Standing Up for Families

Emily Vocke shares her experience representing HBS families at the Student Association as the Vice-President of Families and leading the Crimson Parents club.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in the New Orleans area and met my husband, Patrick Vocke (MBA ’21, Old Section E), when we were just beginning our senior year in high school. We both graduated from LSU and then moved to Houston, Texas where he worked for ExxonMobil and I went to Texas Woman’s University for physical therapy school. I graduated with my doctorate in 2014 and then completed my fellowship training in orthopaedics and manual therapy. While in Houston, we had our daughter, Juliana, and our son, Anderson, so Houston will always hold a special place in our hearts. 

How did you and your husband decide to come to HBS? 

We had our daughter, Juliana, on October 17, 2017, and a couple months later on New Year’s Day, Patrick asked what I thought about him applying to business school. I remember asking, “Like night school at Rice?” Then he hesitantly responded, “No, I was thinking HBS. Full-time… In Boston.” While his response took me a second to process (mainly because I just pictured two years of marching through mountains of snow to get to the grocery store since I had zero experience living in a city that actually has seasons), I told him to go for it as long as it meant that I could stay home with our baby, Juliana. I was dreading the idea of my maternity leave ending and going back to work, so this seemed like the perfect solution. 

Patrick studied for, took the GMAT and completed his application in time for round three and got an interview.  Our family of three flew up to Boston for his interview, and I was soon picturing us moving in a matter of months. Then we got thrown a curveball because his acceptance letter said that he was accepted, but for the class of 2021, not 2020. While we were disappointed at first, it ended up being a huge blessing in disguise because it gave us over a year to prepare for our cross-country move, sell our house, and have our second baby, Anderson. 

 I am a Type 1 diabetic; so having my team of high-risk doctors at TCH for my second pregnancy and delivery was when I realized that God’s plans are always better than my own. I would not trade our last year in Houston for the world; since we knew we were “on the clock,” we really savored every moment of it.

 As far as HBS goes, it was totally for the best because it allowed us to do the housing lottery, which we would have missed had Patrick been admitted and not deferred. Raising a family on-campus at HBS is special in a way that is difficult to describe. Being surrounded by other families made building a community of close friends in similar circumstances incredibly natural and easy. I love being able to walk out my door, have an unexpected play date with a rocket launcher or impromptu walk with another mom. A family we met before coming here told us they wished they could raise all of their babies on campus at HBS, and now I get it. I know I will cherish this chapter of our life forever because of the incredible friendships we have made with our neighbors who now feel like family. And the perk of using Baker Lawn as our backyard is pretty awesome too. 

What do you do outside of HBS?

I am staying home with Juju and Anderson right now and while working part-time would probably be the best fit for me, the cost of childcare in Boston is crazy. So, financially it makes the most sense for me to stay home with them full-time, which has been amazing because there is always another family to meet up with or Crimson Parents playgroup to take them to (which helps break up the monotony that can come with being a stay at home mom). I cannot get these years back and babies do not keep, so while they have their moments (okay, a lot of “moments” if I am being honest), I love being home with them. It allows for a lot of spontaneous adventures (like beach trips and breakfasts on the Charles with section-mates), that I know I will look back very fondly on. But I digress; outside of HBS, I have gotten really into working out on my Peloton (it has kept me sane while being alone with our kids all summer while Patrick interned at a PE firm in Baton Rouge). I also love hosting small-group dinners, drinking wine with friends, and discovering new, scenic places (I am a sucker for anything with a view of water). 

What motivated you to take on both of these roles? 

Other than my inability to say no and controlling tendencies? Semi-kidding aside, I came here with the intention to “go all in” on the HBS experience as a partner so when the Crimson Parents club needed people to fill the co-presidents roles, I agreed to it. The bar was set very high because last year’s leadership team did such an amazing job, but at the end of the day and despite all of the work I knew would be involved in, I asked one of my very smart and energetic close friends up here to be a co-president with me, recruited talented, amazing parents to fill the VP roles, and have not looked back.

As far as the Student Association (SA) role goes, I really liked being the Family Rep for old section E, so saying “yes” to VP of Families was a no-brainer. I loved getting to meet with the SAS team through the family rep role and knew more exposure to them with the VP role would allow me to really make positive changes for families. 

Having talked to other families last year, I was blown away that others did not have the same, positive experience within their Sections like I did. You assume that everyone’s Section is like yours and everyone is great and inclusive, but that’s unfortunately not always the case. I took on the SA role to implement expectations for family inclusivity early on during the Section experience. For example, getting the family rep role elected at the same time as other leadership roles and ensuring part of the Section budget be specifically used towards families are two things that I sought out to do and accomplished. My hope is that every family moving forward feels included and that both the partner and kids feel like a part of the Section, no matter what Section a family is placed in. From being given $100 to help pay for a babysitter for Hollidazzle to constantly being asked by Section leadership what they could do to make things more family-friendly, I hope more families have experiences within their Sections like we did. 

And lastly, a main motivating factor to taking on this position is to get families added to the Crimson Parents listserv before they even arrive as RCs. Similar to how any woman who comes to Harvard Business School is automatically on the Women Student Association (WSA) listserv, my goal is for families to start receiving information from the Crimson Parents club as soon as they accept their spot. When an applicant is admitted into HBS, I want there to be a box that asks for their kids’ names and ages and I want each kid to be sent a little welcome gift to set the expectation that their kids are part of the HBS community.

What are the responsibilities of VP of Families and Crimson Parents Co-President?

For Crimson Parents, Camille Harrison, Partner of Zach Harrison (MBA ’21), and I split up the responsibilities which I am very grateful for because it would be way too much for one person. In a nutshell, I handle the weekly newsletter to the club and support committees that work on events and parent nights out while Camille does the agenda for our leadership team meetings and supports committees that work on playgroup programming, International families, and field trips.  

My other responsibility, as VP of Families, is to be in charge of the Section Family Reps. I also bring any issues that families are having to the SA. For example, the RC families who are living on campus were having a lot of delays and issues getting their Harvard IDs; I was someone they could easily reach out to for help and either give them information on how to complete the process or get in touch with operations on their behalf (families need their mail and coffee from Spangler too, after all).

I was warned that taking on both roles would be a lot, but the former Co-President of Crimson Parents told me that it is actually in families’ best interest if one of the Co-Presidents of Crimson Parents is also looped in with the SA. My goal is to make sure that nothing gets missed, no balls get dropped, nothing gets lost. So while it is a lot of work, I think that it is giving families here a better experience having me be in both roles. As part of the SA team, I get to talk to Mike Murphy, Cindy Spungin, and Joyce Majewski on behalf of HBS families while also getting their support for things related to Crimson Parents club. 

What can HBS families look forward to this year?  

No club dues! Our goal is to get more sponsorships for the club so that we can still provide events and programming without putting any financial burden on families. This is actually the first year that the club has a sponsor which is a huge accomplishment and something we’re very excited about as a club. 

 Another thing is the temporary playground’s makeover that is in process. There will be new toys and better grounding that is more baby and toddler friendly. When we first moved in, there was a playground at SFP 1 but we only had it for a couple of months. Because of construction, they were planning to not have a playground from January of 2020 through summer of 2021. So back in November 2019, I attended a construction mitigation meeting and voiced my concern about a lack of playground and fenced-in area for children to safely play.  At first Harvard University Housing (HUH) said “no,” but after quite a few emails and conversations with the SAS team, we were finally able to  persuade them to put up a temporary playground and are currently working on improvements. Most families are only here for two years, so 18 months without a legitimate playground on campus was not good enough; I want to be a voice for future HBS families but also for the families here currently. Now that it is finally coming together, I am very excited to see my vision finally coming to fruition.

Based on your learnings from the previous year, what specific changes do you want to make to improve the experience of HBS families?

From an SA perspective, the biggest takeaway that I learned from last year was that families have very different experiences across Sections because it is so dependent on two things: who happens to be in your Section and your personal level of comfort with just showing up to things with your kids. For example, for my daughter’s birthday last year, we baked cupcakes for everyone in the Section (talk about pre-covid times, right?), popped into Aldrich 107 between classes, and asked the section to sing “happy birthday” to my daughter. Our section loved it, we loved it, everyone loved it. But if I had not taken the initiative to just go for it, we would not have that sweet memory to look back on. So moving forward, and to answer your question, I want every family to know that they are encouraged to grab the kids, involve them in the section, and make memories.

As far as Crimson Parents goes, the previous team did an incredible job to make families feel welcome; I want to build on that momentum for the incoming RCs and step it up wherever possible. Probably the biggest takeaway that I learned from last year’s leadership is knowing that what you are doing now may not benefit you, but it will benefit future families. It is pretty meaningful to know that the work that I am doing now will have a positive impact for HBS families in the future and remembering that piece of advice has been important. 

I probably spend way too much time thinking about how HBS can be the most family friendly business school out there; it is something I want HBS to pride itself on and know that it matters more to applicants with kids than I think they may realize.

How is Covid-19 changing the experience for families?

Back in the spring, the first change I really remember was ASW2 (Admitted Student Weekend #2) going virtual because the housing tour for families was one of the first tasks that Camille and I were supposed to have done as Co-Presidents for incoming parents. I think the housing lottery is very overwhelming, particularly for families. So just because ASW was changing, I wanted to make sure it was not a bad change. I wanted to make sure that the incoming RCs felt good about where they were going to live and encourage as many of them as possible to live on campus, if they could, since I have had such an incredible experience with living in SFP. We decided to get creative, take videos of all the different types of apartments at SFP, OWA and Peabody and put together a virtual housing tour that I think was really helpful to families. More recently, I think the changes are obvious, such as kids wearing little masks and trying to teach them to “give people space” as they walk through SFP. However, a silver lining to it all is being forced to be social in smaller groups; it has been nice to get to know the new RC families on a deeper level, which would have been hard to do during big, 100-person events. 

What was your most memorable moment at HBS from RC year?

My favorite family memory is Halloween last year. Our entire Section dressed up as 101 dalmatians, including my son, and my daughter was Cruela—white fur coat, baby powder in her hair, cigarette holder, red gloves—the works. Section leadership asked if I could bring the kids to the classroom and we took a group photo with my daughter sitting on top of a desk, front and center and surrounded by sectionmates.  If that does not scream “inclusivity for families in a Section,” I’m not sure what does.

A non-kid, favorite memory was Holidazzle, when Lauren Stallard (old Section E partner rep and current VP of Partners) and I had way too much fun roasting the section during dinner. While we made a lot of jokes, we predominantly went after our husbands, Patrick and Robert, which probably got the most laughs. 

Emily Vocke (VP of Families and Co-President of Crimson Parents) moved to HBS with her husband, Patrick Vocke (MBA ’21) and two children (Juliana and Anderson) from Houston, TX. She has her doctorate in Physical Therapy and specializes in orthopedics and manual therapy in the outpatient setting. She can be found pushing a double stroller all over campus, exercising on her bike, and hosting dinner parties with her husband any chance they get.