First Year Gala fosters connections among students

Courtesy of Sheldon Zhou

Last Thursday, Sept. 5, Vassar’s Business Club (VBC) and Career Development Office (CDO) held their second-ever First-Year Gala at the Villard Room. The Gala allowed first-years to meet with juniors and seniors who had received various job opportunities from Vassar’s career resources, and allowed upperclassmen to mentor and share advice with new students. 

The idea for the Gala started last year, when the VBC, Vassar Finance Club (VFC), CDO, and the Office of Alumnae/i Engagement (OAE) agreed to collaborate on an event that would allow students across class-years to network and share their experiences with those who have similar interests. 

“There’s a lot of talk about a ‘Vassar bubble’ among students at Vassar,” said former VBC Co-President John Mernacaj ‘19, “and one of the effects of that bubble is that it becomes very easy for excellent students and future leaders to put off thinking about all the incredible things they can do to effect change in the world until they’re about to exit their senior year.” 

This year’s Gala introduced VassarNet, an additional resource for student job-searches and networking opportunities for students to connect over careers, interests and identities. “[VassarNet] allows peer-to-peer mentoring in addition to letting students connect with alumnae/i, parents, faculty and more,” said Associate Director of Alumnae/i Outreach and Partnerships Jannette Swanson. 

Mernacaj further explained how the First-Year Gala serves to inspire first-year students to explore the exciting opportunities available to them outside of Vassar, and introduce them to Vassar’s resources.

“It only felt natural to have current students—seniors and juniors, in particular—who are just getting back from their amazing internships [to] serve as mentors in this event and offer their guidance and experiences to help inform first-years” said Mernacaj. “This serves an additional purpose: First-years can meet upper-class people early, facilitating vertical relationships early on in the student body, as opposed to the traditional lateral relationships that are borne out of orientation and courses.”

“It only felt natural to have current students who are just getting back from their amazing internships [to] serve as mentors in this event and offer their guidance and experiences to help inform first-years.”

Adding to that, former Co-President Rebeca Muresan ‘19 stated, “We tend to host alumnae/i panels, but this event was special in that it afforded more intimacy: It’s easier for students to interact with other students than it is for students to interact with alums.” She also mentioned how this experience allows seniors to practice their public speaking skills, and become more effective communicators. 

The two shared fond memories of the first Gala. “Honestly, watching the room fill up made me and Rebeca feel both extremely excited and extremely relieved at the same time,” Mernacaj recalled. “I floated around the room to meet a bunch of the first-years and catch up with friends who had returned from their internships and had a great time chatting with all of them. But some of the memories beyond the Gala stick out—oftentimes I’d bump into someone and one of us would realize, ‘Wait, didn’t we meet at the Gala?’ In fact, a few folks who were at the Gala ended up joining the Vassar Business Club, which made all of us who organized the event really proud.”

Courtesy of Sheldon Zhou

To plan this year’s Gala, various departments collaborated, “Rebeca and I worked closely with the other offices organizing over the summer,” said Mernacaj. 

The CDO and OAE also spent the summer searching for mentors to recruit, by reaching out to every office that provided summer opportunities related to Vassar and requesting the names of students that had taken advantage of Vassar’s opportunities. 

“We reached out to a select number of these students first to invite them to be mentors to ensure that the wide range of Vassar-connected opportunities would be represented at the Gala,” Swanson explained. “Then after a few weeks, the invitation was extended to all seniors–if they felt they had participated in a meaningful summer experience over their time at Vassar and wanted to be a mentor they could sign up to do so. In both years approximately 70-80 students opted into this role!”

Inside the Villard Room, first-years could visit tables representing different interests, such as visual arts or social justice, where juniors and seniors discussed how Vassar helped them gain summer opportunities and start their potential careers.

“What makes the event unique is it really empowers students to be mentors to one another and it lets Vassar-connected summer experiences come to life a bit more than they might on paper or on a website,” Swanson concluded. “Our hope is it may inspire ongoing conversations, friendships and mentorship beyond the event.”

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