A Dual BA Perspective: Jumpstarting the School Year through Civic Engagement

Dual BA students share their experiences helping disadvantaged students gain access to quality education.

October 22, 2019
Hannah Downing and Caroline Rice

While at Sciences Po, Dual BA students take part in a Civic Learning Program, which is a compulsory engagement experience that’s completed during their time in France. The Civic Learning Program offers students the chance to learn and understand citizenship and social responsibility through an experience of engagement out in the field. Upon arriving at Columbia, students often decide to continue their involvement in civic service and community projects in New York City.

Hannah Downing ‘20GS, majoring in Economics, joined the nonprofit Project Access, a global community of mentors and entrepreneurial students.

“I am the Head of Mentor Training for Project Access U.S.’s Columbia University team. Project Access is a nonprofit startup that fights inequality in higher education by widening access to top universities through peer-to-peer mentorship. The U.S. expansion, which launched earlier this year, is aimed at increasing access to American universities for international students from underrepresented backgrounds. So far, most of our work at Columbia has been geared towards modifying PA’s mentor application and selection process for the American education system. We want to recruit mentors who have overcome obstacles of their own to both challenge and empower mentees to apply to their dream schools. I joined Project Access because my experience at Columbia has shown me how unwelcoming higher education in the United States can be for those not born with wealth and connections. Through the Dual BA Program, I have been lucky to meet many incredible students from around the world and it has reinforced the idea that education can and should be open and inclusive. My hope with Project Access is that we inspire students to feel confident in applying to elite universities based on their passion and ability, rather than feel discouraged by their place in society.”

Caroline Rice ‘20GS, studying political science, decided to begin volunteering as a reading mentor with Read Ahead.

“I volunteer once a week at a public school near Columbia as a reading mentor. The program, Read Ahead, aims to help children coming from difficult family contexts by providing them with regular one-on-one time with an adult whose #1 job is to listen. The kids range from ages 5 to 11.
Last year, I was reading with a first-grade boy, and this year I have been matched with a fourth-grade girl. Regardless of our socio-economic background, the vast majority of us at Columbia come from families where education was prioritized and we were pushed to do our best; that necessarily had an impact on our ability to land here and do well. I hope to help other kids who might not have people in their life who focus on them and push them to excel.”

Learn more about Sciences Po’s civic program, and stay updated with Dual BA students’ community projects through the Dual BA Facebook Page and following #ColumbiaDualBA on social media.