Skip to content

This site is no longer being updated as of June 2021. For the latest news and stories, visit Vassar News.

Summer Immersion in the Liberal Arts Lays Foundation for a Great Vassar Experience

Leslie Lim ’24 said she was feeling some genuine anxiety this summer as she prepared to cross the country from her home in San Gabriel, CA to launch her Vassar career. “My parents immigrated here from Cambodia and I’m a first-generation college student, so I was a little nervous,” Lim explained. “Then I was able to be part of an experience that helped me learn what Vassar is like.”

Tim Koechlin (upper left), Director of Vassar’s International Studies program, chats with Summer Immersion participants and interns.Photo: Courtesy of Henry Molina ’19

That experience was Vassar’s Summer Immersion in the Liberal Arts, designed as a four-week program that introduced Lim and other first-year students from historically underrepresented groups to virtually every aspect of campus life. They took sample classes on topics ranging from global economics to racial injustice. They viewed video presentations from members of the science faculty who conducted tours of some of the College’s laboratories. They learned about student organizations and many of the College’s support services. And they had the chance to chat informally with students, faculty, and staff.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was conducted online this year, posing a host of challenges for all involved. For starters, the participants were living in 11 different time zones. But Summer Immersions Director and Associate Professor of Anthropology Candice Lowe Swift said the College was able to turn what appeared to be a liability into an asset. “When we launched the program last year, we were limited to 14 participants,” Swift said, “but this year, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to accommodate 63 first-year students.” 

Swift said the Summer Immersion staff and participants met every challenge. “Our amazing interns planned activities around the clock,” she said. “and some of our participants were getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning to take part.” 

Intern Taylor Gee ’23, who was a Summer Immersions participant last year, said she was eager to make this year’s program a success because it had helped her become acclimated to Vassar herself the year before. “Starting college is daunting for anyone, but having Summer Immersion as a first experience gave me the confidence I needed when school started,” Gee said. “Our goal as interns was to help these students feel comfortable going into uncomfortable spaces.” 

Lim said she expected to experience some of that discomfort meeting members of the faculty for the first time. “When I saw that we were invited to a virtual ‘faculty retreat,’ I was scared to go at first,” she said. “But then I went and met Candice (Lowe Swift) and (Professor of Hispanic Studies) Andy Bush and (Professor of Political Science) Andy Davison, and we talked for hours. It was a transformative experience that made me feel confident about coming to Vassar.” 

Lim said some of the relationships she established with the faculty carried directly into the Fall Semester. After taking a sample class with Timothy Koechlin, Senior Lecturer in International Studies and Urban Studies, during the Immersion program, Lim enrolled in Koechlin’s Urban Studies 101 course in the fall.

Faculty members who took part in the program said they enjoyed meeting some of the Summer Immersion participants in person when the Fall Semester began. Assistant Professor of Psychological Science and Neuroscience Lori Newman said one Summer Immersion student, Katherine Rattray ’24, showed up at her office hours one day to tell her how much she had enjoyed watching the video Newman had created to talk about her neuroscience research. Rattray is now part of her research team, Newman said. “It was exciting to see such energy and enthusiasm, even though her introduction to the school was different from the previous Summer Immersion class,” she said.

Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Jasmine Syedullah, who taught the sample class on racism, said she too was impressed with the first-year students’ enthusiasm. “The major reaction from them in my class was curiosity—a ‘tell me more’ attitude,” Syedullah said.

Participant Jack Fuld ’24, of New York City, said the Summer Immersion program had truly prepared him for life at Vassar. “Everyone I met on the faculty was so encouraging; the conversations we had felt so alive,” Fuld said. “The experience gave me a baseline knowledge of the campus, and the connections we all made were amazing.” Fuld has since become a member of the Summer Immersion Advisory Board to help design the experience for students who enter Vassar next fall. 

Koechlin had his Summer Immersion students write essays about some of their own life experiences. He said being part of the program had enhanced his own knowledge of issues he explores in his classes. “These students deepened and enriched my understanding of inequality,” he said. “This program is an example of Vassar at its best.”