Conversations with a senior: Nina Pastore


Eben Baring-Gould

“For us as seniors, so much of our experiences were influenced by the unexpected,” senior Nina Pastore said upon reflecting on her college experience.

Though she grew up in Tampa, Fla., senior Nina Pastore spent much of her childhood escaping the heat and vacationing to the snowy hills of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, where her grandparents own a farm.

“Vermont always felt like heaven on earth,” she said. “I wanted to go to UVM so I could be here in Vermont.” 

After attending high school in Tampa, Pastore was looking for a change. 

“I was looking for something completely different,” she said. “And [Vermont] delivered on that.” 

Pastore entered college in search of a community and she turned to rowing, an activity she excelled in during high school, to find it. 

“When I started at UVM, I kept with what I knew from home and my high school experience,” she said. 

The club rowing team fulfilled this desire. 

“I’d wake up at 5 a.m. and walk from Central campus to the Patrick Gym and we would drive together to the Lamoille River,” Pastore said. “It was a great bonding experience.”

On a 2020 spring training trip to Lake Lure, N.C., the team was sent home early due to the onset of COVID-19, she said. 

“It was devastating,” Pastore said. “There were a lot of seniors that I haven’t gotten a chance to see since.”

Upon returning to UVM as a sophomore in fall 2020, Pastore remained involved with the team, but looked for additional ways to build a sense of community, she said. She found that by joining a sorority.

“With COVID, I needed more of a social structure [and] I wanted to meet more people, so joining a sorority helped me find that,” she said.

Coming from the South, where sororities are a dominating presence, Pastore was not sure she would join sorority life. However, the lack of in-person interactions due to COVID swayed her.

“Having the classroom environment removed, I was looking for a way to feel a connection with the people I went to school with,” she said.

She rushed during fall 2020 through a virtual recruitment process and joined UVM’s chapter of Pi Beta Phi, she said. 

“I chose Pi Phi because I felt really supported in those Zoom conversations,” she said. “I have felt really lucky to be with them.”

In Pi Beta Phi, Pastore feels surrounded by people who have looked out for her best interests, she said. In sorority life, she feels lucky to be around people she can learn and grow with. 

“You are surrounded by people who want you to be honest and a good community member,” she said.

Sophomore year was also a pivotal year for Pastore academically, she said. She arrived at UVM as a history major, but was divided in her interests.

“I switched my major multiple times,” Pastore said. “It took me a while, but I landed with an English writing major with a biology minor.”

She credits much of her ultimate decision to an Honors College class she took with Robert Gramling, chair of palliative medicine at the UVM Medical Center, and Donna Rizzo, in the Rubenstein school, she said. In this interdisciplinary course, called “Conversations in Epidemiology,” Pastore learned about conversation analysis.

“We told narratives of our experiences during COVID, recorded them, and then used AI software to transcribe them,” she said. “After collecting data, we all wrote research papers. My group did a study on hesitations in conversations and what that means.”

Through this work, Pastore became involved in the Vermont Conversations Lab, which aims to study conversations in critical care settings, Pastore said. After working as an undergraduate research assistant in this lab, Pastore wanted to pursue this interest further. 

“I started with the concept of emotional intelligence and branched into communicated empathy and how we help somebody feel that they are being listened to,” she said. “That led to the concepts of active listening, and the concept of being heard and understood.”

Her thesis will show how these spaces can be cultivated through the chosen features of conversation, Pastore said. She will defend her thesis in early May.

When asked if she is ready for her next steps, Pastore responded with enthusiasm for her upcoming graduation.

“I am excited to graduate,” she said.

While she is looking forward to the future, she is incredibly grateful for her supportive community of peers and mentors that helped her along the way, she said.

Pastore said she is particularly proud of the way her class has handled unexpected change. 

“For us as seniors, so much of our experiences were influenced by the unexpected,” she said. “Some of that was COVID. Some of that was just life. But for us particularly as pandemic seniors, I am really proud of all of us for how we have handled the unexpected.”

Conversations with a senior is a recurring piece. If you are a UVM senior and would like to be featured, email [email protected].