Org of the Week: Vassar-West Point Initiative bonds peers

A group of West Point cadets visited campus last semester and shared a day alongside their Vassar peers. This photo captures the group next to the statue of Matthew Vassar. Courtesy of May Venkat.

The Vassar-West Point Initiative is a student organization that works to bring together the two communities. Their first event of the year, Overnight at West Point, is taking place the coming weekend (Nov. 16 to 17), and Vassar participants will have the opportunity to tour the campus, attend a class and socialize with the host students.

Lead Student Coordinator of the Initiative May Venkat ’20 plays a major role in helping with planning alongside the faculty members at Vassar and West Point, as well as cadets at the United States Military Academy (USMA). She shared, “I coordinate events, panels, discussions and visits to bring together members of the Vassar community with West Point cadets.”

The Vassar-West Point Initiative was made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, which supports building relations between the military academies and their neighboring liberal arts colleges. Venkat explained the history of the organization: “The Initiative has been headed by Professor Robert Brigham and a professor at the United States Military Academy. This year the faculty sponsor is Professor Curtis Dozier, as Professor Brigham is on leave.” Venkat also works alongside Colonel Jason Musteen and Cadet Jenny Wang at West Point in order to plan events and make the Initiative accessible.

Venkat then talked about how she became involved in the Vassar-West Point Initiative and what sparked her interest. She recalled, “I have been the coordinator since my sophomore year. I became involved in the Initiative my first year after hearing about the program at Professor Brigham’s faculty lecture during orientation.”

The Vassar-West Point Initiative is unique in the sense that both Vassar students and West Point cadets are able to experience a taste of each other’s lives for one day. Venkat stated, “During the overnight, students have an inside look at cadet life. We are able to tour the campus, participate in cadet activities, get a sense of a cadet’s day to day life, watch a football game and stay in the barracks.”

Venkat highlighted the differences in the life as a Vassar student and that of a USMA cadet. The latter’s daily schedule is strictly regimented from morning to night. Venkat remarked, “The USMA is very different [from] Vassar: uniforms, regiments, survival swimming, obstacle courses, engagement skills training, the cadet mess and the architecture.” Another major difference is that only 20 percent of the cadets are female in comparison to the 59 percent female students at Vassar.

Venkat noted that an important takeaway from the Initiative is the fact that the two schools can come together to share where they plan to go in the future. She said, “Discussing differences and experiences helps us grow and develop under standing about our neighboring school.” While Vassar students will be heading to West Point this weekend, the cadets will make their way to our campus in the spring. Venkat elaborated, “Cadets have greater choice in meals at the Deece, walk around campus freely and get to wear ‘civilian clothing.’”

Org member Diego Betancourt ’21 reflected on his time during the trip to the USMA last year: “I really enjoyed the experience of going to West Point through the Vassar-West Point Initiative; it allowed me to experience what life is like for cadets. The exchange made it possible for me to further understand the day-today workings of West Point and the importance of understanding the role of service members in our country.”

Another member, Emma Grace Ottolino ’21, commented, “One of my favorite parts about the Initiative is learning all the West Point vernacular. Just sitting and talking to the cadets gives a glimpse into just how different their experiences are from mine. Getting to tour them around Vassar was also so fun, and it was a joy to show them a more ‘traditional’ college experience.”

Venkat summarized the ongoing purpose of the org, saying, “The Initiative is an effort to bridge the military-civilian divide, [so] we engage students with different lives, backgrounds, majors and future plans to bring together more well-rounded and learned leaders.” The exchange has not only bonded the neighboring institutions but also connected individual members of the communities. Overall, the Vassar-West Point Initiative is dedicated to broadening the horizons of all parties involved.

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