By Tenara Calem '15
Tammy Fraser, Director of FWT at the College, announced last month that she will be leaving Bennington on April 30th. The BFP interviewed her about her time at the school.
BFP: How did you come to find this job at Bennington?
Tammy: I was working at Vassar College at the time and my husband was working at Albany. We were both commuting about an hour, so I needed to find something with a shorter commute. I actually saw an ad in the paper, believe it or not, and decided to apply, and I started in May of 2004.
BFP: How was FWT different when you started?
Tammy: The program itself was similar in that students found their own jobs, completed essays and evaluations. Everything else was on paper, which really surprised me. The first year I was here there were all different colored forms for everything – a pink form for registration of housing, a blue form for grants – everything. The computer system was this old access database on the intranet, so you could only access it at Bennington. There were binders in the office full of sites, so people would come in and look through all the papers to find jobs. The processes were very different, and there was no primary or supplementary hours, it was all just one job. There was also no summer deferral. Everything just had to happen in the winter.
BFP: What were your thoughts on FWT coming in from outside Bennington?
Tammy: I was really excited about it, because I worked with career development before I came here, and one of the biggest challenges in career development is getting students involved in the workforce before the spring semester of their senior year. This seemed like a really good way to get students to think about the next step. I don’t think there’s a difference between the “college world” and the “real world” – it’s all real. I see the value of students working off campus or having summer jobs, etc. There are students who aren’t necessarily successful in school who often shine in applied learning. It’s a really nice thing to go hand in hand and can really boost someone’s confidence.
BFP: What was the hardest thing about the job?
Tammy: Then, I think it was just dealing with the paperwork. Now, I think a challenge is just looking at what FWT’s role can be at the College, and to really find ways to better integrate it into the plan process. Sometimes it feels like it’s not as integrated as it could be. Things are sort of geared by calendar, which makes it really hard. The challenge is knowing that not everything we do is effective for student learning. We are bound by certain constraints, but I don’t know how to overcome that.
BFP: There’s a consensus with at least some of the students here that while FWT is a great idea theoretically, the rest of the world just doesn’t operate on Bennington’s calendar. What are your thoughts on that?
Tammy: I absolutely agree. I would love to see – and again, this is a calendar challenge – FWT be longer. I think that would be great for students and for sites. In all honesty, I wish more people had taken advantage of the summer deferral option when you do have a bigger period of time. Maybe that’ll be something that could be more institutionalized in the future. I think those are real legitimate concerns. It’s a question worth looking into: what is so sacred about winter?
BFP: What was your favorite part of the job?
Tammy: I love working with students, I really do. I love it when students come in questioning. People think that they’re complaining, but I love it when people contact me to question the late fee, and I explain: alright, this is why. Do you have suggestions for a better way to do it? I found that 90% of the students here are just fantastic – and the 10% here that are challenging, that’ll all wash out in the end too. I’m sure there are plenty of people here who find me to be challenging too, and that’s okay! That happens in the world. But the student involvement at any college, but especially Bennington – that’s what I love the most.