One of the most exciting happenings this summer has been the Summer Colloquium 2020 (June 15 - August 21), a new program from Beyond Barnard. Taking its name from the Latin meaning of colloquium — “speaking together” — the ambitious initiative comprised more than 80 programs and events, all aimed at building skills and fostering community. Students, staff, and faculty came together to participate in webinars, workshops, and panels to share perspectives and knowledge about a wide range of topics, including the ins-and-outs of graduate school and how to launch (or in some cases, relaunch) careers in the context of COVID-19. Beyond Mentoring, a new platform where alumnae and others can host short-term projects for students to build career skills, also launched in mid-July. The Summer Colloquium, Beyond Barnard posted on Instagram, “is meant to meet the needs of students and alumnae during this exceptionally challenging moment.”
“Community has been so important throughout these past five months, and keeping students and alumnae connected and moving forward felt critical this summer,” said A-J Aronstein, dean of Beyond Barnard, of the 350 people who participated. “With uncertainty in the job market, in our personal lives, and in the broader political context, this Summer Colloquium was meant to provide a consistent and singular place to turn to for advice, support, and resources.”
With focused intention, Summer Colloquium fostered opportunities for students and alumnae to learn tangible skills and explore multiple paths to network with alumnae, faculty, staff, and peers. Participants also engaged in virtual experiences that could enhance a résumé, as they continued to develop professionally over the summer.
This tight yet ever-growing network is nurtured year-round, and Beyond Barnard staff used their experience retrofitting previous programs that had to go remote in a flash — such as the inaugural Pathways Celebration — to make the Summer Colloquium a success.
On May 6, President Sian Leah Beilock and more than 60 students attended the inaugural Pathways Celebration, co-hosted by Beyond Barnard, admissions, and members of the Columbia University community. Students in the Pathways program presented the research they conducted during the 2019-20 academic year. Meantime, Beyond Barnard also integrated a series of introductory events about the 4+1 Pathways into its Summer Colloquium programming.
“The 4+1 Pathways are enabling Barnard students to obtain all of the benefits of a Barnard undergraduate education with the additional depth and exploration of a Columbia master’s degree,” said Wright. “Beyond Barnard’s 4+1 Pathway information sessions help Barnard students understand the benefits of the programs and how they might participate. The pathway for the computer science M.S., part of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science B.A./M.S. pathway, now accepts students both with an undergraduate computer science major and an undergraduate computer science minor, and we have seen a tremendous amount of interest from our students.”
In addition to computer science, the Accelerated 4+1 Pathways also offers degrees from Columbia School of International & Public Affairs (B.A./MIA or MPA), Mailman School of Public Health (B.A./MPH), Columbia Harriman Institute (B.A./M.A.), and Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (B.A./M.A.).
Summer Colloquium helped students and alumnae develop professional STEM skills.
The summer of activities — produced by Beyond Barnard in collaboration with staff, faculty, alumnae, students, and employers — covered the career spectrum, from workshops on how to apply to Fulbright to law school applications, the ins-and-outs of working in the humanities, and a special job mission for the Class of 2020. (See the full schedule here.) Community members can schedule future appointments with Beyond Barnard via Handshake.
With Summer Colloquium divided into two sessions — Session One ran from June 15 - July 17 and Session Two took place July 20 - August 21 — multisession programs extended over the summer, and anchor programs created space for the entire community to come together.
Shining a light on a much-discussed industry, Summer Colloquium kicked off STEM Careers Week (July 6-10) with a panel that featured Carson Kraft ’19 (computer science), Joanly Sanchez ’19 (biology), Seyi Olojo ’18 (environmental policy), and Ailín Valdivia-McCarthy ’19 (physics) for a conversation about the many career pathways Barnard students and alumnae can choose to take after graduation.
“When I was at Barnard, I appreciated panels like these,” said Sanchez about her excitement to get involved. “[They helped me] to connect with alumnae and gain assurance that even though we may not be completely certain of our career plans and may feel rushed, there are plenty of STEM careers we can explore to find our right fit.”
Ologo agreed, saying that the experience of being a panelist for budding STEM professionals at Barnard was beyond rewarding. “As a more recent alumna, it felt good to engage with my alma mater and help current students pursue a similar path to the one that I took while I was a student at Barnard,” added Ologo. “While I do feel honored to have shared my career trajectory as a Black woman working in data analytics and now as a doctoral student, I most enjoyed speaking to a virtual room filled with tenacious students that both mirrored my experiences and my identity.”
The week wrapped with a panel of STEM faculty — Brian Mailloux, co-chair and professor of environmental science; Koleen McCrink, associate professor of psychology; and Reshmi Mukherjee, Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of Physics & Astronomy — who shared insights on how to navigate the changes within STEM careers and research, especially during an ever-changing time in science and history. All three stressed to students that while internships remain scarce, one of the best ways they can use their time at Barnard is to learn new computing skills, such as Python.
“The panel was such a great opportunity for our students,” Mukherjee said. “Especially during this pandemic, when there is such a dearth of opportunities, the STEM panel helped students keep their eye on the big picture and long-term vision.” Students from all over the country and the world had access to the panel, which was a noted benefit to conducting it over Zoom.
In addition to Barnard’s panel, Mukherjee led a separate series — a collaboration between Barnard College and Nevis Labs — over seven weeks (June 15 - July 30), via Zoom, that included a series of lectures and seminars given by scientists as a way to introduce students to the cutting-edge research taking place in physics and astronomy. “We had participation from Barnard, Columbia, people from all over the U.S., Ireland, and Paris,” Mukherjee said. More than 200 people registered for the series.
Kaitlin Kratter ’05, associate professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, closed out the series with a lecture called “Better Together: The Importance of Binary Stars in Astronomy.” Before the pandemic, Kratter had plans to visit Barnard while on sabbatical this past spring and summer to meet with the College’s astronomy majors but ended up collaborating with Barnard in an unexpected yet equally rewarding way.
“As a former student of Professor Mukherjee, it was fun to be in the position to give back,” said Kratter. “It was especially rewarding to engage directly with the students after my lecture. Not only did they ask great science questions, but we also had the opportunity to discuss career goals, graduate school, etc. It is so refreshing to connect with enthusiastic students during these challenging times.”
Beyond Barnard never closed, thanks to their singular approach to virtual programming.
Tapping into the office’s wealth of knowledge, Beyond Barnard staff members shared advice and insights in a virtual panel about how to seek new opportunities in a challenging job market. This included information on project development for the summer, internship opportunities and part-time jobs, recommendations for building connections with alumnae and others, and ideas on gaining and refining critical skills.
In the Career Skills Boot Camp, for example, participants joined a series of workshops where the Beyond Barnard staff shared strategies they’ve developed over the course of more than 10,000 advising engagements with students and alumnae. During Career Exploration Week (June 30 - July 2), participants engaged in an interactive workshop that introduced strategies for self-assessment, techniques to discern potential industry fits, and a career exploration toolkit.
“For us to do this much programming in the summer is unprecedented and marks a huge expansion of our virtual presentations and, now, recorded resources,” said Christine Valenza Shin ’84, Beyond Barnard’s senior associate director of advising and programs. Valenza Shin was also excited to include several programs just for alumnae, including a Job Search During a Crisis webinar series for all alumnae and a Career Clarity group for the Class of 2009-2019. Additionally, programming that focused on graduate schools drew both students and alumnae from across the country and around the world.
“My ‘Mission: JOB’ group met every Thursday for the summer, with two current students and four new grads, from Westchester to Lebanon, none of whom knew each other well beforehand,” said Valenza Shin. “Yet they shared their progress in their job and internship searches, offered each other advice and encouragement, and asked specific questions on everything, from how to write a cover letter that will actually get read, to staying calm during an interview, to how exactly you ask for a higher salary. It was really lovely to watch them bond in our weekly virtual space!”
Valenza Shin also brought in Daniel Ames, Columbia’s Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Business, who led a series on negotiations and bargaining dynamics. Participants gained hands-on practice through role-play activities and received immediate feedback from their peers on their performances. “One of the most basic points is that negotiation can often be seen as problem-solving, as opposed to a battle,” Ames explained. “Looking at it this way opens the door to thinking about how best to prepare and how to be creative in seeking solutions.”
Valenza Shin said alumnae, in a show of true team effort, hopped on Zoom panels to share their advice and insights with current students and recent graduates. Using her experience as a product leader for LinkedIn, Keren Baruch ’13 created a workshop series with Ankita Acharya ’19 to train more than 100 students in networking. Baruch also participated in a Women in Tech panel from Columbia Venture Partners and hired a research assistant through Barnard Connect to assist with Baruch’s angel investing work.
“As I told every student I met, they are already brilliant and adaptable thinkers,” said Baruch. “Our job as alumnae is to open the doors and seed the knowledge to help them shine.”
Speaking together meant staying connected.
“Colloquium means ‘speaking together,’ and we thought that this theme was really appropriate this summer,” said Aronstein. “We are all affected differently by COVID-19, and by the political and social uncertainty of this moment. But we can speak together about our shared goals for the future, about our desires to learn about our interests, and about our shared commitment to Barnard and each other.”
That was what professional development coach Karyn Taeyaerts P’21 brought to the eight-week Career Clarity workshop (June 23 - August 11). Taeyaerts worked with a small cohort of alumnae to help them create a clearer vision for their career exploration that could then build a broader action plan. “In the swirl of this pandemic, I was on the lookout for ways to offer my coaching skills in an impactful way, and as a raving Barnard fan, I could think of no better opportunity to do so than with young Barnard alumnae,” said Taeyaerts. “Our Career Clarity discussions worked because they prompted deep personal discovery in a supportive, communal structure, which allowed them to share their insights, intellect, curiosity, and kindness with one another.”
Equally as important is to “stay connected with your Barnard community,” explained Taeyaerts. “Together you have all the bold energy to fuel your forward momentum.”