A DAY IN THE LIFE: What’s it like to sit in the boardroom of a top financial company or to have dinner in Los Angeles with well-known writers, producers, and directors? Through two immersion programs organized by the Career Development Office—one based in New York’s financial district, the other in LA—students learned first-hand what it’s like to work in their chosen industry and to live and commute in two major cities.
“French majors go to France, and film majors go to LA,” says Andrea Listenberger ’09. “It was like study abroad for a week.” Last October, Listenberger and seven other students traveled to LA for four days to explore careers in film and television. They toured studios and artists’ agencies, and talked to writers, directors, editors, lawyers, and presidents, many of whom were Vassar alums.
On the first day, they met with Jonathan Littman ’85, president of Jerry Bruckheimer Television, the company responsible for producing shows like CSI, Cold Case, and The Amazing Race. On their whirlwind tour of the city, they walked down Santa Monica Boulevard and visited the Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, NBC Universal, and Hollywood Heart, a nonprofit agency that helps terminally ill and disadvantaged children make movies. In their behind-the-scenes tour, the students learned about the business of filmmaking and participated in seminars ranging from the creative (writing, producing, directing) to management (marketing and artist representation) for both television and film. “I went to LA thinking that I wanted to do post-production, special effects, and editing,” says Listenberger. “But, after talking to people, I now think I want to produce.”
“Everyone we met was really honest about the industry, which was comforting,” explains Eric Gersen ’09, who aspires to work as an actor or writer. “The alums treated us like equals and wanted to help us out and hear about our plans.” They handed out business cards, shared tips for interviewing and internships, and offered advice on how to navigate LA. “One thing we kept hearing from everyone was the underlying theme of persistence over resistance,” he says. “No matter what people say, you have to take any criticism and use it to fuel your own fire.”
For many students, this trip reaffirmed their decision to pursue a career in film or television. “This was a huge success,” says Anabel Graff ’09. “It’s amazing that Vassar subsidized over 90 percent of the costs and provided us with this opportunity. Talking to people in the industry has shown just how prepared Vassar has made us and how a pre-professional atmosphere can exist inside a liberal arts college.”
Wall Street wisdom
It’s not every day that the average visitor to New York City has the opportunity to descend 80 feet below street level and step inside the vault of the world’s largest gold repository. In January, 20 students, dressed in business suits, caught a glimpse of the gold before heading upstairs to meet with Vassar alums and representatives from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. This was one of many stops during their three-day stay in the city, where they talked of hedge funds, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, trading, and wealth management, in hopes of securing summer internships with New York’s top financial firms.
Working on a tight schedule, the group visited Citigroup and Lehman Brothers the first day, where they spoke to analysts and toured the trading room floors. They also learned about hedge funds from a Vassar alum and founder of GoldenTree Asset Management. “It’s incredible that someone who’s running a multibillion-dollar hedge fund would take the time to meet with us,” says Robert Babbage ’10. “Programs like this really put the school on the map in the financial world.” After meeting with the firms, the students had dinner with a panel of alums, where they discussed the tricks and tips of the industry.
Among the stops on the second day were Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve, where students asked questions and networked with alums. “Just seeing someone smiling at their job—it’s a subtle thing, but it shows they really appreciate what they have here,” observes Katy Mixter ’09, who’s interested in the way investments, politics, and environmental issues merge. “Before the trip, I had no idea about this world, and now I feel like I could actually do it. Now I have so many business cards and contacts.”
During their stay, the students also got a taste of working and commuting in the city during rush hour, as they squeezed into the subway from their midtown hotel to travel down to Wall St., and heard first-hand about the ups and downs of a career in finance as alums honestly answered students’ questions about the time and pressure of the industry. “It seems like everyone works long hours,” notes Arjun Agarwala ’10. “After dinner with the alums, they all went back to work. But people seem to strike a balance and carve out their own niche.”
For Agarwala, who also participated in the program last year (when it was held for the first time), meeting alums was one of the high points. “You can almost see yourself in their shoes, and it’s a nice feeling to be able to recognize that there’s a concrete future after life at Vassar,” he says. The students also got the insider tour of the New York Stock Exchange, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase Bank, where they participated in a simulated trading exercise. Later, they met alums (including the alumna who funded the trip) for a reception, where they practiced making quick introductions and networking. “This is a great experience,” says Agarwala. “Unlike a job interview, it’s informal, but you’re learning so much.”