Nancy Vasta juggles family, career, and giving back to Bloomsburg
Nancy Vasta leads the busy, fast-paced life of a highly successful corporate executive. But inside beats a small-town heart, and it’s Bloomsburg that gave it a pulse.
“When I think about Bloomsburg University, I think about the camaraderie and the balance of academics, having fun, and being in a relaxing environment,” says Vasta, ’97/’99M, vice president of Consumer Health Engagement at Cigna. “To this day I love small towns because of the experience I had at Bloomsburg University.
“I’ve always lived close to Philadelphia, and sometimes you don’t realize the pace and stress when you’re in it,” she adds. “To be able to extract yourself from that and be in a place that’s so conducive to focusing — I long for that.”
Vasta seems to have learned her small-town, life-balancing lessons well. In addition to juggling family and career, this magna cum laude graduate shares her time and talents generously with the university that she says prepared her well for the demands of the corporate world.
She has recruited Bloomsburg grads for Cigna and enthusiastically participated in a variety of fundraising efforts. She also has served on the Zeigler College of Business Advisory Board and, since 2009, Bloomsburg’s Council of Trustees.
“Bloomsburg has given me so much,” Vasta says, “that I feel honored to have the opportunity to give back.”
“Fresh off the boat” is how Vasta laughingly refers to her Sicilian-born parents. Growing up in Bucks County, family and community were of prime importance. Education also was highly valued, and like many Bloomsburg alumni, Vasta was the first in her family to graduate from college — at least, in the U.S.
“For my generation, there was a sense of pride in going to college,” she says.
Vasta transferred to Bloomsburg after two years at the University of Pittsburgh. It was a decision spurred by several reasons, including romance.
“My boyfriend at the time — now my husband, Mike Reynolds ’99 — was also at Bloomsburg. So that had something to do with it,” Vasta says. She adds that Bloomsburg roots run deep in her husband’s family: Mike’s great-great-grandmother graduated from Bloomsburg, as did both of his parents, Pete ’70 and Mary ’70, and his sister, Caroline ’06.
Vasta had also decided she wanted to teach. Among the benefits of pursuing a teaching degree at Bloomsburg was the lower cost, she says. “And it was good for me to be in a smaller environment with more access to professors,” Vasta adds. “They know you by name.”
Ultimately, she decided that teaching wasn’t a good fit.
But Vasta has a curious mind, broad interests, and a lot of energy. She graduated with a major in secondary education and history, and a minor in computer science.
Those varied interests and experiences found a perfect outlet in BU’s instructional technology master’s program. The program, which focuses on the creation of web-based instruction, fused her background in education and technology into one.
In ways she could not have predicted, it would set the stage for her career and the many ways she would give back to Bloomsburg.
Chip Peters, ’93/’95M, says he knew Vasta would be a corporate star from the moment he saw her. Peters was part of the Corporate Advisory Council that evaluated the final project of Vasta’s graduate school cohort.
“She was the most polished — the absolute standout,” says Peters, who worked for Cigna at the time. He remembers turning to another Cigna colleague and saying, “She’s the one we’re getting.”
“It’s like when you see the person you know you’re going to marry,” Peters adds. The company wined and dined her, he remembers, until Vasta accepted a position at Cigna’s office in Connecticut. She’s been with Cigna ever since.
“Because of the Bloomsburg connection, I was endorsed and mentored at Cigna,” Vasta says. “That setting, that network, was unique to Bloomsburg and the way that program was structured.”
The program and her many experiences at Bloomsburg also prepared her for the different roles she was to play at Cigna. Vasta explains that she’s held several positions in different areas within the global health services company. Her focus is now is on redefining the healthcare experience for Cigna customers to improve health and save money.
It’s clear that Peters’ first impression of Vasta was on the nose. But as he got to know her better as a co-worker and friend, Peters was equally impressed by her genuine desire to support others. “She’s always willing to go the extra mile for a friend,” Peters says. “She’s someone you can rely on.”
Vasta is also someone who values paying it forward, something she’s been doing for well over a decade.
“When I started with Cigna, there was more work than people,” Vasta says. “So I was told, ‘You’re doing a great job. Go find more like you at Bloomsburg!’”
And for several years after she graduated, Vasta, like Chip Peters and other Bloomsburg alumni before them, was a member of the Corporate Advisory Council that evaluated the informational technology master’s candidates’ final projects.
That role evolved, and Vasta was soon helping to recruit Bloomsburg grads from other disciplines — accounting and nursing grads, for example. Her connections and networking continued, and former Bloomsburg Trustee Lee Davis, a longtime family friend who knew both Vasta and her husband as they grew up, recommended Vasta for the Council of Trustees.
“She was the right fit for the trustees,” Davis recalls. “I was always impressed with her love of Bloomsburg and how it changed her life, but she’s also pragmatic. And she has a wonderful personality. She engages with people; she’s a good listener.
“If she spends enough time on the Council of Trustees, she will be a significant factor at Bloomsburg for the next several decades,” Davis predicts.
And Davis notes that Vasta sees the big picture in any situation. For Bloomsburg, that means understanding the necessity of raising money given relatively flat state funding.
“She’s a conversationalist, endearing, passionate, enthusiastic,” says Erik Evans, BU’s vice president for university advancement. “And when she touches something, she’s all in.”
Her role as the first chair of the Henry Carver Fund, BU’s annual fund, is a case in point. Evans notes that with her business skills, Vasta helped develop the marketing plan that grew the Carver Fund from $450,000 to $1.6 million over a seven-year period.
“She modeled for others the ways that you could volunteer with passion and energy — how you can be involved with your alma mater in a way that’s rewarding personally and can have a huge impact on the university,” Evans says.
“As Henry Carver helped lay the foundation for Carver Hall, Nancy helped lay the foundation for the $62 million It’s Personal campaign as the first Henry Carver Fund chair,” he adds.
Vasta also took the title of the It’s Personal campaign to heart. In 2013, she and her husband established the Mary L. Reynolds scholarship in memory of Mike’s mother, a Bloomsburg alumna and elementary school teacher who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2012.
“We gave the scholarship to my father-in-law as a Christmas present,” Vasta says. As a scholarship recipient herself, Vasta says she understands the impact it can have on a student’s life. At the same time, she and her family are also supporting the university’s mission.
The scholarship is for elementary education students, preferably from a rural background and with financial need. Various family members now regularly contribute to it. “It has become a good way to honor and recognize Mary,” Vasta says.
How does Vasta find enough hours in the day to juggle her various responsibilities?
A flexible work environment helps as does a supportive family. And her close ties to Bloomsburg play a part as well. As Vasta explains, Bloomsburg is the one place where the major threads of her life can come together.
“When I go to Bloomsburg, I get rejuvenated,” Vasta says. “It brings me back to the small-town atmosphere I want to be living in. And I turn it into quality family time.”
For example, while she won’t take her 9-year-old son, Jack, to a business meeting in Texas, she often does take him to Bloomsburg.
“When I go to a trustees meeting, it’s not odd for my mom, son, husband or some combination of the three to come with me,” Vasta says. “For my mom, in some small way, it’s like she’s experiencing higher education.”
Her remarkable and seemingly effortless balancing act has not gone unnoticed.
“What’s amazing to me is that she can balance so many things — an incredible career, a beautiful family, her volunteer roles — and take each seriously and invest in Bloomsburg in so many ways,” Erik Evans says. “It’s inspiring.” •
Willie Colón is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.