This past weekend, the annual Freshman Families Weekend brought families back to campus to visit students and attend events designed to better inform them on aspects of life at Vassar. The day was primarily centered around the class of 2018 and their families, but was open to students of all class years and featured panels on academic and campus life, life after Vassar and faculty research presentations.
The various activities, which took place primarily on Saturday, September 20, were organized through a collaboration of many different offices, such as The Career Development Office, the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development and the Office of Fellowships.
As Dean of Freshmen and Associate Professor of English Susan Zlotnick explained, Freshman Families Weekend is meant to pick up where move-in left off. “Move-in day is stressful for everyone,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “Freshman Families Weekend allows families to return to campus, enjoy the beauty of a fall weekend in the Hudson Valley, and have a relaxing visit with their student.”
To better introduce families and students to the career resources they have available to them, as well as to present some of the available career paths graduates pursue, the Career Development Office (CDO) collaborated with the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development to develop the annual Alumnae/i Panel. Career Development Office Director Stacy Bingham described the goal of the panel. “It is an event that is designed to appeal to freshmen and their families as well as current students—as there is often no better inspiration for life after Vassar than hearing the stories of those who’ve paved the way,” she wrote in an emailed statement.
Each year, a different area of employment has been featured at the panel. This year’s panel centered around careers in the field of public health, which Bingham indicated was primarily based around student interest. “Many current students are interested in the field of public health, and a science-related topic dovetailed nicely with the science for the 21st century initiatives on campus,” she wrote.
This panel featured Vassar graduates from varying areas within the field of public health. Dr. Eve Slater ’67 was the first female chief resident in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and served as Assistant Secretary for Health in 2001. Ethan Nguyen ’06 earned an Masters in Public Health from the University of Pennsylvania and is the current Director of Research and Innovation at the University. Katrina Mateo ’10 worked in the Harlem Health Promotion Center and is now a Research Coordinator at the New York University Langone Medical Center.
The panel itself started with an introduction by Professor of Chemistry Joseph Tanski, who explained that many students interested in sciences at Vassar go on to pursue careers in Public Health. “There certainly are students taking chemistry courses who plan to pursue careers in Public Health, as undergraduate science courses in biology, chemistry, physics and math provide the foundation for further study and work in the field of Public Health,” he noted.
Each panelist gave a brief introduction to their interests and careers, and then talked about their time at Vassar. Slater recalled having a good experience at Vassar, but acknowledged that what a student does after they graduate is crucial. “Everyone tells you college is the best four years of your life; in some ways it should be, but you also need to think about what you’ll do after you graduate, how you’ll find your niche and what contributions you’ll make,” she said. “I’ve had a wonderful career and I owe much of it to my experience at Vassar.”
Nguyen echoed Slater’s sentiments about Vassar’s positive influences on post-graduate life. “My time at Vassar was extraordinary,” he explained. “At Vassar, first and foremost you’re allowed to think critically…and then you look at the bigger picture.”
The panelists presented a brief summary of the work and education they had done since graduating. Dr. Slater immediately went on to medical school and after working in research and with the government, one of her main responsibilities is volunteering at a clinic for patients without insurance.
After winning the Watson Fellowship for the 2006-2007 academic year, which allowed him to travel globally to research refugee communities, Nguyen has pursued his interests in healthcare innovations for LGBTQ and lower socio-economic populations.
Mateo’s experience with working with organizations in Vassar’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life was part of her decision to pursue a more holistic approach to medicine. “It opened my eyes to what goes into the health of a person. It’s not just molecular, it’s what makes us human beings, what makes us complex. Some are born with more, others with less,” she continued.
Tanski found the discussion of the graduates’ paths to their careers useful, especially with regard to the nature of the field. “One major topic of discussion was that there is no single ideal trajectory that must be taken to end up working in Public Health,” he noted. “Both the undergraduate and graduate academic paths can vary, as well as the types of experiences students undertake to establish the foundation of their career.”
Another topic the panelists all agreed upon was the value of a liberal arts education at Vassar in a scientific field. “Until you leave the Vassar bubble you don’t realize how different education is here compared to other schools,” Mateo explained. “We’re all do-gooders here, we want to change the world.”
Bingham concurred with the panelists’ statements, and spoke of the skills students learn at Vassar. “I think that a Vassar education prepares students to be naturally curious, to be critical thinkers (and writers), and to be life-long learners,” she remarked. “These traits serve Vassar students at all stages of career, and are qualities that employers value in the workplace.”
Overall, Zlotnick explained that the weekend gives students the chance to show their families a side of Vassar they might not have seen. “It is a chance for students to introduce their families to the place that now seems like home to them and to reconnect with their families,” she noted. “It is a chance for parents to get better acquainted with Vassar, its faculty and its resources.”