This past spring, during Virtual Brearley, Class XII students participated in WorkXploration, a series of career-focused, virtual conversations with alumnae. The breadth and depth of the Brearley network was abundantly clear as eight Brearley alums from across the country shared stories of their own career journeys and valuable advice for college and beyond.
The alumna presenters, who each led a 45-minute conversation with no more than twelve students, represented a diverse range of career disciplines, including academia, clean energy and sustainability, entertainment, fashion, law, medicine, politics and writing. Following a brief summary by the alumna of her career experience, the students were invited to ask questions and share their own career aspirations in an informal, open discussion.
Among the presenters was Jennifer Solomon ’01, who shared how her degree in political science and early work experience as a congressional staffer and policy advisor eventually led her to an unexpected and exciting role as the Federal Aviation Administration’s Regional Administrator for the Eastern Region, which encompasses some of the nation’s busiest airports.
Julia Zuckerman, another alumna from the Class of 2001, also began her career with an interest in public policy. Currently Head of External Affairs, West Region, for Clearway Energy Group, she spoke to the students about her experience in both the non-profit and private sectors, and explained how the two must work closely together in the pursuit of clean energy solutions.
The students also enjoyed hearing from Dena Twain Sims ’00, an alumna and current parent who is a Production Executive for Quibi, a recently launched streaming platform for mobile devices. She described her career progression at a variety of networks and television shows, all demonstrating that hard work is noticed and rewarded.
After working in fashion intermittently, Lauren Fay ’97 decided to change her own course to affect change in the industry. She founded The New Fashion Initiative, an organization that promotes fair sustainable practices and encourages supply chain transparency in the fashion industry through education, communication, and brand partnerships.
Madeleine Saraceni, a member of the Class of 2003 and a Brearley parent, recounted her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in medieval English literature and a career in academia. As an adjunct professor of literature and writing at Yale University and Queens College, CUNY, she enjoys both working with students and the freedom to pursue independent research and writing in her chosen subject.
Janice Nimura ’89 has also pursued a career through writing. An author, essayist and book critic who began her career in publishing, she will soon publish her second book of 19th-century women’s history. A past parent as well as a past President of the Alumnae Association, Janice commented on the strength of Brearley’s English curriculum and writing instruction, which she described as a Brearley alumna’s “superpower.”
Susan de Wolf ’06 is currently a fellow in hematology/oncology at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, caring for patients with leukemia and performing laboratory research on immunology. In addition to sharing her advice about medical school and choosing a specialty, she also discussed her recent experience volunteering to care for patients with COVID-19 and expressed pride in the response of New York City’s medical workers and hospitals.
Finally, past parent and outgoing Alumnae Board President Terri Seligman ’78 shared her career trajectory in law. Though her early experience was as a litigator and in the public sector, she ultimately became a recognized expert in the field of advertising and marketing law, an area she wasn’t even aware of when she was a law student.
Drawing on their unique experiences, the alumnae all had wonderful advice to share with the girls as they look to the exciting years and opportunities ahead of them, and several common themes emerged from the day. The presenters encouraged the students to follow their passions and not be afraid to pursue their unique interests. All agreed that college is a great time to explore various subjects and areas of study, whether or not they directly relate to a known future career interest.
Another important takeaway was to expect the unexpected. Nearly every presenter commented that her current position isn’t one she would have predicted, or even imagined, when she started out. Most have reached where they are by working hard, learning on the job, and taking advantage of new opportunities along the way.
Most importantly, the alumnae unanimously agreed that their Brearley education prepared them well for their chosen career path. Several commented that Brearley instilled in them both the skills and the confidence learn continuously, voice opinions, ask questions, and choose to lead.
As the Class of 2020 takes their first steps beyond Brearley, we hope these conversations demonstrate how great is the potential of their adventurous intellect and that their Brearley education will provide the foundation for a life of engagement with and contribution to the world. As evidenced by each of the participating alumnae, Brearley girls develop a well-founded trust in themselves that results in a lifelong capacity to learn, grow and achieve.