Vassar Today

Standing Out from the Crowd

By Micah Buis '02

Finding the time and dedication to attend countless committee meetings, plan campus events, and reach out to the community is difficult for busy Vassar students. The VQ salutes three seniors who have made a splash through student leadership.

Allison Sparks ’02

Sparks has always been active at Vassar, playing rugby and taking photos for The Miscellany News, but her current leadership position as the president of the Town Houses (THs) is her first experience with student government. And she has attacked the new challenge with full force.

In the past, Sparks noted, the TH president’s concerns garnered little attention and a scant budget for programming from the Office of Residential Life. "Many past TH presidents saw little point in implementing change because the mostly senior housing option was seen as the last step on the way out of Vassar’s doors," Sparks said. "Why struggle to work for change when you’ll soon be gone?" In Sparks’ opinion, this mindset affected the community of the THs. In the dorms, where most students remain for three of their four years at Vassar, the desire to foster and encourage community is strong. But the "temporary" nature of the THs — and their separateness — has tended to mean a lack of spirit like that present in the dorms, and no effort to join the THs into a collective whole.

Since becoming president of the Town Houses, Sparks has organized a TH council, where residents of different houses share concerns with her and help plan community-wide events. With the council’s help, Sparks sponsored trick-or-treating in the THs for Poughkeepsie-area children, organized a recycling fundraiser for Vassar’s Community Works campaign, and enrolled the THs in a team Secret Santa effort through the New York Cares program. She continues to urge the Office of Residential Life to classify the THs as a dorm and increase the budget to allow for more community activities and efforts. "The TH president position has taken a turn for the better," she said. Above all, Sparks values her work as TH president because of the opportunity it gives her to work with the senior class, a class she feels to be simply "great."

Damon Johnson ’02

As senior class president, Johnson also said his commitment to the class of 2002 is a major reason he enjoys his leadership at Vassar. Johnson said that he knows his constituency quite well and especially likes the personal connection he has with so many in the class. "Sometimes it’s important for leaders to be spearheading major events or projects," he said, "but often the most important job of a leader is to point people in the right direction. When a fellow student approaches me for assistance or guidance and I can say, ‘I can help you,’ or ‘Here is who you should speak to,’ it’s just the best feeling. Helping people get things done is what makes being a leader so enjoyable."

Johnson’s leadership experiences at Vassar have varied. As Raymond House president his sophomore year, he worked very much within a concrete framework. "[The Office of] Residential Life provides a definite structure, roles, and rules that the house officers must comply with," he said. "That leadership was much more intimate, and I continually received appreciation and gratitude from those I worked for." Johnson’s experience as CEO of ViCE (Vassar College Entertainment) during his junior year, however, proved to be the complete opposite. "ViCE work is very behind-the-scenes," he said. "People didn’t know exactly what I did, and I didn’t get the appreciation I’d gotten as a house officer. Also, I just didn’t have the structure I had [working in] residential life. ViCE leadership was very experimental. I had to learn to be self-reliant."

Johnson said that he firmly believes, though, that his varying leadership roles at Vassar have directly influenced the way he approaches his work as senior class president. In fact, he thinks his current position successfully combines his big-budget, big- event leadership of ViCE with his more intimate and personalized leadership of Raymond House. His secret to success? "Just show people you’re working for them."

David Ambroz ’02

Volunteer work through leadership roles carries a special significance for Ambroz, who was taken from his mother at the age of 12 because of her paranoid schizophrenia. "The neglect and physical violence had become so harsh that I had to be removed. The abuse reached the point where my brother, my sister, and I feared for our lives," he said. For five to six years after leaving his mother’s custody, David was shuffled between everything from traditional foster homes to juvenile detention centers when homes were unavailable. Being on the receiving end of other people’s charity has made Ambroz understand the importance of volunteerism in a way that most people cannot. "When people drop a coat in a collection box labeled ‘Coats for Kids,’ they have a vague idea of the importance of that donation," he said. "Having depended on clothing drives like that to gain warm clothing myself, I understand the real impact that donation has."

As volunteer work continues to play a key role in Ambroz’ life, Vassar has given him an academic reference point and the leadership opportunities from which to share his personal experience to help promote social change. "Vassar has given me a voice to speak articulately about my [childhood] in a way that some cannot," Ambroz said. "I can be a real voice for the foster child because of my Vassar education." To that end, Ambroz helped found the National Fosters Advisory Council, whose 18 to 20 members meet in Washington, DC, each year to share experiences and lobby politicians.

Ambroz has done plenty of volunteer work on campus as well. In his four years at Vassar, he has served as a coordinator for the Vassar Volunteers, worked with College Democrats, and this year serves as the student representative to President Frances Fergusson. During his junior year, Ambroz served as student assistant to Dean of Studies Colton Johnson. In that capacity, he worked extensively on developing Vassar’s recycling program. The result — a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly recycling program that coordinates all factions of the Vassar community’s efforts more effectively. Ambroz’ labors helped to establish a permanent committee on recycling, now overseen by a faculty chair. When asked why he had a special interest in reforming recycling at Vassar, Ambroz shrugged, "It just made sense."

Buis has made his own splash as the editorial assistant at Vassar, the Alumnae/i Quarterly. The English major recently finished his thesis on Darwin and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.