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Steamboat resident joins overseas immersion program through employer IBM

John Gontkof, an information technology specialist with IBM living in Steamboat Springs, is traveling to India as part of the Corporate Service Corps, a leadership development program that’s part of an IBM effort to reach out to diverse cultures in emerging markets.
Joel Reichenberger

Follow the trip

Steamboat Springs resident John Gontkof, an IBM employee, is posting photos and messages on a blog during his monthlong trip to India. Gontkof left Thursday. Check out his posts and updates from Calcutta at:

https://www-146.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps/blog/2896

The team he’ll be traveling and working with, known as Team India 8, will be posting here:

https://www-146.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps/node/5736





John Gontkof, an information technology specialist with IBM living in Steamboat Springs, is traveling to India as part of the Corporate Service Corps, a leadership development program that’s part of an IBM effort to reach out to diverse cultures in emerging markets.
Joel Reichenberger

A stack of guide books sits on John Gontkof’s table as he prepares to leave for a trip to India. Joel ReichenbergerJohn Gontkof said he was advised to bring small gifts for local children, so he drew inspiration from his homes in the United States, bringing water bottles and decks of cards from Steamboat Springs along with items from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.Joel Reichenberger

Follow the trip

Steamboat Springs resident John Gontkof, an IBM employee, is posting photos and messages on a blog during his monthlong trip to India. Gontkof left Thursday. Check out his posts and updates from Calcutta at:

https://www-146.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps/blog/2896



The team he’ll be traveling and working with, known as Team India 8, will be posting here:

https://www-146.ibm.com/corporateservicecorps/node/5736

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



— Much of the living room floor of John Gontkof’s Steamboat II home was covered Wednesday with items including an inflatable space shuttle toy, Honey Stinger protein bars, Ron Jon Surf Shop memorabilia, playing cards, water bottles emblazoned with Steamboat Springs logos and the kind of ice cream astronauts take into space.

His departure time for India was less than a day away, and all the items on the floor were about to be packed.

Gontkof, 36, has lived in Steamboat for about two years and has visited the area since 2001. He also spends significant time in Florida, where he used to work at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and he travels frequently for his job as an information technology specialist with IBM. The job recently has sent him to northern California, for example, to work on database functions for health insurance giant Kaiser Permanente.

IBM has just sent him quite a bit farther than the Bay Area.

Gontkof left Thursday for a month in Calcutta — or Kolkata — India, where he’ll work with a social services organization called Iswar Sankalpa. The organization treats mentally ill homeless people in the sprawling city in eastern India.

Gontkof, along with an IBM employee from Holland whom he hadn’t met before the trip, will help Iswar Sankalpa create a database system to track patients and develop an overall strategic plan for the organization’s growth. Earlier this year, he was one of 500 employees selected from among 7,500 worldwide applicants for IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, a leadership development program that’s part of an IBM effort to reach out to diverse cultures in emerging markets.

Gontkof’s trip and work is coordinated through Australian Business Volunteers, a nonprofit international development agency that collaborates with IBM on the service program. The agency said in a news release that it has facilitated projects for more than 150 IBM employees, in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and China. The program also sends empl­oyees to Brazil, Africa and Eastern Europe.

“It’s a way to foster relationships with these new, emerging markets,” Gontkof said. “IBM wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t good for them, as well.”

IBM’s Corporate Service Corps website said since the program’s launch in July 2008, it has sent 500 employees to nine countries for projects that “vary from assisting networks of entrepreneurs and small businesses trying to grow to the utilization of information technology by communities left behind the ‘digital divide.’”

Gontkof expressed some trepidation about the trip Wednesday.

“It’s going to be hot and humid,” he said about the Indian climate at the end of monsoon season. “At this stage, it doesn’t sound very pleasant.”

But he also said he’s excited to see a new part of the world. He’d been learning some phrases in Bengali, which is spoken in Calcutta along with widespread English, and reading guidebooks about the culture.

“We’re the first team to Calcutta,” he said. “It’s going to be quite an experience.”

The pile on his living room floor included a variety of gifts, such as the astronaut food from his time in Florida and mementos from Steamboat, for people he meets. The Honey Stinger bars weren’t gifts, though — Gontkof said he traditionally hasn’t enjoyed Indian food.

“Either I’ll learn to really like it or this will turn into a four-week weight loss program for me,” Gontkof said. “I’m not a big fan of spicy food. … I figure if all else fails, I can live off Honey Stinger protein bars.”

After his month in Calcutta, Gontkof will spend a few days in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He said he plans to try out Ski Dubai, a massive indoor skiing and snowboarding facility.

“It’s probably not Cham­pagne Powder,” he said, referring to Steamboat Ski Area’s trademarked brand for the local snow. “But I’ll give a full report when I get back.”


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