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Meet Melanie Sawyer, this week’s CU Women in STEM subject, computer scientist, and origami enthusiast!

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Melanie Sawyer, SEAS ’20, a proud programmer and leader of ADI, a Columbia community of students interested in technology!

Major: Computer Science

What subjects are you interested in: I love so many different spheres of computer science: Arduinos are the coolest and I highly recommend learning some lower-level programming. I’ve recently gotten into data visualization and have dabbled in design. I’ve done a bunch of back-end web dev at my various internships. I’m also really interested in the intersection of CS/EE and earth science. Most recently, I built solar panels for my bike to charge my bike light batteries while I ride. I’m currently taking suggestions for my next bike/CS/hardware project.

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? My dad is an electrical engineer and he uses Matlab a lot to do signal analysis. I always thought that was the coolest part of his job. I really liked math in middle and high school, and I took some computer science classes in high school. I was lucky enough to do research at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) after my senior year of high school, and was running these egregious brute force algorithms when I realized how incredibly powerful programming is.

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far:

The summer after my freshman year, I was selected as one of 29 students in the hackNY Fellows program. I worked at a startup in Soho, lived with 28 other awesome computer science students from around the country, and went to talks every week from super influential people in the NYC tech community (Jonah Peretti, Amanda Cox, Sisi Wei, Camille Fournier, etc). I was still a young, lost, floating blob with little sense of how technology was changing our culture. and how I might fit into that, but after that one summer, I had a renewed sense of purpose and understanding. Also, since I was working at a relatively small startup, I got to break things and prod on an almost weekly basis. Good times.

Within the Columbia community, I spend most of my time outside class helping to run ADI, Columbia’s largest tech club. Last year, I was the director of DevFest, ADI’s spring hackathon. DevFest was one of the most stressful, intense projects I’ve ever embarked on, but it was so incredibly rewarding to see so many new and old members of the Columbia tech community come together. Working with ADI has given me more patience, charisma, and leadership experience than any course at Columbia ever could.

Click here for Melanie’s advice (and her opinions on Pupin Hall)



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Meet Min Hwang, this week’s CU Women in STEM subject, budding civil engineer, and musician!

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Min Hwang, SEAS ’19, who aims to combine her interests in civil engineering and computer science!

Major: Civil Engineering

What subjects are you interested in: Structural engineering, computer science, and the intersections of these two fields

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? Ever since I was three, my mom wanted a lawyer in the family and I did exactly opposite of what she wanted—which is to become an engineer! All semi-jokes aside, I encountered a problem in my calculus BC textbook that informed me that roads are made in parabolic shapes. This is so that when it rains, all the water can go to the side and people would be able to drive safely. In my short life on this earth, I never could have guessed that someone would put so much thought into something we take for granted. The responsibility and capacity to guarantee the safety of others is what attracted me to this field.

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: I had the amazing opportunity this summer to conduct research in a three person team at Thornton Tomasetti. I always sought opportunities to merge my two interests in structural engineering and computer science and this project was a perfect marriage of the two. I facilitated transfer learning in a neural network model from Tensorflow detection model zoo trained to detect a dataset of animals and household objects to detect damages in concrete structures. The long term goal of this research is to create an autonomous inspection device that would not only help with annual inspections of infrastructure but also with inspections and assessments of hard-to-reach areas affected by natural disasters.

Read more here if you want to be an icon too



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Meet Shruti Varadarajan, this week’s CU Women in STEM subject, neuroscience researcher and Shakespeare-lover!

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Shruti Varadarajan, BC ’19, who does research in neuroscience!

Major: Cell & Molecular Biology

What subjects are you interested in? I’m a cell & molecular biology major, but I work in a neuroscience lab so I’m also interested in the brain. I really try to take at least one class outside my major every semester, so I’ve really enjoyed exploring other subjects with classes about Shakespeare and Origins of Human Society and Public Health – I might try to get into related classes for my last year!

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? I’ve been interested in biology since high school, but I think I really solidified my interest when I took AP Bio my junior year of high school. Cell biology is infinitely complex and interesting and it really wasn’t hard for me to pick my major– it also helps that the Barnard Biology department is fabulous.

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: Working at Professor Rae Silver’s neurobiology lab over the past three years has been a really enriching experience for me. I end up spending several hours in Schermerhorn’s basement (everyone’s always surprised to find out there’s a lab there) studying the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus – a region of the hypothalamus that regulates circadian rhythm. I’ve done the Summer Research Institute at Barnard for the past two summers, and I plan to continue for my third summer. I also have a paper being published soon, so that’s very exciting!

What are your career goals? I want to go to medical school – and I’m currently trying to get through the application cycle!

Click here for Shruti’s advice and class suggestions!



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Meet Briley Lewis, this week’s CU Women in STEM subject, who can answer any questions you might have about planets

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Briley Lewis (CC ’18), astrophysics major and Pluto enthusiast!

Major: Astrophysics

What subjects are you interested in? Exoplanets and planetary science

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a vet. But in middle school, when you have to dissect frogs and everything, I realized that I am INCREDIBLY squeamish – so, being a vet wasn’t quite an option, and I needed to find a new interest. One of my best friends ended up giving me the book Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to learn more about space, and I just kept on learning until I got to where I am now.

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: I’ve been a part of two research projects as an undergrad, and both were incredibly important to me. First off, I’ve worked at the American Museum of Natural History for two years (since the summer after sophomore year) as a part of Dr. Rebecca Oppenheimer’s group; we work with an instrument called Project 1640, built at the museum and operated on the Palomar Hale Telescope in CA, which surveys nearby stars to discover new exoplanets through direct imaging. Secondly, I spent last summer at Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, working with data of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons mission.

What are your career goals? I want to continue pursuing research, earning my PhD and eventually either becoming a tenured professor or maybe a civil servant at NASA. At the same time, I hope to be actively involved in shaping policies about space exploration and astronomical research funding, and also to continue doing lots of outreach and teaching.

Favorite science building on campus? I totally have to pick Pupin; it’s basically where I’ve lived the last four years. Also, it may not have the best classrooms, but it TOTALLY has the best roof – go there when the department does public outreach events to see one of the best views!!

Click here for Briley’s advice!



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Meet the subject of today’s CU Women in STEM profile, Francesca Garofalo, who’s shown here doing tissue culture

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Francesca (Frankie) Garofalo (CC ’18), whose interests lie in academic medicine and the evolutionary biology of the human species!

Major: Biology with a concentration in the evolutionary biology of the human species (EBHS)

What subjects are you interested in? Most topics within biology. I’m interested in how human populations differ and why they became that way. Bioarchaeology is also really interesting. Another topic that interests me is medicine in society, like biomedical ethics and pharmaceutical politics.

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? I became interested in biology and medicine when my dad showed my his medical anatomy books as a child. I thought it was so cool that someone could ‘fix’ babies and women (he is an obstetrician and gynecologist.)

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: Hard to choose! I first did research in high school on ovarian cancer, and from there I knew I wanted to do both research and medicine in my life. It was a great experience to learn so much so young and to also form a strong relationship with a post-doctoral researcher, my mentor. She is still a mentor to me today. In my first two years at Columbia, I did research on campus, and it was more ‘basic’ biology on an important cancer protein called p53. I learned a lot about myself then – about my interpersonal communication style, what I want in a career, and more. I decided definitely on the MD (as opposed to MD/PhD) track. Finally, I have had a great time this year interning at a public health firm helping out on a large research study and doing my own secondary research. I’m thankful I’ve been able to learn about the larger scope of medicine and about the crosstalk between medicine and public health.

What are your career goals? Medicine! I am going to medical school shortly after graduation. I am not totally sure what kind of physician I would like to be, but I know at some point I want to contribute to academia in some way, whether that is as a leading scientist or as a medical advisor to research studies.

Read Francesca’s advice here!



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meet today’s CU Women in STEM profile, Minna Jayaswal, neuroscience researcher, future doctor, and possibly your RA!

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Minna Jayaswal (Barnard ’19), whose interests lie in neuroscience and community-based healthcare, among others!

Major: Neuroscience & Behavior, with a minor in History.

What subjects are you interested in? I could honestly have a conversation about anything relating to the brain for hours! I’m specifically interested in the plasticity of the brain, which is how our brain is constantly changing in response to physiological and environmental factors. I’m also interested in the history of psychiatry in the US, which is something that I’ve researched in my coursework.

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? I’ve always been interested in the personalities and emotions of those around me. I didn’t learn to associate those curiosities with neuroscience until a scientist brought monkey brains to our classroom in the 8th grade and gave a talk on the brain and behavior. At that moment I was completely enthralled by the notion that all sources of behavior came from the brain!

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: I work at a lab right now studying natal and infant brain/behavioral development, which has definitely been important in solidifying my understanding of how important clinical research is to our knowledge of science and medicine.

What are your career goals? I’m interested in earning an MD, possibly with an MPH. I hope to work in community-based healthcare, as historically, healthcare has been a way to empower individuals and communities. Lillian Wald, one of my personal heroes, established in the early twentieth-century a whole new model of healthcare in which nurses went into communities with the tools needed to treat patients in their own homes. A lot has changed since her time, representing the rate at which our systems of providing healthcare are changing. I want to be part of developing new models that best serve all individuals regardless of class, gender, or other distinctions that limit access to the best care possible. I also hope to get involved with policy work in order to make changes at the systematic level.

Click here to read Minna’s advice



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Meet Leena Chen, this week’s CU Women in STEM subject who loves pure math, tea, and doggo memes

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Leena Chen (Barnard ’20), who loves numbers and stars!

Major: Mathematics

What subjects are you interested in? Besides mathematics, I’m minoring in Ancient Studies as well! I’m interested in just about everything, from math to philosophy to music to history. I’d like to think that I’m an intellectually curious student who is passionate about learning, but it’s also possible that I’m just mediocre at everything and can thus apply myself to anything. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Comment from the editor: Leena is actually amazing at math.)

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? People are often surprised when I mentioned this, but math was my least favorite subject in high school, and I only recently came around to it. Math is almost universally hated by everyone outside math and related fields, just because it’s so inaccessible. In the more formative years of our lives, people tend to experience math as a required course in school in which we are rewarded for the regurgitation of algorithms and formulas that we can then apply to any problem presented to us. It’s rigid, it’s pointless, and it’s boring.

I just kind of got lucky and sort of stumbled into math: I got interested in astronomy when I came to college, and I realized that meant that I should start taking some quantitative courses. Only after doing so did I discover that I actually enjoyed my math courses more than my other classes, and it kind of snowballed from there. I guess math can be thought of as a systematic method to discovering the world of abstract ideas and patterns, and I find it beautiful.

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: Research and internship experience in your specific field is harder to come by for (pure) math majors than it is for other STEM majors. Since math is in “everything”, we often rely upon so-called transferable quantitative skills rather than upon directly applicable coursework. As a result, my experiences thus far have been in physics and aerospace. During my time here, I’ve been especially involved with Columbia Space Initiative (check out Bwog’s ClubHop of CSI!); I’ll be CSI’s co-president next year.

What are your career goals? Most math majors typically end up in either academia, education, or industry (i.e. finance) after college. I suppose my personal career goals are somewhat unconventional – I’m hoping to enter the aerospace industry, though not as an engineer. I plan on getting a law degree after my bachelor’s and hopefully utilize both my quantitative and qualitative skills to work in aviation/aerospace law.

Memes and more math after the jump!



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Meet Julia Zeh, future marine biologist, creative writer, and this week’s CU Women in STEM profile!

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Julia Zeh (CC ’18), future star marine biologist!

Major: Environmental Biology

What subjects are you interested in? Marine biology, bioacoustics, behavioral ecology, and conservation. I’m really interested in how we can use acoustics to monitor whale and dolphin behavior and look at how noisy human activities in the ocean (like shipping or drilling for oil and gas) impacts marine mammals’ ability to communicate.

Can you remember the specific moment that got you hooked on marine biology? I grew up on Long Island just a few blocks away from the beach. I’ve always been a nature/animals girl; when I was in first grade I did a project about dolphins so I guess I’ve just never really grown out of it. Then when I started learning about what humans were doing to the environment, I knew I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to conservation.

What research have you done? I studied abroad last year in Scotland, where I studied dolphin vocalizations. I also currently do research in an office at the Bronx Zoo on dugongs in Madagascar, humpback whale vocalizations in New York, and field work observing whales in New York.

What are your career goals? I’ll be starting my PhD this fall, where I’ll be studying marine mammal acoustics. I would eventually like to be a professor; my goals are to focus on research and teaching with an emphasis on science communication.

Favorite scientist? Marie Curie. Not only was she an incredible scientist but she also was a really admirable woman who put up with a lot of shit from men. I also really like her because I went to her tomb in the Pantheon in Paris and it was super inspiring to see the hundreds of notes which people from all over the world had left on her tomb about how Marie Curie has inspired their careers and goals. It was a really emotional and intense experience.

Click here to read Julia’s advice for you!



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Meet today’s CU Women in STEM profile, Amita Shukla, who’ll be shaping the way that governments use technology in the future!

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Amita Shukla (SEAS ’20), whose interests lie in computer science and public policy!

What subjects are you interested in? I’m majoring in Computer Engineering and minoring in Political Science. I’m interested in just about everything though! When I study abroad in two semesters I’m going to deliberately study something that isn’t either of those.

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? It actually wasn’t too long ago that electrical engineering and public policy, my two big current interests, were among the most boring things I could imagine. They both have pretty steep learning curves before things start to get interesting, and that’s basically where most people get alienated from them.

While I’ve been interested in building and designing things for a long time, which is a typical engineering backstory, I’ve always been a lot better at subjects in the humanities, like English.

I started computer engineering mainly for the intellectual rigor. Doing something that’s not your strength rewires your brain really noticeably. I feel like a lot more methods of thinking are available to me now, and my headspace has become a lot more varied and interesting. I’m staying with the major because I’ve started getting past the initial discomfort and found the subject matter to be really elegant and worthwhile.

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: This academic year, I’ve been working at the U.S. Department of State, creating a platform using interactive maps to help new diplomats get acquainted with their regions before deployment. Last year, I interned at the Harmony with Nature initiative at the U.N. and helped build a platform for scientists and policymakers to collaborate on proposing and passing international laws on sustainability.

What are your career goals? I want to work in the public sector to help governments build data aggregation and analysis tools, which would allow the government to work more efficiently and develop closer relationships to people.

Favorite place to study on campus? Watson Library in Uris. The space I take up in the B-school is the payment I require for putting up with pitches about joining their AI-blockchain-neural-networks-for-Uber in exchange for 1% equity.

Click here to learn more about Amita (and to read her great advice)



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img February 27, 201811:29 amimg 7 Comments

Meet Hailey Winstead, epigenetics researcher, brunch fan, and the subject of this week’s CU Women in STEM profile!

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Our latest profile is from Hailey Winstead (CC ’18), whose interests lie in psychology, specifically behavioral epigenetics!

Major: Psychology/Pre-med

What subjects are you interested in? Psychobiology and Behavioral Epigenetics: basically how the environment can impact our genes, and how our genes then impact our behavior. I am also interested in how hormones, specifically estrogen and testosterone, impact neurodevelopment.

How did you get interested in psychology? Can you remember the specific moment that got you hooked on your subject? My general interest in psychology started in 8th grade when my science class talked about Mamie and Kenneth Clark (see below under favorite scientist). I came into Columbia planning to major in psychology, but thought about switching to biology several times. I stayed with psychology after learning about behavioral epigenetics, because the idea that the environment can change how our genes are expressed and that expression can impact our behavior is just really cool.

What research have you done? I am currently writing a senior thesis on the effects of Bisphenol A (BPA–yes, the stuff in plastics) exposure during the prenatal period. I work in the Champagne Lab and we are interested in the impact of early life experiences on behavior and what epigenetic variations make it possible for associated neural mechanisms to exist within a lifetime and across generations.

What are your career goals? I plan on attending medical school, but am taking a gap year to do research.

Learn more about Hailey here!



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Meet Anna Coerver, astrophysics student and Bwog’s very first profile for CU Women in STEM!

Bwog Science is bringing you a brand new column, CU Women in STEM! In this feature, we’ll be highlighting the amazing women in science at Columbia. Our first profile is from Anna Coerver (BC ’20), who is as bright and exciting as the stars she studies! 

Major: Physics

What subjects are you interested in? I honestly love most of physics, but I’m all about the astro side–I’m really interested in compact object theory (magnetars, black holes, neutron stars) and cosmology. Also, I love solar physics, anything with a weird magnetic field, anything that explodes, and light phenomena like rainbows and spectroscopy.

How did you get interested in astrophysics? I knew I liked physics in high school, but for some reason, I literally never thought about outer space. Both of my parents are art historians, so science wasn’t really a casual conversation topic in my house, and my high school didn’t offer anything astro-related. I took a class my first semester freshman year called “Theories of the Universe: Babylon to the Big Bang” because it sounded history-like and because I was interested in science history. Somehow, this class totally hooked me on space! The semester after, I took an astronomy class where I went on a spring break trip to an observatory in Arizona. The time in nature plus the astrophotography plus the stars were all I needed to push me into astrophysics as my main interest, and it’s snowballed from there.

What research have you done? I work with the NuSTAR group in the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory doing high-energy astroparticle physics. I analyze X-ray and gamma-ray data of really energetic objects like pulsar wind nebulae and black hole binaries.

What are your career goals? I want a PhD in astrophysics, and I think I want to be a research scientist, hopefully with my own lab some day. Then again, I might end up living at an observatory on top of a mountain somewhere, and spend my days hiking and teaching kids about space.

Learn more about Anna here!



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Hargitay was rocking some kickass boots.

The Athena Film Festival may have officially wrapped up, but we’re here for one more review! Bwogger Victoria Arancio had the opportunity to sit for this powerful documentary. 

I have watched many different documentary films before, each attempting to evoke some emotion deep down inside of me, pushing me to anger or action. After viewing I Am Evidence, I felt emotions that were both complicated and deeply rooted in my unconscious understanding of society. As a woman, I think often about my odds: there’s a 33% chance that I will experience sexual assault. If I happen to beat these odds, one in every three of my friends will experience the pain that I saw unfold on screen. It hurt to see women—primarily women of color—at odds with a complicated and unfair criminal justice system. The women selected to tell their story, like countless others, were just a small fraction of a calculated decision made by police to leave thousands of rape kits forgotten, left to collect dust in storage rooms across the country. In light of the #MeToo Movement, being silenced is no longer an option: we must change the way that our law enforcement handles sexual assault, because it’s time.

Time’s Up



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The Paris Agreement – yay.

The fact that our Earth might suddenly burst into a ball of fire or something close to it has alarmed several nations. On Thursday night, Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy hosted a panel discussion about the future of sustainability in a developing world. Bwog Staffer Angelica Lagasca covers the event. 

Six pm on a Thursday found me, starving out of my wits, on a chair strategically placed in the back of a room in Faculty House. I had been saving my appetite, as the location of the event in the Faculty House seemed promising — one of the most well-kept buildings on Columbia’s billion dollar-endowed campus should be offering some sort of free delicacy, like maybe cheese or even a single cracker. This was not the case. Throughout the presentation, I had to satisfy myself with dust mites.

As the event began, my hunger began to subside in the way that chronic sensations eventually do. Jonathan Elkind, a Fellow and Senior Adjunct Research Scholar at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, framed the event in its context: when Trump decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, perspectives had to adjust. Now more than ever, we are urged to define the relationship between development objectives and environmental protection, between poverty alleviation and resource destruction.

How can we address energy demand without being our usual First World jerk self?



img February 02, 20183:23 pmimg 0 Comments

Tickets still available, probably. (Spoiler alert: no one in Russia wants to go)

Last night, the Harriman Institute at Columbia and the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia held “Russia Hosts the World Cup: Sports and Politics in 2018,” detailing the relationships between global sporting events and, you guessed it, the politics of hosting them. Bwogger Isabel Sepúlveda, who knows a bit about politics and nothing about sports, attended in order to discover more about this connection and maybe, what the heck is happening with FIFA.

From North Korea and South Korea fielding a joint women’s hockey team at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to Russia’s ban after the revelation of their large-scale doping program, there’s been a surprising amount sports in my political news. This seemed like the perfect place to get an explanation. I was expecting it to be either a lot of sports and not a lot of politics or a lot of politics and no sports, but the interdisciplinary panel assembled ensured that while some sections had more of one than the other, as each panelist gave an individual presentation for approximately 20 minutes, there was a nice balance between the two.

Dr. Natalie Koch was the first panelist to present. An Associate Professor in the department of Geography at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, she is “a political geographer focused on geopolitics, nationalism, and authoritarianism in the post-Soviet space and the Arabian Peninsula.” She tooks a more general approach to the topic at hand, talking about the geopolitics of sport in an illiberal world. The question that grounded her presentation was “why?” Why do authoritarian countries like Russia and Qatar, who will host the next World Cup in 2022, want to host these sorts of events?




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Let’s be honest, the old ‘is Barnard part of Columbia debate?’ is still fun

Despite the lack of guests at this week’s SGA meeting, Barnard Bwogger Dassi Karp dutifully reports the council’s survey findings which included a disappointment with on-campus employment conditions, the experiences of first generation students and the availability of JJs. 

It’s been a while since Barnard’s Student Government Association has had a Rep Council meeting with no real administrative or student guests. But SGA had business to discuss, and they got right to it. This week, students reported back from a Seven Sisters conference that happened last weekend, and we heard this semester’s Desserts After Dark results. It was a pretty tame meeting, but not too boring.

The Seven Sisters is an association of historically women’s colleges in the Northeast. Of the seven, Barnard is one of six that still exists as an undergraduate institution. These six get together yearly to promote bonding and learning from each other. This year’s conference took place at Mount Holyoke, described by Rep for Seven Sisters Relations Julia Pickel as “very different from Barnard. It’s a rural campus.” Conference-goers attended sessions on topics such as gender identity at women’s colleges, controversial speakers and free speech, alumnae panels, and group brainstorming sessions. First-year class president Sara Morales, who attended the conference, was especially excited to share one of Mount Holyoke’s methods for sharing information about student groups: a “newsflush,” which consists of updates taped to the back of bathroom stalls. “It’s like wow,” Morales enthused. “I felt accomplished every time I went to the bathroom.” Good to know. SGA plans on taking this and other ideas garnered at the conference in to consideration.

More after the jump

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