Helping children from low-income families achieve their full potential is Sara Vecchiotti’s passion. As assistant commissioner for policy, planning, and analysis in the Division for Child Care and Head Start at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, Vecchiotti oversees strategic planning and implementation of Rethinking Child Care: An Integrated Plan for Early Child Development in New York City.
Vecchiotti, who earned a doctorate in applied developmental psychology from Fordham University, says her career path took root at Mount Holyoke. Courses with Professors Robert Shilkret and Patricia Ramsey helped her understand child development, while assisting at Gorse Child Care Center allowed her to observe first-hand the developmental processes she studied in courses. “Working directly with the children, their parents, and the school contributed to my own career development by teaching me how important a quality early childhood education experience is to early childhood development—cognitive, social, emotional, and physical.”
She appreciated that her professors and fellow students were supportive of her ambition to pursue a dual degree in developmental psychology and law. “The way I wanted to contribute to the social good was to influence the formation of social policy,” says Vecchiotti. “At the time, this was an emerging field and MHC offered me the encouragement and guidance to forge ahead.” She also learned the value of research by working on an honors thesis with Shilkret. “I learned how to design, conduct, and apply research, as well as to discern strong from poor research. Knowing what research is sound and how it is applicable to practice is essential to policy formation,” says Vecchiotti.
After graduation, Vecchiotti was an Urban Education and Child Development Fellow at the Yale Child Study Center under the direction of Dr. Lynne (Doran) Zimmerman ’73. She worked in early education in the public schools and at a child psychiatric inpatient school, then earned her Ph.D. at Fordham. Her interest in bridging law, policy, and child development knowledge led her to earn a law degree from New York Law School (NYLS), and after that she was a fellow at the Society for Research in Child Development Fellowships, where she learned how to link child development knowledge to policy at the federal level. Vecchiotti then worked as a Congressional Fellow for Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) on early care and education policy.
Vecchiotti encourages current students to maximize their college years: “Commit to the academic experience; knowledge, practical experience, and discipline prepare you for future growth, challenge, and competition. And take advantage of mentors—those leaders who will support and guide you in your chosen direction even if it differs from theirs.”