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Family’s Gift to Benefit Education Students, Community Initiatives

Dan Mindich ’87 loved Vassar and loved educating young people. Following his untimely death in 2014, Mindich’s family and friends are helping Vassar students, faculty, and staff continue to carry out the mission he cherished. In conjunction with Propel Capital, a New York-based social impact investment firm, Mindich’s family and friends have announced they will donate $2.25 million to Vassar, contingent on $1.25 million in matching funds, to help the college continue to provide training and mentoring for Vassar students planning to become teachers.

From left: Exploring College Coordinator Abby Romero, VCUEI Executive Director John Bradley, Professor of Education Chris Roellke, VCUEI Faculty Director Tracey Holland, and VCUEI Director of Education Outreach Phoebe Magee. Photo: Jackson Hardin ’19

The bulk of the money will ensure the continuation of the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative (VCUEI), which provides tutors, mentors, and other assistance for elementary and secondary school students in Poughkeepsie public schools.

In addition to the Vassar gift, the family will donate $1.25 million to Smith College, contingent on $1.25 million in matching donations, to support the Smith Urban Education Initiative, including the Mindich Fellowship, an intensive education pathway and teacher apprenticeship program designed to connect liberal arts students from diverse disciplines with alumnae working in the field of education. Vassar students will have the opportunity to participate in the fellowship program alongside students from Smith and other liberal arts institutions.

Mindich, who earned master’s and doctorate degrees in education from Stanford University following his graduation from Vassar, was an English and history teacher at Punahou School, a K-12 school in Honolulu, HI. He died on Sept. 1, 2014 while swimming in an open-water race in the Pacific Ocean near his home.

Mindich, center, celebrates his graduation from Vassar.Photo: Courtesy of the Mindich Family

The seeds for the Dan Mindich Teacher Project were planted when Dan’s twin brother, Jeremy Mindich, contacted Vassar’s then-Dean of the College Christopher Roellke, who was a classmate of Jeremy’s at Wesleyan University. “Just before Dan died,” Jeremy explained, “he was beginning to think about how he could use the research he had done in graduate school to make a bigger difference in the field. When I reached out to (Roellke), I began to realize how similar his own research had been to Dan’s and I learned how the Urban Education Initiative, which Chris had helped found, prepares students interested in education for what it’s like to be in the classroom.

“Before I talked to Chris, I didn’t know the depth of Vassar’s education programs,” he continued. “It was a wonderful synchronicity that fell together, and a gift in Dan’s name to the college seemed like a perfect fit.”

Roellke called the gift from the Mindich family “a heartwarming story and a very emotional one for me,” and added, “The timing could not have been better, as we have been actively looking for new sources of support pending reduction in funding from other sources for the important work undertaken by the Urban Education Initiative.”

A portion of the grant has been set aside for the annual Dan Mindich Prize, given to a Vassar senior “for outstanding achievement and future promise in the field of education.” The inaugural award was presented in May to Chris Allen ’19, who served as a tutor and mentor for various programs run by the Urban Education Initiative. Allen plans to become a high school history teacher and will complete his student teaching training at Poughkeepsie High School this fall. 

John Bradley, Executive Director of the Urban Education Initiative, said the grant will sustain a program that benefits both the Poughkeepsie community and Vassar students. “Vassar UEI is one of our largest community programs, and this generous gift will allow us to take a step back and focus on how best to serve the Vassar students and increase our commitment to the community over the long term,” he added.

Poughkeepsie Board of Education President Felicia Watson said she is excited to learn that Vassar’s continuing partnership with the district was now assured. “All of us in the city school district are ecstatic about the news of continued funding for the Urban Education Initiative,” Watson said. “Our nearly two decades of collaboration have proven to yield much success for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Many of them have benefited greatly from this initiative, and through this continued relationship the educational playing field can be leveled. Our students, like those in surrounding districts, can achieve success at a high level.”

The college has already received $150,000 from an anonymous donor as a gift for the matching funds for the grant. “We’re off to a great start with this major commitment, and we’re excited to work with the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development in any way we can in its upcoming fundraising efforts,” Bradley said.

Timothy Kane, Vice President for Alumnae/i Affairs and Development, said he is confident the college can raise the matching funds. “I keep hearing from many people that Dan was beloved and crossed all social boundaries when he was a student here,” Kane said. “The work we do in the City of Poughkeepsie schools will drive our efforts, and I can’t think of a better person than Dan to enhance Vassar’s connection to teaching and to the community.”

Dan Mindich’s widow, Dr. Shilpa Patel ’86, said she was certain Dan would be happy that the gift will allow new teachers working in urban schools to be mentored through the grueling early years and beyond. “Teaching combined many of Dan’s talents and passions: engaging his audience with a great story, imparting valuable lessons while making students laugh, and coaching those around him to realize their potentials,” she said. “Dan loved teaching, understood the toll teaching can take, and therefore devoted much of his late career to exploring how learning communities help to build resiliency and longevity for teachers. The Vassar community has been an important source of support for both of us over the years. It is fitting that this gift will extend that support to young teachers so they may enjoy long and impactful careers in education.”

Judy Hicks Paulick, a PhD classmate of Mindich’s at Stanford, called him “a vibrant, larger-than-life guy. He was truly brilliant and owned it without ever diminishing anyone else’s light.”

Roellke said he was eager to see how the Mindich family’s gift would strengthen the college’s ties with the community while preparing some of its students for a career that Dan loved. “Vassar has made tremendous progress in the last decade in reaching out and making connections in the community, and this gift is an organic demonstration of ways we can continue that work—sending our students into the community while bringing Poughkeepsie students to our campus,” he said. “Community-based learning opportunities made possible by the Urban Education Initiative have not only enabled our students to bridge the gap between theory and practice but have also changed the way our closest neighbors view the college.”