AAVC Honors Six Alumnae/i During Convocation

Stephen Hankins ’85, P’13,’17, President of AAVC, called them “vanguards.” The six alumnae/i who received two of the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College’s (AAVC’s) most prestigious awards during fall 2019 Convocation certainly are.

Celebrating the AAVC awards at a luncheon at the President's House: From left, Jacob Adelgren ’15, Alejandro Dinsmore ’15, Stephen Hankins ’85, President Elizabeth Bradley, Phyllis Bronfman Lambert ’48, Sharon Davidson Chang ’84, Matthew Griffiths ’17, Harris Gordon ’15, and Casey Hancock ’16.Photo: Karl Rabe

During the ceremony, Hankins and Sharon Davidson Chang ’84, P’19, Chair of AAVC’s Alumnae/i Recognition Committee, presented the Award for Distinguished Achievement to renowned architect and historic preservation champion Phyllis Bronfman Lambert ’48, who made architectural history when she was 28. They also honored five members of the technology startup eevo—Jacob Adelgren ’15, Alejandro Dinsmore ’15, Matthew Griffiths ’17, Casey Hancock ’16, and Harris Gordon ’15—with the Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award. It is presented annually to those who have made an impact in their field within 10 years of their graduation from Vassar.

Lambert gained nationwide acclaim early in her career when she convinced her father to hire Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as architect for the Seagram Building, an architectural icon that was constructed along Park Avenue in New York City in 1958. She also served as director of planning for the project.

Lambert later became a leader in the historic preservation movement in her hometown of Montreal, where she founded and oversaw the Canadian Centre for Architecture, an internationally renowned architectural research center and museum. She has received 23 honorary degrees and has won numerous major awards in her field, including the Board of La Biennale di Venezia’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.

“Thank you for your hard work as a Vassar vanguard and for preserving architecture around the world,” Hankins told Lambert. He lauded her for following her maxim: “Do what needs to be done, and don’t pay attention to norms.”

The evening before she received her award, Lambert took part in a conversation about her life, attended by more than 80 students, faculty, and alumnae/i in Taylor Hall, where she had studied art history seven decades earlier. Benjamin Prosky ’90, Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York and the Center for Architecture, led the discussion. Prosky noted he had first learned about Lambert and her accomplishments “right here in this building in Art 105.”

Phyllis Bronfman Lambert ’48 discusses her life and career with AIA-NY’s Benjamin Prosky ’90Photo: Karl Rabe

Lambert said she was especially interested in sculpture when she was at Vassar but took full advantage of the variety of subjects the college curriculum provided. “Vassar was a time for me to explore, intellectually,” she said.

Asked by Prosky to talk about the genesis of her interest in historic preservation, Lambert said she was taking photographs one day in an old neighborhood in Montreal when someone told her a building there would soon be demolished. “I was horrified,” she said. “I had seen neighborhoods destroyed in Chicago [she attended the Illinois Institute of Technology] and didn’t want the same to happen in Montreal.”

During the talk Lambert had words of advice for current students: “Pay attention when you do your research, learn as much as you can, and go with your gut when you make decisions.”

The recipients of the Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award had a gut feeling about launching a virtual reality company called vcemo while they were still students at Vassar. The company has since changed its focus to immersive content, more broadly, and is now called eevo. It has become a leading platform for the creation of content for such companies as the BBC, Logitech, and many others. The eevo executives were honored last year by Forbes magazine, which chose them as recipients of its 30 Under 30 award in the media category.

Members of the eevo team demonstrate the company’s virtual reality technology during a campus presentation.Photo: Lisa Tessler

Chang said she and others on the committee were truly impressed with the young alums’ entrepreneurial spirit as well as their being recognized as disruptors in the tech industry. “It’s especially noteworthy that they were building the groundwork for this cutting-edge company while they were still at Vassar,” Chang added.

Hours before he and others on the eevo team received their awards, Dinsmore, the company’s chief executive officer, said returning to Vassar for the ceremony had brought back a lot of memories. “It wasn’t that long ago that we sat at a wobbly table in the Retreat and signed the papers of incorporation,” he said.

Dinsmore credited Vassar with enabling him and his partners to navigate the perils of launching a startup. “A Vassar education isn’t about memorizing information,” he said. “It teaches you how to solve problems and answer questions that no one has answered yet, and that’s what creating a startup is about.”

He said receiving the award had afforded the eevo team an opportunity to reflect on what they had accomplished. “There were times during this process that we were 100 percent wrong about things,” he said, “but we’ve also had a lot of successes. Receiving this award enables us to step back from the day-to-day grind of keeping your head down in your work [in order to] appreciate where we’ve come.”

That evening, the team delivered the presentation “Creating Interactive Experiences—The Virtual Reality of Life After Vassar,” in which they discussed what it takes to launch a start-up, the obstacles they faced and overcame and the challenges they continue to confront in this rapidly moving field. They also gave some of those in attendance an opportunity to try out the equipment they use.