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When it comes to public service, there’s no shortage on campus.  Five passionate women share how they care for sick animals, tutor their peers, advocate for women’s education, mentor high schoolers, and help shape interfaith dialogue.  Their work improves conditions for others in our neighborhood and beyond—showing that every person can and should make a difference.

Aku Acquaye ’18

When Bronx high school students file into the classroom at the WomanHOOD Project, an after-school mentorship program for girls of color, they meet up with Aku Acquaye ’18, who writes the curriculum, mentors, and leads workshops on media literacy, social justice, and public speaking.  Staying attuned to the concerns of young women gives Acquaye a unique sensibility for her work with the American Association of University Women, where she serves as a National Student Advisory Council member.  In this role, Acquaye advocates for the needs of college women on issues like health care, sexual harassment, and work-life balance.  “Volunteering allows me the opportunity to be a support system to young women of color,” says Acquaye, who credits Barnard with helping her realize her interests in public service, development economics, and women’s empowerment.  She's also a founding member of the blog, The Gender Equality Project, which documents women's experiences with gender inequality in the workforce.

Brenna Forristall ’18

Empowering women through education is what Brenna Forristall ’18, the vice president of the Barnard/Columbia chapter of She's the First, spends her time doing.  She does this by fundraising to help girls from low-income nations attain scholarships.  With the much-needed seed money, many of the girls can afford to go to school, often becoming the first in their family to graduate high school.  This month, she is working to promote awareness of issues and to raise funds for girls' education in Nepal.  Forristall, also the first in her family to attend college, believes “that raising scholarship funds for girls around the world is making an investment that lasts forever.”

Maya Edwards ’17

Psychology major Maya Edwards ’17 is committed to helping her peers.  In addition to serving as the vice president of policy of Barnard’s Student Government Association, Edwards works as a general-subjects tutor every Saturday where she assists with English, math, or science, through the peer-tutoring program at Columbia’s Community Impact.  On a recent Saturday, Edwards recalls witnessing a student transform from apathetic to excited after she received two excellent test scores.  “As a Barnard student, I have so much in terms of resources that have helped me to thrive—and it is through this support I am reminded that I didn’t get to my position today alone.”

Amanda Elyssa Ruiz ’17

Amanda Elyssa Ruiz ’17 likewise uses the resources she has to serve her classmates through various campus activities and organizations: Ruiz works with PorColombia, the Commission on Diversity, and Latinx Heritage Month.  Off campus, however, she supports animals. At the ASPCA, Ruiz provides comfort during postoperative recovery and at NYC’s Animal Care and Control Centers, she helps to socialize dogs in the adoption center.  Ruiz says, “I try to focus my means of giving back to communities and populations that are ignored, marginalized, and disadvantaged in various ways.”  And if they happen to have four legs?  “It’s vital I understand the significance of providing quality health care to all creatures.”

Leora Balinsky ’19

Leora Balinsky ’19 puts her heart and soul into Columbia/Barnard Hillel's Interfaith, a group that focuses on interfaith and intercultural dialogue and activities among Jewish students and other groups on campus, as a way to expand human connections.  “This winter, we spearheaded a service with the Columbia Catholic Ministry that allowed our groups to get to know each other while doing an act of good,” she says.  She also helped plan an open discussion between people of various faiths, and atheists, agnostics, and anyone who identifies with multiple faiths to address the complexities and disconnectedness of observance and community.  Balinsky says she’s grateful she’s “been exposed to new ways of thinking about social justice,” enabling her to put the theory she’s learned into practice.

Edwards sums up the prevailing sentiment: “By giving back to our individual communities, we provide others with similar opportunities that were graciously given to us.”

Do you have stories of service you'd like to share? Moments of inspiration? Tell us about them! Facebook, Instagram, or Tweet us #BarnardGivesBack