“You can take the woman out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the woman,” said Webster University’s visiting assistant professor Vanessa Avery. Avery is originally from New York, but has lived out of state for some years now. Avery grew up in a well-developed, well-structured Jewish home led by her grandparents.
“Home created lasting memories for me,” Avery said.
Academics were a key factor in Avery’s childhood.
“My travels while in school were some of the greatest moments of my life. I started at Hunter College School (NY) in seventh grade and had the opportunity to graduate while in the eleventh grade,” Avery said.
Before graduating from high school, Avery was accepted into McGill University (Quebec) where she took up French studies. She postponed college for a year while she moved to Paris.
In Paris, Avery studied and learned to speak fluent French.
Avery then attended McGill University and found she had more interest in religious studies. She received a degree in comparative religion with an emphasis in Hebrew Bible. Avery found a 12-month master degree program in theology at the King’s College of London.
Upon completing her theology master’s degree, she returned to New York where she began to tutor. She then began a part-time position teaching English language college courses to Russian immigrant students. Avery later accepted a job as a full-time vocational evaluator for the learning disabled.
“This was another great job that I enjoyed, but I realized I had these degrees in Hebrew Bible that I wanted to pursue,” Avery said. “I decided to go back to school for another master’s degree.”
She attended Yale Divinity School (Conn.) where she met her first mentor, Gilbert Bond, who helped guide her through her remaining educational journey.
“It became really interesting,” Avery said. “I had three degrees in religious studies, and it was basically impossible to get a job. I gave it some real deep thought and began talking to people and realized that there was something that I could do. I started my own company as a religious diversity consultant.”
Avery found a focus in religious conflict in the workplace, referencing religious biases, cultural clash, cultural needs and stereotypes. Avery accepted a contract from a non-profit agency in New York to write religious diversity manuals for corporate managers and health care providers.
Avery was able to complete this project within six months. She said despite not knowing what jobs would be available with a heavy emphasis on religion, she enjoys pursuing and speaking about ideas and shifting perspectives.