For several professors at Wellesley, setting foot on campus isn’t a new chapter of their lives; it’s the reinstallment of an old. From students to alumnae to professors, these individuals have taken part in three distinct aspects of the Wellesley experience, all of which shape the way they interact with and relate to current students.
Growing up in France, Professor Catherine Delcourt ’09 heard about Wellesley from her mother, who is also an alumna. So when deciding between colleges, her choice to attend Wellesley wasn’t random. What was random, however, was her major.
After being introduced to a computer science (CS) professor with her First Year Mentor group, Delcourt took her first CS class and was hooked.
“I loved that class, and so I just kept taking CS classes. I loved the department, loved the classes and loved what I was learning,” said Delcourt.
Now an assistant professor of computer science
at Wellesley, she gets to take advantage of her PhD in Human-Computer Interaction by sharing it with the community that inspired her to pursue it.
Looking back on her early experience at Wellesley, she recognizes that events like the international Grace Hopper conference were essential for her success later on. The Grace Hopper conference is the largest gathering for women in computing, bringing together 8,000 attendees. Today, the school sends higher numbers of students to this specific conference than when Delcourt was a student—a fact she believes is a step in the right direction in preparing students for computing after Wellesley.
“It was helpful to hear about ‘the real world’ of computing outside of Wellesley. Overall, I felt prepared from having a glimpse into that, but also being at Wellesley having no one question if I was capable,” said Delcourt.
Megan Kerr ’89 of the math department also fell in love with a department while at Wellesley and found her voice within it. Her family often joked that when she left for Wellesley, she was quiet, and when she came back from Wellesley, she was more outgoing.
“Wellesley was a terrific environment to prepare me for graduate school in that my interest in mathematics was nurtured. As a student and a person, I grew more con dent,” said Kerr.
She admits that during graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania she felt that she had been offered a smaller set of high-level math classes to choose from compared to the larger institutions her peers came from, but she notes that this has now changed.
“Math majors who want to go to graduate school now have access to more coursework, but with the same encouraging support,” said Kerr.
For other faculty alumnae, their student experiences were less clear-cut. Assistant Professor Ama Baafra Abeberese ’04 of the Economics department originally double majored in Economics and Physics, with the intention of becoming an engineer. But her plans changed, and she landed in the eld of economics after a two-year stint in investment banking and economic consulting. She pursued her PhD in Economics at Columbia and was hired eight years after she had left as a student.
Professor Sara Wasserman ’02 had an even more complex path back to Wellesley. After graduating from Wellesley with a double major in Neuroscience and Theater Studies, she moved back to Los Angeles where she entertained several career paths. She fell in love with teaching while designing science classes for elementary schoolers during the day and pursuing her MA in education during the nights and weekends. She quickly realized she wanted to pursue Neuroscience and was accepted into a PhD program at Brandeis shortly afterwards.
“My training at Wellesley, whether in being a member of the water polo team, on the stage in the theater department or at the bench in the science center, prepared me well. It gave me the foundation to know that if I didn’t know how to do something, I could figure it out,” said Wasserman.
As both alumnae and professors, these women witness firsthand the changes Wellesley has undergone in the time they’ve spent away from it. For Delcourt, the biggest change was her major. When she graduated, she was one of 12 graduating CS majors. Now, roughly 50 CS majors graduate each year. Other aspects of the college have also gone through substantial changes.
Nancy Mukundan ’89, now a professor of Chemistry, lauds Wellesley’s increase in diversity. She sees this diversity as a defining advantage for Wellesley students, as each student brings a life experience and cultural awareness that enriches the community.
In addition, Abeberese emphasized the difference in leisure time since the time she was an undergrad.
“Lake Day is apparently now more like Lake Hour. I think, perhaps, that says something about how students have become busier, or perhaps more hardworking,” said Abeberese.
Kerr also remembers her college schedule as being more flexible than those she sees today.
“There seem to be so many more student groups. This has the bene t of offering something for everyone, but also the drawback that a student can feel like every hour of the day should have a
“There seem to be so many more student groups. This has the bene t of offering something for everyone, but also the drawback that a student can feel like every hour of the day should have a scheduled activity,” said Kerr.
But many of the moments that made Wellesley special enough to return to were not simply academic; they were the moments in which these faculty members took a breath, stepped away from their work and connected with their Wellesley peers.
“I treasure the close friendships that I made at Wellesley. I am still very close with a group of about 10 friends who all lived in Severance our first year at Wellesley. We still vacation and celebrate birthdays together,” said Mukundan.
“I know this sounds fairly mundane,” said Wasserman, “but when someone was having a rough time or feeling overwhelmed in my friend group we would always go for a walk; I had some of my most wonderful conversations with friends during that time and learned what great support we could be for each other.”
A heartening truth evident in all the interviews was that the professors felt their experiences as students only enhanced their experiences as faculty. They reported a heightened ability to connect and relate with students, whether it be about the intricacies of a professor-student relationship, the nail-biting process of registration or the stress that seemingly arises out of nowhere.
Many of these alumnae are grateful to be back on campus.
As Wasserman put it, “I felt that as a Wellesley woman, as long as I followed my curiosity, I’d land somewhere exciting—but never in a million years did I think I’d be fortunate enough to land back home here at Wellesley.”