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New President Takes Helm at AAVCStephen Hankins ’85, P’13, ’17 to Succeed Missie Rennie Taylor ’68

Given his family’s 116-year connection with Vassar, it was perhaps inevitable that Stephen Hankins ’85, P’13, ’17 would someday wind up assuming a leadership position engaging his 39,565 fellow alumnae/i. And that’s exactly what’s happened.

Stephen Hankins ’85, P’13, ’17

On July 1, Steve began a four-year term as president of the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC), taking the reins from Missie Rennie Taylor ’68, who has been serving Vassar in various capacities herself for the past five decades.

In addition to his work with the AAVC, Steve is serving a second tour of duty on the college’s Board of Trustees. (He’s the second member of his family to do so; his aunt, Sally Lyman Rheinfrank ’63, was also a trustee.) He previously served as co-chair of the Pyramid Society for former Vassar trustees, founded and co-chaired the Parents Committee, and was AAVC Vice President from 2014 to 2018.

A San Francisco attorney, Steve says all of these duties have been fulfilling because interacting with Vassar people is so rewarding, if often challenging. “There’s a pivot point in most Vassar conversations that can get serious,” he says. “You’re surrounded by people who have been taught the same level of critical thinking, and if you try any shortcuts, they’ll call you on it.”

Steve says he’s assuming the AAVC’s top leadership position at a particularly exciting time. “We’ll be supporting a new president [Elizabeth Bradley] who has some bold new visions, things every Vassar alum can rally around,” he says.

“We need to ensure that all of our alums feel that they belong. With the right alums engaging our students as mentors, ‘Vassar for a lifetime’ should be clear from day one on campus.” –AAVC President Stephen Hankins ’85

Steve noted that the college’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI), which strives to make campus life more inclusive for all students, faculty, and staff, intersects with some of his goals for the AAVC. He says he wants to foster closer relationships with current students well before they graduate through alumnae/i mentoring initiatives and career networking programs, coordinated by alums and the college’s Career Development Office.

All of these projects will require the AAVC to partner with the college’s EPI model, Steve says. “The vibrant and established AAAVC (African American Alumnae/i of Vassar College) provides a great precedent for additional meaningful engagement with our diverse and pluralistic group of alums,” he says. “We need to ensure that all of our alums feel that they belong. With the right alums engaging our students as mentors, ‘Vassar for a lifetime’ should be clear from day one on campus.”

 

Missie Rennie Taylor ‘68

Steve says he intends to build on many projects Missie oversaw during her tenure as president. And like Steve, Missie says her love for Vassar began well before she enrolled in 1964. Her mother, Jean Tower Rennie, graduated in 1935.

“I always wanted to go to Vassar,” Missie says, “and that drive up through Main Gate clinched it. I remember thinking, ‘Vassar is what a college should look like.’”

Missie had a distinguished career in journalism, including many years as executive producer of CBS News Sunday Morning and CBS Weekend News. She currently acts as an adviser on media strategies. She says her Vassar education prepared her well for her career. “Vassar shaped me and gave me my trajectory in life,” she says. “I had long had an interest in politics and journalism, professions in which you just keep learning.”

As a member of the Board of Trustees and as a leader of the AAVC, Missie says she had “a unique opportunity to be part of several chapters of Vassar history.” Her work with the AAVC included the enhancement of the Vassar experience across the country. “I wanted to promote that feeling that you can reach out to Vassar wherever you go,” she says.

“I wanted to promote that feeling that you can reach out to Vassar wherever you go.” —Missie Rennie ‘68

Missie also led the AAVC’s efforts to help current students get a start in the job market and to find other ways to make young alums feel more connected to the Vassar community. She says one of her fondest memories as AAVC President was presenting two alumnae/i awards at Convocation in 2017. The AAVC Award for Distinguished Achievement was given to Frances “Sissy” Tarlton Farenthold ’46, P’75, who was the first female member of the Texas House of Representatives and the first woman whose name was placed in nomination for Vice President at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, an event Missie covered for the Public Broadcasting Service. Missie also presented a new AAVC prize, its Young Alumnae/i Achievement or Service Award, to Marguerite “Maggie” O’Haire ’08, Assistant Professor of Human-Animal Interaction at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Missie says presenting those two awards exemplified her ongoing efforts to inspire all alums, regardless of the year they happened to graduate. “Being AAVC President was a great honor,” she says. “And leading a Board with such active and diverse alums spanning all decades made the time so fulfilling.”