Alumni in the Upper Valley

by Lauren Huff | 11/6/14 8:48pm

Whether you’re a jaded ’15 hiding out in your off-campus house or a bright-eyed freshman still perplexed by the labyrinth that is the McLaughlin cluster, you’ve probably become somewhat familiar with the phenomenon we have fondly dubbed “The Dartmouth Bubble.”

But physical evidence actually supports a contrary hypothesis. In addition to its 230-acre campus, Dartmouth College owns about 36,000 acres of land in the state of New Hampshire. We have the Skiway, the Organic Farm, the Second College Grant — an escape from campus seems accessible, if not inevitable.

Still, we gripe about the apparent isolation that comes with going to school in the woodsy depths of New Hampshire. By senior year, many of Dartmouth’s sons and daughters are ready to hightail it out of idyllic Hanover for a bigger and brighter place to call home.

But other recent graduates do not succumb to this impulse to outgrow Hanover, electing to remain in the Upper Valley. Between graduate students, College employees and fellows, you’d be surprised by the number of ex-undergrads still lurking around campus.

Pure convenience contributes to some recent graduates’ decisions to stay in Hanover. Archana Ramanujam ’14, who works for the Geisel School of Medicine, still had a year remaining on her student visa when she graduated.

“I was basically just planning for the year, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to stay beyond that,” she said. “I didn’t want to go set up in a new place all over again just for the year, so I was pretty happy to stay here.”

Similarly, Natalia Vecerek ’14 decided to take a year off between Dartmouth and medical school, finding herself with a free year before diving back into the chaos of student life. She decided to spend this year as a teaching science fellow in the biology department.

“It made more sense to me to stay than move around to a new city for a very short period of time,” she said.

Despite the short-term nature of their plans, both Ramanujam and Vecerek aim to take full advantage of their extra year in the Upper Valley.

Ramanujam especially notes low expenses and the ability to do outdoor activities over the weekend.

“I really like rural living — it presents a lot of opportunities to me I wouldn’t really get in the city necessarily,” Ramanujam said.

Vecerek, who swam for the Big Green, said she sees this year as an opportunity to explore things she missed out on as a varsity athlete like skiing and going on weekend trips.

For other alumni, like Anani Sawadogo ’14, time in Hanover may not be limited to one year. Sawadogo joined the team of Lebanon-based engineering start-up FreshAir Sensor after working with the company senior fall in an engineering course.

Despite fellow ’14s questioning his decision to stay in the area, Sawadogo said he has so far been very happy with his choice.

“Before committing to a job here, I got another offer down on the West Coast,” he said. “I guess at the end I decided to stay based on what I would be doing, and not really what social life is available.”

Still, there may be some drawbacks to forgoing city life for rural Hanover as a recent graduate. Social life, for example, shifts dramatically after graduating.

“We tried to get [the social life] working, but with work it’s hard to actually get together,” Sawadogo said.

Vecerek also noted an absence of evolving social connections as a recent graduate.

“I feel like I haven’t really met a lot of new people that I didn’t know as an undergrad,” she said. “I feel like I still mostly see the ’15s, ’16s and ’17s I became friends with during my time here.”

For graduate students, however, different connections continue to form. Rajiv Raghavan ’13 Th’14, a first-year medical student at Geisel, said he has observed a prevalent social scene among graduate students.

“I hang out with the Tuck students as well as the other graduate students, and the med students will go out together,” he said.

A member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, Raghavan said his involvement in the house has dwindled since graduation. Although he will stop by during the day to visit friends in the house, Raghavan said he no longer socializes in his fraternity at night.

Vecerek, a member of Sigma Delta sorority, expressed a similar removal from Greek life, saying she is not as active as she was as an undergraduate. With a car on campus, Vecerek said she has experienced a newfound sense of freedom she never had as an undergraduate.

“I do go visit people in cities a lot, and I’ve found that to be really fun,” she said. “The main social outlet here is obviously the Greek system, and even though I was part of it as an undergrad, I kind of feel like I should start getting away from that.”

Such traveling seems to be an integral part of the post-graduate experience in the Upper Valley, given the amount of recent Dartmouth graduates who move to New York City and Boston after graduation.

“It’s not too hard to visit,” Raghavan said. “A lot of grad students travel to the cities to see friends or significant others on the weekends, so travel is pretty easy.”

Consequently, some young alumni living in the area feel slightly less connected to the Dartmouth community. For some, like Ramanujam, this is intentional.

“I didn’t want to be a student for this year in the sense that I didn’t want to be super involved in campus life,” she said.

Others remain partially involved in activities that were central to their undergraduate lives. Vecerek still shadows doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, an opportunity she first took advantage of as an undergraduate. She said this helps her feel like she is still a part of the Dartmouth community.

Raghavan also said he stays loosely involved, running with the Dartmouth Endurance Running Team, which he used to captain, one or more times a week. As a graduate student, however, he maintains a certain distance from undergraduate life.

“Being a couple years removed from being an undergrad, I have a little bit of perspective and space from some of the issues going on on campus,” he said. “‘The Dartmouth Bubble’ has less of an influence as a graduate student.”

Try as they might, recent alumni living in the Hanover area may have more trouble separating themselves from Dartmouth than they think.

“There’s a lot of things that I still can capitalize on being a young alum,” Ramanujam said. “The College sort of continues to support me in one way or another.”