Students reminisce and research during summer at Vassar

Image courtesy of Molly Ardren ’25.

A low hum pervades a sticky and sweltering campus during the summer months. In the absence of a large portion of the student population, the quad is more reminiscent of a ghost town than a bustling adolescent metropolis. The only commotion consists of the shrill squeak from a lonesome squirrel or a parent’s pointed quip during a tour.


Unless, of course, one looks a bit more closely at the basements of academic buildings or the living rooms of the Townhouses. During the summer, students worked at jobs and internships for a variety of academic and administrative departments. These included the Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI), Beckman and Ford Scholars Programs as well as the Office of Admission, Wimpfheimer Nursery School and administrative positions. Between nine to fives and grueling lab research sessions, there was more activity on campus during the summer than a quick scan of the quad might tell you. 


For some students, such as Billy Fan ’25, the strict schedule of summer work was demanding yet comforting. Fan worked in a biochemistry laboratory for the URSI program researching a protein called Tau, which is found in correlation to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. According to Fan, the hands-on aspect of the research was incredible, “I was able to synthesize and analyze proteins for the first time.” He also added that the lab experience meshed well with his pre-med track. 


Some students partook in other academic programs, including Ford Scholars. Ford is a humanities and social sciences driven program. Molly Ardren ’25—a Ford Scholar—researched declining Mexican migration in a post-2008 recession environment and the economic variables that could potentially explain the causes of this event. Ardren thoroughly enjoyed her daily work:  “[I] read literature discussing labor markets, immigration policy and the economics/sociology of migrant communities [and] used data from the American Communities Survey and the Mexican Migration Project to make maps and run regressions exploring these topics,” she commented. 


Beyond the realm of academic research, another group of students, including Catherine Phillips ’26, upheld a standard of tour guide excellence day after day. Phillips primarily led solo tours Monday through Friday, typically leading two tours a day.  She noted that the best tour days were when visitors were engaged and receptive with her and days where she got to enjoy time outside and in nature.


Once the long hours on foot or on a lab-swivel chair were over—or, as Ardren noted, when one too many cockroaches scurried too close to her feet while at the computer—students had plenty of downtime. Whether strolling through Vassar’s Preserve or hitting wiffle ball home runs, there were plenty of opportunities for fun and relaxation. And, if self-entertainment became too much of a hassle, the college planned numerous events. Fan noted that he particularly enjoyed Taco Tuesday and Trivia Night. Phillips, Ardren and Fan all made their way down to the watering hole at least once during the summer to cool off and splash around. “I always hit my pillow hard, exhausted and excited for the next day,” exclaimed Ardren.

Image courtesy of Billy Fan ’25.
Image courtesy of Molly Ardren ’25.

Phillips relished in the luxurious Jewett fourth floor living, explaining that she had a double all to herself. Ardren and Fan lived in a campus TH with other students selected for the URSI and Ford programs. Ardren loved how close she became with her housemates. Fan added that living in a TH was an ideal living environment and that coming home after a long day of work and bonding with housemates was a highlight of the summer.


When not sharing laughs in a TH backyard or kitchen, students spent hours chatting and chewing at a Deece booth. Although, some students, such as Phillips, noted that it was difficult navigating the summer restrictions of the Deece. “We could only enter the Deece three times a day, and Home and Root were the only stations open besides pizza. Since I’m a pescatarian, this was very limiting.” Other students without dietary restrictions had more culinary freedom, with Ardren noting that at the end of the long day “I was pretty hungry and ate whatever they had without a second glance. My housemates wouldn’t just eat anything, they ate everything.” 


As the summer marched on and the journeys to the Deece and AFC became routine, trips beyond the safety of Vassar’s campus were planned and carried out. Fan observed that there was no shortage of places to visit. On weekends, he traveled to sporting events in New York City. He fondly recalled trips to Yankee Stadium. Similarly, Phillips traveled to Brooklyn almost every weekend. She also recounted a particularly fun weekend traveling upstate to Kingston,“I feel like if I didn’t have a car I would have gone insane. I also took two weeks off and got to visit my best friend in Seattle and go home for a week.”


But when downtime was limited during the week, Phillips remarked that working with the admissions counselors was just as much of a treat, emphasizing “I have such high regard for all of [the counselors] and it was satisfying to see that my school has some pretty awesome people involved in accepting the future classes.”


Ardren shared a similar sentiment, explaining how rewarding it was working with Professor of Economics Sarah Pearlman, the Chair of the Department. “Working with Professor Pearlman was enlightening. It was nice to have a woman role model in Economics, which is a predominantly male field, who valued her co-workers and work-life balance. I never failed to be impressed with her breadth of knowledge about Mexican Migration and economics, as well as her ability to fix the code I had been working on for hours in a matter of minutes without making me feel incompetent. After this summer I am seriously considering becoming a professor myself.” Fan also remarked how caring and knowledgeable the professor he worked with was—Professor of Chemistry and Director of Biochemistry Zachary Donhauser—noting that he gave a fantastic balance of independence and support to him and his lab members’ projects.


As summer came to a close, and each student finished their respective research and job, a concrete certainty solidified: This was a summer well spent. Ardren reminisced, “The nights were always filled with laughter and reminded me a little of spending summer nights at the park with my neighbors and friends as a kid. I was initially worried about becoming bored or homesick, but found myself tearing up as I packed up my room to head back to my parents for a few short weeks before returning to campus in the fall.”

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