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Summer in the City

As a young woman growing up in the suburbs of Boston, Johanna Fishbein was privy to a very early peek at college life. In 1995, before entering the eighth grade, she attended a summer program on the campus of nearby Wellesley College. She lived on the Wellesley campus with roommates, ate in the cafeteria, and took courses in Shakespeare and acting. The program was called Exploration, and that’s exactly what it represented to Fishbein. “I remember how much fun it was,” she says.

That exploration may have started Fishbein on the path toward her latest role, as director of Pre-College Programs at Barnard. Each year, for five weeks beginning in June, Barnard welcomes high school juniors and seniors, both women and men, for a preview of campus and city life. This summer, Fishbein will oversee several pre-college initiatives. The first, Summer in New York City, consists of two separate programs: a four-week co-ed program and one-week intensive co-ed program. In the four-week session, students select two full courses—a morning class and an afternoon class—from a list of 20, such as “Psychology of Media,” “Introduction to Fiction Writing,” “New York’s Literary Imaginations,” “International Humanitarian Issues,” and “Masterpieces of Western Art.” The one-week intensive program lets students take a week long “mini” course in theatre, writing, literature, or music. The other pre-college initiative is the women-only Women’s Leadership Initiative, a program that consists of a week-long woman’s-studies class. Students participate in a group project, and the week culminates in a student-run conference. With all the programs, students enjoy the city as an extension of the classroom—a great resource as well as place to have fun.

Individuals are welcome to apply to Barnard’s pre-college programs regardless of where they will ultimately attend school. “The intent is to prepare them for college-level work anywhere,” Fishbein says. About 40 percent of the 250 students who participated in the programs last year went on to attend Barnard.

A new arrival to Barnard’s admissions team, Fishbein joined the Office of Pre-College Programs in October. An alumna of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., she worked four years in the admissions office before completing undergraduate degrees in criminal justice and psychology in 2004. She was granted a teaching fellowship from New York University. After two years teaching fifth- and sixth-grade classes in New York City schools, she earned a master’s in education. Another fellowship led her to Greece, and a year teaching English to seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade students in Athens. Fishbein most enjoyed her role as resource, helping Greek students who wanted to apply to school in the United States: “We were a connection to American culture.”

Fishbein’s experience abroad should prove useful in tackling a new priority: increasing international recruitment. Her work in Athens gave her some sense of the frustrations foreign students encounter. A new course offered in this summer’s four-week program, “Academic Writing Through International Eyes,” is designed to give international pre-college students help in preparing them for American universities.

To all applicants, Fishbein recommends authenticity: Choose a college that fits. Represent yourself accurately on the application. Say what you mean, not what you think you’re supposed to say. Fishbein says, “I see students sitting with their parents, they look so stressed out and anxious. I remember that, the constant pressure. It will be worth it in the end.”

-Melissa Phipps, photograph by Asiya Khaki