Vassar Today

Summertime, and the Living Is Studious

By Jessica Winum


It's been a while since a freshman class photo was taken at Vassar—getting 640 new students together and all in the picture isn't easy. But the once-upon-a-time tradition was revived this year and proved so popular that Dean of Students D.B.Brown plans to make it an annual moment. The class of '04 is not only the most selective in Vassar's history, he says, it is "friendly, upbeat and already contributing."

While much of the nation spent the summer of 2000 breathlessly waiting to see which of the 16 Survivor contestants would walk away with $1 million, more than 70 motivated Vassar students were studying and working as participants in college-sponsored summer programs. The Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI), the Ford Scholars, the Burnam Fellows, and the Shouse Community Fellows programs each offered students opportunities that ran the gamut from the studious life of a scholar to the challenging life of an employee at a community-based nonprofit agency.

English major Millie Johnson ’02 was one of 13 Shouse Community Fellows to spend a summer working with a Hudson Valley nonprofit agency. During her internship with Rural and Migrant Ministry, Johnson worked with school-age children of the region’s many rural and migrant farm workers. On one trip she accompanied them to Albany, New York, to lobby state legislators for higher education financial aid. At other times she facilitated mentoring opportunities with journalists and artists. The experience was worth it, said Johnson, an immigrant from the island nation of Montserrat, because it gave her a new perspective on her adopted culture. “I found it sad that we are willing to walk all over humanity for wealth,” she said.

Carlos Lassiter ’01, an Africana Studies major, found his Shouse Fellowship just as enriching as Johnson, but for different reasons. His experience as coordinator for the Drop-In Day Camp at Poughkeepsie’s New Hope Community Center made him realize that he just wasn’t “equipped to be in a nonprofit organization,” he said.

Other Shouse Fellows worked with the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill, the Family Partnership Center, the Dutchess County Health Department, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, and Battered Women’s Services, among others.

Like the Shouse Fellows, Burnam Fellows took their time and talents into the nonprofit world. This year’s five Burnam fellows worked in communities from Mexico to Northern Ireland, helping to foster communication, resolve conflict, and advocate for those in need through self-designed projects created in coordination with chosen community agencies.

Traveling abroad but also making campus lively, students in the Ford Scholars and URSI programs lived the scholarly life of research and writing over the summer. Both programs foster mentoring partnerships between Vassar students and faculty. This summer teams of fellows and faculty analyzed archeological materials on Unga Island, Alaska; explored the social and political climate of Latin America; and sought to answer such questions as how marriage affects physical health and why women smile more than men.

In a comment summing up the summer fellowship experience for Ford Scholars, but applicable to all the fellowships, Robert Brigham, associate professor of history and director of the Ford Scholars program remarked, “Our lab is the world.”