What can you do with a liberal arts degree from Vassar? Anything, say the 65 alumnae/i and parents who provided three days of mentoring and career guidance to 200 sophomores during the second annual Sophomore Career Connections program.
Coordinated by the Career Development Office and the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development, the program began on Friday, January 22 with keynote speaker Nicole Savage ’08, program coordinator for college readiness at the University of the District of Columbia Community College. The following day, Ed Adler ’76, P’16, a partner at Finsbury, and Tony Friscia ’78, P’15, president and CEO of Eduventures, presented “Building a Career: Advice About How to Navigate Your Way from Vassar to the World of Work.”
“I met alumnae/i with the most interesting career paths,” says Quinlan Cummings ’18, an economics and political science double major. “Some were Russian studies majors who worked in international development, and others were anthropology majors who became successful entrepreneurs.”
Throughout Saturday and Sunday, students attended alumnae/i- and parent-led discussions in 16 different fields, including scientific research, medicine, public service, technology, entrepreneurship, arts, architecture, public relations, publishing, law, financial services, and non-profits. Each student attended three panel discussions during which professionals discussed their careers and their industries—including how they got to their current position—and answered questions posed by students.
“The program taught me that a career is almost never a straight line, and that it is okay to be unsure of what you want to do,” says Rafaela Vega del Castillo ’18, a biochemistry major.
The writing and publishing discussion, for instance, included Jean-Luc Bouchard ’14, a freelance humor writer; Carla De Ycaza ’06, editor of Columbia University’s Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory Network; Mary Fletcher ’10, Refinery29 senior photo editor; and Roger Gibian ’90, a novelist. During their discussion, students learned about a variety of jobs in writing and publishing—some only known to industry insiders—from positions in literary agencies to academic journals to professional reading.
Gibian says it was good for students to encounter mentors who have established excellence in their chosen fields as well as those who have graduated more recently. Both can provide perspectives on different paths one can take within an industry, he says, noting that recent graduates can also address the “burdens and hurdles one faces in those first few years after graduation.”
“The mentors were honest and broadly explained many aspects of their work,” Cummings says. “I think I got a very genuine look at what it would be like to be involved in these career paths.”
In between career sessions and guest lectures, mentors talked with students during meals and other social events and offered professional advice. Business cards were exchanged and the value of networking—with alumnae/i and any other professionals they come into contact with—was consistently stressed.
“Having the opportunity to talk to alums face-to-face in a networking event such as this is, by itself, a learning experience. However, I think the most important takeaway from the program is to know that there are quite a few alums in a wide variety of industries who are quite willing to help, and that wasn’t what I expected,” says sophomore John Yu.
The program continued for students on January 26 and 27 with information sessions on networking, résumé writing, interviews, summer internships and Vassar-connected summer programs. For sophomore Matthew Ford, the Career Connections program provided an important opportunity that he might not otherwise have had.
“During the program, I was able to get in touch with various alums who work in my field and it was a lot easier than I expected. I especially learned how to navigate my many talents and interests and use them to make money in both leisure and career,” Ford says.
--Photos ©Vassar College/ Stockton Photo, Inc.