At Barnard, students are encouraged to think big and tackle problems inside of and beyond the campus gates. This fall, a new fellowship program offered through the Athena Center for Leadership makes applying a Barnard education to real-world problems even easier.
Each semester, a cohort of up to 10 Athena Fellows receive dedicated time, funding, and mentorship to tackle a challenge of their choosing — whether that’s improving patient experiences in hospitals, reducing bias in AI, or anything else that inspires them. And they have a unique opportunity to do this within the context of a like-minded community of peers who are navigating similar obstacles while exploring different methods of changemaking, embracing positive risk-taking, and learning how to ask for and receive support.
“The Athena Center is a home for changemakers on campus — changemakers who value collaboration, want to try different approaches to changemaking, and appreciate the learning that comes from taking risks. The Athena Fellowship helps brilliant Barnard students build upon what they learn in the classroom with the time, space, resources, and — most importantly — community to tackle the challenges that keep them up at night,” said Umbreen Bhatti ’00, the Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of Barnard’s Athena Center.
The program ties directly into the Athena Center’s broader vision and approach to leadership development — as a practice, grounded in an abundance mindset. Students participating in the Fellows program develop and strengthen their leadership practice through supportive communal experiences — practices that will benefit them regardless of the position they hold. “It’s about adopting a more relational approach to leadership,” said Elizabeth Werbe, director of applied learning and entrepreneurship at the Athena Center.
"In addition to seeing the students support each other as they grapple with how best to address complex challenges, one of the most powerful aspects of the Fellows program has been witnessing students stretch their comfort zone and design small experiments to push through any fears or limiting beliefs that may be holding them back," said Werbe. It is these tools and mindsets that students are learning through the Fellows program that, according to Werbe, will enable them to lead and navigate the ambiguity — as well as the possibility — of the future.
“The Fellows Program is precisely why I came to Barnard,” added Jacqueline McGreevey ’24, one of the fall 2021 cohort members. “[I wanted] to learn how to lead, to approach challenges differently, and collaborate with others to devise the best possible solution.”
Learn about the projects the Athena Fellows are working on this fall, below. Interested students can apply to the next Fellows cohort by November 29, 2021.
Jana Abu Ayash ’22 - Physiological and Organismal Biology
“I was most interested in joining a collaborative ecosystem of fellows and mentors that are working together to create a more equitable and sustainable world. As a transfer student from Lebanon, I joined Barnard amidst a national revolution in Lebanon, and I was looking to be part of a community of educated, eager, passionate, and ambitious women to learn from, and that is exactly what I found in this fellowship.
“The fellowship has pushed me out of my comfort zone of researching into taking action and producing meaningful change. My project is working on exploring ways to deliver telemedicine, specifically teleradiology, solutions to address the disparity in access to quality healthcare in suburban Lebanon due to the lack of specialized medical care.”
Eugenia Baek ’23 - Economics and Mathematics
“I’ve always been driven by the desire to tackle challenges that have plagued my loved ones: One such problem was the time-consuming and labor-intensive household chores that disproportionately burdened the women in my family. I wanted to reimagine a world without household chores: What would this look like? What new opportunities could this create for everyone, particularly women?
“It is these kinds of challenges that sparked my interest in entrepreneurship, but I’ve always seen entrepreneurship as something to pursue later in my career, after developing a substantial disposable income and network. My experience as an Athena Fellow has allowed me to pursue what I thought was not possible at this time. The program has given me the time and resources to throw myself into the exciting, messy, uncertain, and novel world of entrepreneurship in a nurturing environment alongside peers who are committed to uplifting other women.”
Emma Beaumont-Smith ’23 - Political Science and Human Rights
“The program provides a place for students to focus on making real change in an area that is important to them. While Barnard curricula inform us of changes that must be made in the world and strive to give students the tools they need to make these changes, having a program that directly promotes proactive change-making, versus just learning about an issue or spreading awareness, is an entirely different and completely wonderful experience. I joined the Athena Fellows Program because the issue I am passionate about, orbital debris in space and private-government relations in the space sector, was practically unfound in any classes or other undergraduate opportunities.
“The Athena Fellows Program presented a place in which I could realize the project I had been envisioning for so long but had been unable to manifest in any other place at school. When I finish the Athena Fellowship, I hope to walk away with a complete policy report that includes recommendations for government action, as well as strengthened leadership and analytical skills.”
Naina Durga Lavakare ’22 - Sociology, Psychology minor
“I’ve been working on exploring the societal impact and ethical repercussions of big data, with a specific focus on reducing bias in AI software used in hiring practices. I’ve been working on creating a digital toolkit for new grads and seniors at Barnard to educate them on the hidden ways in which they are part of this system. The toolkit aims not just to educate but to help students take action by seeing how their résumés and LinkedIn profiles are scanned and parsed for key words.
“I’m excited to take a meaningful action, even if it’s a small one. Most of my classes, even project-based classes, focus on the research and grades. This is a unique opportunity in that I have a space to work on something I am passionate about without the worry of being graded. And the best part is, this project culminates in a lasting action that will outlive even this fellowship!
“I hope to walk away with strong connections, a network of other empowered change-makers, and a new way of thinking about how to create lasting change.”
Karen Jang ’23 - Biochemistry
“Throughout my time as a fellow, I have developed my startup nonprofit organization, BraCycle, that collects gently used bras and fits women — who may have trouble accessing well-fitting bras — with these cleaned and loved bras. Through the exceptional and thoughtful mentorship of Elizabeth Werbe and Umbreen Bhatti, my progress goal this semester has been to build relationships with individuals experiencing homelessness in NYC and have our first bra fitting and distribution event amongst this community. Every week, I look forward to meetings with my Athena Fellow faculty adviser, Barnard professor Sandra Goldmark, to learn and discuss how to permeate sustainability when tackling the ‘how’ behind BraCycle: collecting, cleaning, sorting, distribution, and sharing of these bras. If you would like to give your bra and be part of our efforts, please email me at KarenJang@BraCycle.com and visit the BraCycle website and the BraCycle Instagram!
My favorite part is that every Friday I am surrounded by a cohort of Barnard students who I deeply admire, laugh with, and learn from.
Miranda Karger ’24 - Computer Science
“I’m an aspiring human-centered designer. People often respond, ‘What is that?’ It means I want to be a professional human-problems solver. The confusion makes sense considering there’s no such thing as a human-centered design major. There are also very few design courses, so I jump at opportunities like Athena Fellows where I get to solve real-world problems while learning problem-solving skills.
“This is the problem I’m addressing with my project: Do you have many pleasant memories of hospital experiences? I feel like most people don’t. There may be many reasons why, but I think a big one is that medical professionals and engineers don’t prioritize patient experiences. You shouldn’t be left in a room by yourself for hours waiting for someone to come. You also shouldn’t have to feel as uncomfortable as you might during procedures like MRIs. I hope to begin fixing the latter issue this semester.”
Jacqueline McGreevey ’24 - Economics and Scientific Public Policy
“When I was presented with the opportunity to apply for a program that allowed me to work to solve a problem I was passionate about, namely sexism in economics, I knew I had to seize it.
“I am developing an economics program for high school girls to strengthen their personal understanding of economics and contextualize their role in the world. I am creating creative lessons that focus on aspects of economics that young women may find fascinating. I hope to grow their interest, in what many consider one of the most sexist sciences, by focusing on untraditional topics, and to walk away with the leadership skills to tackle problems in our interconnected world.”
Audrey McNeal ’24 - Political Science
“The Athena Fellows program is for people who are motivated to be the change they want to see in the world. Our society is full of complex issues that require us to do what we can to work towards mitigating and disassembling the effects of these issues.
“My project is to lobby relevant government officials and stakeholders to reimagine how we assess and define civic education, especially in the context of a culturally diverse representative democracy. After reviewing certain standards of high school U.S. history and government, it can be seen that certain arguments embedded within standards can create a narrative that leverages power. How historical stories are told and which perspectives are highlighted or left out can affect the way students interact and engage civically.
“I believe that the classroom is increasingly becoming a needed space for diverse political conversation. It can be hard today to interact online with news sources, videos, or other media that doesn’t cater to one’s own opinion or ideology. In today’s age, a civic readiness curriculum should instigate a working awareness of one’s own thought process and the effects of social media and information on political socialization and be inclusive to the nuanced influence that people of diverse backgrounds have historically contributed to American democracy.”
Wynee Pintado ’24 - Undecided major
“My project is focused on identifying the best moments for immigrants to contact a lawyer for help with their cases, as not reaching out at the right time is a huge issue. Miscommunication among the immigrant community plays a huge role in this issue, as people often believe that what worked for someone else will work for them, which almost never happens, since no two cases are the same. So, while trying to figure it all out on their own, their case becomes more complicated, and once it does finally reach a lawyer, there are more barriers than they would have had if the client had got to them at an earlier stage. As a first-generation American, I’ve witnessed this struggle immigrants face with my own family members and was inspired to make a change in hopes of helping others in my community.”
Avalon Zborovsky-Fenster ’24 - Political Science, Philosophy minor
“My project involves expanding and sustaining the impact of a student-run mutual aid initiative on Barnard’s campus: Barnard Mutual Aid. As a result of my experience as an Athena Fellow, I’ll be walking away with new skills and perspectives concerning this challenge, but just as importantly, with a tight-knit community of peers who care about creating positive change in the world. Being in community with other student changemakers is one of my favorite things about Barnard, and the Athena Fellows program has been an incredible vehicle to fully immerse myself in collaborating with others to co-create a more ethical world.”
Allie Zehner ’23 - Neuroscience and Behavior
“During my time as an Athena Fellow, I have been working on a book project with the following goal — to create a space for driven, diverse young women and gender-expansive people to share their bold, honest, and informative perspectives on the most important topics affecting our generation, dubbed ‘Gen Z.’ The book will feature 15-20 Gen Z writers and be accompanied by supplementary resources — likely a podcast and zine-making kit — that spurs dialogue and engagement amongst readers.
“I joined this program for support, collaboration, mentorship, and structure, and it has delivered. Athena has pushed me to ask difficult questions about what I want to build, how to best build it, and why. Now I am moving forward with an incredibly stable foundation. But my favorite part is that every Friday I am surrounded by a cohort of Barnard students who I deeply admire, laugh with, and learn from.”