Vassar Stories

What’s your major, Gavin Jennings?

Photo by Karl Rabe

Gavin Jennings, class of 2016

Hometown: Poughkeepsie, NY

What’s your major?

I am an earth science major.

I’d been interested in science since the eighth grade when I took an honors course in earth science that was really challenging. But when I enrolled at Vassar, I really didn’t have a clear idea about what I wanted to major in. My freshman writing seminar was entitled “Volcanoes and Civilization.” It was taught by earth science prof Jeff Walker, and it included a trip to Yellowstone National Park. That was a great way to start my Vassar career.

The trip re-ignited my interest in science, and initially I planned to major in biology. I had loved biology in high school but always struggled in chemistry. When I learned that majoring in biology at Vassar would require me to take some high-powered chemistry and biochemistry courses, I decided to look for another major. I talked it over with my dad, and he suggested earth science.

Jeff Walker became my advisor, and he’s helped in many ways, not just with academics, ever since. He’s just so enthusiastic about everything he does; he’s inspiring. And because there aren’t many earth science majors, the classes are small, and that makes learning easier and more fun because the classes are so interactive. Also, a lot of earth science involves hands-on work out in the field, and I love getting my hands dirty.

What are some of your favorite courses in your major?

I’m taking a 300-level seminar right now called “Modeling the Earth” that is one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever taken. We use sophisticated software to measure solar radiation, surface water runoff, almost anything that you can think of that can be measured. It’s all about how the world works, and it’s one of the most meaningful courses I’ve ever taken. I took a paleontology course last year that was amazing, and this year for the first time, I’m discovering astronomy. Having an observatory right here on campus is great.

 What activities are you involved in outside of academics?

Soccer has been one of the biggest parts of my Vassar experience, and I guess that’s no surprise. My dad (Vassar head coach Andy Jennings) began coaching me when I was three or four years old and coached most of the club teams I was on all the way through high school. Being the son of the coach here at Vassar was never a problem. There may have been a few times he might have yelled at me to make a point with the team, but there were also times he could confide in me about things he might not want to share with the whole team. And the friends I made on the team are guys I know I will be close to for the rest of my life. We endured the heat of pre-season practice together, ate together, and traveled together.

I have a lot of great memories about Vassar soccer, but two of them stand out. Early in my freshman year, I scored my first goal, and as soon as I did, I ran to the sidelines and gave my dad a big hug. We have that moment on video. And I’ll never forget walking off the field as the final whistle blew at the end of my last game. There were tears.

 How did you choose Vassar?

Well, I’d been going to soccer practice and games here with my dad since I was a little kid. I knew a lot of the other coaches and a lot of the faculty members, so Vassar always felt like home. I really didn’t have a second choice.

What are you hoping to do when you graduate?

I’m considering applying for a master’s program in real estate and finance at Georgetown University, but I haven’t made any final decision yet. And whatever I do or wherever I go, I’ll look for a club soccer team to join. I just love the game.

What is the value of a liberal arts education?

Going to a school where every professor is so accomplished and so enthusiastic has been a fantastic experience. It’s definitely an advantage to go to a school where you get to know your professors on a personal level. Having Jeff Walker as my advisor was great because he’s so knowledgeable and so enthusiastic, but all the professors here love what they’re doing and are so good at what they do. Looking back on my experience, I would not change a thing.

Posted Thursday, April 14, 2016