Hello all! Today, I’m here to talk about a really special part of Barnard: The Athena Center for Leadership Studies. This organization is really unique to Barnard and is part of what makes attending an all-women’s college such a valuable experience. The Athena Center is located on the third floor of Barnard Hall.
The Athena Center is actually rather new. It began in 2009 and has been growing rapidly ever since. The Center’s mission is to foster the next generation of women leaders (that’s us!) by using lots of different academic programs and special events aimed at Barnard students. As undergraduate women, building and instilling these leadership skills is extremely important and allows us to take advantage of them beyond Barnard and into the real world.
This mission is what drew me to the Athena Center, and at the beginning of this semester I joined as an Athena Scholar. The Athena Scholars Program is the Center’s academic method of teaching leadership skills. Through a combination of theoretical and academic approaches, the program helps us develop strong leadership skills throughout our undergraduate career.
The only requirement to enroll as an Athena Scholar is that you have to be a first year or second year. After that, it’s really simple. Attend an information session about the program’s requirements, sign a contract, and you’re in! What I love about the Athena Scholars Program is that nobody gets turned away, and the philosophy behind this is that everyone has the leadership skills within them to succeed in the program.
Once you’re in, there’s a host of requirements we have to fulfill in order to be named an “Athena Scholar” at the end of our four years. The way I like to describe the program’s requirements is that it’s essentially like declaring a minor with a heavy practical component. There are five academic courses you have to take: three pre-approved electives, a senior seminar, and a class called Women and Leadership which all Scholars take in their sophomore or junior year. So far for my electives, I have taken Economics of Gender and am planning on petitioning to get my Environmental Law class to count as well. I’m also hoping to take Public Speaking as an elective either next year or senior year because that’s such a great skill to have! While the Environmental Law course is for my major as well, the Economics of Gender is a class I would have never chosen to take (anything with the word economics scares me) and I have learned so much about women’s issues from a unique perspective. The Athena Scholars Program really pushes students to step outside of their comfort zone and try new things, and it’s really paid off for me!
On the practical end of the program, Scholars participate in three leadership labs, a practicum (just a fancy way of saying an internship) and do a social action capstone project in the senior spring semester. The leadership labs are 2-hour workshops that teach very specific skills. For example, a workshop may focus on learning about how to successfully negotiate or practicing effective speaking skills. I haven’t done the leadership labs yet, but I’m hoping to take one about how to manage my finances since I have no idea where to begin with that. For my practicum, I’m planning on doing research in an Earth Science lab or working for a New York City government agency (but I still have time to decide!). Hopefully, my practicum will inspire a social action project during my senior year.
Beyond the Athena Scholars Program, I want to get more involved in the Athena Center during my next two years at Barnard. I’m definitely going to apply to Athena Digital Design Agency (ADDA), which teaches women HTML/CSS coding languages (As an aside, read about Sarah’s experience in ADDA here)! By the end of the course, students build their own website! There’s also Mentoring and Enrichment Programs, which pairs students with either other students or adults to build professional, yet meaningful relationships with the end-goal of gaining leadership skills. I really hope to take advantage of this program in the future because I think it’s fun to learn from my peers and it will give me the opportunity to meet more amazing women! The Athena Center has many more events that they hold every year. You can find them here!
For more information about my experience as an Athena Scholar, the Athena Center, or general questions about being a Barnard student please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at email@example.com.
Hannah Spierer ’17