Award for Distinguished Achievement

By Rachel Beck '04

For Ellen May Galinsky '64 the turning point in college and beyond came in an unlikely place: when Professor Joe Stone began to speak in the first class of "Child Study 101." After begging the college to make room for just one more student when enrollment was closed, she was accepted into the class. It was there that she realized her passion for studying children and families. "From the very first moment of the very first class, I knew I didn't want to do anything else," she remembered. Galinsky turned that passion into a remarkable career, and now this advocate, educator, researcher, and author of more than 20 books has become one of the most prominent and groundbreaking figures in family research. So it is fitting that she be the recipient of the AAVC's annual Award for Distinguished Achievement, which recognizes outstanding professional accomplishment.

After graduating from Vassar, Galinsky went on to Bank Street College of Education where she worked first as a preschool teacher, then in research. She earned her master's at Bank Street College and then worked as a preschool teacher and researched child development. In 1977 she co-authored The New Extended Family, which was among the first books to examine the trend of dual-income families. Other notable works include The Six Stages of Parenthood and Ask the Children, which was revolutionary for asking children how they felt about working parents.

From 1987 until 1991, Galinsky served on the board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and was elected president in 1989. During that time, she helped pass a child-care bill through Congress. She has also served on numerous task forces, including New York Governor Mario Cuomo's Task Force on Work and Family Life, and the New York State Task Force on Early Childhood Services. She has twice been a presenter at the White House: at the 1997 Conference on Child Care and the 2000 Conference on Teenagers.

Galinsky's work exploring the dynamics of family life and work led her to co-found the Families and Work Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that conducts policy research on the changing workforce, family, and community. Currently serving as president of the institute, Galinsky gives speeches and seminars around the country. "I think of my work as being an adventure," she said. "Each question leads to some answers, but more questions."

"Ellen is the ultimate role model for everyone in the early childhood field," said Julie Riess '82, director of Wimpfheimer Nursery School at Vassar. "She has been in the midst and often at the helm of key movements to better the lives of all children. Her work in the corporate world is equally impressive, working with major corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, IBM, and Levi Strauss to take the lead in adopting family-friendly policies in their workplaces."

Galinsky's dedication and enthusiasm for her career is remarkable. "Of course, many, many alumnae/i have worked with distinction in their chosen fields," noted Meg Venecek Johnson '84, chair of the awards selection committee. "But an important component of the Award for Distinguished Achievement is the candidate's status as a role model for the liberal arts education. In particular, the arc of Ellen's career at the Families and Work Institute demonstrates her lifelong commitment to learning."

Riess echoed that sentiment, recalling that Galinsky eagerly accepted an invitation to speak at Vassar in 1997. "Her enthusiasm to give back to Wimpfheimer gave me goosebumps," Riess said. Galinsky wouldn't have it any other way. "Vassar has always been very important to our family," she said, noting that of all her achievements, the AAVC award has made her mother, Leora Osgood May '28, the happiest.

As for herself, Galinsky said she was "surprised and thrilled" to receive the award. An obvious believer in the significance of lifelong learning, she has several projects in the works, including a 13-part television series on early learning. It's hard to imagine that Ellen Galinsky doesn't know how accomplished she is, but she appreciates the recognition from AAVC as much as her mother does, declaring, "I can't think of anything that would make me happier."