As part of a monthly column, Remy Ferber ’14 reaches out to members of the administration to write about their college experiences and more. This week features Angela Voos, Vice President for Strategic Planning, Chief of Staff and Title IX Coordinator , who graduated from Princeton University in 1982 with a double major in anthropology and women’s studies.
What was the best spontaneous decision you made while in college?
I came to Princeton to be an engineer. I did so because I loved math and I’m a practical kind of person. After my first year with my fellow engineers—and I mean “fellow” in the gendered sense of the word—I decided I wanted to be something else. So I started taking courses in other fields. I noticed that there was the famous architect Michael Graves on the faculty, and I decided to take a drafting and design course from him. It was a whole other world to build models, draft floor plans and experience public critiques of my designs. It was a great decision to take this course not because I’m now an architect, but because it changed the way I think. Now I see buildings and structures in a different way.
I wasn’t very spontaneous when I was 19, so I have had a hard time coming up with an answer. I guess quitting the swim team in the first few weeks of school and choosing to try other sports was the most spontaneous thing I did. I had been a competitive swimmer since the age of eight. At Princeton, swimmers were a clan, a clique. The swim team made it clear to me that I should only eat with other swimmers and exclude my Jamaican roommate and my roommate from Alabama. Not cool. I quit.
What was your proudest moment?
My proudest moment as a student was handing in my senior thesis. Princeton gives you two course releases to do independent research and publish your work in a bound volume (no internet at the time). My senior thesis was in cultural anthropology: “The Sexual Abuse of Children: Cultural Rules in Conflict.”
And your biggest regret?
First, I wish I had gone to more of the speakers and concerts. Princeton brought in amazing speakers for the college community to hear and I chose to do other things. Second, and this isn’t really a regret: I didn’t realize how important networking was. My parents were both professors and so my view of education as the daughter of two professors who were also immigrants didn’t include making friends in high places. I thought of education as just education. It never occurred to me while I was at this elite school that everyone around me was meeting people and intentionally planning for post-graduate life.
What was the biggest issue on campus during your time in college?
When I went to Princeton, I was in the ninth class of women enrolled. Yes, the school had become co-ed, but the culture was still that of an all-male school. Gender politics and women’s studies were hot topics for me personally, but also nationally. The Equal Rights Amendment failed ratification the year I graduated. The weekend tradition of “importing” women to date Princeton men by bussing them up from University of Virginia and Sweet Briar College continued beyond my years at Princeton. The whole thing was pretty mind-blowing.
What has changed the most about yourself since college?
The thing that has changed most in me since going to college is my self-confidence, not so much in my steadfast belief in my own opinions but more in my sense of who I am in a world of different people. When I was in college, I had very strong views about what was right and what was wrong. Those views extended to the right way of being, the right style of leadership, the right type of self-expression, the right way to live one’s life, the right way to do laundry. I think what has changed the most in me is recognizing that my way is really just one way and that great work, truly superior work comes from building on and valuing others’ ways of thinking and doing things. It isn’t just that others’ ways are to be tolerated; it is preferable to surround yourself with other ways of navigating the world.
If you went to Grinnell today, what would you be involved in/what classes would you take?
I would definitely be a math major or econ major with a minor in anthropology. I love math. At college, I was too intimidated to continue in engineering or math, though I took upper-level math courses. If I were to go to Grinnell, I would sing in the choir, take a class in sculpture, learn how to write well, read more, dance more and, honestly, study more.
What do you still want to know about the Grinnell student experience?
One of the best parts of my job is the friendships I have with students. I see in the students a genuine interest in building a safe and fun community. I worry about students work/life balance. I worry about the pressure that causes students not to sleep enough, eat right, exercise or dance enough. What can we as administrators do to help you to enjoy college life in a healthy way and to develop the confidence to be successful graduates?