Nancy Stratford ’77 has been a dedicated volunteer for Yale since graduation. She is co-founder of YaleWomen, a founder and chapter head of YaleWomenNYC, a past chair of the Yale Alumni Fund, a past member of the Yale Tomorrow Campaign Committee, and a current member of the Yale Development Council and the 1977 Class Council. She is also a past recipient of both the Yale Alumni Fund Chairman's Award and the Yale Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the YAA.
Professionally, Stratford was a senior vice president at Paine Webber for many years, where she advised large institutions, hedge funds, mutual funds and government entities on investments. She was also a private banker at J.P. Morgan. She now manages private portfolios.
Recently, she took some time out to sit down with us to relive her time at Yale and to look ahead to the future. Here are the results:
What is the most enduring memory of your time at Yale?
In the singular, my most enduring memory is truly a feeling of limitless opportunity. This campus was alive! In my case, my most outstanding memories as a student include the following: waiting in a long line on a sweltering day on Old Campus on one of my first days on campus as a freshman and wondering if I could get to know anyone, as I did not previously know anyone in the freshman class.
Subsequently, my most enduring memories involve friends and experiences with them. I lived in Morse and as a result walked all over campus to get to classes. I vividly remember the crisp fall days and seeing the spectacle of Bladderball and the energy and enthusiasm of everyone who participated. I did spend a fair amount of time in Cross Campus library, so studying in cubicles and getting together with friends in “machine land” was part of life on campus. I also remember glorious days sitting in the grass with friends on Cross Campus and thinking how amazing it was to be at Yale!
As for classes, I have great memories of my art history class with Vincent Scully, my English class studying Chaucer, walking up to Kline biology tower for the one biology class I took, taking Economics from James Tobin, and being selected for a small seminar on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The scholarship of the students and professors was extraordinary, and I have always treasured the academic excellence at Yale, both during structured class time and the time spent in informal but riveting dining hall discussions.
If you could relive your time at Yale, what would you do differently?
I would take more history classes, use Payne Whitney Gym more, and learn to sing well.
What is your favorite place in New Haven, past or present?
Past: I really stayed on campus as a student, as there was so much to do among the 12 (now 14) residential colleges, their dining halls, and the law school, which Morse has nearby. In those days you could go to various dining halls at will and that was a great way to get to know other students. I do remember a small Chinese restaurant off campus and having delicious sweet and sour soup for the first time!
Present: Cross Campus still feels very central, and I so enjoy walking through there. It still feels like home in a way. I also love going to the Center for British Art and being able to sit in the atrium and look up at the magnificent Stubbs paintings.
What do you miss most about Yale?
The wonderful community of other students that I could so easily be part of without having to make plans. What is that called? Collisional frequency? The myriad of opportunities in extracurriculars to try new things like acting on the stage at the University Theater, which I did once with a few lines in the farce Hotel Paradiso. The opportunity to learn from professors. The opportunity to audit classes on literally every subject from scholars and experts in their fields. The seasons at Yale, and the architecture, which I actually notice even more when I return as an alumna.
How did you get started as an alumni volunteer? Describe your alumni activities and motivation for them.
My motivation was to reconnect with Yale and other Yalies. Needless to say, there is a shared experience that binds alumni. I began as a class agent for my class of 1977 and then became the Chair of Agents. Along the way, I was inspired by many other wonderful alumni volunteers, including my friend Bobbi Mark, Class of ’76, who blazed the trail in terms of fundraising for her class, and who was a wonderful role model as she chaired the Yale Alumni Fund. Another great role model and friend, Biff Folberth, Class of ’66, also my predecessor as a chair of the Fund, introduced me to his classmates including Bob Brundage. Their class had state-of-the-art phonathons that they held several times a year. I learned a great deal from them by watching and listening as they contacted their classmates.
It was during my tenure as chair of the Yale Alumni Fund when I sat ex-officio on the Yale Alumni Association, then known as the AYA, that I met Ellen McGinnis, Class of ’82. Ellen was chair of the AYA, and our terms ended at the same time. She and I wanted to do more after our official roles were completed, and we realized the time was right for the creation of YaleWomen. It was a very exciting time to found and launch that new shared interest group together! We held listening sessions in several cities and learned that Yale women were interested in career networking, social networking, lifelong learning, philanthropy, and connecting back to Yale. Now there are many chapters of YaleWomen and I have the great pleasure of being one of four chapter heads of YaleWomenNYC with Joan Winant ’73, Emily Shuey Weber ’07, and Sterling Evans Thomas ’08.
I also have had the privilege and pleasure to chair the YAA while my classmate, Weili Cheng, is the executive director of the YAA. It is a great partnership to be able to work together with a terrific Board of Governors. I am excited about the progress that YAA has made with a number of initiatives, including Careers, Life, and Yale and the new mentorship platform Cross Campus, which will enable alumni to connect with each other and with students.
What have you gained from your alumni engagement with Yale?
I love Yale, and I have gained many new friends among both the alumni and the staff at Yale. I have a better understanding of the priorities of the university and how alumni want to engage with Yale and what motivates them to give back, be it with time, talent, or treasure.
Yale was great when I was there; it is even greater now. I want to help inspire alumni to engage with Yale in ways that are meaningful to them. The fellowship created while working toward common goals with other alumni is rewarding. I would encourage all alumni to get involved to the extent they can.
What advice would you give to current students?
Live each day meeting as many new friends as possible. Go to office hours. Try new extracurriculars.