Alum, chemistry professor discusses transition to teaching

Courtesy of Christine Phillips-Piro
Courtesy of Christine Phillips-Piro
Courtesy of Christine Phillips-Piro

Christine Phillips-Piro is a Class of ’04 alum with a degree in Chemistry and Mathematics. We caught up with her to see what she’s been doing post graduation.

Q: Where are you living now and what are you up to?
A: I teach at Franklin and Marshall College where I’m an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. It’s another small liberal arts college, and I always wanted to go back and teach at a small liberal arts college after being at Vassar, so I was just very fortunate to get a job here.

Q: How did you get into that field?
A: I was kind of an oddball for Vassar because I came to Vassar knowing I wanted to major in chemistry and I ended up double majoring in chemistry and mathematics. I was fortunate enough in my first year that my academic advisor, who was semi-randomly assigned, was Miriam Rossi from the Chemistry Department and I actually started doing research with her in the second semester of my freshman year and I worked with her through my senior year. During my senior year I also got to work with Joseph Tanski because [Rossi] was on sabbatical at that time. It was just a fantastic experience, I was able to publish papers with her and travel to Italy to do research, which was fantastic. From there I actually went to MIT to get my PhD in biochemistry and there I worked with Catherine Drennan, who is actually also a Vassar alum!

Q: Were you involved with any activities or orgs on campus?
A: In addition to doing the math and chemistry I really enjoyed being able to have such a diverse undergraduate experience, and I think that’s what really drew me back to wanting to be in that environment now, that and being able to mentor undergraduates at Franklin and Marshall. When I was at Vassar I took advantage of being able to take a lot of different classes. I took two different women’s studies classes during my time there, I took two full years of studio art, both painting and drawing, which I absolutely loved. I also did a few theater productions. I was actually in “The Vagina Monologues,” and I did some things backstage as well as some other productions around campus. I also was the Noyes house treasurer my sophomore year and then my junior year I ended up being the house intern for Lathrop. I was a little bit involved with the house team stuff so that was really fun.

Q: How do you feel your Vassar education has affected your life?
A: It affected me incredibly. I think Vassar has inspired me and it really changed who it was … I really wanted to go to Vassar, and the schools that I applied to were pretty diverse. There was another Seven Sisters in the mix but there were also a polytechnic institute so it was a very interesting mix but when I finally did come to Vassar I was super excited. I just found a great community. I was in Noyes my first two years. I just remember my first year on campus one night sitting around and playing cards and just talking with all of my newfound friends and it was amazing to have these experiences. I think I was always incredibly open to a lot of ideas but at Vassar I got to experiences so many different points of view and my points of view were challenged. I had to really think about who I wanted to be both scientifically and more broadly than that. I was very much engaged in a lot of relationships with different peers on campus that just really made me feel like I was able to grow as an individual and that was just a wonderful experience. I think the friendships that I formed at Vassar were incredibly important to me and still are. I know I don’t see my Vassar friends or talk to them as often as I wish I did, but they’re very near and dear to my heart.

Q: Do you have any specific favorite memories at Vassar?
A: Oh man, so many! I think I still have a very special place in my heart for Founder’s Day. I just felt like you could completely unwind and it’s just such a great day that the whole community can come together. I have a very specific memory of my first Founder’s Day and watching a movie over the hill overlooking sunset lake…it was an awesome experience. I remember feeling like, “Yes, this is home, this is where I belong.” I have so many other memories like that but that’s the one that stands out. It’s such a happy memory.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for current Vassar students?
A: Follow your passions and actually work for it. I think as a faculty member at another small liberal arts college this probably sounds like something students hear a lot, but I really have to say that you should really do what you love and work hard for it. It’s not going to come right away, you just need to work for these things. If you really enjoy it, the whole process of actually getting there is going to be enjoyable as well. Take chances. You never know what class you’re going to take that you’re just going to fall in love with, or what research you’re going to do that’s going to be really exciting for you, what play you’re going to see that is going to inspire you. Do different things and really enjoy your Vassar time because it’s going to go fast.

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