Baldeep Singh, MD, with staff at Samaritan House

In their off hours, Stanford staff have a variety of exciting hobbies.

Off Hours

In their off hours, Stanford staff have a variety of exciting hobbies.

Off Hours


A Single Thread

Heidi Elmore’s daydreams look a bit different from others’. While some imagine the next vacation they’ll take, Elmore’s mind turns to stitch combinations, elaborate patterns, and color variations for the latest needlepoint project she’s working on—a tapestry of vintage Nintendo characters for her son and his wife.

Elmore’s hands—and mind—are always busy. She’ll meet with a volunteer group to crochet or knit during her lunch break, and will spend evenings poring over YouTube tutorials or attending training classes. “I’m always working on something,” she explains. “I make lace, crochet, knit, weave, and spin yarn.”

Heidi Elmore (center), demonstrates knitting techniques to patients and caregivers.

Elmore, an administrative associate and cancer center lead worker in oncology, first discovered her talent for fiber arts after her grandmother died. “I found her lace-making materials after she passed. I figured I’d try her hobby, and it stuck.” She still remembers the first project she made with her grandmother’s supplies, a queen-sized bed spread that was “simple, but took a long time.”

Over the years, Elmore has refined her craft and produced countless one-of-a-kind wares. Her portfolio now includes a mask, crocheted Edwardian gloves, and a leather belt she collaborated on with a friend. But one of the most meaningful things Elmore has worked on is Stanford Hospital’s Warm Wishes Survivorship Quilt—an offshoot of the Palliative Care Knitting and Crocheting with Friends program, which meets weekly to teach patients, caregivers, and others how to knit and crochet. The idea behind the quilt, which is still in progress, is to “let patients and staff members stop by to create a square of the quilt and write a warm wish on the small tag,” Elmore explains. “Lauren Briskin, a volunteer, collects the squares and I join every Tuesday to help. We see a steady stream of individuals who want to stop in and learn. We’ve built a great network.”

Elmore often finds that her off-hours hobby informs her work on campus. Whether in her living room moving fabric through her nimble fingers or at her desk managing travel schedules and calendar appointments and processing financial information, she is drawing on the same skill set: patience, attention to detail, and resilience.

“I like taking a single thread, combining it with other things, and making an entirely different product,” she reflects. “That is also a lot like life—whether you’re at work or at home. We take all the little pieces and stitch them together to make something new and wonderful.”

Pitch Perfect

In the California Bach Society rehearsal room, a chord is slowly forming. Thirty voices—a mix of altos, sopranos, tenors, and basses—join together, rising and swelling in response to the conductor’s cues. Everything is unified: They breathe together, pause together, gather volume and fade together.

The result is ethereal and harmonious, a moment “where the total is much more than the sum of its parts,” explains Margaret Wootton, a faculty affairs specialist in the division of oncology who has been singing with the Bach Society, which specializes in Renaissance and baroque music, for over 25 years.

Margaret Wootton (center) sings with the California Bach Society.

Growing up, Wootton, an alto, sang all the time. But her most formative musical experiences were in her family’s church choir, which she joined at age 8. It was then that singing “became a part of my everyday life,” Wootton says. Today, she spends up to six hours a week practicing or performing for her local church and the Bach Society. “The choir community is wonderful, and the mood lift that you get from it is addicting. Plus, I get to sing beautiful music! It’s a privilege for me to do that.”

Wootton lends her voice and her professional skills to the choirs she performs in. She sat on the Bach Society’s board for six years and currently leads its marketing and public relations. “In addition to singing, I’m writing press releases, placing ads, and developing co-marketing campaigns with other local groups.”

These offstage efforts often mirror her work environment in oncology, where she manages the appointments and promotions of roughly 50 faculty members. “I have the opportunity to explore lots of different things. Even if you don’t know how to do it, you have the space to figure it out and determine where the resources are and where to go next.” In a choir and at Stanford, she continues, “It’s a team sport, and each person’s contribution matters.”

Big Cat Advocate

The Santa Cruz Mountains extend from the city of San Francisco to just north of Monterey Bay. The range contains lagoons and marshes, peaks that rise up to 3,806 feet, forests of redwoods, and densely vegetated canyons. It’s an area of unique biodiversity and is particularly well suited to support populations of pumas—more commonly known as mountain lions.

It’s here that Summer Vance, life science research professional for hematology, volunteers with the UC Santa Cruz Puma Project, an 11-year-old endeavor to track and understand the ways that habitat fragmentation influences the physiology and behavior of pumas.

Summer Vance volunteers with the Puma Project.

Animals were always a part of Vance’s childhood. “I had lots of pets growing up and was definitely the little girl who dreamed of being a veterinarian,” she recalls. In high school she discovered a joint love of biology and research. But it took her a while to connect her two passions. A job as a wildlife ranger in Yosemite National Park on the black bear management team opened up a world of possibility. “Discovering the field of wildlife biology was a total enlightenment for me,” she recalls.

Vance spends her weekdays in the Bhatt laboratory, toggling between independent research projects, assisting lab members, and performing general lab housekeeping tasks. On weekends she performs fieldwork for the Puma Project. “Most of the work is setting camera traps, collecting GPS data from remote systems, and performing captures to collar and get samples from pumas,” she explains. “What’s great is that mountain lions are way less prone to habituation than bears in Yosemite. Where in Yosemite we had to monitor bears very closely and mitigate human-bear interactions, pumas keep to themselves, so the team is able to focus on wildlife research rather than wildlife management.”

She’s also found time to foster four house cats that she rescued from a feline infectious peritonitis research lab. “Three years post-adoption, all the cats are doing great,” she reports, although she has encountered some unusual challenges. “With research cats, it’s never guaranteed that they’ll be completely healthy or normal, and it did take them a long time to adjust to non-lab life. For instance, they had never seen hair because all the researchers wore hair nets; they had never met a dog; they didn’t know what sunshine felt like; they had never been outside their colony housing except to be examined by a vet. It has been really exciting and rewarding to see them transform into (relatively) normal cats over the past three years.”

If there is one word that unites Vance’s varied pursuits and interests, it would be perseverance. “Perseverance is huge in any field, and especially sciences. When working with wildlife you may have to wait days or weeks to collect any meaningful data, because the animals don’t function on your schedule. In the lab, even though you can plan your experiments, you can’t control the outcomes, and a huge portion of research is failing, trying to understand what failed, and trying again.”

Giving Back

For the past seven years, Jeanne Simonian has ushered in the beginning of school in the same way: with a shopping spree. But instead of clothing to suit the new season and update her wardrobe, Simonian stockpiles items like pencils, pens, notebooks, anti-bacterial hand soap, coffee gift cards, and technical equipment. That’s because Simonian and her family are a dedicated Adopt-a-Teacher family with the Ravenswood Education Foundation, which was founded 12 years ago to reduce inequity in East Palo Alto schools. “We are making a difference in one teacher’s life and positively impacting the lives of students,” Simonian explains. “And we have been lucky enough to support the same the same second grade teacher, Maria Lucia Perez Murillo, for almost a decade.”

Jeanne Simonian (right) with second grade teacher Maria Lucia Perez Murillo.

Simonian and her family provide holistic assistance throughout the year, touching base with Maria at regular intervals to see what she needs. This help can take many forms: Simonian and her family have purchased fans for overheated rooms, helped organize classroom parties, cleaned and organized supply closets, and even asked their friends for donations to the foundation in lieu of birthday gifts when their children were younger. “We try to make Maria’s life as a teacher a bit less stressful,” says Simonian. “I work behind the scenes to assist in small ways to alleviate the challenges of an educator who is teaching underserved students.”

She employs this same behind the scenes strategy in her role as a fellowship program coordinator in hematology and oncology, where she provides administrative and operational support for residents and clinical fellows. Her job is to ensure a superior fellowship program that adheres to the standards of professional medical organizations, with the goal of sending “competent hematologists and oncologists out into the community and world at large.”

Body of Work

The key to doing well in a bodybuilding competition is not brute strength, but consistent effort. You have to lace your shoes, pack your gym bag before work, and show up to perform your circuit: a rigorous training program that rotates among different body parts (arms on Monday, chest on Tuesday, legs on Wednesday, and so on) every day. You have to say “no” to margaritas, nights out with friends, and your own exhaustion and fear, and “yes” to grueling routines, regular progress checks, and strict diets composed primarily of chicken and broccoli.

Brenda Norrie in the weight room.

This is how Brenda Norrie, fellowship coordinator for infectious diseases, wins awards, and how she mustered the confidence to appear on four bodybuilding stages since she began training in 2013.

Norrie has always been active. She was a casual runner for most of her life, and her parents, both runners, met at a track club. After years of trail running, she started looking for another athletic outlet. She found it in the weight room. “At first,” she explains, “I spent time in the gym when it wasn’t crowded, because it can be intimidating. I took the time and learned how to perform and execute maneuvers and lifts.” Results quickly followed. “I felt really empowered by my improvements and would push myself to see if I could lift even heavier weights each week. In 2014, I began my first bodybuilding competition preparation.”

She took to competition immediately. “I got this huge rush on stage, remembering how much effort I put in and then watching it all come together.” She also felt embraced by—and at home in—the community. “We’re all backstage, together, and we’ve been adhering to such a strict schedule, calculating our protein targets and adjusting our carbs and fat, lifting to create muscle maturity. It felt very emotional.”

Norrie approaches her work at Stanford with the same sense of commitment and discipline. As a fellowship coordinator, she oversees the entire training life cycle for 11 infectious disease fellows, from recruitment to orientation to onboarding and finally, graduation. “Bodybuilding,” she explains, “has instilled work ethic and patience, and has taught me that if I want to achieve something, I just need to feel the fear and do it anyway.”