At its heart, the Barnard Laidlaw Scholars Program, which launched this summer, is an invitation to Barnard first-years and sophomores to realize the potential of their own deeply-held convictions to create meaningful change within society. The objective is for each scholar to develop analytical, investigative, problem-solving, and data management skills in service of a topic of their own design. During the summer, the two-year program brought together its first cohort of 25 students for the first phase of the project, conceptualizing their projects and researching the facts under the direct mentorship of Barnard and Columbia faculty.

On Friday, September 16, the Scholars had a chance to present their projects to the Barnard community.

Isabella Maganda Garcia Bernstein ’25, a Spanish and Latin American cultures and archaeological anthropology double major, has conceptualized a study to examine the literature of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Creole nun of New Spain (present-day Mexico), to gain a historical snapshot of colonial education and ecclesiastical policy in Spanish colonies. 

 Isabella Maganda Garcia Bernstein
Laidlaw Scholar Isabella Maganda Garcia Bernstein '25
Laidlaw Scholars at Posters
A moment to celebrate accomplishments at the Laidlaw Scholars Showcase

“This is the first time that I am really presenting my research to a broader audience other than my mentors, my family and friends, and my cat. This day is a celebration of what we accomplished this summer and a preview to see where else our research takes us,” said Garcia Bernstein. 

Silvana Navia ’24, who has also been selected by the Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholars Program, is focusing on an ongoing oral history project.  

"My Laidlaw project is an extension of my mentor Professor Nara Milanich’s oral history and storytelling project,” said Navia. “Since 2019, Professor Milanich and oral historian Fanny García have collaborated with organizations like the Women’s Refugee Commission to collect and share stories of migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border due to the zero-tolerance policy passed under the Trump administration.”  


Laidlaw viewing
Each scholar prepared posters describing their Laidlaw project.

At Barnard, the Laidlaw Program is being led by the Athena Center for Leadership and Beyond Barnard, representing a dynamic collaboration of two of the College’s initiatives dedicated to supporting students as they think about their short-and long-term goals as scholars, leaders, and professionals. 

“I’m thrilled, but not surprised, by how much dynamism, passion, and creativity this group of students has shown towards their own learning and to supporting the learning of their peers,” said Umbreen Bhatti ’00, the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership.

Laidlaw Presenting
Laidlaw Scholars made presentations before an enthusiastic audience.

She and A-J Aronstein, Dean of Beyond Barnard added, "Laidlaw has provided a fantastic pathway for students to get engaged in research and leadership and to connect with faculty so early in their time at Barnard. It has also been a distinctive chance for Beyond Barnard and the Athena Center to collaborate on programming that considers the intersections of research, career goals, fellowships, and leadership.”

The Laidlaw Scholars program represents a powerful expression of the priorities of the Athena Center and Beyond Barnard. Both target inclusivity and accessibility. One of Beyond Barnard's strategic goals is to increase access to opportunities for all Barnard students, specifically those from historically and continually marginalized communities.

“Launching Laidlaw through an equity lens offered us the incredible opportunity to act on this priority from the start and infuse these values into the overall experience,” said Lindsay Granger Weaver, Senior Associate Director, Internships.“The diversity of this cohort, coupled with the amazing work that the students have produced, sets the standard for this program moving forward and also illustrates what is possible for our other internship and experiential programs.” 

Silvana Navia Lecturn
Silvana Navia presenting her project.

“At Athena, we see leadership as more than a position — it's a practice, one that's best developed and sustained in community,” said Bhatti. “The Laidlaw program allowed us to help students see that research and scholarship aren't things that have to happen solo, and that as researchers and scholars, they can lead change through their work.” Bhatti continued, “There is an urgent need to continue funding under-resourced communities, and Laidlaw stands to address that gap. And, by doing so, Laidlaw is supporting the next generation of leaders as they navigate and ultimately change the institutions around them.” 

Laidlaw Poster
Laidlaw Scholars present their projects and celebrate their accomplishments.

During the second year, Laidlaw Scholars will advance their leadership skills by applying their research findings in the real world or working with an external organization partner to support disadvantaged groups. 

“I have so many ideas about how I want to continue my research on family reunification that I can’t wait to bring to life,” said Navia.