June 21, 2022, Poughkeepsie NY – Three-time Academy Award-nominated, two-time Primetime Emmy Award-winning and three-time Peabody Award-winning producer Jason Blum ’91, founder and CEO of Blumhouse, the company behind such films as Whiplash, Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, will make a $10 million gift to Vassar College that he asked to be used to supplement the College’s financial aid funds, President Elizabeth Bradley announced.

The donation from Blum, who has served on Vassar’s Board of Trustees since 2015, is the largest gift ever given to the college by a male alum and is a lead gift for Vassar’s upcoming fundraising campaign, which will launch this fall. “As we prepare to launch the largest campaign in Vassar’s history, Jason Blum’s gift for financial aid is catalytic and will have a positive impact on innumerable lives of Vassar students for years to come,” President Bradley said.

Blum, who majored in drama at Vassar, said his gift reflected his gratitude for the role his Vassar education played in shaping his career. “The courses I took, friends I made and the other activities I was involved in while at Vassar fueled my critical thinking skills and made me more curious about the world,” Blum said.

He said he earmarked his gift for the College’s financial aid funds because of his strong belief in the importance of access to the best liberal arts education for all applicants, regardless of their financial status. “I want to help ensure that Vassar is able to continue its commitment to admit students with the desire to succeed without regard to whether or not they can pay,” he said.

Blum announced the gift during an appearance on ABC’s Live with Kelly & Ryan last Friday.

Blum is the founder and CEO of Blumhouse, a multi-media production company that pioneered a new model of studio filmmaking, producing high-quality, micro-budget films. Through Blumhouse, he has produced over 150 movies and television series with theatrical grosses amounting to more than $5 billion, including the lucrative, iconic, genre franchises including HalloweenParanormal ActivityInsidious, Happy Death DaySinister and The Purge, among many other films.

Blumhouse’s television division produces provocative programming – with streaming anthology series like Welcome to the Blumhouse for Amazon and a series of films for Epix – and has expanded beyond genre with acclaimed scripted and unscripted series and documentaries, such as The Thing About Pam, starring Renee Zellweger for NBC; The Good Lord Bird, starring Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke for Showtime; The Loudest Voice, starring Golden Globe winner Russell Crowe for Showtime; A Wilderness of Error (FX); The Jinx for HBO; A Secret Love, from executive producer Ryan Murphy, for Netflix; and lauded HBO series Sharp Objects starring Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, among others.

He has been recognized by TIME magazine’s 100 list of the world’s most influential people and has appeared several times on Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment List.”

Project Updates

Vassar’s New Labyrinth Offers a Space for Contemplation

2 minute read

Labyrinths, serpentine pathways carved into the landscape, have been found in ancient ruins and have been a component of contemplation and meditation practices throughout the world ever since. As Vassar’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices prepares to move its offices to Pratt House, a newly created labyrinth is one of the resources students will find there, thanks to a gift from Vassar alumna Mary Hyde Ottaway ’59.

The opening of the labyrinth and Pratt House will be celebrated at an Open House April 13. Vassar alumnus Gabriel Dunsmith ’15, whose senior thesis helped to inspire Vassar’s new labyrinths, will speak at the event.

Several people walking the labyrinth outside of Pratt House.

Rabbi Bryan Mann, Rachlin Director of Jewish Student Life (far left), joins Professor of Earth Science Jill Schneiderman (second from left) and students Christian Wilson ’23 and Ellie Whiteman ’24 walk on the completed labyrinth. Photo by Grace Adams Ward ’24.

During the October dedication, Rev. Samuel Speers, Associate Dean for Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices, thanked the Ottaway family for the gift. “I’m a longtime lover of labyrinths, and this self-effacing donor has used her Vassar experience to emphasize their importance as a form of prayer,” Rev. Speers said.

“The Labyrinth, that most grounding of contemplative practices, has long been a favorite of mine,” Ottaway said, “and one I know many of us have hoped for here at Vassar for a long time.”

Ottaway said she had been awed by the beauty of Vassar’s campus when she was a student and learned to more fully appreciate the landscape when she took a course in ornithology. “Our final project involved tracking banded chickadees, mapping their territories, and observing their nests,” she recalled. “I was assigned AbleBlue. His name is etched in my memory, and, as chance would have it, we are on his territory. So, today, what I bring is this cherished memory, as well as great pleasure at being able to contribute to this project and amazement that we all stand here, right now, in AbleBlue’s flight path!

Associate Professor of Psychological Science Carolyn Palmer, who is teaching a course on contemplative practices this fall, noted that some funding for the labyrinth had been provided by the Carolyn Grant ’36 Endowment Fund. Palmer told those gathered at the dedication ceremony that she hadn’t waited until the labyrinth had been fully constructed to visit the site. She said she had brought her students to the Pratt House lawn earlier in the semester.

“This labyrinth has been a dream of mine for 20 years,” Palmer said. “Part of Vassar’s mission is to help answer the question: ‘What is my purpose in life?’ The labyrinth takes you in, not necessarily to answer that question, but to provide a space for contemplation—and Pratt House will be actively engaged in purpose-driven activities.”

James Ottaway and Mary Hyde Ottaway ’59 pictured in front of Pratt House at Vassar College.

Donors James Ottaway and Mary Hyde Ottaway ’59. Photo by Karl Rabe.

Then, nodding to Ottaway, Palmer said there had been some other visitors on the tour with her students that day. “We were graced by many chickadees,” she said. “I guess they were AbleBlue’s great grandchicks, and maybe someday our own great grandchildren will walk in this space.”

Ellie Whiteman ’24, an intern in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, said the creation of the labyrinth and the imminent move into Pratt House were significant events for many on campus. “The labyrinth has been a dream of many students, faculty, and community members for far longer than I have been a Vassar student.,” Whiteman said. “It is incredibly exciting knowing that it will be a part of the Vassar experience for years to come. It can be difficult to find truly peaceful places on campus when there is so much happening all the time, but having seen the care put into this project I truly believe that the labyrinth and Pratt House will serve that purpose.”

Campaign News

Vassar Announces Launch of Vassar Veterans Initiative

3 minute read

Army vet Tanya Marie Painter, joined by family, about to receive her diploma from Vassar College President Elizabeth H. Bradley at Commencement in 2019.

April 7, 2022 – Poughkeepsie, NY – Vassar College will launch the Vassar Veterans Initiative (VassarVets) designed to expand its overall student veterans’ outreach and support by establishing an on-campus position dedicated to serving U.S. military veterans, President Elizabeth H. Bradley announced.

In 2012, Vassar became the first institution of higher education in the nation to partner with The Posse Foundation—a nonprofit foundation dedicated to recruiting outstanding young leaders from diverse backgrounds and pairing them with the country’s top colleges—to recruit veterans for enrollment. Through VassarVets, the College will establish a director-level position that will coordinate the recruitment of veterans as well as serve as a resource for veterans during their time at Vassar, enhancing the college experience of Vassar’s veteran student population. The new program will replace Vassar’s relationship with The Posse Foundation.

“Having veterans here at Vassar has benefited all of our students because of the unique experiences and perspectives veterans bring, and their presence is part of what it means to have a truly diverse campus,” Bradley said. “I am thankful to The Posse Foundation for helping us build the capacity to establish the Vassar Veterans Initiative and expand on what our work with The Posse Foundation has already accomplished.”

As part of this initiative, Vassar will extend its need-blind admission policy for first-year applicants to U.S. military service members and veterans applying as transfers. This eliminates consideration of veteran applicants’ ability to pay tuition from admission decisions. The College will also meet 100% of veteran students’ demonstrated need for educational expenses. With Vassar’s financial aid award, scholarship funds will replace expected family contributions and loans toward undergraduate tuition and student fees. In addition, Vassar is a Yellow Ribbon school and does not cap Yellow Ribbon spaces.

U.S. service members and veterans applying to Vassar will be granted application fee waivers and will be guaranteed an admission interview. Vassar is currently test-optional for all students, including veteran applicants, eliminating the need to submit standardized testing for admission to the College. As part of VassarVets, the new director will create a fall visitation program for prospective applicants who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces; offer dedicated college counseling to prospective veteran applicants; develop a pre-orientation program for enrolling veterans; establish partnerships with military-affiliated and veterans’ organizations; facilitate group and individual advising; and develop programming with other campus offices to support student veterans.

“Vassar took the lead 10 years ago in recognizing the power and potential of those who stepped up to serve our country, and I am thrilled that the College is willing to deepen its commitment with a dedicated role not just to build out our recruitment but also to further support student veterans’ success at Vassar and beyond,” said Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services Sonya Smith.

“We are proud to have partnered with Vassar as the first Posse Veterans Program institution. Vassar led the way for selective colleges and universities to think more strategically about including U.S. veterans among the members of their student body. These service members are an important part of the equity and inclusion discussion, and we applaud Vassar for continuing the work,” said Deborah Bial, President/Founder of The Posse Foundation.

The College is in the process of recruiting for the director of the Vassar Veterans Initiative position, who will report to the Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services, and work closely with the Dean of the College and Dean of Faculty staff, Bradley said. The position is expected to be filled by July 1. For more information, visit the Vassar Office of Admission website or call (845) 437-7300.

Vassar College is a coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Contact Larry Hertz, lahertz@vassar.edu, 845-518-3098; 845-437-7938 (Vassar College)

Project Updates

Vassar Alumna Makes $3-Million Gift to Fund Media Studies Chair 

1 minute read

Vassar alumna Jane Baker Nord ’42 has made a $3-million gift to the College to endow a new Chair in Media Studies, President Elizabeth H. Bradley announced.

The Chair will be awarded to a distinguished faculty member designated by the President on the advice of the Dean of Faculty. The first recipient will be announced in the Fall of 2023. The endowment will fund the faculty member’s salary and benefits and will provide funds for the Chair’s research and teaching development.

“Jane Baker Nord has been one of the College’s most generous and most loyal supporters for many decades,” President Bradley said. “Her gift enabling us to fund this new Chair in Media Studies is particularly significant as the College continues to enhance its multidisciplinary programs.”

The gift is the latest in a series of donations Nord and her family have made to the College. Previously, she has established The Eric and Jane Nord Fund to support faculty salaries for the Music department and The Eric and Jane Nord Fund for Skinner Landscaping, and she has been a lifelong supporter of the Frances Lehman Loeb Arts Center, contributing to the building construction and an endowment for the curator of academic programs.  The Loeb Sculpture Garden is named after her mother, Hildegarde Krause, Vassar Class of 1911.

She was a volunteer for her class and a member of the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Arts Center, and she served on the Committee for the 25th Anniversary of the Frances Lehman Loeb Arts Center.

Nord said the gift was an expression of her love and admiration for the College. “I first discovered my profound love of learning at Vassar,” she said, “and I am happy to be able to fund this new Chair to help Vassar continue to carry out its mission.”

Campaign News

Generation Vassar Volunteers Step Up for the College They Love

5 minute read

Last year, in the midst of a year full of unprecedented challenges, the College launched a challenge of its own—a month-long friendly competition among Vassar alums to see which class, by decade, could achieve the highest participation rates in giving to the Vassar Fund. The challenge, dubbed Generation Vassar, was strikingly successful. Some 3,100 alum donors contributed more than $1.3 million in support of the College’s key priorities. Generation Vassar was a central component of a highly successful year—against the odds—for the Vassar Fund, which saw a leap of 5 percentage points in participation, with upwards of 2,000 more donors contributing than in the previous fiscal year.
Nancy Kwang Johnson ’85

A vital factor in the success of Generation Vassar—and indeed, of Vassar’s annual fundraising each and every year—is an army of unsung heroes, some 350 strong, composed of alums who not only volunteer to help their alma mater, but do so in a most direct way: They ask their classmates to give money to Vassar College. With the annual Generation Vassar challenge set to return next month, a quartet of these intrepid volunteers shared their thoughts about what motivates them to take on an assignment that others shy away from, and how they do it.

Nancy Kwang Johnson ’85 says that when she thinks about raising money, “All roads lead back to my grandfather and the jar.” The jar in question was where Ransom Johnson Sr., a sharecropper from Arkansas who moved to Chicago and worked as a Pullman porter and doorman at the Palmer House Hotel (two of the only jobs that an upwardly mobile Black man could secure at the time), kept all his tips.

Jared Chase ’04

Johnson notes that both she and her sister, Monica Johnson Macer ’93, received full academic scholarships to attend Vassar. A similar experience had a powerful impact on Jared Chase ’04. “I was a scholarship student while at Vassar, and I was always very appreciative of that,” he says. “I remember writing the donor while I was a student, saying I would like to pay it forward, and that’s why I do this now. I am especially committed to the financial aid piece. I see the College as a leader, especially in the way they administer financial aid that is need-based, that goes to its core values and funds things like inclusivity on campus that resonate with me.”

For Elias Kim ’16, “I think the best answer about why I do this is that both of my parents are academics. I love colleges, and liberal arts colleges in general. To me they represent the best of our country—people from different backgrounds coming together and learning. I would support that even if I didn’t go to Vassar. Growing up, higher education is always something I have valued, and thought deeply about.” That includes, he says, knowing how liberal arts college, smaller than large universities, can struggle to stay afloat financially.

Elias Kim ’16

Kat Mills Polys ’93 says Vassar “brought me out of my shell.” She describes her childhood as “fun, with supportive family and community, but I was not exploring the edges.” She says the College allowed her to explore her artistic impulse: “There was boundless energy, with new and creative people. There was [then-Vassar President] Frances Fergusson, telling us, ‘Live a life of daring.’ There’s a responsibility to try to live into that I have felt for the rest of my life. For me it’s not so much about giving back, it’s more like ‘Keep it up.’

“When I am talking about Vassar, I feel so energized, I just can’t stop getting excited about it,” Polys adds. “Vassar just gets me juiced, always, always.” She started her volunteering for the College by writing thank-you notes to donors (“I’m good at that. I was raised in the South.”) and somewhere between her 5th and 10th Reunions, “Someone said, ‘Do you want to just start asking?’ and it seemed natural. Talking with my classmates is not like a cold call.”

Kat Mills Polys ’93
Kat Mills Polys ’93

Cold calls—picking up the phone and talking to someone who is a stranger, or nearly so—are dreaded by some, but Chase says, “I almost feel more comfortable reaching out to people I don’t know.”

Kim sees it both ways: “I had so many good friends at VC, it’s an opportunity to get back in touch and convince them we are doing something that needs our support. I enjoy talking to people I know, but it’s also fun to engage people I know less well.

“Thinking of messages somewhere between mass appeals and really intimate appeals is a fun and rewarding process—you get to develop projects, get people interested in direct ways, where they know what their money is being spent on,” he adds. “One of the things we found difficult as a relatively recent graduating class was, how do you convince young people to spend money? When they are working off loans, it might seem a relatively low priority.”

So, Kim and his Class Fund Co-Chair, Emily Omrod ’16, worked with Vassar staff to create “a specific class project we can give people a tangible connection to. We came up with a class fund for low-income students who couldn’t otherwise afford to take low-paying internships. We were able to deploy some of it this past summer, and have circulated a report to our class about some of the students who have benefited.”

Like all of the volunteers interviewed for this article, Kim cites the importance of teamwork with staff from Vassar’s Advancement Office. “We have an incredible team,” Polys says. “They never leave you out on some branch alone.”

When Generation Vassar was first proposed last year, volunteers like Johnson, who cites her work with the campaigns of U.S. Senator Alan Cranston and Hillary Clinton as giving her a strong grounding in fundraising, were ready to go. Indeed, the competitive nature of the challenge appealed to her.

“I knew ’84 would be the class to beat. It was like oppo research,” Johnson says with a laugh. “We went through our lists to make sure each classmate had been touched. … We were behind, but we recruited a ‘dream team’ and had them reach out, each classmate reaching out to their friends. We sent 40 mini teddy bears to classmates only reachable by snail mail; the message was not about giving, but ‘We’re thinking of you during the pandemic, sending you a big bear hug.’ The last week of the challenge, we took the lead, but we wanted to make sure there wasn’t a stone unturned.

“Vassar means the world to me,” says Johnson, who adds that the image of her grandfather “turning that jar upside down, and realizing that every little bit counts, is personally one of the main reasons I give, and ask others to.”

To learn more about Generation Vassar, and to participate, go to www.vassar.edu/genvc.

Project Updates

Alum Donates $10M for Admission and Career Education Center

3 minute read

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.”