Alumna spotlight: Vasti Torres
Heading back to school for your master's or doctorate isn't a decision to be made lightly. Which is why Vasti Torres, a graduate of the College of Education's master's and doctoral programs, did her research and showed a talent further honed by the two degrees she received at the college: Critical thinking.
Not only did she leave campus with fond memories of fall football games, Torres says she's thankful her professors and coursework forced her to think outside the box of typical higher-education learning. That research-led experience sticks with her even today, in her post as dean of the University of South Florida's College of Education. She took the post in the spring of 2013, and returned to the UGA campus this past May to speak at the COE's commencement ceremony.
"In many ways, it was the requirement that we think critically about problems in higher education and express creative solutions that was most helpful," she says of how her UGA experiences prepared her for the role she has today. "As a faculty member, I am also very thankful that I was required to take the research courses. Those courses are critical for anyone in education. The need to assess and provide evidence for student learning requires a strong command of research methods."
Before coming to UGA, Torres had nearly a decade of higher-education experience, between getting her master's and doctoral degrees, when she ran first-year experience programs at Emory University and the University of Virginia. She later went on to Indiana University-Bloomington to run the Center for Postsecondary Research, which conducts the annual National Survey of Student Engagement.
But Torres fondly remembers her time in Athens, where the Florida native experienced her first change of seasons. "My favorite memories are walking downtown on Friday afternoons and studying in the library before football games, and then meeting others to attend the game," she says, laughing as she adds that Aderhold Hall, while not visually stimulating, was also home to many fond memories. "The students and faculty housed within Aderhold create a unique mixture of ideas and cultures. My fondest memories are around doing group work and struggling to return to class after taking breaks in the snack room, which I understand has been remodeled – thank goodness!"
When she returned to campus for the spring convocation, Torres strung together a series of inspirational song lyrics for a tongue-in-cheek version of the traditional graduation speech. Going to these ceremonies is a highlight of her job, she says, but the last thing she wanted to do was give a boring speech. So, inspired by a scientist who pulled out a guitar during one such event, she looked to music for her inspiration.
"Since I do not play a musical instrument, tying together music lyrics in an entertaining manner seemed to be a good second choice," she says. "I was thrilled when I heard the audience laugh – otherwise it would have been a really weird speech."
Her overall message to new alumni, and those who will soon hold a diploma? Make the most of your time as a student and exercise those critical thinking skills.
"There are few times in our lives when we are asked to reflect, learn and experience new things. I hope all the current students take advantage of that opportunity," she says. And, for young alumni, "remember that we all need to pay it forward. Giving to your alma mater (especially the College of Education) allows for future students to enjoy the kind of education you had at Georgia."