A light buzz hummed throughout Rocky Hall as Vassar students and alumni alike gathered for the 9th annual Sophomore Career Connections (SCC) Conference held from Friday, Jan. 13 to Sunday, Jan. 15. Members of the Class of 2025 joined mentors from all periods of Vassar’s history to interact with, learn from and develop the skills and resources necessary for pursuing post-college goals. For the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Career Education (CCE, formerly the CDO) held these connections in-person.
On Friday, keynote speaker Rha Goddess ’89 began the conference by encouraging students to find their voice and redefine success. Saturday kicked off a number of industry and identity panels to connect with Vassar alumni, and Sunday included a networking session and opportunities to improve a resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile with the CCE.
For Assistant Director of Career Education and Programming Mario Roman, who has been helping coordinate the event with the CCE, SCC founders Carol Ostrow ’77 and her husband Michael Graff, ResLife and the Dining Services since 2018, this year’s program reintroduces the benefits of in-person connections. “Getting back into the in-person, it was a little bit of muscle memory,” Roman said. “But there are some things that you forget about when you’re doing an in-person event again. So this year, as with every year, you run into some roadblocks, and you just work them out as they come. And I do have to say I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Many sophomores also took advantage of the opportunities lined up with SCC over the weekend. Ila Kumar ’25 said her advisor recommended the program to her initially. For her, the diverse group of alumni provided a deeper insight into life after Vassar. “I thought it was touching that all of these alums wanted to come back to Vassar and share their experiences with students interested in pursuing similar work,” she wrote in a statement, adding, “I loved meeting a fairly recent grad who knew all my old babysitters from when I was little, and we bonded over that.”
Nick Tillinghast ’25 [Disclaimer: Nick Tillinghast is Assistant Humor Editor for The Miscellany News] said he first became interested when an alum recommended the program. In a written correspondence, he said, “I talked to a few mentors one-on-one. It was interesting to hear from people who took really weird career paths. I’m a film major and the entertainment pretty much just confirmed the work culture ideas that I assumed were going on there.”
According to Roman, it is vital for current Vassar students to maintain a relationship with both the College and its alumni. While the CCE provides education and advising, Roman stressed the importance of connecting with those in the field. They said, “That insider knowledge is sometimes essential for something that you should have written in a cover letter, or how to handle a particular interaction, an interview, or even to get some coaching from alumni in our industries.”
Before the weekend, students chose three of the 16 industry panels that interested them. During the panels on Saturday, students were able to listen and ask questions to mentors in industries such as publishing, global affairs and technology.
Kumar said she was able to connect with the mentors most during these panels. “It was interesting to learn the ins-and-outs of writing on a deadline, how publishing companies operate, etc. I also had a mentor tell me how important it is to have a ‘personal brand’ when it comes to publishing books, which I had never heard before.”
After the industry panels, there were the Topics and Identity sessions. According to Roman, the mentors were divided up for LGBTQ students, international students and other identities. They said, “Students then had sessions to connect with alumni to learn about how to navigate industries, if you’re questioning whether you should be fully out in the workplace, or how to navigate racial bias in the workplace.”
On Sunday, the alum-mentors returned for a networking session, where they were back in their industry groups throughout Main Building. “It was just a chance for students to come and continue conversations, whether in groups with the mentors or one-on-one,” Roman said.
However, Tillinghast said he still wished for more opportunities to seek out alum mentors: “There were more mentors that weren’t at the networking event than I thought would not be there. Also, sharing meals were good opportunities for this, but the Deece to some extent is not good for seeking out mentors, just because the tables are so weird.”
The CCE and other organizers have begun reviewing this year’s events to organize for next year. Roman said, “I think it is important for us to look at the survey feedback, and then listen to what students are saying and try and see what reasonable changes we can make for next year.” Having spent much of the last two years with mainly online interactions, they added, “I think next year, we need to do a little bit more work on preparing students to interact with mentors. I did help some students go up to a mentor, who were maybe nervous to talk on their own, to help facilitate those conversations.” Roman continued, “I think we need to be cognizant of that and probably will need to think about that educational component about talking about how to build the confidence to go up to a mentor who is standing there alone and have a conversation.”
Regardless, having SCC in-person again highlighted the necessity for Vassar students to connect with alumni on a number of levels and learn about possible career opportunities for life outside of campus.