Physical Resources

Academic Buildings and Facilities

Matthew Vassar, a businessman, was as much concerned with the physical as with the intellectual resources of his college. When Vassar opened, its observatory had one of the three finest telescopes in the nation; its library and “cabinets” of scientific equipment were more than adequate; a major collection of art had been acquired. Today, Vassar’s academic buildings, its educational equipment, and its library collections remain exceptional for a college of its size.


The Carol and James Kautz Admission House is adjacent to the Powerhouse Theater and Ferry House. This handsome Arts and Crafts style building was redesigned in 1995 by architect Linda Yowell, a member of the class of 1973, to accommodate the Office of Admission.

The Libraries

The Libraries at Vassar are extraordinary and rank among the very best of liberal arts collections in the United States, both in number (currently over one million pieces) and their exceptional variety and depth. Located at the center of campus, the Libraries include the original Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library (1905) as well as the Van Ingen Library (1937) that houses three book stack levels, the Art Library, and the Visual Resources Library. The adjacent Helen D. Lockwood Library was added in 1977 and the new Martha Rivers and E. Bronson Ingram library addition was completed in 1999. The George Sherman Dickinson Music Library, one of the finest undergraduate music libraries in the country, is located in Skinner Hall.

In addition to the broad range of primary materials of particular value to undergraduate instruction, and the manuscripts, rare books, and archives fundamental to scholarship, the libraries also offer electronic resources that employ new technologies in support of class assignments and research. These resources include on-line indexes and databases, many with full text capabilities, electronic journals, and CD-ROMs. Instructional programs that teach the most efficient ways to use all library technologies are routinely offered in the libraries’ hands-on electronic classroom. Most of Vassar’s holdings can be found in the online public access catalog, with materials not owned by the libraries made available through interlibrary loan and document delivery to students and faculty.

Computing in the library is ubiquitous; throughout provision has been made for both wired and wireless access to the campus network and the Internet. Multiple computer workstations are available as well as a pool of circulating laptop computers for use in the library.

Located on the second floor of the Vassar College Main Library, the Media Cloisters is a state-of-the-art space for collaborative learning and the exploration of high end technologies. The Cloisters serves as the public sphere for networked interaction, the gathering place for students, professors, and librarians engaged in planning, evaluating, and reviewing the efforts of research and study utilizing the whole range of technologies of literacy. In this way, the Cloisters channels flows of research, learning, and teaching between the increasingly networked world of the library and the intimacy and engagement of the classrooms and other campus spaces.

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center opened its doors to the public in November, 1993. Designed by architect Cesar Pelli, the 59,700 sq. ft. art center provides extensive exhibition space. Its sculpture garden is designed by landscape architect Diana Balmori. Also included in the art center are a separate prints and drawings gallery and a state-of-the-art computerized collection catalogue/imaging system.

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center houses one of the oldest college art collections in the country. The collection contains over 16,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and photographs spanning the history of art from ancient Egypt to contemporary art. It is noted for its collection of twentieth-century art, Greek and Roman sculpture and ceramics, Old Master prints, nineteenth-century British watercolors and drawings, and photographs. Available to the college and surrounding Poughkeepsie communities, the art center is a cultural resource of high visibility for viewing and learning about art.

Academic Computing

A fiber-optic network connecting the campus provides the entire Vassar community with extraordinary access to computing resources. The network allows communication with the campus among students, faculty, administrators, and staff. The catalog of the Vassar Library is on the network and many bibliographic and other databases. Fractional T3 link to the Internet allows the community to draw on computer resources at colleges and universities around the world and to use the offerings of the World Wide Web.

The network reaches every student room; the ninety-eight percent of students who bring their own computers to campus can connect to the network with ease. Students who do not bring computers may also enjoy 24-hour access: every residence hall offers clusters of computers in public areas. Clusters are also found in the Computer Center, College Center, the library, and in the academic buildings. Via the network students gain access to shared software, and to laser printers housed in public clusters.

Students may use public Macintosh, PC computers, and advanced computing equipment at the Campus Computer Center until midnight most nights of the week. The center provides laser printing, color printing, scanning, video imaging and editing, multimedia equipment, and powerful workstations. The staff of Computing and Information Services offers support and technical advice to users. In all, CIS supports more than 1,400 Macintoshes, PCs, and Unix workstations located throughout campus. Students with laptop computers are able to connect wirelessly to the network at many locations on campus. The Media Cloisters in the Library also provides sophisticated multimedia processing equipment.

Computers and the network are used in support of the curriculum in virtually all departments. Grants from the Pew Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Science Foundation have sponsored innovations in many academic departments.

The Arts and Literatures

There are several places on campus designed for theatrical productions of various sorts. Opened in spring 2003, in place of Avery Hall, is the new Center for Drama and Film, which houses the department of Drama and Film and provides a 300-seat auditorium for theatrical productions featuring a traditional proscenium stage, a small black box studio, two screening rooms that have surround sound, 35 mm and advanced digital projectors, as well as production spaces and classrooms for both film and drama, equipped with advanced technology. Another larger blackbox theater seating 135 is located in the Hallie Flanagan Davis Powerhouse Theater. With its flexible seating arrangements and advanced lighting and sound equipment it offers an ideal space for both traditional and experimental productions. In the tradition of Hallie Flanagan, the founder of the original Vassar Experimental theater in the 1930s, the department sees as it main educational mission to balance the study of the history, theory, and literatures of the drama with the practice of theater. The department produces plays and hosts visits by prominent contemporary artists. Recent seasons have focused on the Greeks, Shakespeare, neglected works from the nineteenth century, and new material. Recent visitors include Anna Deveare Smith, Kristin Linklater, Joanne Akalaitis, The Beijing Opera, the New York Theater Workshop and Peggy Shaw. Student-run productions take place in both formal and less formal spaces: the Susan Stein Shiva Theater provides a fully equipped, flexible space devoted to extracurricular productions; the outdoor amphitheater is often used for readings and performances in good weather; two lecture halls with raked seating and performance space frequently accommodate performances by the various improvisation comedy groups on campus. Film showings take place in the Nora Ann Wallace ’73 Auditorium in Blodgett Hall, the Blanche Brumback Spitzer Auditorium in Sanders Classroom Building, Taylor Hall 203, and the Pat and John Rosenwald Film Theater and the Mary Ana Fox Martel Theater in the Center for Drama and Film.

The Belle Skinner Hall of Music houses a wide range of musical activities, and includes a concert hall, extensive practice facilities, and one of the nation’s finest college music libraries. In 2002, Skinner Recital Hall became the home of a newly built pipe organ designed by the master organ builder, Paul Fritts of Tacoma, Washington. Vassar owns 65 Steinway pianos, seven pipe organs, six harpsichords, and many musical instruments of historic interest in the Darlington and James Collections. In addition, there is an electronic music studio. The music library supports the college’s diverse curriculum and includes classical and world music, musical theater, and jazz. Nearly 18,000 books and periodicals, 27,000 printed musical scores, and over 29,000 sound and video recordings make up the collection. Many of these items can be found in the online public catalog and can be checked out of the library by the college community.

The complex of buildings consisting of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Taylor Hall, and van Ingen Hall, houses the art gallery, art department, architectural design studio, classrooms, the art library, the slide library, and faculty offices.

The curricula of modern language programs at Vassar are enhanced by the facilities of the Foreign Language Resource Center, located in Chicago Hall. The center incorporates a computer laboratory, a video laboratory for the viewing of tapes, several computer-equipped classrooms, and a 30-seat film/video theater.

The Natural and Social Sciences

Each of the physical science departments (biology, chemistry, geology-geography, physics-astronomy) has its own building with classrooms, offices, and laboratory space and modern equipment for study and research. There are extensive special collections. The geology department has a collection of minerals, rocks, and fossils in its A. Scott Warthin, Jr., Geological Museum.

The Department of Anthropology has new digital video and sound analysis labs and newly renovated archaeology and physical anthropology labs. The department’s Digital Video Lab has analog and digital video playback capabilities and is configured to enable computer-based digital photo manipulation and non-linear video editing. The lab is wired to a nearby classroom for remote editing demonstrations and digital projections of student’s projects. The department’s Sound Analysis Lab houses analog, digital, and computer-based means of analyzing and producing sound. Geared to the needs of linguistics, musical, and cognitive science research and teaching, the lab’s hardware and software can be configured to extract and store sonic data and waveform analysis in a variety of formats and media, or to provide for the production and synthesis of sound. The Sound Analysis Lab is located in Blodgett Hall adjacent to the anthropology department’s Digital Video Editing Lab to facilitate the integration of sound and video production. The Archaeology and Physical Anthropology Labs contain equipment for geoarchaeological and geophysical survey and for the macro and microscopic analysis of osteological, zooarchaeological, palynological and artifactual materials. An extensive collection of fossil hominid and primate casts, zooarchaeological and/or artifact collections from North America, South America, Western Europe, the Middle East, and New York State sites, are available for student research and comparative study.

The chemistry department, located in the Seeley G. Mudd Chemistry Building, maintains a philosophy of close student-faculty collaboration and a commitment to providing hands-on experience with state-of-the-art instrumentation. The department houses an extensive array of analytical instruments used by students and faculty in classes and while conducting original research. Organic structural studies are carried out using nuclear magnetic resonance, infrared spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and polarimetry, using the Bruker 300-MHz NMR, Hewlett-Packard GC/MS, Perkin-Elmer FTIR, Thermo Nicolet Nexus 670, and Rudolph Polarimeter. These instruments also support the Amber Research Lab. In the biochemistry program, students study protein structure using ultraviolet/visible spectrophotometry, fluorescence spectrophotometry, high performance liquid chromatography, and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time of flight mass spectroscopy (MALDI-TOF MS). Environmental analyses are carried out using atomic emission spectrophotometry with inductively-coupled plasma atomization (ICP-AES), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), voltammetery, potentiometry, and gas chromatography with detection by electron capture, flame ionization, and mass spectroscopy (GC/ECD/FID/MS). Students characterize new polymers using thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), near infrared spectrophotometry (NIR), gel permeation chromatography (GPC), and dynamic laser light scattering. The department maintains a laser laboratory containing helium-neon, nitrogen, dye, and IR diode lasers, and an X-ray laboratory with a single crystal X-ray diffractometer for structure determination. A detailed listing of the department’s offerings is available on the department website.

The Mudd Building also houses Vassar’s Laboratory for Scientific Visualization, a computer resource for teaching and faculty/student research.

The Department of Geology and Geography is located in Ely Hall, which contains classrooms, teaching and research laboratories, and computing facilities. Instrumentation in Ely Hall includes petrographic microscopes for the study of rocks and minerals, an automated powder X-ray diffractometer for the study of crystal structures, a Silicon Graphics Visual Workstation for geophysical and terrane modeling, a clastic sedimentology laboratory for the analysis of sediments, and a paleoclimatology laboratory equipped with a coulometer and a Chittick apparatus for carbon analyses to examine biological and geochemical indicators of climate change. Analytical facilities are complemented by the inductively-coupled plasma atomic emission spectrophotometer in Mudd Hall. Scanners, digitizing tablets, and eleven state-of-the-art PC computers comprise the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory in Ely Hall. The laboratory is maintained by a GIS specialist and facilitates computer-assisted cartography and spatial analysis in geographic and geologic teaching and research. An extensive collection of geographic, geologic, and tectonic maps of continents and ocean basins complements the department’s digital and electronic data resources. The department maintains specialized field equipment including sediment samplers and corers, stream gauges and samplers, a foldable rowboat, and a Global Positioning System (GPS) for geologic, geographic, and environmental investigations. Faculty in the department also operate a meteorological station at the 500-acre Vassar Farm ecological reserve.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is located in Sanders Physics Laboratory, which contains classrooms, teaching and research laboratories, computing facilities, and a research library. Instrumentation and computing facilities in Sanders support faculty and student research in computational physics, astrophysics, and solid state physics, multi-media curriculum development, and astronomical image processing and analysis. Some projects involve work at national laboratories and observatories. Physics teaching labs are equipped with instrumentation for work in various physics fields. Students can major in physics and become certified to teach high school in New York State. Dedicated in 1997 is the Class of 1951 Observatory, a new building on the edge of the campus that houses 32-inch and 20-inch reflecting telescopes and a solar telescope, as well as several small telescopes. Both large telescopes are equipped with electronic CCD cameras and spectroscopes. The 32-inch is used primarily for student and faculty research on supernovae, variable stars and the structure of galaxies. The 20-inch is used for instruction and observing. The department is also a member of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium which supports Vassar students in summer research positions at other institutions, as well as student travel to local and national meetings.

The Olmsted Hall of the Biological Sciences is a modern structure designed to meet the educational and research needs of students and faculty in biology. In addition to comfortable classrooms and well-equipped teaching laboratories, Olmsted Hall has faculty research laboratories, and equipment and preparation rooms supporting research and teaching. The building houses a number of specialized facilities including a confocal microscope, a scanning electron microscope, laboratories for tissue culture and cell and molecular biology, a vivarium, and a large greenhouse complemented by an herbarium and environmental growth chambers.

Students of biology and other natural sciences have access to 500 acres of streams, wetlands, ponds, old-growth forest, and recently reclaimed farmland and meadows on the Vassar Farm, located a short distance from campus. The Priscilla Bullitt Collins Field Station, which contains a library, classroom, modern laboratory, computers, and a weather station, is located within an ecological preserve on the farm.

The Psychology Department is located in Blodgett Hall which has numerous facilities for teaching and research in all areas of psychology. There are classrooms and laboratories for physiology, neurochemistry, and experimental learning. Observation rooms and laboratories containing recording equipment for research in developmental, individual differences and social psychology, and a human electrophysiology suite are also located in Blodgett Hall. In addition, the Wimpfheimer Nursery School serves as an on campus laboratory for students pursuing coursework and research in developmental psychology.

The Department of Computer Science has two student labs that offer access to Sun workstations, a variety of Macintosh computers, an eight-processor parallel machine, and a microprocessor hardware laboratory. Printing facilities and a computer science library are housed within the department. Faculty and students participate in international research within various fields of computer science.

The social sciences are housed in Blodgett Hall, Rockefeller Hall, and Swift Hall. In each of these buildings, besides department lounges and libraries, there are classrooms designed for discussion-based teaching and lecturing, as well as several classrooms equipped with computer projection. Blodgett Hall contains a computer laboratory for economics as well as computer and traditional laboratories for psychology.

Residential and Social Buildings

Ninety-eight percent of the Vassar student population lives on campus in traditional residence halls, apartments, or the cooperative houses. Faculty may apply for residential hall live-in house fellow positions or for college owned housing. Such proximity encourages a close association between faculty and students in and out of the classroom.

Main Building

Main Building, Vassar’s oldest and largest building, is the heart of the college community. A handsome and monumental structure designed by James Renwick, Jr., it houses the Office of the President, the College Center, and other educational and administrative offices. The top three floors serve as a residence hall for approximately 313 students. In 1986, Main was one of twelve sites named a National Historic Landmark, along with the Empire State Building and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1996, architect Cesar Pelli redesigned and renovated the lobby of Main.

Residence Halls

Main and the remaining eight traditional residence halls house a majority of the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors on campus. Accommodating between 169 and 352 students, each house has a separate and unique personality that drives community development. An active in-house leadership team consisting of faculty, administrators, and students largely directs community, in any given house. The fourteen House Fellows are faculty members (and their families) who live within the houses and take part in house programming, leadership, and informal advising. The five House Advisers are live-in professional student affairs administrators who participate in campus-wide initiatives and oversee the building management, student leadership, and overall coordination for two houses (a cluster). The House Intern oversees a set of Student Fellows who serve as peer advisers to first-year students. The House Officers are responsible for house programming and addressing community issues.

Apartment style accommodations are available to mostly junior or senior students who apply and are granted permission. All such units are represented by a set of student officers and or managers. The Terrace Apartments (246 residents), the Town Houses (250 residents), and the South Commons (50 residents) house a majority of the senior class in four or five bedroom apartments. Students who wish to live off campus or to make other special accommodations must acquire approval through the Office of Residential Life.

Student rooms are furnished with basic needs (bed, dresser, and desk). An Ethernet connection is in each student’s room, and computer clusters for general use are in all houses. Houses also offer kitchen facilities, multipurpose rooms, television rooms, and other amenities.

Students are expected to care for their own rooms and to follow all guidelines governing on-campus housing. Houses are closed during winter break, spring break, and summer session. One house, however, is designated to accommodate small numbers of students staying during each interim. The apartment style housing is open during winter and spring breaks.

College Center

A large and dramatically designed College Center, created by renovating part of Main Building and encircling it with a new building, was opened in 1975. The center provides rooms for social, educational, and extracurricular activities and auxiliary services for the college community. It houses the Office of Campus Activities; a post office; the Vassar College Store; a computer store; the WVKR radio station; offices for student government, organizations, and a desktop publishing laboratory; the community dark room; lounges and meeting rooms; 24-hour public-access computers; a popular snack bar called the Retreat, the Kiosk coffee bar, and Matthew’s Mug, the college pub.

Three recently renovated areas of the facility include the College Information Center, the James W. Palmer III ’90 Gallery, and the multipurpose room. The College Information Center disseminates information concerning local area events and points of interest, including directories, maps, and schedules. All information concerning campus events and programs, as well as ticket sales and reservations, is available at the Information Center. The Palmer Gallery is open year-round with rotating exhibitions. The gallery features the work of faculty and students, in addition to local artists and arts organizations.

Campus Dining

The All College Dining Center is located in the Students’ Building and serves the entire community as a central dining facility. Remarkably flexible and efficient and bright with color, it provides seating for over 1,000 people in pleasant and well-lit dining areas of various sizes.

The All College Dining Center offers continuous service from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, when college is in session.

Breakfast at the dining center offers made-to-order omelets, freshly baked pastries, and a self-operated waffle station. Lunch and dinner feature the very popular Pan Geos Fresh Flavors of the World, authentically replicated cuisine from around the world, prepared to order. Other choices include an exciting array of traditional and vegetarian dishes, made-to-order hot and cold sandwiches, pizza, grilled items, a full salad bar, a wide selection of hot and cold beverages, and the Java City Café featuring cappuccinos and espresso drinks.

The Retreat in the College Center offers fresh baked pastries, made-to-order sandwiches and grill items, pizza, fresh soups, a salad bar, a full range of snacks and convenience items, hot and cold beverages, and lots of daily and weekly specials. The Retreat is open for continuous service from 8:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 11:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, when college is in session.

The Kiosk coffee bar, located at the north entrance to the College Center, serves Starbucks coffees, cappuccinos and espressos, fresh baked pastries and other specialties on weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

The Vassar Express, on the second floor in the College Center, offers students a quick, bagged lunch alternative during the hectic 11:30-1:30 lunch period, Monday through Thursday. Students choose from a menu assortment of sandwiches and prepared salads, and round out their selection with chips, fruit, a beverage, and a dessert.

The Atrium Café, located in the New Athletic Center, features freshly-prepared smoothies and offers an assortment of hot and cold gourmet specialties.

Campus Dining also offers an extensive catering menu. The catering office can handle requests for all catering needs.