To Watch You Blossom
A Q&A with Director of Student Health Promotion Ali Tartaglia
By Mary Brothers '22
What brought you to Bennington?
I started at Bennington in November 2016. I had been at West Virginia University prior to being here and, actually, when I applied to Bennington, I had never heard of this school before. When I was in high school, I looked at small schools predominantly, so I was like, “Why didn't I look at Bennington?”
I moved here the week before I started and have been here ever since. When I was at West Virginia University, I was doing similar work, but had just finished my DrPH from Drexler– my Doctorate in Public Health. I was looking for something with more responsibility, but I didn't want to have to be responsible again for doing alcohol prevention and sexual assault work on a campus that had Division I sports and Greek life. I wanted to be at a small school where I could really get to know students.
When I started here, the office of Student Health Promotion and the director’s position were brand new. It was really exciting for me to think about building something. One of my favorite things about working here is that, because it is a small school, you can see shifts happen in culture and behavior much quicker than you would at a large campus.
What was the transition to being the Chair of the COVID-19 Taskforce? What were the most gratifying and the most difficult aspects of it?
All of my educational background is in public health. Everything that has been happening [with COVID-19] and the work that we're doing is essentially the marathon that public health folks train for.
The hard part about it is that, because this is a small school, when somebody ends up testing positive, it's not just a name or a number, it's a person, and that makes it harder. But, because of that, I'm much more invested in doing the best job that I can do, because I care about all of the students, and the staff, and the faculty, in a way I couldn't at a really large school or in a public health department. It feels different, but that also makes it much more rewarding.
What has been your favorite thing about working with Bennington students so far?
I love being able to get to know students and see them grow in the four years that they're here. It's amazing to be able to watch people shift and grow and transition. It's so exciting to watch people get excited about the work that they're doing. I love to watch people learn. Students are so creative in so many different ways that it's just fun to watch you blossom.
What do you find most motivating about your position?
I love to get to know students, particularly ones that are interested in public health in one form or another. I love getting to chat with people and get them excited about public health and help them imagine what their next steps are.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I teach adjunct for Southern New Hampshire University and American Public University System in their graduate public health programs. One of the things I love to do is mentor future health professionals. It's exciting especially because they're predominantly non-traditional students. A lot of them are adults; it's often their second career or another transition like that.
I also like to spend a crazy amount of time with my two dogs, Buster and Lulu, and my cats, Ernie and Zoey.
Is there anything you would like to say to students regarding student health and the COVID-19 safety measures on campus?
There's lots happening right now– both in the world and on campus– that has good and bad implications for people's emotional health or their physical health. I want students to know that the job of my office is not to tell people what to do. It's to make sure that you all have the information that you need to make the best decisions for yourself.
I think of my work as more of a guide or a facilitator and less of a teacher. It’s much more about helping people find ways to not just limp along while they're here, but to be the best version of themselves that they can be. It's very much a give and take, and I pride myself on being here and present as much as I can for students.