Alumnae Profiles

Chapin alumnae excel in a variety of ways. Click on the names below to read about some extraordinary Chapin women who have become leaders in their fields.

Tonya Bolden ’76

Author

Tonya Bolden ’76 is an award-winning author and coauthor of more than 40 books. She is particularly known for her works for young people, including historical nonfiction such as “Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man,” as well as historical f iction, including “Saving Savannah” and “Inventing Victoria.” A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia University, where she received a master’s degree, Tonya lives in the Bronx.

How would you characterize your writing career thus far? Can you describe the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

It has been quite an adventure! When I embarked on a career as a freelance writer back in the 1980s, I had no idea where I was going. I took any and all work that I could – writing for magazines, newspapers, cultural organizations. I even had an assignment or two for an IBM newsletter. With books, I entered that world as a “writer for hire.” Again, I took any work I could get. That included, for example, a book on how to get into the mail-order business. Then one day literary agent Marie Brown, who thought I had potential, had a client in need of a writer to work with her on turning her gospel musical into a young adult novel. That client was Vy Higginsen and the gospel musical was “Mama, I Want to Sing.” After that book was in the can, its editor expressed interest in working with me again. That led to “And Not Afraid to Dare: The Stories of Ten African-American Women.” While working on that book, I developed a passion for making history come alive for our young people. History with depth and texture. History with spirit and soul. What am I most proud of? I don’t really relate to that concept. If anything, I’m grateful. Grateful that I’ve been able to make a living doing something I absolutely love doing.

What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer? Most challenging?

The most rewarding thing about the work that I do is the knowledge that my books have enlightened the minds, the lives, of so many of our young people. The most challenging aspect is starting the next book. I’m always a bit of a nervous wreck, thinking “I’ll never get this done!” Even after more than 40 books, I still suffer a bit from the impostor or fraud syndrome.

Did your educational path lead you to your professional pursuits?

Not really. When I was in elementary school and the question was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My reply was “Teacher!” At the time, I thought “teacher” only meant classroom teacher. Another way to teach, of course, is by writing. That said, my educational path, from elementary school through my days at Chapin, and college and grad school certainly equipped me to be writer. Along the way I had some really terrific teachers who taught me to write, to research, to think. Though I can’t really explain it, I’m convinced that my love of languages – five years of Latin at Chapin, majoring in Russian in college and grad school – has been of great benefit.

For how long were you at Chapin? What resonates most about your years there?

Six years. I left Chapin believing that a girl or a woman could do anything. Whoever in the Class of 1976 (and in other classes) was the best in math or a science, in athletics or in the arts was a girl. I didn’t have to be taught Girl Power. I lived in it. I was part of it.

In what ways do you feel Chapin prepared you for college and the adult world? What particular skills (academic, social, emotional) or interests did Chapin help foster?

When I entered Princeton, I placed out of several required courses. One was writing as I recall. I’ve often said that I am a writer in part because of English teacher Judith Phelps. She was so demanding when it came to writing assignments. I groaned and grouched about them then. I thank her now!

What other aspects of your life played a role in who you are today and what you’ve achieved?

My parents, who instilled in me a work ethic, who raised me to believe that the world was my oyster at the same time they told me that because I was Black I’d have to be twice as good to get half as far, something Black parents have told their children for generations. My Christian faith has guided the type of work that I do (and the type that I don’t care to do).

What advice would you give to current Chapin students or young alumnae who may be interested in pursuing a career as an author? How might you consider yourself a role model for young women and young men?

I advise would-be authors to be nimble, be agile and have more than one arrow in their quivers. Be assignable. I write nonfiction and fiction. I’ve compiled anthologies. I write picture books, middle grade books, young adult books. I am open to ideas that editors have. I don’t say any of this as a brag. It’s a result of the way I entered the business. Taking just about any work I could get. That made me nimble, agile. Other advice is general life advice. Avoid unnecessary debt. Be humble. Be aware that there may be peaks and valleys in your career. Also, know that it really is 10-percent inspiration and 90-percent perspiration. I don’t consciously think of myself as a role model, but I suppose I am in terms of someone who followed her bliss.

What are your favorite ways to relax and decompress?

Brisk walks when tending to errands. Spring and summer, I garden.

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • Literature
Kiran Gandhi ’07

Artist and Activist

Kiran Gandhi ’07 is an artist and activist whose mission is to celebrate gender liberation. She has toured drumming for M.I.A, Thievery Corporation and, most recently, Oprah on her 2020 Vision Stadium Tour with morning dance party Daybreaker. Kiran holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. She has been listed as Forbes Music “30 Under 30” and is a 2020 TED Fellow. Her uplifting music and mathy beats have been critically acclaimed by The New York Times, Billboard, NPR and more. Check out her Madame Gandhi - Waiting For Me (Official Video) on YouTube.

August 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. What does this milestone mean to you as a woman, an activist, and a Chapin alumna?

My feminism and passion for gender liberation comes wholeheartedly from my time at The Chapin School. Because we were an all-female-identifying school, our curriculum prioritized women’s history, which I now realize is so special and so rare. My song “Bad Habits,” written 10 years after I graduated Chapin, directly references all the time I spent studying and learning about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the 1920s, and how peaceful protest and radical self-reliance were the tools even Mahatma Gandhi later adopted in his non-violence movement in India 20 years later.

How would you characterize your career thus far? Can you describe the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

Performing and speaking all over the world has allowed me to take my ideas of gender liberation, sex positivity and joy and share them with audiences who deeply relate. It is a global sense of connectedness and empowerment that I have been able to achieve by writing music that fans receive and love. I am most proud of drumming for 27485 Chapin Text.indd 7 11/9/20 3:00 PM 8 • CHAPIN ALUMNAE BULLETIN 2020 artist M.I.A while attending Harvard Business School. I am most proud of sparking a global viral conversation around menstrual stigma after I ran the 2015 London Marathon bleeding freely. I am most proud of drumming for Oprah Winfrey’s 2020 Vision Stadium Tour with a group called Daybreaker. And I am most proud of signing to record label Sony Masterworks to put out my third album with them. I am proud to be a Forbes “30 Under 30.” I am proud to be healthy and safe. I am proud to be a Chapin alum.

What do you find most rewarding about your work as a musician? Most challenging?

I love channeling my emotions through my own creativity. It is most healing. Chapin fostered my sense of self-power and self-worth through drumming. It meant so much to me. I felt so seen. What is most challenging about being a musician is that it is difficult to feel creative or inspired 24/7, so it is important to write down or sing your ideas whenever they come.

Did your educational path lead you to your professional pursuits?

My education was rather traditional, but I spent time paying attention to what made me happy, and I eventually managed to merge all of my skill sets together to create the Madame Gandhi project that I currently produce and perform under.

For how long were you at Chapin? What resonates most about your years there?

I was there for K-12 except for the three years I moved to Mumbai, India, with my family (1997-2000). My best memories were my friendships, the digital imaging class with Duane Neil, hanging out in the library, treats in the Gordon Room, speaking as the Treasurer at All-School Assembly, playing the drums for the different holiday performances, visiting Emmalee Olson Fay in the Science Department every day after school even through Upper School, winning the JV Volleyball tournament as captain in 2005 and always trying creative ways to not look like I was in uniform while still being in uniform.

In what ways do you feel Chapin prepared you for college and the adult world? What particular skills (academic, social, emotional) or interests did Chapin help foster?

For me, most valuable was feeling so seen and nurtured as a young person. It made me feel both secure and loved. This personal connection, a sense of belonging, a sense that I was cared about and valued made me thrive as a young person, taking risks, exploring my passions and being brave enough to express them. I miss that feeling of being encouraged, lifted up and loved by my teachers and peers. That experience was unparalleled.

What other aspects of your life played a role in who you are today and what you’ve achieved?

A sense of daily fitness definitely has stayed in my life. We always had so many extracurricular events – some sort of sports practice after school, in my case volleyball, squash, tennis and track. I loved these sports and to this day continue playing sports and work out each day.

What advice would you give to current Chapin students or young alumnae who may be interested in pursuing a career in music, activism or a similar field? How might you consider yourself a role model for young women…and young men?

My best advice is to bravely follow your joy and your excitement! As a Chapin student, I always made mixed CDs for my friends, practiced drums in bands with other students and volunteered for charity days or student government opportunities for the very reason that these were things I was passionate about. These are all the very same things I am doing today, just on a professional level. We, as our childhood and young adulthood selves, are so honest. Follow that gut, follow that intuition. I am a role model only in the sense that I am constantly optimizing for my own joy because I believe it is the very fuel that allows me to do good in this world.

What are your favorite ways to relax and decompress?

Running, boxing, spinning, yoga, meditation, playing drums, surfing, sleeping, eating clean and FaceTiming dear friends!

  • Activism
  • Alumnae Profiles
Melissa Jackson ’70

New York Supreme Court Justice

Throughout her celebrated law career, Melissa C. Jackson ’70 has served as an attorney and a judge, including her current role as a New York Supreme Court Justice. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Fordham University School of Law, Melissa is a member of the 50th Reunion Class.

“As a Supreme Court Justice for New York’s Criminal Court, Melissa C. Jackson ’70 presides over some of the toughest cases in the county, handing down life-altering decisions from a stately court building in Lower Manhattan. The responsibility weighs heavily.

“It’s a tremendous amount of pressure because you want to do the right thing,” she noted, sometimes asking herself, “Did I give too harsh or too lenient a sentence?” Although confidentiality prevents her from discussing specific cases, it’s a safe bet that she has had her hand in many high-profile cases, including those that have transfixed the public in recent years.

Appointed respectively by New York City Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, Melissa has overseen criminal proceedings in all five boroughs as the Administrative Judge and managed dozens of judges and thousands of cases as a Supervising Judge. “It was a big job!” she exclaimed. She also completed several terms as a criminal judge and spent 22 years in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.

With retirement in the not-too-distant future and living in the COVID-19 present, Melissa yearns to return to her first passion: trial work. “I miss the courtroom,” she explained. In the recent past, she tried “difficult cases” in Manhattan’s criminal court. She takes seriously her commitment to uphold the law while demonstrating fairness, expertise and compassion. “There is a lot at stake.”

Before the pandemic required Melissa and her staff to work remotely on the most urgent matters – an especially challenging balancing act given the judicial system’s complexities – she loved nothing more than leading the courtroom’s activities. “Courts are not made to be electronic,” said the judge, who was sheltering at home with one of her sons at the time of this interview. She returned to Chambers in early June.

To decompress during this time of heightened stress, Melissa reads fiction, listens to music, exercises and takes her dog on energizing walks. Needless to say, she is greatly looking forward to restarting in-person proceedings as soon as safely possible.

Although 50 years have gone by since Melissa graduated from Chapin, she vividly recalls the momentous role the School played in her life. Arriving in the fourth grade from the Church of the Heavenly Rest School (now Trevor Day), she soon discovered a welcoming environment of caring teachers and new classmates just three blocks from her Upper East Side home. It helped that her older sister, Miranda Hook ’66, and two younger sisters, Melanie Jackson ’72 and Melinda Jackson ’73, also attended Chapin (as did her youngest sister, Marina Jackson ’77, and her mother, Nancy Jackson ’41).

Her voice softening with memory, Mellissa spoke about her “lasting friendships” and the “extraordinary fluency in English language and literature” she developed at 100 East End Avenue. “During my era, the English and History departments were extremely strong with wonderfully gifted teachers,” she commented, singling out Ruth Proffitt ’47, Florence McKinlay and Judith Phelps as influential figures. “Their guidance helped me with anything I wanted to do.”

When considering colleges, she chose impulsively. “It was the classic story. I was accepted to Radcliffe and my parents wanted me to go, but my boyfriend was at the University of Pennsylvania,” the judge shared. “The irony is I rejected Radcliffe not knowing he had already rejected me, but I don’t regret going to Penn,” she said with a laugh. Even though both her father and grandfather were prominent lawyers, Melissa had a different plan. “I wanted to be a writer,” she recalled. After graduation, she enrolled in a well-regarded program at her would-be college, the Radcliffe Publishing Course. Returning to New York with hopes of breaking into the industry, she landed an entrylevel job assisting literary agent Lois Wallace. After a year with the agency, she went to work for Amy Ephron in the movie business. Before too long, though, she grew “disenchanted with that world.”

Cautiously, Melissa began to think about law school, “I wasn’t completely keen on it, but I needed the intellectual challenge.” At Fordham, where she ultimately enrolled, she “fell in love with Constitutional law.” She also learned more about her eminent grandfather, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals and the Attorney General under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I connected with my heritage,” she added.

As her distinguished career took shape, Melissa rose from attorney to judge, gaining a reputation for excellence. Along the way, she married and had three children, two sons and a daughter. “My remarkable children are my heart. They are my legacy,” said Melissa, whose husband, W. James Morgan, passed away in 2015.

With her decades of experience and warm, accessible personality, it’s no surprise that Melissa relishes her role as a mentor. “I am always giving guidance and advice to younger lawyers. I learned from my elders,” she said.

She also shared a few words of wisdom for Chapin students and alumnae: “Explore your interests through the process of elimination. If one door closes, another will open. I’m a living example of this,” she pointed out. “And remember to use your brain, get along with people and believe in yourself. You will find your path.”

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • law
Stacey Shields Ingram ’86

National Relationships Lead, Quest for Health Equity

As the National Relationships Lead for the newly established Quest for Health Equity at Quest Diagnostics, Stacey Shields Ingram ’86 works to ensure that all individuals have equal access to comprehensive healthcare, especially members of under-served communities. Prior to joining Quest in 2007, she held positions in the banking and telecommunications industries. Stacey received a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Seton Hall University. She lives in New Jersey.

As the pandemic barreled through every state and territory in the United States, people of color – including Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans – were disproportionally affected, resulting in a staggering number of hospitalizations, deaths, and debilitating side effects. This devastating reality exposed long-standing healthcare inequities around race, ethnicity and income – and gave Stacey Shields Ingram ’86 the opportunity to make a real difference. “I’m leveling the playing field,” she said.

In her pivotal new role as the National Relationships Lead for Quest for Health Equity, a start-up program of Quest Diagnostics that launched in 2020, Stacey partners with organizations like community health centers, minorityserving educational institutions, and select nonprofits to combat health disparities for people of color through multistep outreach efforts that center on clear and consistent communication and preventative measures.

“Healthcare is not equal unless there is equal access,” said Stacey. “And access is impacted by factors like implicit bias, structural racism, financial stability, education, food security and number of other social and environmental determinants.” For example, a person may be able to secure a doctor’s appointment but not the necessary cab fare, time off from a job, or reliable childcare – essential resources that aren’t routinely factored into the healthcare equation.

With skill, kindness, and diplomacy, Stacey facilitates a wide range of barrier-removing, health-forward endeavors. Recent projects include a collaboration with United Way’s “Choose Healthy Life” program that provided equitable access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, free transportation, and education throughout the Washington, DC area, and a joint initiative in New Jersey with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Stand Up to Cancer that offered life-saving diagnostic testing for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that unevenly targets Black Americans and is often asymptomatic until the last stages.

“At Quest, the promotion of health equity is still new. While Quest has more than 50 years in the diagnostic lab space, we are learning and growing in this space of health equity,” remarked Stacey, who currently works remotely from her home in the New Jersey suburbs. “Our CEO, Steve Rusckowski, says that when we do well, we have opportunities to do good.”

Stacey’s personal experiences with healthcare inequity have underscored her commitment to fairness and compassion in the health and wellness spheres. Raised by devoted, working class parents in the South Bronx, she did not have medical insurance for much of her childhood. The family’s only options were a cash-only clinic in the neighborhood, which they used sparingly, or the emergency room. Stacey explained that her mother suffered from asthma (prevalent among residents of her Bronx neighborhood) and was admitted to the hospital several times a year.

“I wonder if that would have been necessary if our living conditions were different or if we had access to better health care in our community,” said Stacey, who has also created programs with the Sickle Cell Association, the American Heart Association, and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), which serve disadvantaged populations.

A Better Chance scholar, Stacey came to Chapin in Class 9 from a private school near her home. “The contrast between where I grew up and where I went to school was very different, but Chapin was a really amazing experience,” she said. Noting that neither of her parents completed high school, she added, “I did not take the educational opportunities that I was given for granted. I was driven to work hard and to make the most of it.”

She fondly recalled classes like Expository Writing, Russian Literature, Turbulent Decade (about the Sixties), and being among the first students to take AP Computer Science. “And I was in Dance Club. That was my thing,” she exclaimed, emphasizing the choreography and leadership skills this extracurricular strengthened for her. She also loved finessing numbers as the basketball team’s statistician.

A soft-spoken and shy student, Stacey developed further confidence and agency through her involvement with the inaugural Cultural Awareness Program (CAP), which she co-founded with her friend, Wanda Holland Greene ’85. “Wanda encouraged me to lead with her, even though I was scared of my own shadow,” she recalled.

After graduating in 1986, Stacey enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to study economics and math. For her, Chapin provided not only the solid academic foundation she needed to excel in her college courses but also a deep feeling of belonging, which was especially valuable as she navigated unexpected challenges her freshman year. “I had some negative racial interactions at Penn, but having gone to Chapin, and knowing everybody doesn’t think that way, enabled me to get through those tough times.”

On weekends, Stacey – a self-described “foodie” – can often be found in her kitchen, cooking up her favorite dishes, and enjoying time with her family, including her son and daughter, who are both young adults. She’s also active in her church, the Agape Family Worship Center, which, through her efforts, served as a distribution center for at-home COVID-19 tests

When asked what she finds most rewarding about her work with Quest for Health Equity, Stacey is emphatic in her response. “I am impacting people’s lives,” she said. “Initially, going into a project, of course you want to help thousands, but I realized if you impact just one person at a time, that’s also very powerful.”

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • Healthcare
Allison Applebaum ’00

Director, Caregivers Clinic, Memorial Sloan Kettering

Allison Applebaum ’00 founded and directs the Caregivers Clinic at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), the first program of its kind in the world. She also serves as Associate Attending Psychologist at MSK and Associate Professor of Psychology at Weill Cornell Medicine. The author of the textbook “Cancer Caregivers,” as well as numerous research articles, Allison studied Psychology at New York University and earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Boston University. She resides in Manhattan.

What was it about psychology in general that attracted you? Is there a memory from your earlier years that stands out?

My maternal grandmother was devoted to volunteerism and spent her later years volunteering five days a week at various hospitals in the Pittsburgh area, including Wester Psychiatric Hospital and what was then called Forbes Hospice. Each weekend she would tell me about her experiences of going from room to room, speaking to patients and families, and providing them with support during difficult moments. She hadn’t received any formal mental health training, but she was certainly engaging in therapeutic encounters. Hearing about her experiences instilled within me a great appreciation for the helping professions, and I recognize now, enthusiasm for the work in palliative care that I do.

How would you characterize your career thus far? Can you describe the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

I feel very fortunate to have a career that is multifaceted. I am an Associate Attending Psychologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Weill Cornell Medicine. I spend time each week engaged in clinical care, research, teaching and outreach efforts. I lead a laboratory at MSK focused on addressing the needs of cancer caregivers, and I mentor graduate students, postdoctoral and medical fellows on their research and clinical endeavors. I lead workshops to train other healthcare providers in various approaches to supporting families facing cancer, and do quite a bit of writing, both for scientific audiences as well as the general public.

What I’m most proud of is my identifying early on the critical need for a healthcare system that recognizes and supports caregivers in their role, and my taking steps to bring us closer to a system that does just that. At MSK, one of my initial innovations was advocating for caregivers to receive their own medical records, separate from that of patients. This step addresses the financial, ethical, and legal implications of documenting caregiver information in the records of patients and has been a significant strength of the program. In 2019, I published the first textbook summarizing the state of the science of research on cancer caregivers with Oxford University Press (not surprisingly titled, “Cancer Caregivers”) and am proud to have become an advocate and a voice for caregivers worldwide.

What compelled you to inaugurate the Caregivers Clinic? How has this initiative grown under your leadership?

When I came to Memorial Sloan Kettering in 2010 as a postdoctoral fellow, I was primarily involved in providing support to patients with advanced, life-limiting cancers. So often, I would find that the conversations we had focused on these patients’ loved ones, their family members and friends who were intimately involved in their care and very impacted by their caregiving responsibilities. But these family members and friends – caregivers – were not being offered support that targeted their own unique needs. The field of psycho-oncology (the intersection of psychiatry and oncology) was founded at MSK and our Department of Psychiatry is larger than any other housed in a comprehensive cancer center, but it was clear to me during my fellowship training years that there was a significant gap in what was being offered to families, a gap I realized extended far beyond MSK.

I also explored what was being done nationally and realized at the time that there was no targeted, comprehensive service specifically for cancer caregivers, despite the increasing reliance on caregivers to shoulder tremendous responsibilities and the growing recognition of the significant, negative impact of caregiving on caregivers’ quality of life. So, in 2011, I began offering psychosocial support just a few hours a week to caregivers of patients receiving medical care at MSK, and very quickly the Caregivers Clinic took off. Over the past decade, the Clinic has served thousands of caregivers of patients with all sites and stages of cancer at all points in the caregiving trajectory. It has been recognized as the first program of its kind worldwide, and I’m proud to say it is now being replicated in other cancer centers across the country.

What do you find most rewarding about your work at Memorial Sloan Kettering? Most challenging?

It’s so gratifying to be able to accompany patients and families on their journeys and to help them to live more meaningfully in the face of illness. My work allows me to witness individuals at some of their most vulnerable moments. Knowing that I can help families face these with a little more courage and authenticity is incredibly meaningful and rewarding. The most difficult aspect of my work right now is meeting the capacity challenges of providing care to all families in need. Caregivers have faced a triple crisis of caregiving, cancer, and COVID-19, and they require more support now than ever before. I hope to be able to grow the staff of the Clinic significantly in the next few years so that we can do a better job of assisting families and supporting them in this critical role. The U.S. healthcare system is increasingly relying on caregivers to shoulder tremendous responsibilities, and this shift must be met with correlate support.

How has the pandemic impacted you professionally, both in the ways you interact with colleagues and provide support to caregivers?

The pandemic has absolutely transformed the clinical work I do. Before COVID-19 came into our lives, Memorial Sloan Kettering had begun to offer telepsychiatry appointments, but not yet through the Caregivers Clinic. As of March 2020, we transitioned to providing care completely over telepsychiatry, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back. Historically, there have been many barriers to caregivers accessing mental health services, including the time and financial cost associated with traveling to and from treatment centers, the guilt that arises when taking time for oneself and away from the patient, and what still remains in 2021 a stigma around mental health service utilization. The fact that we have been able to provide high quality care to patients in their homes addresses these barriers. We had more referrals to – and fewer cancellations in – the Clinic in 2020 than any previous year, and I credit this in large part to our use of telepsychiatry. Recruitment and retention in my clinical trials has also been more successful now that we are conducting all sessions and assessments virtually. I think we’re learning that we don’t necessarily need to be in person to do the type of work we do, but certainly I very much miss seeing colleagues and mentees in person.

Did your educational path lead you to your professional pursuits?

Very much so. I majored in Psychology at New York University and after graduation went right into the doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at Boston University. This training provided me with a very strong basis in psychological theory and practice, as well as a solid foundation in clinical research. I began to specialize in health psychology and psycho-oncology during my postdoctoral training and then transitioned into my faculty position at Memorial Sloan Kettering a few years later.

In what ways do you feel Chapin prepared you for college, graduate school, and the adult world? What particular skills (academic, artistic, social, emotional) or interests did Chapin help foster?

I was at Chapin the entire time, from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. The School prepared me in such tremendous ways for college, graduate school and my career in academia. I remember noticing during my freshman year at New York University how confident I felt speaking up in classes, and how much farther along I was in my coursework because of all the AP classes I had taken. In fact, because of those AP credits, I ended up with three minors (French, Math and Sociology). I very quickly found myself taking leadership positions in student government at NYU, which I likely would not have done had I not been treasurer of student government at Chapin. I also am constantly reminded of how valuable the writing skills I cultivated at Chapin have been for me; whether it was my completing my doctoral dissertation in graduate school or my current scientific articles, these skills have carried me through. More broadly, that voice I learned to find early on at Chapin, from being encouraged to raise my hand in fourth grade Math class, to giving a talk at Thanksgiving Prayers about the food drive when I was a senior, is the same that has allowed me to find my way in what historically has been a male – and MD (not PhD)- dominated institution. I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to have a Chapin education and it thoroughly prepared me for all my academic pursuits.

What other aspects of your life played a role in who you are today and what you’ve achieved?

What comes to mind immediately are my parents. My mother was a brilliant concert pianist and my father a world-renowned composer, orchestrator and arranger.

They both left a significant mark on me, and our world. In addition to instilling within me a love for the arts, my parents modeled for me what it means to live a courageous life. My father, in particular, encouraged me to grow in every way possible, to embrace infinite dreams, and to use each moment to its fullest. His voice is with me every step of the way now. In addition to my parents, my first career as a ballet dancer is something that has really shaped my work. I thoroughly enjoy public speaking (which is the number one phobia in the United States!), and I credit that to my years of dancing on stage. This has helped me embrace the more public side of academic medicine, like the lecturing I do. Perhaps more importantly, the discipline and mindfulness engendered in me through my dance training has truly helped to carry me through many of the challenges of a career in academic medicine – and life! – and to protect me in many ways against burnout.

What advice would you give to current Chapin students or young alumnae who may be interested in pursuing a career in clinical psychology, counseling, psycho-oncology, or related fields? How might you consider yourself a role model for young women…and young men?

I think one of the best ways to find out if this career is for you is to secure internship or research assistant positions early on. I did this starting my sophomore year of college, and it really solidified how right this type of work felt to me. Most hospitals and academic medical settings (including MSK) have positions for college and even high school students, so all you need to do is ask to see what might be possible. Of all the aspects of my work, what I am most passionate about is mentorship, and it’s been an honor to mentor many young scientists entering the field. I pride myself on teaching by modeling and I place a special emphasis on demonstrating the importance of boundary setting, transparency, and self-care. I hope that my path can inspire other young people in the sciences to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be.

How do you like to relax and decompress?

I took a 15-year hiatus from dance, but recently returned to the studio and have found it to be one of the best ways to relax and reconnect to an earlier part of myself. Thanks to my parents, I also really enjoy live music performances and am excited to get back to that in New York soon!

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • Pyschology
Ellen Warner ’65

Photojournalist and Writer

Ellen Murphy Warner ’65 is an award-winning photojournalist who has traveled all over the world to capture images of people and communities. Later in her career, she became an accomplished portrait photographer, with a particular interest in photographing authors and artists, as well as a writer. Her book, “The Second Half: Women Reveal Life after 50,” a collection of photos of and interviews with a diverse cohort of older women, will be published next spring. Ellen holds a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College and lives in Manhattan. To view samples of her work, visit www.ellenwarner.com.

How did you get your start in photography? Is there an early memory that stands out to you?

The summer I graduated from college, I took a 15,000-mile road trip – down to Mexico City, up the West Coast and across the country – and took photos along the way. The next year I worked at the Ford Foundation editing grants. The following year, I worked there part time and took a professional photography course in the afternoons. At the end of the year, there was a contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior. I was one of four winners. The prize was to take photos all over the city for what was to become a permanent display at the Statue of Liberty. In fact, the exhibit was up for only about eight years until they remodeled the statue. We were supervised by Tom Orr, the photo editor of Newsweek, and were individually sent up in helicopters and on the rivers in small boats. That launched my career.

How would you characterize your career thus far? Can you describe the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

I’m most proud of the gambles I’ve taken. Over the years, I’ve developed two specialties–portraits and photojournalism. Within portraits, I’ve specialized in author portraits. When I decided to specialize in these, I contacted the best literary agents in London and said I would like to photograph specific clients for free. I chose very well-known writers because I thought they would be good in a portfolio. In fact, it turned out to be a smart business decision because they sold many books, and for each edition (hardback, paperback, each foreign country), I was paid separately. The other big gamble was travelling, often alone, to very remote parts of the world. I sometimes felt nervous, but thought, “I don’t want to be held back because I’m a woman.” There are always ways you can ensure that you will be safe (for example, hiring a guide).

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

I love meeting people from all walks of life and learning from them. Who are they? What is important to them? Then it is challenging to try to capture those qualities in a photograph that also has artistic merit.

How has the pandemic had an effect on you professionally, either in the way you actually have had to work or in your approach to and vision for your projects (or both)?

I haven’t photographed much during the pandemic – I’ve just taken the occasional portrait outdoors. I have used the time to edit my book, which will be published March 2022.

Of all the countries and regions you have worked in, which is your favorite and why?

I love being in the back of beyond, far away from civilization, in the midst of the beauty of nature, meeting people who live close to the earth. I also love wide-open spaces. My favorites of the places I’ve photographed are the Saharan countries – Egypt, Algeria, Morocco – and the Gobi Dessert in Mongolia.

What do you try to communicate when photographing people?

As a photojournalist, I am drawn to indigenous cultures. I want to record ways of life that are rapidly disappearing and, in the process, explore the visual relationship of customs and ethnic dress to nature and to the history of the culture. Balance in composition is important to me. I look for elegance of line, for graceful gestures, for patterns. The same compositional concerns apply to my portrait work, where I look for ways to evoke the mystery of a subject through expression, pose and relationship to the background.

What inspired you to embark on your “Second Half” project, which highlights women over 50?

In 2003 I first went to Patmos, a Greek island that I fell in love with and now return to every year. The way I get to know a place is to take portraits of the people who live there. Fifteen years ago I asked a beautiful French woman, who had been coming to Patmos for 35 years, if I could photograph her. She had just turned 70, and, while I was taking her portrait, I asked her what it felt like to be 70. I found myself listening attentively, not in the abstract way I usually do when talking to a subject while really focusing on the composition of the picture. I had been thinking about aging myself. This is what I want to know, I thought. What does it feel like to be 70, 80, or 100 years old? How will I feel when I lose my looks or my ability to be independent to travel alone to remote parts of the world? What is it like to know that the end of life is approaching? And that was the birth of “The Second Half.”

Did your educational path lead you to your professional pursuits?

I majored in History of Art at college. The study of art taught me to see composition, color and form. That has been the major influence on my career.

For how long were you at Chapin? What resonates most about your years there?

I was at Chapin for nine years, then went to boarding school. I had lots of friends, although I suppose I was in some ways quite shy. So here’s a shout out to all students who feel they are not excelling in any particular way. School is not the end of your world, it’s just the very tiny beginning. You are getting a good foundation at school and you can spring forth in your own way afterwards.

In what ways do you feel Chapin prepared you for college and beyond? What particular skills or interests did the School help foster?

Chapin taught me to organize my thoughts while writing. That has spilled over into other areas of life. To get anything accomplished, you have to be organized. You can hang loose within that framework, but you need a framework. What other aspects of your life played a role in who you are today and what you’ve achieved? I have always been interested in the spiritual side of life. For years, I was involved with the Episcopal Church as a vestry member and warden. For the past 15 years, I’ve been studying Buddhism, which has had a great impact on my life. I love to read. I love to learn. For the past 18 months, I’ve been studying Russian history and literature with a group of six friends, and I am also in two book groups. I learn from other people. It has been fascinating to interview women over 50 from all over the world about the second half of life. I ask them what advice they would give to younger women and have learned a lot!

What advice would you give to current Chapin students or young alumnae interested in pursuing a career as a photographer, photojournalist, or writer (or all three)? How might you consider yourself a role model?

You can’t make much money as a photographer, photojournalist or writer, even if you are very successful. You have to do it because you love it. I really believe that women must be self-sufficient. They must never rely on a man. I did rely on my husband, but I have been lucky. I haven’t divorced and my husband has been able to foot most of the bills. I also had the luxury of taking time off from my career when my children were little. If you want to be a photojournalist or writer you have to be prepared to work very hard. The rewards are great, but you must do it with your eyes open. On the plus side, I think women have an easier time than men as photographers or photojournalists. Women appear less threatening and therefore are accepted in situations that might be more difficult for a man to access. I don’t think I’m a role model. Everyone will do it her or his own way.

  • Alumnae Profiles
  • Photography