At the height of the pandemic, students — some who were heading into summer break, others about to graduate — faced a predicament like never before: Many in-person internships were suddenly postponed or canceled, and job opportunities grew scarce. Concerned alumnae asked how they could help. That’s when Beyond Barnard — the College’s one-stop shop for career services, graduate school preparation, internships, and more — made a quick pivot and launched Beyond Mentoring in June 2020.
Beyond Barnard’s executive director, Christine Valenza Shin ’84, worked with assistant vice president of lifelong success A-J Aronstein, senior associate director for partnerships Alexa Hammel ’13, and the Beyond Barnard team to match alumnae with students for Beyond Mentoring, made possible through an anonymous donation from a member of the Beyond Barnard Advisory Council.
“Whether it’s a shocking thing like COVID, a recession, or the emergence of a hot market, Beyond Barnard adjusts to helping students find connections, knowing they are fortunate to have many alums who respond in a crisis but also on a regular basis,” says Shin.
Since the inception of Beyond Mentoring, there have been 164 projects and 124 student participants, and the program continues to expand. (This includes a project between myself, the writer, and Emily Chen ’25, a talented computer science major, who helped me build a website to expand my client base. Though Emily served as my mentee, I can attest the learning went both ways.)
“There’s been huge interest in the program from Barnard students,” says Laura Maltz, associate director of advising and programs. “We couldn’t create something nearly as meaningful without our alum and parent communities who model future possibilities. They create access to opportunity all while building their own talent pools.”
Here, three pairs of mentors and mentees describe their Beyond Mentoring projects and the formation of their successful partnerships.
JILL ROBBINS ’76 & ASHLEY CANALES ’23: Speaking the Same Language
While serving as a mentee for Jill Robbins ’76, vice president of the National Museum of Language, Ashley Canales ’23, along with Gabrielle Viner ’24, developed a “virtual field trip,” a self-guided tour of the museum’s trip to Puerto Rico. Canales created activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms, placing English and Spanish translations onto a presentation with vocabulary words, discussion questions, and Puerto Rican trivia.
“The goal was to expose younger students to foreign language and culture and stimulate curiosity about language,” explains Robbins. “The virtual field trips allowed students to see how the language they study exists in the world outside of their textbook and classroom.”
Canales was very invested in the project from the beginning. “It sat in the intersection between many of my interests, like education, children’s media, and language learning,” she says.
Discovering ways to create engaging conversations for students through visual learning, Canales felt that the project aligned perfectly with her degree in sociology and Spanish & Latin American cultures. Robbins, an English as a second language teacher with a Ph.D. in applied linguistics, was impressed by Canales’ performance.
“Working with Ashley shows that there is much that we [mentors] can gain from these virtual mentorships,” Robbins says. “I would jump at the opportunity to mentor again.”
BARBARA OSBORN ’80 & FIONA CAMPBELL ’23: Breaking Barriers in Public Policy
Before Barbara Osborn ’80 decided to mentor a Barnard student, she had reservations about the process. But after speaking with Fiona Campbell ’23, an urban studies major interested in housing, her concerns were put to rest.
“I knew within five minutes of talking to Fiona that I was lucky,” Osborn says. “It was kind of a serendipitous fit.”
With 25 years of experience in the communications field, Osborn is in the early stages of creating a network to educate the public about affordable housing and homelessness in Los Angeles County, which has the worst unsheltered population crisis in the U.S. With Campbell’s help, she sought to strengthen public understanding of long-term solutions to homelessness.
“Fiona felt like a kindred spirit because she was trying to take applied and theoretical learning and apply it to the real world, which was really important to me,” she says.
As a mentee, Campbell assessed the social media strength of over 90 nonprofits to determine their existing capacity for digital communications. The research and analysis was used to select participants for a nonprofit collaborative. Campbell found the process of working with mentor Osborn very rewarding because there was a mutual connection toward a common goal.
“I learned more about the political side of planning and how community-based planning operates on the administrative side,” says Campbell, who was able to apply her hands-on experience to her studies.
Today, Osborn feels indebted to Campbell, whose “findings laid the foundation for assessing prospective partner organizations,” Osborn says. “No other similar coalition has done this type of pre-assessment.”
Osborn says that she will encourage her daughter, who is currently a rising sophomore at Barnard, to participate in Beyond Mentoring.
Campbell, who has just graduated, hopes to revisit Beyond Mentoring from the opposite side later in her career.
“I would be interested in mentoring Barnard students,” she says. “I think the only way to learn what you want to do and what works for you is through hands-on experience.”
DEVAKI CHANDRA ’86 & TANVI SINGLA ’25: Setting Standards in STEM
When Devaki Chandra ’86 began planning her move from Berkeley to Nashville in 2022, she studied the differences in life between California and Tennessee, examining such areas as transportation. Soon, she created her newest Beyond Mentoring research project with that as a guide. As an instructor with a Ph.D. in economics and a personal investment in climate change and energy, Chandra focused the research project on electric vehicle adoption, hoping to provide a student with a politically and publicly relevant topic. This was her fourth time serving as a mentor, which she finds very fulfilling.
“It’s rewarding to see what has changed at Barnard, like increased specialization,” she observes. “What hasn’t changed is the priority to help each other.”
Having worked over the past decade as an instructor at the Summer Institute for the Gifted at the UC Berkeley campus, Chandra says that the “student is the audience,” maintaining that her role as a mentor was to guide students toward achieving their personal goals. But mentoring has been educational for her as well: “Being a mentor gives me experience in hiring and a more current insight into issues like community engagement and climate change.”
Tanvi Singla ’25, a double major in economics and environmental science, served as Chandra’s mentee on two of her Beyond Mentoring research projects. In 2022, Singla researched COVID-19 vaccinations and climate change and related them through an economic perspective; the following year, Singla compared electric vehicle sales in California and Tennessee to identify obstacles and assess the potential for increased electric vehicle adoption to fulfill President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order (EO) on Strengthening American Leadership in Clean Cars and Trucks. (The goal of the EO is for 50% of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to be zero-emission vehicles by 2030.)
Singla says that opportunities from her projects, which address interests from both of her majors, encourage her “to pursue a career in a field where finance and environmental science intersect.” This summer, she will be doing a research project for Barnard’s Environmental Science Pathways Scholars Program through the Summer Research Institute, which supports students conducting STEM research. Her project will develop methods of water treatment in rural communities. She will also do a comparative cost analysis of water treatment methods.
“I definitely think the [Beyond Mentoring] projects were successful,” Singla says. “With the first project, I saw, on my own, how environmental science and economics can connect. For the second project, I was able to take it a step further, and this intersection keeps carrying over into my life with the research I’m doing this summer.”