Last week I attended a mentorship talk of the Columbia Girls in STEM Initiative, a week-long program in its second year that selects high school seniors to participate in group projects and develop college readiness skills, and to hear from accomplished mentor speakers that encourage and prepare the girls to consider majoring in STEM subjects in college and pursue STEM careers.
Now operating in four cities—New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, and San Francisco—the Initiative makes use of hands-on activities to develop the students’ communication and leadership skills. In each city the program works with a local partner: in New York, Goldman Sachs; in Washington, D.C., National Geographic; in Miami, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and in San Francisco, Microsoft.
As I looked around the room it appeared that all the girls in attendance were of color, though it is open to all girls—and boys as well.
Preparing the Pipeline
Jason Wingard, dean of Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, says in an online video that the pre-collegiate initiative was created to “prepare this needed pipeline of underrepresented girls for careers in the much-desired professional STEM fields and disciplines.
“The Initiative trains young women in foundational skills, exposes them to career possibilities, and provides ongoing support throughout their professional journey,” he continues.
Wingard also says the program’s “teachers and mentors represent senior executive women across industry organizations all over the country.”
Georgia Papathomas, Woman in STEM
At last week’s talk, the girls heard from Georgia Papathomas, Ph.D., vice president and group chief information officer at Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos. of Johnson & Johnson. Originally from a small Greek town of 7,000 people, Papathomas came to New York alone as a 16-year-old.
Although I’ve been out of high school for a few years now, I found her talk inspiring.
“Girls must take greater risks,” she told the high schoolers, urging them to stretch themselves, that indeed success lies beyond what we think we can do.
She confessed that with each of her promotions, with each new challenge, she was convinced she could not do it—but she never said no.
She advised the girls to “learn as much as you can. Give yourself the freedom to choose. Having a strong base is all you need. Try difficult, impossible things.”
She also said that in her own work she makes sure her teams are diverse.
A Student’s Perspective
After the talk I spoke with Athalie Bastien, one of the 20 participants, who said she got a lot out of the program, which runs daily from 8 to 4:30.
“It mostly stresses computer science, particularly coding,” she told me. “We also focused on college readiness skills, especially English and writing skills. We had to do a two- to three-page research paper as well.”
A rising senior at Deerfield Academy, Bastien is undecided about applying to Columbia, but the program has piqued her interest in STEM.
To learn more, visit the Columbia Girls in STEM Initiative website.