanks, St. Mary’s, for wonderful mentors and a sound basic education.”
In regards to White Mountain’s current curriculum, Susan says she admires White Mountain’s approach to student-driven inquiry and notes that “you can’t teach the right answers” and “students must learn from mistakes.” She advises students to study something, adapt, change, and adapt again.
“I was fascinated and excited to learn about the School’s approach to learning—and its emphasis on building skills for continuous learning and adaptation through learning to communicate, try things out, learning from mistakes, reevaluating, and adapting to changing circumstances,” says Susan. “I’ve spent many years trying to help agencies and countries learn about how to make development assistance (foreign aid) more effective. The key lesson after all these years is that it is better to build capabilities to learn and adapt, rather than to try to get organizations to stick to a predetermined plan. We are in a constant struggle to encourage project designers and implementers to embrace ‘learning by doing’ — rather than teaching cookbook solutions. So I think the approach the school is taking is ‘spot on’ — and will serve your students well in our rapidly changing world.”
Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a coeducational college-preparatory boarding and day school for 135 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.