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Palooza a Major Success!Alumnae/i Help Students Chart Individual Paths to a Satisfying Future

You may not aspire to be a puppet maker, or a genealogist, or a lawyer for a major financial firm, but a liberal arts education at Vassar can lead you there—or on dozens of other exciting and rewarding career paths. That was the message 130 alumnae/i delivered to more than 300 students this month at Major Palooza, a day-long event co-hosted by the Career Development Office and the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development (OAAD).

Stefan Richards ’17 (left) offers some advice to students attending Major Palooza on how they can parlay their liberal arts education into a rewarding career. Richards is a member of the Strategy and Planning Team of IDB Invest, the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank Group.

“It was exciting to talk to students and learn what kind of careers are exciting to them,” said Elizabeth Hara ’04, a freelance artist and writer who has been building puppets—and more recently, writing—for Sesame Street and other shows for the Jim Henson Company, starting when she was a student at Vassar. “I do something very weird for a living, and I wanted students here to know that such a thing is possible. With a Vassar education, you can make a career out of whatever you’re interested in.”

In classrooms in Rockefeller and Chicago halls, Hara and her fellow alums took part in a pair of hour-long panel discussions hosted by faculty in 30 different Vassar majors and programs. Hara joined several other alumnae/i who had majored in American studies (it was called American culture when she was at Vassar) in a classroom in Chicago.

Liz Hara ’04, regales students about her life as a freelance puppet maker and television writer.

Just down the hall, Alec Ferretti ’17 was part of a panel of former anthropology majors, explaining how he had fulfilled a longtime goal of becoming a genealogist. He said he had been interested in exploring family histories since he was in eighth grade and decided to major in anthropology at Vassar “because it’s the ‘macro’ version of the ‘micro’ work you do in genealogy.”

Since graduating from Vassar, Ferretti has received a master’s degree in library science, and he’ll earn a master’s in archival science in January, but he already has a full-time job as a genealogist with Wells Fargo. He researches family histories for the bank’s high-end clients to help them learn more about their ancestors, enabling them to make more informed decisions about legacy and estate planning.

Former Vassar classmates Will Zichawo ’10 (right) and Grady Chambers ’10 tell students at Major Palooza they took different career paths as Political Science majors. Zichawo is an attorney with BlackRock, an investment firm in New York City. Chambers is a freelance writer and poet who teaches English at Drexel University.

Meanwhile, over in Rockefeller Hall, Will Zichawo ’10 was telling students who were attending the political science panel discussion about the ‘circuitous route’ he had taken to become an attorney for BlackRock, a major investment firm based in New York City. When he enrolled at Vassar, Zichawo planned to take the necessary science classes to enable him to go to medical school. A few science classes later, Zichawo said, he abandoned that plan, switched his major to political science and thought about going to law school. After working as a paralegal with a law firm in Washington, DC, Zichawo decided he was on the right path. He graduated from Yale Law School three years later.

Zichawo told the students who attended the panel that his experience should serve as a lesson that it’s okay to veer from one path to another once you find your passion. But he said all of the classes he took at Vassar, not just his political science courses, had helped him succeed in his current job. “What’s great about the liberal arts,” he said, “is the breadth of the curriculum, and the knowledge you gain at Vassar will hone your critical thinking skills. The skills you learn here will help you adapt as the world evolves and changes.”

Major Palooza culminated with networking sessions where the 130 alumnae/i who attended talked about their careers with more than 300 students.

Zichawo said he was excited to come back to campus to share his story with students who are “in the same place I was in thinking about my future 10 years ago. I owe everything to this school, so I’m paying it forward.”

Students who attended the event said it had helped them start asking the right questions about how to prepare for their future. “I came to Major Palooza to try to narrow down my choices for a major and to see what people have done with these majors after they graduate,” said Victoria Horner ’23, of Poughkeepsie.

Horner said the conversations she had at Major Palooza steered her toward majoring in music, one of her longtime passions. But she added that she also attended a panel of alumnae/i who had majored in sociology because she wanted to learn more about using music to pursue social justice issues. “I think I made a lot of headway in figuring out how I can do that,” she said. “And I learned that Vassar has a great network that will help me as I get closer to graduating.”

Mark Savarese ’22 (far right) chats with Major Palooza organizers Jane Lu ’17 (far left), Jannette Swanson, and Stacy Bingham, Associate Dean of the College for Career Development.

Jannette Swanson, Associate Director of Alumnae/i Outreach and Partnerships in the Career Development Office, dubbed Major Palooza a major success. “This was a truly remarkable day,” Swanson said as the networking sessions were winding down. “The goal is to help students start to think about their futures, and one of the best ways is to learn from our alumnae/i about their paths to success.”

Jane Lu ’17, Assistant Director of Alumnae/i Engagement at OAAD, said she was inspired by the enthusiasm of her fellow alums as they shared their advice with students throughout the day. “As a recent alum myself, I remember being in these students’ shoes not so long ago, and to see 130 alumnae/i come back to campus to take part in this event says a lot about this college,” Lu said. “I heard many of them say they wished this program had existed when they were here, and I’m happy now to be a part of it.”

Major Palooza has been generously supported by Sarah and Gerassimo Contomichalos P’20.