October 2018

A readership survey we issued back in January 2018 showed that alumnae wish to read more about the lives and achievements of fellow alumnae in Europe. Below is our second feature interview, focusing on Vennie Muenzen, Class of ’10.

Please get in touch if you feel your story would be of interest, or would like to recommend a fellow alum.

Spotlight on… Vennie Muenzen Class of ’10

Vennie Muenzen oversees controls related to model risk management in high finance, and recently launched her luxury post-card line

“I wanted to give a platform to Mount Holyoke women to share about their life journeys – their accomplishments, the hurdles they have tackled throughout their careers as well as the tools which they have gained through their Mount Holyoke experience and which have enabled them to be successful.

Born and raised in Razgrad, Bulgaria, Vennie describes growing up among Roman ruins, a 17th century Ottoman Mosque, several dwellings from the 19th century Bulgarian Renaissance, modernist Communist murals, and nearby ancient Thracian tombs. An affinity for art, foreign languages and mathematics found her going to Mount Holyoke College. Since then, Vennie a true citizen of the world, works in finance, completed an MA in Mathematics from Columbia University and recently launched her luxury post-card line allowing her to share her art and showcase some brilliant Mount Holyoke women in a portrait series.

1) Major:

Double majored in Mathematics and Economics, and Politics.

2) Favorite Class while at MHC? 

Two classes that stood out to me and taught me critical thinking was Money and Banking (ECON 338) with Professor Jim Hartley and the Politics of Ethnic Conflict (POLIT 380) with Professor Kavita Khory.

3) Dorms you lived in while on Campus:

Porter, Pearsons, Prospect, North Rockefeller

4) Favorite Mt. Holyoke Tradition:

Mountain Day

5) How did you hear about Mount Holyoke College?

A friend of mine Tessie Laub (nee Kalcheva) Class 2005, and I volunteered at the same non-profit organization throughout high school. When she came back for summer break, she brought brochures from Mount Holyoke College and encouraged me to consider applying.

6) I understand that you studied art in school in addition to languages and mathematics. Why did you decide to pursue a career in finance and how have you balanced these two different energies – finance and art?

I am an intellectually curious and solution-oriented person. I grew up enjoying solving math problems and drawing. Mathematics is an integral part of my current job in finance. Art has enabled me to find creative solutions to my ideas.

7) I’ve really enjoyed your artwork and love the inspiring portrait series featuring MHC women. What is your artistic process and how did come up with the idea to interview Mt. Holyoke women?

Thank you. I started the portrait series by initially sketching my close friends from Mount Holyoke College and eventually expanded the series to other Mount Holyoke women who have inspired me. Through my art project, I wanted to give a platform to Mount Holyoke women to share about their life journeys – their accomplishments, the hurdles they have tackled throughout their careers as well as the tools which they have gained through their Mount Holyoke experience and which have enabled them to be successful. I made an effort to reach out to alumnae from diverse backgrounds and share a glimpse of what it is like to be a banker, a consultant, a scientist, an artist, etc.

A selection of Vennie Muenzen’s line of luxury post-cards

8) In what way has Mount Holyoke impacted your life?

The liberal arts environment enabled me to hone my critical thinking and presentation skills. Thanks to Mount Holyoke, I have gained the confidence to articulate my ideas on a multitude of topics.

Mount Holyoke also provided me with an environment to pursue my goals without restraint and to explore different fields of human knowledge – from mathematics and physics to politics and economics. As a result, I have built a strong foundation to step on and achieve professional success.

9) What are you most proud of?

I am proud I was able to juggle a full-time demanding job in banking while at the same time graduating from Columbia University in 2015 with a Master’s degree in Mathematics in Finance part-time.

I am also proud that each and every day I define success on my own terms and have followed a non-linear path in my career. For instance, while I have been building a successful career in finance, I have also aspired to be an entrepreneur and that is why I started Draw Me a Sketch, the online platform which I created to showcase my artwork including a series of portraits and a luxury line of postcards from around the world. Draw Me a Sketch really enabled me to unleash my creative and entrepreneurial potential.

10) What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up at 7:30. I enjoy a scenic 45-minute commute on a double-decker bus from Canary Wharf to St Paul’s, Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece in the City of London. I read the news on Wall Street Journal and Financial Times and check my calendar to prepare for my meetings that day. I oversee controls related to model risk management across all divisions of the firm (Global Markets, Global Wealth Management, Corporate and Investment Banking) and all functions (Risk, Finance, Technology) globally. I spend a significant time of my day speaking to stakeholders to build an understanding of processes related to model risk management and evaluate the design and operating effectiveness of controls related to model risk.

11) The world of banking and finance still brings forth images of a man’s world. What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in banking/finance?

It is a known fact that women do not negotiate salary increases as hard as men. Women also feel the need to be fully prepared before they assume a new role or expand responsibilities. While men tend to embrace new opportunities confidently, women oftentimes experience a lot of self-doubts and sell themselves short when it comes to promotions and progression in their careers. These feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome are especially amplified in male-dominated fields such as technology and finance.

A recent article argued that women will often sacrifice ambition and responsibility for security and an ability to cope, and men do not do that. While I do not necessarily agree that this argument is true for all women (especially for Mount Holyoke women who are daring and bold), I believe that women should take an active responsibility for their success and embrace risks and challenges especially at a time when more resources become available to women and we grow up with female role models our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did not have. I also think that as Mount Holyoke women we have the responsibility to stay true to Mary Lyon’s legacy and always remember to “go forward, attempt great things, and accomplish great things.” There is something incredibly empowering to be a trailblazer in a field and pave the way for other women in your field.

12) What is more important ambition, talent or neither?

Albert Einstein would say: “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work…” I strongly believe that without drive, strong work ethic, and ambition, talent is insufficient to leave a mark in any field.

Vennie’s artwork can be found on her website or on Instagram

Interview conducted by Anne Boucher ’13, 25th October 2018