The experiences gained during a liberal arts education can pay off later in life in surprising ways. Take the case of Arun Sharma’92, who has managed a motorcycle dealership for the high-end Italian brand Ducati in Portland, Ore., for the last dozen years.
As helpful as the skills Sharma honed while completing a double major in English literature and creative writing (and a journalism minor) have surely been, it was a different part of his Beloit education that seeded a recent brainstorm.
While planning a photo shoot involving a beautiful woman posing with a new Ducati motorcycle model, Sharma recalls, “We were talking about the old ‘Dress to Get Laid’ parties [at Beloit], and I pulled out an old photograph of me in a black-and-white polka-dot miniskirt, with my hair teased out and in high heels. It became a joke that we should do the same thing with these shots. We decided to recreate all the images we had shot with Kylie, the original model, and the bike. So we did it with all the dudes who worked in the shop.”
He hastens to add, “It was completely voluntary.”
The photos were posted in late 2012, but it was only after an article about them appeared on The Huffington Post in October 2013 that the pictures went viral online. Their popularity stems from the way they simply, cleverly, and humorously expose some awkward truths about the way advertisers use sex to sell.
Photo by Taylor Ramsauer.
That’s just one of the ways the Beloit community’s embracing of unconventionality had a positive impact on Sharma.
“I will put this squarely on [English professor] Tom McBride. He, and by extension Beloit, showed me that there are other ways of doing things than the norm.
“When I had a paper due on the wolf-lamb power strategy by La Fontaine, I turned in 12 pages of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, explaining how, in Calvin and Hobbes, you can see the wolf-lamb power strategy, and Tom McBride gave me an A-minus. If he had said, ‘You’re stupid. This is dumb. You have to do it the same way as everyone else,’ I probably wouldn’t be the same person.”
Sharma was the product of, in his words, “a very unlikely romance.” His father (“my hero”) was born in the tiny village of Kota, India, to illiterate farmers who lived in a cow-dung house. From this background, he attended college in India and traveled to London on a scholarship. There, he met and fell in love with Sharma’s mother, whose parents had escaped the Holocaust by emigrating from Minsk to New York City.
After marrying, the couple moved to the United States and eventually settled in Hawaii, where both taught at the University of Hawaii, and where Arun was born and raised. His childhood, though, involved the sort of peripatetic lifestyle possible for college professors with family members scattered around the globe.
During one sabbatical, Sharma lived in his father’s village for a year as a young child, forgetting English by the time he returned to the States. Another time, his family lived in New York City for a year. A rebellious teen, he ended up in an international boarding school in the Himalayas (the Woodstock School in Mussoorie, India) for the last two years of high school.
Sharma chose Beloit in part because its small size promised a smoother transition back to U.S. life. He completed his degree in four straight years, and in the process, formed a strong relationship with McBride that continues to this day. “I went to my first Beloit homecoming two years ago, and saw Tom. We chat on Facebook.”
While at Beloit, Sharma bought his first motorcycle (a 1985 Honda Nighthawk 450) and volunteered at a nearby exotic animal sanctuary, inaugurating two interests that would serve him well in years to come. After graduation, he embarked with classmate Jason Goodman’92 on a motorcycle tour of the western United States in search of a place to settle.
Santa Fe, while appealing, seemed too arty for good employment prospects, although ironically Sharma later worked in Portland as an art broker. In Arizona, he was hit by a car, suffering a broken back. (“That was my sign not to move to Arizona,” he says.)
After recuperating in Hawaii, Sharma joined Duncan Rotch’92 and Todd Tubutis’92 in Portland. (Both Rotch and Tubutis still live in Portland as well.) He had absolutely no job prospects or career plans at that point.
“I worked temp jobs. I rolled carpet for trade shows at the Convention Center. I folded jeans at the Levi’s store for an hourly wage. I worked for Campbell’s Soup, rearranging soup cans on store shelves. I hated it, frankly.”
In another Beloit connection, Sharma became acquainted with the family of Portland-raised Juli Amato Kirby’95, which led to a job as a picture framer at a gallery owned by one of her relatives. That eventually led him to open his own art brokering business for several years, during which time he also bought and sold exotic reptiles from the basement of the house he lived in with Rotch and Tubutis.
That led to some awkward moments. “I would buy frozen mice and would have to thaw them out before feeding,” says Sharma. “One day Duncan came home, and there was a pot on the stove … It was traumatic for Duncan.”
“I’m not a good self-employed person, though,” he admits. “I could always put stuff off until tomorrow.” Eventually seeking the structure of a part-time job, he got a sales position in May of 2000 with a brand-new Ducati dealership, and within two years he was handed the managerial keys.
Since then, MotoCorsa has earned more awards from Ducati than any dealer in North America, and has now achieved some mainstream notoriety with its gender-swapped photo shoot. “One of my employees was on a trip to Italy, and he was recognized at a Ducati factory from the photo shoot,” says Sharma proudly.
In its seemingly random, but ultimately purposeful, twists and turns, Sharma’s path resembles that taken by many liberal arts graduates, who emerge from Beloit with skills and attitudes that send them on the scenic route to success. In its particulars, however, his journey is uniquely his own.
Marc Mohan’91 has lived in Portland since 1991. He is the lead film critic for The Oregonian newspaper; you can read his posts here.