As Montclair State University's first woman president, Susan A. Cole ’62 led the institution through two decades of impressive growth
Jyoti Menon: So, why did you first apply to Barnard?
Amy Veltman: I’m from Portland, Oregon. At the beginning of my senior year in high school, my dad took me to look at some colleges in the Northeast. I remember taking the train into New York City, and the moment I emerged from Grand Central Station, I saw taxis whizzing by in an urgent rush to get somewhere, and every fiber of my being cried out, “Here!” The energy of New York was the initial draw, but the warmth, academic rigor, and intimacy of Barnard made it my early decision first choice.
JM: Such a vivid recollection of the experience of first arriving in the city! What stands out to you most about your Barnard experience?
AV: Because Barnard women are so consistently smart and driven, we are afforded insane opportunities in this marvelous city. During my time at Barnard, I had phenomenal internships with an Oscar-winning filmmaker, top magazine and publishing companies, and a nonprofit dedicated to small press publishing. I also worked at Steve’s Ice Cream and the Barnard Student Store, babysat in the Hamptons one summer for the kids of a well-known writer-director, did lots of ceramics in the basement of McIntosh — so soothing! — took Columbia’s bartending course, and was a member of Bacchantae. For starters.
JM: And who out of everyone you met was most influential to you during your time at Barnard?
AV: Dean Dorothy Denburg had a huge impact on my time at Barnard — and well beyond. Her combination of enveloping warmth and impassioned advocacy continues to be a beacon for me.
JM: What about post-graduation? What has your journey been like?
AV: After Barnard, my road has been intensely nonlinear! I got an MFA in filmmaking and was working in Los Angeles in the industry in 2004 with my new husband, Daniel Knoepflmacher (CC ’94), and a new baby when my husband told me he wanted to leave film and TV to become a psychiatrist. I struggled with the decision, but we left L.A. for him to do post-baccalaureate work and attend medical school in Portland, where we could be near my family. During his schooling, I worked in marketing for several years and then transitioned to working as a consultant using improvisational theater skills to help companies with agility, uncertainty, and communication. The work was a gift in that it took me all over the world and felt like getting paid to get an MBA. We returned to New York City eight years ago for my husband to complete his training, and as of four years ago, he’s a full-fledged psychiatrist. Life continues to be surprising; a few years ago, I began doing stand-up comedy, and I love it. I also have a podcast, now hibernating, called Two Moms on the Couch, which I produced and co-hosted with a therapist who’s also my cousin’s husband’s sister. I credit Barnard for giving me the fearlessness and the broadly applicable critical thinking skills to help me to make so many sharp turns in life knowing I have the tools to adapt.
JM: Seriously nonlinear. When was the most challenging time of your Barnard journey? Was it during or after your time on campus?
AV: I found a lot of my Barnard journey tough. For a 17-year-old Oregonian, New York City was an intense and intimidating place to land in the mid-’80s, when the city culture was dominated by the poles of crack and Wall Street. My parents were on the strict side, so figuring out how to use my freedom, find my own voice, direction, and even my style felt challenging. Mistakes were made! I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know academically or socially. For instance, my first year, there was a seminar in women’s studies that required the professor’s approval to enroll. I had no idea that seminars were advanced courses usually meant for upperclasswomen, so I blithely went to ask for permission. I ended up taking the class, and it was one of the most influential of my time at Barnard, so ignorance has its rewards. I probably still don’t know what I don’t know.
JM: So, you’ve been known to do some stand-up comedy.
AV: Some, yes!
JM: What is your favorite joke you have ever told on stage?
AV: My favorite joke I’ve told on stage is not really printable here, but it features a unicorn, makeup, and grammar — all things I enjoy.
JM: Okay, then, what about the best joke you’ve ever heard? Maybe one we can print.
AV: One of my favorite jokes is Gary Gulman’s bit about the Trader Joe’s on 72nd. I’m relatively new to comedy and came to it from my love of writing and performing, so my knowledge of comics and their jokes isn’t as encyclopedic as that of self-proclaimed comedy nerds. When I first heard the Trader Joe’s joke, with all its digressions, characters, and laser-sharp observations — not to mention snacks — I thought, “You can do that?” It broadened my thinking about the jokes I can write.
JM: Could you live without the internet?
AV: Only if everyone else did.
JM: Final question: What brings you joy?
AV: I’m most delighted when my teen daughters make jokes I wish I’d thought of, even if they’re highly inappropriate or roasting me. I also love food, cooking, makeup and skincare, reading, and political podcasts. In comedy, one of my favorite things is seeing someone who has been terrible on stage for a long time suddenly become good. I’ve learned so much patience with myself and others through doing comedy.
JM: Anything else you want the Barnard community to know about you?
AV: I think I just told you more than I’ve ever told anyone, but only because you asked!
A Tale of Two Presidents
College leadership, extracurriculars, pizza prices, and more on how life at Barnard was different when Jyoti and Amy were students.
Amy Veltman ’89
Jyoti Menon ’01