Buoyed by a $10-million gift from alumna Dede Thompson Bartlett, Vassar College today unveiled plans for a new building that will house the offices of Admission and Career Education, President Elizabeth Bradley announced. Construction of the Dede Thompson Bartlett Center, to be located on the north end of the Town of Poughkeepsie campus, is expected to begin within the next 18 months.
“For nearly a decade, Dede Bartlett has been helping Vassar students and graduates carve their career paths by funding paid internships and other initiatives through the College’s Career Education office, President Bradley said. “Her extraordinary gift will enable the College to provide state-of-the-art facilities and programming that will truly enhance the services our Admission and Career Education offices can provide.”
Bartlett, who graduated from Vassar with honors in 1965, said: “This exceptional building ushers in a new era at Vassar. Two of the most important tasks facing world-class liberal arts colleges are recruiting the best students, regardless of their economic status, and providing them with a lifetime of educational and career opportunities. The staffs of the offices of Admission and Career Education will have a welcoming, superb facility to enable them to carry out their critical missions.”
Bartlett was a senior executive at two Fortune 50 companies, Mobil Corporation and Altria Group. She said she had long been interested in enhancing career opportunities for students in part because her own early career path was so difficult. The College had no formal career education program at the time, and her first job, typing letters to clients of the Far East America Council, “was not an auspicious beginning.”
Following her retirement in 2002, Bartlett was invited to lecture on career education at colleges across the country as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, a program administered by the Council of Independent Colleges. Bartlett had been mentoring Vassar students throughout her career, and in 2013 the Jim and Dede Bartlett Foundation established the Thompson Bartlett Fellowships for Science, Mathematics and Computer Science, named in part for Dede’s mother, Emilie Thompson, a champion of higher education. For the past nine years, the program has funded internships for more than 80 students. Last year, it was expanded to include internships for students in economics. “These critical summer internships have changed lives and have been the best mentoring I’ve ever done,” Bartlett said.
She said her relationship with President Bradley and Associate Dean of the College for Career Development Stacy Bingham had prompted her to consider taking her commitment to another level. “I was convinced that Stacy was doing remarkable work in cramped quarters with no room for expansion,” Bartlett said. “Students come to Vassar with the expectation that they are going to find a lifetime of intellectual and professional learning; career education is paramount. We looked at what other colleges were doing, and I was convinced talking to Betsy that she has a clear vision of where she wants to take Vassar. This building will be an outward and visible sign that Vassar is doing that kind of work in career education.”
Bingham said the facilities in the new building will significantly enhance the programs the Career Education Office will be able to offer. “The admission and career education project makes a bold statement about Vassar’s future-facing commitment to our students and the ambition we have for their success,” she said. “When prospective students and their families cross the threshold of this modern, inviting space, they will immediately sense that Vassar is committed to not only giving them a world-class education but also helping them build the skills needed to thrive in their life’s journey.”
Sonya K. Smith, Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services, said she and her team are looking forward to pursuing their mission in the new building. “Meeting prospective students and their families in such a state-of-the-art and welcoming space will surely amplify and enhance how we tell Vassar’s story, ensuring that we attract the best possible candidates for admission,” Smith said.
Smith noted that the demand by prospective students and their families to visit the campus is greater than ever, and she said they are particularly interested in student outcomes. “Having our remarkable career education programs in the same building with admission will make crystal clear the great work and care that Vassar does to prepare students to become their best selves and to pursue pathways that resonate with who they are,” she said.
Bartlett said she was thrilled to be part of this new era for Vassar. “Technological, economic and social forces are disrupting and challenging many traditional careers while creating new opportunities,” she said. “That’s what’s so valuable about career education, and that’s the point of a Vassar education.”