AVS Historical Persons | Donna Bakale-Sherwin - 2008

Donna Bakale-Sherwin - 2008

Oral History Interview with Donna Bakale-Sherwin

Interviewed by Bill Sproul, February 28, 2008

SPROUL: I'm Bill Sproul, a member of the AVS History Committee, and as part of the Society's historical archives today I will be talking with Donna Bakale-Sherwin. It's Thursday, February 28, 2008, and we're at my home in San Marcos, California. Donna Bakale-Sherwin is a long-time AVS member and has contributed in many, many ways, including two terms on the Board of Directors, three years as a Trustee with the last year being the Chair of the Trustees, and she was elected an honorary AVS member in 1999. Donna, thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview today. To get started, would you please tell us about your education, early mentors, and job experience?
: Well, thank you Bill for asking me to do this. In college, I majored in chemistry and really liked the Instrumental Analysis course, went on to a PhD in physical chemistry and had my first job in an analytical lab at U.S. Steel doing mass spectrometry. I met Drew Evans at probably a Pittsburgh Conference, but it might have been an AVS conference, and talked to him about a postdoc at the University of Illinois in surface science and went to a small company after that doing both analysis and marketing. I got into sales and marketing at Varian and UTI but stuck with the surface science area and vacuum technology in general. Both my jobs at Varian and UTI brought me to the AVS meetings, and that's how it all started. Eventually I opened a technical public relations agency. Mentors were so numerous, but I remember two that stayed with me over the years. Stan Goldfarb, very active in NCCAVS, and the Chuck Bryson and Mike Kelly combination at Surface Science Laboratories. They were my first client when I became an agency. They took on a young, enthusiastic, Chuck says, "bossy-as-all-get-out" kid and helped me mature. There were so many mentors and helpful people at Varian and UTI, which did quadrupole mass spectrometry, and then among AVS people. I can't begin to name them all.

SPROUL: Okay. When did you first get interested in science and particularly in vacuum? Was it when you went to work for  -  well science, you had the chemistry degrees, but then vacuum-did that come when you went with UTI, or had you bumped into vacuum technology before that?

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Golly, if I did I probably didn't even know it. In high school I was very science oriented. My brother was also, and that's probably where I got it. I remember he built a gigantic Van de Graaf generator in our basement. I started out interested in math but got weeded out by calculus as a college freshman. [Laugh]

SPROUL: I can sympathize with that one.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: That got fixed, but still I took a lot of science courses, which were far easier to ace than history and psychology, so I stuck with it. And, like many kids taking science courses I was going to do cancer research and, for all I know, save the world. Vacuum technology was integral to surface science instrumentation and to quadrupole mass spectrometry and so it just became a part of my life. AVS, for me, became a technical job-related home that was warm and wonderful, as well as technically interesting and technically relevant. I found over the years I could contribute to the AVS marketing efforts, because my life took a turn away from research to sales and marketing. And, first, I was mostly a volunteer and then later combination volunteer and PR agency. So, I stuck with vacuum and all its related technologies, but on the sales and marketing side of it.

SPROUL: You mentioned earlier that one of your first jobs was with UTI, which was an early pioneer in quadrupole mass spectrometry. What really led you to decide to follow this technology and work with it?

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Oh, goodness. Well, let's see. I actually went to Varian first. I think I got that right. And, once I got into sales and marketing [clock chimes] and then wanted to come back to the West Coast. It was kind of, you know, what was available and it was all one big massive general field to me, at the time. [Laugh] So, I guess, I can't say vacuum technology was the core. I think it was more what it facilitated.

SPROUL: By the way, that's a grandfather clock bonging away in the background. [Laughter] It's being recorded for posterity.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: And the dogs may bark.

SPROUL: And the dogs may bark, but when you're in my home that's what you hear. [Laugh] How about some thoughts about your early colleagues and associates, and people you worked with within the AVS? Perhaps you could reminisce a little bit about some of your interactions with them?

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Well, unfortunately, that could go on for hours. There were so many great friends and colleagues. I can cite a few examples, saying several times that I'm leaving so many people out, and not on purpose. There were so many people, first of all, like Howard Patton, John Weaver, John Noonan, Fred Dylla, and John Coburn, who supported and helped the AVS, helped me help the AVS in its efforts to expand its reach and impact through marketing. They were very supportive and they became friends along with so many others. I recall that Jim Murday told me, after I was one of the candidates for president one year that he did not vote for me for president because he didn't want me to stop doing marketing for the Society. And quite frankly, I thought that was a great decision. [Laugh] So many people, like you Bill, epitomized bridging the gap between science and industry and I was, after all, in industry, and worked with me to emphasize the importance of those efforts. I love the way the Society emphasized the contribution and growth of students and also fondly remember Paul Holloway's magnificent students giving their papers at the wonderful Florida conference every year.

SPROUL: Yes. I believe, in January in Clearwater on the beach. [Laugh]

BAKALE-SHERWIN: There was the beach. There was the pool. There were those special donuts in the hotel. And, underneath it and above it all was the technical meeting that just seemed to be the most remarkable way for graduate students to gain experience and exposure. And, most of the chapters did that. And, in fact, a lot of them had the students organizing meetings. So, they really came away from that, I felt at the time I remember, so much more sophisticated at where they were in their careers than I even ever imagined myself to be. So, I thought the AVS and its people, and mostly its people of course, were remarkable in the way they dealt with students and gave them opportunities. The key is the meetings were fun. I went to Pittsburgh Conferences. I went to mass spectrometry meetings. But, only at AVS did you have a layer on top of all of the technology and the vendor shows of fun, social interactions, friends. It was just great. Only for Larry Kazmerski would I be willing to get up at 5 a.m. [Laugh] to serve orange juice and time his racers at the AVS run. And, I thought it was particularly naughty of the Society to schedule the meeting sometimes when it was really cold [Laugh] in places that were really cold, because they knew there would always be that 5K run early in the morning.

SPROUL: Yeah, and it still goes on.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: It still goes on.

SPROUL: Yeah. [Laugh] This legacy.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Yeah. That's for sure. Well, if I visit a meeting again someday maybe I can stick around to get up at 5 a.m. and serve orange juice to the racers. There were a lot of great scientists there who enjoyed each other's company and enhanced the experience in so many ways. When you got involved in the AVS there were always people to help and guide you. Bill Westwood, for example, got way too many calls and emails from me asking about, "Bill, what exactly should I do here in this trustee business?" [Laughter] And, I really remember pestering him a bit, because I felt like I just needed to know how to do it well. There were so many others. It really could go on for hours. This is only a small sample from among all my colleagues, and employers, and competition, and everything like that. Unlike, probably, most of these interviews most of my memories are not deeply technical, even though I knew I was among technical giants, of course. Because, I always was involved in the sales and marketing and business side of the society. So, that's what you hear me focus on [Laugh] when you ask me questions.

AVS was just fantastic. It brought together academia and industry, even though the academics were giving most of the talks and the industrial folks were listening to most of the talks. It still was different from other societies, and the people were different. I just can't emphasize too much how much it felt like a home.

SPROUL: I know one of the questions that I had down here, and now I look at it, is what have you been working on most recently? But, I know that you're retired and I think the work you do now is more sailing your yacht up and down the [Laugh] West Coast of the United States, and through the Alaskan waters, and things like that, which is just wonderful. As an old Navy person I envy you [Laugh] to be on cruise again.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Well, we motored. We didn't sail. But, when I saw that question my answer then was that my most recent work has been staying alive offshore in the middle of the night in twenty-foot waves. So, that makes me feel like I was really rough and tough, and I'll take it. But that, although that's not related to AVS it is certainly my most important work because I am retired.

SPROUL: Well, looking back to when you were working full-time and involved very much in the AVS, because you certainly contributed in so many, many ways, what were, in your estimation, the important milestones that you observed within the AVS over the past, say, ten or fifteen years?

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Well, again, my involvement with the AVS was on the vendor and supplier side of things and there were so many important breakthroughs over the years in that area; breakthroughs in technology, instrumentation, and equipment that were unveiled over the years at the show. It was THE place to announce new developments. The vendor and supplier side of the AVS symposium is not just about selling. It's about vendors and suppliers learning from the scientists and technology leaders about what they need, but it was also intriguing. I remember watching competitors cruise by before the show opened wishing they could see under the covers at Surface Science Labs. Under the covers was the very first small-spot ESCA system. So, that was one development. It changed the focus  -  [Laugh] you know I didn't write that down. I just thought of it  -  the focus of XPS and ESCA for a lot of people. And I guess, in terms of developments and importance in this side of things, I had the pleasure of watching the surface science instrumentation evolve. It moved from the deep caverns of the university research to performing materials characterization for industry in special labs and eventually as a routine tool in industry. And there were a lot of what I would call important milestones and key developments over the years in that area.

Quadrupole mass spec followed a similar path. When I first got involved with them it kind of took a researcher to run it and to interpret the spectra. By the time I got out of that business they were small, they were automated, they were computerized, and they had software that was dedicated to maybe a sputtering machine or some other kind of thin-film machine. But, those were all milestones that were in my side of the world and many were introduced at AVS symposia, and that was fun.

SPROUL: With your experience in technical marketing, you were involved in several activities within the AVS to improve its publicity and marketing in a very positive manner. Could you reminisce a bit about your activities with the newsletter; with your marketing workshops that I remember attending many times myself, that were held within the fall meeting with the AVS; your idea for "No vacuum cleaner" t-shirts; and your effort, along with John Coburn, to, excuse me, resurrect the Northern California chapter of the AVS?

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Well, that t-shirt idea wasn't just mine. In fact, it's been too long ago to remember exactly who said, "How about a vacuum cleaner crossed out?" (I recall it was John???) But, the whole thing developed during lunch with John Coburn. So, let's give John most of the credit. We can talk about that a little bit more later when we talk about marketing in general, that I got involved with. But, you bring up NCCAVS.

I had to call Stan Goldfarb, out there in Vegas to get some history right. He's still doing vacuum work a couple days a week for the university there. I think he's the only one that can spell "vacuum," but he's loving it. Anyway, he helped me with the NCCAVS story. I did remember the generation, the regeneration meeting at UTI, back in the conference room. Bill Brunner had been holding the reigns of this chapter and he called Stan one day and said he didn't know whether to just give it up and close it down or try to resurrect it. So, they organized a meeting  -  and, you know, the memories here are a little fuzzy  -  but, they had a meeting of people that were interested, and Stan remembers Bill Brunner, Howard Patton, Paul Hall, John Coburn, myself. I think there were a lot of other people. And, we did agree that we were interested in starting it up again, but we didn't have the same kind of demographics, publishing demographics, that a lot of the other chapters had with university research people publishing papers. So that typical one-time-a-year chapter technical mini meeting didn't work in Silicon Valley. But, we still decided to focus on education and we decided to use topical seminars. I'm not sure what the history is of the short courses. They came, whether they came later, or what, but Stan did the first special seminar in October of 1977. He did a meeting called "The Main Event," which was a comparison of various vacuum pumps and their operation. It wasn't a yearly thing. It was an event by itself. He compared pumping techniques for the audience we had, the demographics that we had (a lot of technicians and engineers running vacuum systems). He had turbo, ion, cryo, and diffusion pump speakers. His flyer, which he still has copies of, showed four speakers, or boxers, in the corners of a boxing ring : John "Jack Frost" Peterson, from CTI Cryogenics defending Cryopumps; Mal "The Hummer" Schwalje, from Leybold Hereaus, defending Turbopumps; and Johan "Ion Man" DeRijke from Perkin Elmer Ultek, defending Ion Pumps. The last of the four was "Slippery Ray" Weeks of CVC Products defending Diffusion Pumps. He had more than 200 attendees. For the room we chose, they were standing everywhere. He said, "Even in the hallways." He stayed outside because somebody needed a seat. I did two or three, I forget which, on surface science. Always applied, because that's what they needed there in the Silicon Valley. And, I'm pretty sure I had one that was three or four hundred people.

Our first meetings, after Stan's I think, and then for quite a while were at the Italian Gardens. Now, it's hard to describe what that was like, but it had what you'd call atmosphere and we always had a nice Italian lunch, and always a little vendor exhibit along with it, very casual. These programs filled our local technical community's needs and we looked at each one as a product, and a product needs to be researched, designed, literature developed for it, and aggressively promoted. That's why this model worked in Northern California. We had our Lawrence Livermore and other research areas, but of course they don't publish everything, [Laugh] and the bulk of our demographics were industrial applications oriented, and we made a lot of money on those programs. It was amazing. And, the model worked for a long, long time. I'm not sure now, what's going on anymore. It was a good model at the time for the operator-intensive world of Silicon Valley in those days.

SPROUL: Well, I can tell you just last week the Northern California chapter held its equipment exhibit, a half-day show which was very well attended for the (Bakale-Sherwin: Yeah.) time I was there.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Well, now that I think about it, there's a real parallel to the national symposium in that we always had fun and we looked forward to that meeting. (Sproul: Yeah.) Everybody was there and, I mean, when we used to have that  -  again I wasn't involved in the larger meeting over the last many years  -  but, when we had that day-and-a-half show, it was jammed  -  and we didn't allow big exhibits. We only allowed table tops. And, Bob Willis?

SPROUL: That sounds right. Yeah.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Yeah. Bob ran that thing for years and, boy, he put a lot of hours into that thing, and it was great. But you asked me about the marketing stuff, and you've got to watch that because you'll get me on my soapbox. [Laugh] [Clock chiming] But, NCCAVS was one example of marketing in action, because marketing isn't just about promotion and publicity. And, this is a good model for any program. You treat a program, or a meeting, or a short course, as a product. First, you research the market and find out what it needs. You pick topics that will sell. That sounds crass, but it's what you do [Laugh] if you want to do the kind of events that we did. Which short courses are needed, etc? What kind of exhibit? And, this kind of marketing research is always happening in peoples' heads, at AVS, when they're planning something. It just sort of comes naturally. Second, you define the event to fill the need you've discovered and to attract the audience you want to benefit. Again, I think of a product. Third, you promote aggressively with, you know, the Internet, the flyers, the publicity, etc., and then you deliver it, at high quality. And, AVS people do this all the time. This wasn't unique. But, at the time it was maybe a bit unique for the way a chapter did its meetings to attract people. (Sproul: Uhm-hmm.) And so, I guess it's worth talking about, since you want history. [Laugh] 

And, expanding the newsletter, which was ably started by Lyn Provo and carried on by him for many years, and expanding the press activities, pontificating to anyone who would listen to me about marketing, wearing No Vacuum Cleaner t-shirts, they were all about helping AVS spread the word to more people about events and programs. I'll tell the t-shirt story. It's not a real long one. John Coburn and I thought it up somehow over lunch and it was catalyzed somehow by, you know, "What do you tell people that you do when you just run into them?" But anyway, we used to love to wear those things. It was a vacuum cleaner with a big red cross out (Sproul: Right.) like you see on signs.

SPROUL: I've seen them. Yes.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: And, everybody loved to buy them and it was great, and they were great fun in elevators, at meetings, because you'd wear this thing and they'd ask you, you know, "Are you with a vacuum cleaner show or what?" and then you could explain no you weren't. So, they were a lot of fun. 
The other story that I'd like to relate, that was important to my years with the AVS was my, what I call my "editor story." I was at a national meeting early in my career and one of the editors of one of the magazines, which were, by the way, much more important at that time, pre-Internet, started to talk and I found out that it was hard to come to the show as an editor. [Laugh] You had to go through a lot of trouble. You had to pay to come as an editor, and there was no hosting of any kind. And, that just blew me away, because by then I had gotten into the magazine side of the technical business. And so, we fixed it. And, I had a lot of help and we made sure that we invited editors. We made sure that they got passes. We treated them well. We had a press room. We developed the press kits and, you know, coffee and all this kind of stuff, and goodies in the morning. And, I see that as a turning point, frankly, for me and the work I did with AVS. I don't remember what year it was but it was really a turning point because it got me going on a lot of things that were fun and got a lot of people involved. And it was that point that I started helping the AVS the way I did over the years. But, it was never me. It was about everybody helping me help them, and it was, it was just a great time. I miss it. 

SPROUL: Well, any other thoughts on the AVS or stories?

BAKALE-SHERWIN: Oh, gosh. I don't think so, except the world has changed so much that it would be a lot harder these days to do what I tried to do. That I figured out. Because good old Internet helps everybody communicate and it makes it harder to sell in-person programs. So, I'm glad I was there when it was easier. Thank you.

SPROUL: We really appreciate all your efforts over the years. I know I was personally involved with some of them, as I said, an attendee, and at your workshops on marketing, and some of the other events, and worked with you on the Board. So, it's been a pleasure and I really want to thank you for taking the time today to sit down and record this oral contribution to the history of the AVS. Thank you very much.

BAKALE-SHERWIN: You're welcome.
"The Main Event"


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