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Alumni Profiles

Jane Bessin ’79 & Amanda Telford ’91


Bridging the Gap

Jane Bessin

Jane Bessin ’79

On Jane Bessin’s first visit to Daraja Academy, the secondary school she and her husband helped found in rural Kenya, one girl described how much the school meant to her. “She said that Daraja was her family,” Bessin says, “and had taken her out of her life of darkness.” The school, whose name means “bridge,” is located four hours north of Nairobi. Opened in 2009, it’s one of the first tuition-free, nonsectarian private boarding schools for impoverished girls in Africa. “One of the things that got us involved is that secondary education there isn’t free,” says Bessin, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. “There are no public high schools like in the U.S. Students even have to pay for pencils and tests.”

By educating girls, the school aims to benefit all of Kenyan society through a ripple effect. Bessin cites U.N. figures that for every year a girl stays in school, she will be more likely not only to earn higher wages but to marry later and have fewer children; furthermore, she says, women tend to invest far more of their earnings back into their families than men do. “For millions of girls across the developing world, there are no systems to report their birth, their citizenship, and even their identity,” Bessin says. “But existing research suggests that their impact reaches much farther than expected.”

A former math and economics double major who holds an MBA from Harvard, Bessin helps with fundraising for the nonprofit academy. She and her husband became involved with the project after a midlife career switch from the high-tech sector; she’s now director of development for the nonprofit Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, while her husband teaches high school math and physics. “Daraja made me look at my life and see what’s important,” she says. “We get so tied up in our own world, worrying about having the right career or the perfect life. But I like to tell students that you’re not married to what you do. Life changes. You have to do what you’re passionate about.”

— Monique Hall ’14

Confection Perfection

Amanda Telford

Amanda Telford ’91

When Amanda Telford was growing up, a neighbor would occasionally bring her delicious homemade caramels. Years later, feeling stressed out by her job managing a New Hampshire brewery, she tried to figure out the recipe—going through some fifty batches before finding the perfect combination of butter, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla bean. “I’ve always loved food and used cooking as a stress reliever,” she says. “And I’ve always had a sweet tooth.”

After leaving her brewery job, Telford created Tahana Confections, a boutique brand of caramel candies and sauces. The former social relations major is the sole candymaker for the company, which takes its name from her dogs, Tahoe and Montana. It offers caramels in familiar versions such as vanilla, salt, and chocolate ganache, but also fills customer requests for such exotic flavors as cayenne pepper, ginger, and lime. “The caramels have a creamy consistency; they sort of melt in your mouth,” she says. “They’re not the chewy, stick-inyour- teeth type.”

Based on the New Hampshire coast, Tahana Confections sells locally and through its online store, Caramels are priced from $7.50 to $22.50 per pound, while the sauces range from about $5 to $13 a jar. “It’s an inexpensive luxury,” she says. “It’s not a new car—but it’s not a ninety-nine-cent candy bar either.”

— Jillian Knowles ’15