Sonya K. Smith Named Vassar’s New Dean of Admission

Sonya K. Smith has been named Vassar’s new Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services after a national search, President Elizabeth Bradley announced. Bradley said she was delighted to be welcoming Smith to Vassar. “Dean Smith possesses all of the attributes we were looking for in this key position,” she said. “She shares Vassar’s values—a love of the liberal arts and a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Sonya K. Smith

Dean Smith has worked in admissions at Princeton since 2013; she is currently the Director of Graduate Admissions at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton University and before that she was the Associate Dean and Director or Diversity Outreach in the Princeton Undergraduate Admissions office. She came to Princeton from Stanford University, where she was Assistant Dean for Alumni Volunteer Relations and Associate Director for Marketing and Communications. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Stanford in 1995 and her Master’s in American Studies from the University of Michigan in 1997.

Smith, who was raised in a low-income, single-parent family in rural California, said her own personal story had shaped her views on the role of inclusion in admissions policy in higher education. “As a woman of mixed heritage (Chicana and White), issues of equity and access make up my core,” she said. “I will never forget my own experience of adjusting from an under-resourced public high school in the Central Valley of California to an elite university. I know the importance of outreach and support, and I have a strong desire to help students seize the educational opportunities before them. For me, it is about opening doors, encouraging students to be bold and dream big, and then supporting them along the way.”

Smith said she had admired Vassar “from a distance” ever since she was employed as Director of College Counseling at the Sage Hill School in Newport Beach, CA in 2008. “It was well known to us as one of the top liberal arts schools in the country, and Vassar’s admissions officers visited us regularly,” she said.

That admiration only increased, Smith said, when she learned more about the college after she was approached to apply for the Admissions post. “Vassar exhibits a combination of joy and excellence, a sense that there’s something exciting going on,” she said.

Some of that excitement stems from the college’s Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI), Smith said. “Regarding diversity, it isn’t enough just to have the numbers,” she said. “EPI goes a step further, recognizing the need to talk and learn from one another.”

Smith said she was eager to start work—she will begin her new job July 1—and tackle the challenges of attracting some of the top students in the country to Vassar.

Marianne Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources, was chair of the search committee for the Admissions post. Begemann said she and her fellow committee members were convinced that Smith was the right person for the job. “Over the past two decades, Dean Smith has compiled an impressive track record in her field,” Begemann said. “She genuinely understands what Vassar is about, and we are excited to welcome her to our community.”

Art Rodriguez, Vassar’s current Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services will be moving to become the Dean of Admissions at Carleton University, his alma mater. Dean Rodriguez served Vassar with exceptional skill and grace for the last four years, and he will be missed.