The Invaluable Wellesley

Halimatou and Aditi

What it’s worth: stories from college and beyond. Wellesley alumnae share their insights.

The 2,300 women at Wellesley–and our 35,000 alumnae–have stories that are just as amazing as those below. And they are uncannily eager to offer guidance and support and encouragement to other women. Which is pretty much the essence of sisterhood. And which is invaluable. And forthcoming.

Sinta Cebrian ’11
Sinta is a political science major and softball team co-captain at Wellesley, is from Seattle, Washington. She is now teaching through the Boston Teacher Residency, an innovative graduate program in urban education.

 

Monica Colunga ’10
Monica came to the U.S. from Mexico at 11, finished high school in three years, and was the first member of her family to go to college in the U.S. She majored in political science and French; now she’s attending a master’s program in international affairs at Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).

Dorothy Jones-Davis ’98
Dorothy grew up in a housing project in Connecticut. At Wellesley she majored in psychobiology, published her research, and went on to get a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Michigan. She’s now a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Betsy Masiello ’03
Betsy grew up in suburban California, majored in computer science and economics at Wellesley, got a master’s at MIT’s Technology and Policy Program, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Now she’s a member of Google’s public policy team in Mountain View, California.

 

Alexandra Olivier ’11
Alexandra came to Wellesley from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma through the QuestBridge program. She majored in computer science and won Wellesley’s Pamela Daniels Fellowship, which gave her $3,000 to complete her dream project, an art/technology installation called “Social Synapses.”
 

Sonya Rhee ’98
Sonya's parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea. She went to Bronx Science, an exam school in New York; at Wellesley she designed her own major (film and media), minored in astronomy, and helped start the ASTRO Club. She’s now a documentary filmmaker based in New York City; her films have been shown on PBS and in the Media that Matters Film Festival.

What Made You Choose Wellesley?

Monica: “I’m one of those kids who had a life plan at 15. I looked at Wellesley and saw its alumnae—women who had made big plans and gone on to achieve great things—and I thought, ‘That’s who I want to be.’”

Betsy: “I was more of an athlete in high school. My boyfriend did computers—they were scary to me. But I got the sense that at Wellesley I could push my boundaries; I could take risks that I wouldn’t have considered before.”

Sonya: “I’m pretty unusual; I was set on a women’s college. A close friend had gone to one, and when I visited her I was thinking, ‘Who are all these amazing, cool women?’ My parents were not keen on it; they thought it was weird. In the end, Wellesley gave me a great deal of aid, and I followed my intuition.”

Dorothy: “My first visit to campus. It was during a blizzard—but the campus is actually more beautiful in the snow. It looked like a fairy tale. It was such a contradiction to where I was from. I thought: ‘I need to be here. My life could change here.’ And it did.”

Alexandra: “I don’t like to be on the sidelines, and it seemed like that would never happen at Wellesley. You could make connections with professors, you could form relationships with people that would shape the direction you’re going.”

Sinta: “My interests were all over the place. I was classically trained in violin, I was a performance poet, softball was huge, and I thought math and science were the coolest things. I saw so many opportunities at Wellesley, and then I met with the coach and the team, and we just clicked.”

What Surprised You about Wellesley?

Roasted squash seeds made by Elizabeth Rowen '11, a resident of SCOOP, our sustainable-living cooperative.

Dorothy: “The first thing that surprised me was the financial aid. When Wellesley says its admission process is need-blind, that’s real. I couldn’t have gone to Wellesley without full financial aid, and I got it. That’s liberating. I made choices about my career without worrying about debts.”

Sonya: “I think a lot of people surprise themselves. I felt much more at ease with making mistakes, trying something new. I knew I wanted to be an artist, but at Wellesley I took an astronomy course with a professor who loved what she was doing—loved it—and I thought, ‘Whatever she’s doing, I want to be part of it.’ I ended up minoring in astronomy, doing research on binary stars, and helping to start the ASTRO club.”

Alexandra: “The freedom you have to make your education your own. A professor got me interested in electronics, and I kind of went crazy. I work electronics into all of my projects. I’m making a superhero DJ for a class in tangible user interfaces. I’m making an interactive coral rock for a 3D design class. For my thesis I’m designing a tool kit that allows people to design their own interactive spaces.”

Monica: “Wellesley funded my internship at a children’s rights organization in Costa Rica and a semester studying in France; both experiences shaped my thinking about my future. I reached out to advisors and professors to help me understand my options. The women who come here have a lot of passion, a lot of drive—and Wellesley helps you channel it.”

Sinta: “Outside of academics, the softball team. I’ve learned so much about leadership and teamwork. We want to be the best for each other; we literally throw ourselves on the ground for each other. We’re a young program, a successful program, so you feel like you’re actively building something real.”

What Was the Most Important Resource You Used?

Gumboot Dance: part of Mamaland, an annual celebration of Africa, brought to you by the Wellesley African Students Association.

Betsy: “The faculty. I’m thinking about my junior year, when I was stressing about applying for a summer internship at the National Security Agency—not an obvious path to take. I was so stressed that I skipped one of my favorite classes, with Franklyn Turbak in computer science. I went to his office later and told him what was happening. He said, ‘Of course you should do it. How can I help?’ That kind of instant, wholehearted support for an alternative, risky choice—I can’t tell you how meaningful that was to me.”

Monica: “You know, in high school I didn’t have a lot of friends who were girls. The friends I’ve made here have really made a difference. I’ve met so many women who are so genuine, so generous. And they inspire me. In my first year I met women who’d already—this is just one example—started a nonprofit in Africa. The women here change your definition of what’s possible.”

What’s the Practical Value of Your Education?

Computer science professor Franklyn Turbak, works with students in Introduction to Engineering.

Betsy: “When I hire people at Google, this is what I’m looking for: wide-ranging curiosity, leadership qualities, and analytical intelligence—the ability to go into any situation, size it up, and solve problems. Nearly every organization looks for those things. A great liberal arts education gives them to you.”

Dorothy: “If you want to be the best in your field, you have to practice. In science, that means getting in the lab and doing experiments, using the equipment, mastering the skills. At Wellesley, you can start practicing on day one.”

Sinta: “In my urban education seminar, the students are passionate, the discussions are amazing, and every Friday I work with kids at a pilot school in Boston, supervised by a mentor teacher. The professor takes time to know us; she told me about a teaching fellowship that’s perfect for me. All of that feels very practical—but what matters is that it’s meaningful to me.”

What Can You Do with Your Degree?

The Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley.

Sonya: “Wellesley gives you the audacity to believe that you can do anything.”

Dorothy: “I’m a research scientist, and I teach too. I didn’t know that this career existed when I came to Wellesley. I was a first-generation college student. No one in my family could tell me how to proceed. Wellesley showed me a whole other path.”

Betsy: “When I was a senior, I’d talk about the job I wanted: translating between lawyers and engineers, working with public policy and technology. That’s the job I have now. My thesis at Wellesley was on biometric surveillance—using facial recognition in video to identify people. It turns out to be completely relevant to the field right now.”

Monica: “I’ve been out of Wellesley for a year, and I’d say that whatever you do, you don’t do it alone. Wellesley’s alumnae network is a huge resource. This is a small example: I was trying to figure out whether I wanted to apply to law school or graduate school or take time off. I went to an alumnae panel, and a woman who’s now a successful lawyer in Washington, D.C. talked about that same decision. Later I ran into her in a dining hall and sort of shyly asked if we could talk. She sat with me for an hour, gave me her card, told me to call her if I need help finding a job. That conversation changed my thinking about my future.”

Alexandra: “I’m applying to graduate programs in art and technology. Eventually I’d like to do the kind of work I did for the Tanner Conference. The Center for Work and Service paid four Wellesley students and one from Olin College of Engineering to build a tabletop computer and three apps for the College’s conference on experiential learning. It was a great experience—collaborative, creative, iterative, leading to a finished product. I want my future to look like that.”

Sonya: “I make ethnographic films for advertising firms and corporations. I spend 8–12 weeks with a certain population—kids in Mexico City, winemakers in Napa Valley, green homeowners in San Francisco— totally immersed in their world. I love it, and I get paid to do it, which is pretty crazy. And it allows me to pursue my own documentary projects. In my field, you have to think independently, come up with great ideas, and learn on the job. There’s no technical degree that can prepare you for that. But there is Wellesley.”

What Advice Would You Give to Someone Looking at Colleges Now?

Scientist and former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander, Pamela Melroy, Class of 1983, is now deputy program manager, Space Exploration Initiatives, Lockheed Martin, as well as a trustee of Wellesley College.

Alexandra: “Apply anywhere you want; don’t let the tuition stop you. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to go to a private school—and then Wellesley’s aid package came in.”

Sonya: “I’m working on a documentary about math geniuses. What makes someone great in their field? The answer is, they don’t stay in their field. They stay open, they’re curious about everything, they find connections between different fields. That’s where the great ideas are, that’s where the surprises are. And that’s what college should give you.”

Dorothy: “A Wellesley alumna said this to me the other day: ‘You’re an alumna longer than you’re a student.’ So think about the kind of student you want to be—then think about the kind of alumna you want to be.”

Sinta: “College is a journey. Find the place where you can be exposed to ideas and opportunities that will help you discover how to do what you love for the rest of your life.”

Monica: “Most women will not go to a women’s college. It’s a different choice. I can tell you that if you spend four years in an environment where the smartest, most accomplished students are women, and where they receive the support to go as far as they want to go—that experience gives you power. And that power sustains you in ways you can’t even imagine.”

Betsy: “Don’t set limits on yourself. Push your boundaries. Take a chance. The world needs more women like that.”