The Athena Fellows Program
At the Athena Center for Leadership, we dream of a better future and we build it, in community, by taking on the intractable challenges of the present.
The Athena Fellows Program is open to students who have a challenge in mind. By "challenge," we mean just that: a challenge you're interested in. What is something that you, personally, want to take on, and why? What's something in the world that bothers you, that you think could be improved? We don't need a fully baked project, or a solution, or even an idea for how you’d solve it — that's what you'll work on in the program. (If you have that, though, let us know!).
Each semester, we accept up to 10 Fellows. Fellows commit their Fridays to their projects and receive a stipend, just as you would for an internship.
If you're intrigued by the idea of dedicated time, funding, and mentorship for a project, all as part of a cohort experience, but you're not sure what specifically you want to take on, check out SPARK or come talk to us. In fact, talking to us before you apply is a great idea, though not necessary. Schedule a meeting with Elizabeth Werbe here or email firstname.lastname@example.org or Umbreen here or email email@example.com to set up a time.
Applications for Fall 2021 are closed. Please check back in the late Fall for the Spring 2022 application.
Click here to meet our Fall 2021 Athena Fellows
All Barnard students in good academic standing are eligible to apply after their first semester at Barnard.
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The Athena Fellows Program is one of multiple communities of practice we offer at Athena. Communities of practice are groups of people who meet regularly to get better at something — here, changemaking. Read more about the other Communities of Practice we offer here.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Athena Fellows Program
GREAT question. Glad you asked.
In a better future, we live in an equitable society, on a healthy planet.
This is gender justice work, because we know, all too well, what happens when women and nonbinary individuals aren't at the table.
This is racial justice work. We cannot tackle the intractable challenges we face without reckoning with the racism that keeps so many of them intractable. Nor can we, when developing solutions, ignore the implications for communities of color.
This is climate justice work. Every time you make a decision, you'll consider whether there's a more sustainable choice you can make.
This does *not* mean that you can only take on save-the-world projects here. It means that whatever you take on, we'll ask you to think about how you're taking it on. What might you not have thought about? How can you do even better?
We launch a new cohort of Athena Fellows every semester. If you are selected for the program, you should plan to spend every Friday in it, for the duration of the semester.
As much as you put into it. You will have opportunities to brainstorm and collaborate with experts in a community setting. You will receive mentorship and support to develop and implement an idea. You will participate in peer learning sessions and training to advance your problem-solving and changemaking competencies.
You will also receive a stipend.
$1500. You are welcome to use it for project expenses, but are not required to.
Great question. Athena is a supportive space, not a class — so your work will be self-directed and not graded, but don’t worry, you’ll receive plenty of guidance as you take it on.
Our weekly gatherings will be a mix of training time and work time, aimed at helping you better understand the challenge (with the additional help of a faculty advisor), narrow it down, develop a plan for tackling it collaboratively and responsibly, and put that plan into action... all with plenty of space to reflect and change course as needed.
Here's one: Say you’re interested in tackling homelessness. That’s really big, so we help you narrow that down by mapping the systems and the players, and selecting a point of intervention that excites you. You take some time to understand the landscape — who is doing interesting work in this space? What gaps exist? What's a geographical area you could focus on? All of this requires a lot of listening, which we prepare you to do — and all of this will lead you to something a little more concrete.
Once you've gotten to your more concrete challenge, you'll start to work through it, with the guidance of the Athena team. You'll undoubtedly need to know even more about the challenge area - that's where a faculty advisor you identify will be especially helpful. Also helpful is BLAIS. In the case of this topic, the Undesign The Redline series they created is so useful!
Week by week, you'll learn important skills and apply them to your work - often the same day, because the days are intended to set you up for immediate application of those skills.
By the end, you'll have completed a project. What form will it take? It really depends. You might have done a mapping project, with help from the ERC. Maybe you've collected some oral histories - the Oral History Archive was a great help for you! Or perhaps you've created a provocation - some form of media that challenges conventional thinking. Maybe you came up with an idea for a company, and this time and space was what you needed to validate it.
In all cases, you have worked closely with others in the Fellowship (Fellows with similar areas of interest, maybe) and likely an organization as well. In all cases, you'll have taken advantage of the many resources at Barnard to accomplish that and done something meaningful in collaboration with others. Most of all, in all cases, you'll have found a place for yourself in a social change ecosystem, understood just how your work fits into something bigger, and produced something that you learned from and can share with others.
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Here's another example: You interned for the Biden-Harris campaign. Now, you're interested in figuring out how you can hold the administration accountable for the promises it made regarding immigration.
You ask a professor to serve as your faculty mentor and she agrees. You spend the first few weeks of the fellowship looking at what other orgs are doing and decide you'll focus on the promise to reinvest in a case management program - which isn't what you initially thought you'd be doing, but everything you learned from your conversations with other orgs showed you just how important this is for new immigrants.
You create a tool for measuring the impact of one of the org's programs, so that it can be used by the org to seek additional funding next year. The ERC is extraordinarily helpful for her here, as is your professor, and the other Fellows share how orgs they are working with are coming up with creative ways to measure impact.
The semester is over. You enjoyed this so much, though, that you ask the org if you can join them as an intern next semester, so that you can implement the tool. They say yes! In your free time next semester, you drop by the Center to chat with the newest cohort of Fellows, who welcome your encouragement and advice.
Your presence and engagement every Friday, for the duration of the semester. Fellows meet for the majority of the work day.
An openness to collaboration. The change we need won’t come from a single approach or a single person, but at Athena, we don’t force you to do group projects. We do create the conditions for collaborations to emerge and flourish.
Yes. Please share the timing of your conflict, but note that priority is given to applicants who do not have a conflict on Fridays. We're putting together a cohort that will be able to devote most of the day (ideally the entire day) — just as you might for a meaningful internship experience.
If you are not accepted, don't worry, we launch a new cohort of Fellows every semester so you have many more opportunities to apply!
It’s possible you're not where you want to be with your project by the end of the semester — that’s fine! No matter where you are with it, you’ll be a part of our community of Fellows and can access the Athena Center at any time. We’ll be here to offer continued guidance. And, no matter where you are with it at the end of the semester, we’ll help you shape it into something that you can share with prospective employers.
This program will challenge you to consider the intractable challenges we face and to ask yourself, What can I do, where I am? What work already exists? To what can I add my unique skills and knowledge? With the help of your peers and an expert facilitator, you’ll work through these questions to figure out how you will lead positive change — and actually do that. At Athena, leadership is a practice, not a position or a destination. By developing your practice while still a student, you’ll be better equipped to sustain it in your post-Barnard life.