Constellations illustration by Tara Hardy

In early September when the Class of 2015, walked into their new homes on Broadway, they were also welcomed into the brand-new world of Barnard Constellations—an ambitious, community-building initiative the College launched this year.

The project is the fruit of numerous conversations with both students and alumnae over an extended period of time about ways to foster a better sense of Barnard community. Students, especially first-years, are found to bond closely with others living on their dormitory floor. After thoughtful discussions with representatives from various student groups and Barnard departments, the program took shape and capitalized on the College’s unique quad structure—almost all floors in Brooks, Hewitt, Reid, and Sulzberger are interconnected. Constellation members are determined by what floor assignment a first-year resident receives, and is modeled after residence-based social groups at other colleges such as Harvard and Yale. Similarly, the name “Barnard Constellations” was a collective decision and a tribute to Henrietta Hill Swope ’25, a pioneering astronomer and former Barnard faculty member who discovered 2,000 variable stars.

The Barnard Program revolves around the students’ dormitory experience. Each floor is designated as a special “constellation,” a mini-community led by a Constellation Leader chosen by Dean of the College Avis Hinkson ’84. The specific constellations symbolize tools related to acquiring knowledge of the arts and sciences. The second floor is Telescopium, or “Telescope,” and it hosts both residents of that floor and commuters. The third floor is Pyxis, or “Compass.” The fourth is Pictor, “the Painter’s Easel.” Octans, a sextant used in navigation, gave its name to fifth floor residents while the sixth floor became Microscopium, “Microscope.” The seventh floor is designated Lyra, “Lyre,” an ancient musical instrument, and the eighth floor is Fornax, “Furnace.” Inaugural members of Barnard Constellations have the unique privilege of composing nicknames and choosing mascots for their respective group.

Working closely with resident assistants and campus groups, the Constellation Leaders organize service projects, social events, and academic programs both on and off campus aimed to help students adapt to their new lives in New York City, navigate the College and neighboring Columbia, and develop a sense of community. In addition to e-mail communications, each Constellation has a special page on the Barnard Web site, a blog, and a Facebook page to connect its members.

Although the program began with only residents of the quad and commuters, upperclass students joined the constellations this fall; alumnae will become part of it in the spring. As older students and alumnae are brought into this community, the program will expand and include more peer leadership and mentoring opportunities in hopes of forging lasting ties across the years.

In a recent interview published on the Barnard Web site, Dean Hinkson spells out a bold vision for the Constellations: “The desire is to establish a cross-generational bond and give both students and alumnae another way to connect to the College. In the future, I’m hoping that at Reunion and other events on campus, people will be on the lookout not only for their classmates, but also for members of their Constellation, to share experiences, network, mentor one another, and feel a sense of community.

-- Xinyi Lin '14