Vassar’s sixth annual Sophomore Career Connections began January 17 with a provocative workshop on storytelling hosted by Bonnie Block Levison ’78. It ended two days later with two alums telling their own stories about their careers and the role connections with mentors had played in their success. In between, 248 sophomores gained invaluable insights from 103 alumnae/i and parents who spent the weekend helping them envision their futures. The event was co-hosted by the Career Development Office and the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development.
Students who participated said they were certain the event would yield short- and long-term dividends. Some obtained information on how to apply for summer internships while others traded business cards with alums to set up future conversations about how to pursue careers in fields that interest them.
“This weekend has definitely helped me frame a vision for where I want to go from here,” said Tori Lubin ’22 as she chatted with mentors in the advertising and marketing fields in a networking session in the Villard Room.
Emma Tanner ’22 agreed. “I’ve made some valuable connections with people who will help me plan my future after Vassar,” Tanner said.
One mentor, Anne Green ’93, Managing Director at G&S Business Communications in New York City, said she had genuinely enjoyed offering advice and guidance throughout the weekend. “I have a real passion for Vassar, and Sophomore Career Connections is a great way to not only meet the students but to reconnect with old friends,” Green said. “I believe that the liberal arts education they are getting at Vassar gives the students the tools they need for a wide spectrum of careers in my industry. It’s hard for college sophomores to project their lives 10 to 15 years in the future, and this is a vehicle for helping them do that.”
Levison, who is Lead Coach with The Moth, an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to the art and craft of first-person storytelling, kicked off the event by telling her own unhappy story about one of her first post-Vassar job interviews. “I prepped really hard,” she told the students and mentors during the 90-minute session in Gordon Commons. “I had studied all the facts about the company and was ready for anything.”
Sadly, Levison related, she wasn’t remotely ready for the first question the interviewer asked her: “Tell me about yourself.”
“I froze,” she said, “and I don’t remember much about what happened next—except that I didn’t get the job.”
After Professor of Psychological Science and Sophomore Class Adviser Michele Tugade ’95 recited a bittersweet story about a painful but ultimately uplifting experience she had undergone during her senior year in high school, three students volunteered to tell stories of their own. Levison thanked them for their bravery and urged them to keep the power of storytelling in mind as they prepare themselves for their post-Vassar lives.
At a dinner in the Villard Room Friday evening, mentors reconnected with faculty and administrators who had inspired them when they were at Vassar. During a reception prior to the dinner, Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana spoke about his vision for inspiring and communicating with students by interacting with them in an integrated and holistic way.
The next morning, keynote speaker Torrey Maldonado ’96 delivered a talk titled, “Linking the Chapters of Life: How Connections Made at Vassar Can Ripple Outward.” Maldonado, whose middle-grade children’s story Tight was named a Best Book of 2019 by NPR, urged the students to remember that everyone at Vassar shares a common bond, that they are all at the college for a reason, and that they all belong there. He talked about how Vassar “held space” for him and expressed a deep appreciation for the faculty members who helped make him into who he is today.
Following Maldonado’s speech, sophomores attended three different industry-based panels, hearing mentors in various fields describe their work and their trajectory from Vassar. The cluster sessions were followed by luncheon in Gordon Commons where students and mentors connected over shared interests, and a 90-minute networking session in the Villard Room.
Jannette Swanson, Associate Director of Alumnae/i Outreach and Partnerships and one of the organizers of Sophomore Career Connections, says the mentors from this year have set a high bar for subsequent years. “They were an incredibly warm, receptive, and engaged group that clearly made an impact on our students and with one another,” she said. “This year’s program was particularly special, as for the first time ever, four of our alumnae/i mentors that returned for the event had originally participated in Sophomore Career Connections when they were students. That these alumnae/i were eager and excited to return in a new capacity is a testament to the program’s impact and the power of the Vassar network.”
Sophomore Career Connections concluded with a conversation about networking between Tara Pyle ’06, who had taken part in the event five years ago, and first-time mentor Connor McIlwain ’18, who met Pyle at that event. Pyle is Vice President of Global Marketing at L’Oreal, the Paris-based cosmetics and beauty company. McIlwain is an associate marketing manager in the beauty division of Macy’s. Pyle said she received an email from McIlwain a few months after their first meeting and learned he was working nearby as an intern, so they met for coffee and conversation. They have maintained a mutually beneficial relationship ever since. McIlwain said he relies on Pyle’s years of experience in the industry to provide him with valuable advice about future education and career choices, while Pyle says she benefits from talking to someone younger in the field to help her relate to members of her team at L’Oreal.
It comes as no surprise that alumnae/i are willing to reach back to help students and young graduates, said Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC) President Steve Hankins ’85 P’13, ’17. He sees alums as one of the most important and useful bridges between students and the working world. “Each year Sophomore Career Connections gets better and better at facilitating those linkages—and I think alums appreciate the opportunity to converse with each other, as well,” he said.
As the event came to a close, Stacy Bingham, Associate Dean of the College for Career Development, said she expected the impact of the weekend to resonate with students in the days, months, and even years ahead. “I hope the students will look back and say things like ‘I attended this conference when I was a sophomore that made me feel less worried about life after Vassar,’ or ‘I landed my first internship from a connection I made,’ or ‘I learned that my career trajectory may never be a straight line, and that I will find a way to connect these seemingly disparate dots,’” she said.
Sophomore Career Connections is made possible by the generous support of Carol Ostrow ’77, P’09, ’15 and Michael Graff P’09, ’15