Sophomore Career Connections 2024
Catherine Peacock ’26 returned from Winter Break a few days early to take part in the college’s annual Sophomore Career Connections program. Peacock, a neuroscience and behavior major from Stockton, NJ, called her decision “a no-brainer.” More than 250 of Peacock’s classmates agreed, joining her for a weekend packed with career advice from more than 100 alum and parent mentors in a wide variety of fields.
Conceived a decade ago by Vassar alum Carol Ostrow ’77, P’09 ’15, and her husband, Michael Graff, this year’s program offered sophomores the chance to connect with mentors in 18 different industries, including two new sectors this year—data science and public health. The event is co-hosted every January by the Center for Career Education and the Office of Advancement. Thinking back to when she and Graff first devised the idea for Sophomore Career Connections, Ostrow said she is “thrilled, but not surprised,” by the response from alums and parents who agree to participate every year.
The weekend’s sessions kicked off with an interactive workshop run by Alexa Jordan ’17, a certified life coach, who led the students through exercises designed to help them dream, explore, and assess their career choices as they prepare for the next stage of their lives. Jordan is trained in the Life Purpose Institute Coaching Process, which has successfully helped more than a million people worldwide.
Keynote speaker Ilyse Hogue ’91, longtime activist, political strategist, and former President and CEO of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), set the tone for the weekend by advising students to use the curiosity they employ every day at Vassar to embrace the world’s complexity. “I am the poster child for a liberal arts education,” Hogue said during her 30-minute address in Skinner Hall. “Your ability to think critically will serve you for a lifetime.”
“Find a career that enables you to maintain that curiosity,” Hogue concluded. “If you do, you will leave the world a better place than you found it, and that’s all anyone can ask.”
Graff, who works for Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm in New York City, said part of the reason he and Ostrow suggested launching such a program was to provide Vassar students with better access to information about a wide variety of careers. “The Career Development Office [now Career Education] really put our idea together,” Graff said. “We had the kernel of it, but they fleshed it out, and we agree to fund the program.”
This year’s program afforded Vassar sophomores plenty of opportunities to connect with Vassar alums in numerous fields. Emma Tanner ’22, an analyst on Blackstone’s Private Wealth Solutions legal team, said she was eager to share her story of how alum connections had helped her, starting with some conversations she had as a student at Sophomore Career Connections in 2019, when she met Brian Farkas ’10, a New York City attorney. “Brian connected me to an internship opportunity, and that enabled me to pick up skills that catapulted me to my current career,” Tanner said.
Munish Dabas ’02, a designer at Google, said he, too, was grateful for the opportunity to give back to Vassar by serving as a mentor on the Technology panels. He said some students had expressed anxiety about the impact of artificial intelligence on the job market. “I told them to focus on what they could control and to think about what they loved about certain aspects of the field,” Dabas said. “And I urged them to be comfortable with change because, in this field, your career will meander a bit.”
Dabas said his Vassar education had prepared him well for working in such a rapidly evolving field. “The number-one skill I picked up at Vassar was the ability to teach myself how to learn new things, and that has been essential,” he said.
As part of a six-alum panel on careers in activism and social justice, Alex Roth ’93, an attorney with the Vera Institute of Justice, spoke about the organization’s Beyond Jails Initiative, which strives to reduce jail populations in communities across the country. Roth said he knew from the time he was a student at Vassar that he would be happy with his career only if it helped others. “Dealing with the backlash to criminal justice reform is difficult sometimes,” Roth said, “but it’s worthwhile.”
Lindsay Wolk ’19 said she too knew she wanted to pursue a career in social justice, but her specific path didn’t become clear until she secured an internship with a nonprofit organization called Everytown for Gun Safety. She now works there full-time organizing high school and college students to advocate for laws and policies aimed at mitigating gun violence. “It’s exciting to see these young people take their first steps into activism,” Wolk said.
Wolk said that while coursework at Vassar had provided the writing and critical thinking skills she brings to her job every day, her experience as a member of the women’s lacrosse team also benefited her in important ways. “It taught me the value of teamwork and the importance of doing all the little things that lead to the team’s success,” she said. “In a small nonprofit, you wear many hats, and so while I’m developing policy for the organization, I’m also picking up the package from FedEx.”
Students received similarly helpful guidance from mentors on a panel on entertainment and the performing arts. Actor-singer-songwriter Charley Young ’09 said networking with others in the field had been critical to her success, and she urged students attending the panel to seek out internships as soon as possible. Young said the people she met during her first internship at a small cultural center in Poughkeepsie led her to meet people in New York City who helped her gain internships at MSNBC and later, to screenwriting classes in Los Angeles. “Like many in my line of work, my career path has been non-linear,” she said.
Sieu Nguyen ’17, a writer-producer at HBO, said connections he made with Vassar alums while he was still an undergraduate led him to internships that put him on a path to his current career. “I talked to many Vassar alums in the field, and they got me connected to the right people,” Nguyen said.
Documentary filmmaker Judd Ehrlich ’93, P’27 said the fieldwork he did as a student with the Office of Community-Engaged Learning helped him connect with “the real world outside the Vassar bubble.” He urged the students not to underestimate the value of simply being kind to everyone as you advance in your career. “If you are the kind of person who lifts others up, they will notice,” Ehrlich said. “So be the light.”
Ostrow, who runs a theater company, urged the students attending the session on careers in entertainment and the performing arts to research the job before applying for it and to learn how to sell themselves. “Your cover letter must explain why you want this particular job and why you would be good at it,” she said. “Be specific about your skills and how they relate to the job.”
The response from students who enrolled in the program has been just as enthusiastic. “One thing I learned this weekend was that everyone at Vassar and beyond is willing to help me,” said Syed Arman Rasool ’26, a mathematics and statistics major from Boston, MA. “And the alums I talked to reinforced for me that I’m doing all the right things as I learn how to market myself.”
Benjamin Savel ’26, a history major from New York City, said the event had spurred him to take the next steps in planning his career path. “Just seeing how impactful these alums have been in their careers has really inspired me and helped me push my thinking on how to move forward,” Savel said.
As she wrapped up the event, Stacy Bingham, Associate Dean of the College for Career Education, urged all of those attending to continue to take steps toward their life after Vassar. “When the weekend began, I told you the best career resource you have is the Vassar network,” Bingham said. “I hope the sessions you attended have inspired you to continue to be curious, and I hope it has reaffirmed that a liberal arts education is essential to addressing the complex problems of the world.”
One mentor, Kevin Lee ’14, echoed Bingham’s words as he wrapped up a panel he led on careers in sustainability. “Sophomore Career Connections weekend is not the end of the process, it’s the beginning,” Lee told the students. “Feel free to reach out to all of us as your career search goes forward.”