By Leah Pearlstein
Many students just want to make it out of college alive and most definitely do not expect to come back voluntarily. Patty Bice, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Purchase College, certainly could not have predicted her return.
“It was strange,” said Bice who graduated from Purchase College in 1985 with a BFA in dance. “I would have never imagined coming back and working here, let alone working as an administrator.''
After graduating and pursuing a career in the arts for a few years, Bice returned to Purchase in 2002 as registrar.
Unlike Bice, Jeffrey Arroyo, Corinne Santiago and Alex Theodoropoulos all had quicker transitions from Purchase students to Purchase faculty. Jeffrey Arroyo, experiential learning coordinator and career counselor for the Career Development Center, graduated in 2016 from Purchase with a major in psychology. After interning at the Career Center as an undergraduate and then continuing to work there as a graduate assistant, it was clear he belonged there full time. Shortly after finishing graduate school, that's exactly where he ended up.
Alex Theodoropoulos, who studied art history and graduated in 2007, now works as an art preparator for the exhibition department at the Neuberger Museum of Art, the same place she worked as an undergrad.
“It’s certainly bizarre to spend so much additional time on my old campus,'' said Theodoropoulos. “However, the Neuberger is my second home. I learned everything I needed to know to become a successful art handler. My exhibitions job at Purchase gave me legs.”
Corinne Santiago, a new adjunct professor in college writing, graduated in 2015 as a journalism major.
“Going into college I really didn’t know what I wanted,” said Santiago. “I knew I loved to write but I didn’t know what was going to come of that and I didn’t know if college was going to be right for me let alone SUNY Purchase.”
Santiago never imagined herself working at Purchase until a very significant event occurred.
“When I was a senior here we had this big assembly about diversity and I stood up and expressed how it’s all good fun to talk about diversity but it has to be put into action,” said Santiago. “I mentioned how I was going to graduate that year without having had a professor that looked like me. A few days later, my advisor called me into his office and assured me that there were things being implemented in order to fix that problem. Then he said, ‘why don’t you go get your master’s degree and then come back and teach.’”
Just one simple act of self-expression caused a ripple of opportunity for Santiago. She went on to do a two-year master’s program in creative non-fiction at Sarah Lawrence College and in her second year, participated in a program working as a teacher's assistant at Purchase. After getting her master’s, Purchase hired her as an adjunct professor.
Working at Purchase as an alumnus has been quite an adjustment for her.
“It’s really surreal that I’m in on the faculty meetings now,” said Santiago. “At the first faculty meeting, everybody went around the room and said their name and what they taught and when I said I was a former Purchase student, everyone applauded.”
Arroyo had a similar experience.
“It’s really nice to be in some capacity on the same level as people that I looked up to and that I’m able to enter into the professional realm with them,” said Arroyo.
As for Bice, she said, while things felt strange and new, “it also felt very familiar and exciting and rewarding to return and work and contribute and give back to the community in a different way.”
The physical environment of Purchase College does change over the years, as does the experience of the students.
“When I was a student, Purchase started implementing the smoke-free campuses and my classmates were pissed,” said Santiago. “There were literal protests. And just the other day in my college writing class, these freshmen were expressing how appalled they were by people smoking on campus. It's just amazing what less than 5 years can do.”
In addition to a tobacco-free campus, there were some physical changes over time.
“When it rained heavily, the pavers of the mall would pool water in giant sections,” said Theodoropoulos. “I remember running around like children, playing in those puddles.”