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The Spring Semester Wraps Up with Exciting Programming for Stern Honors Students

The S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College for Women is known for its outstanding and popular programming for students, and the spring 2023 semester was no exception. The events, planned by Honors Program director, Dr. Cynthia Wachtell, are well-attended, eagerly anticipated and designed to benefit students both personally and in their future careers.

The events included:

Ayanna Behin, Director of Training and Conflict Consulting at the New York Peace Institute

On March 14, Ayanna Behin, an expert in conflict resolution, led a leadership workshop for the students, in which she taught them helpful tools for resolving differences, navigating difficult conversations, managing disagreements and addressing challenges in creative ways.

"We are not taught how to deal with conflict in our lives, so it's scary," she told the students, and explained that conflict can be approached as "an opportunity to be better understood and to better understand somebody else."  In interactive exercises, Behin and her colleague, Rachel Bai, had the students partner-up to practice active listening and other skills. The students were very appreciative of the workshop and plan to use the skills they learned in both their personal and professional lives.

Flamenco Festival 

On Thursday, March 23, the honors students went to New York City Center, one of Manhattan's leading centers for dance and musical theater, to see a living legend, Sara Baras, and her company, perform in the Flamenco Festival.

Students attending New York City Center for the Flamenco Festival

Baras has spent the past 30 years building an internationally lauded career as a dancer, director, and choreographer and won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance in 2020.

A distinctly Spanish art form, Flamenco is made up of three parts: guitar playing ("guitarra"), song ("cante"), and dance ("baile"). The students enjoyed the electrifying performance, with many commenting that they enjoyed being exposed to Flamenco, a style of dance entirely new to them.

Talia Gershon, Director, Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure Research at IBM

Honors students speaking with Talia Gershon after the event

On Monday, March 27, Talia Gershon, a trained materials scientist, spoke to the students. Gershon has spent the past decade at IBM and currently directs a team of world-class research scientists and engineers with the mission of inventing the future of cloud computing.

She gave a fascinating talk about the history and future of artificial intelligence, machine learning and ChatGPT. She discussed how AI functions and stressed the importance of the infrastructure that is behind AI, which includes cloud computing.  Gershon also discussed her personal career trajectory, shared her insight into how to be a successful woman in the IT industry and generously offered to circulate the resumes of computer science majors and minors interested in interning at IBM. The students had a variety of questions for Ms. Gershon during the Q&A portion of the event, and many approached her after the presentation with additional questions and to thank her for her informative talk.

New York City Walking Tours

After the Passover break, the students participated in walking tours of Manhattan’s historic Garment District.  The historian Lucie Levine  began by showing the students brownstones a block from campus on 35th Street, many of which are single-family homes, and discussed the type of people who originally lived in them and how that determined the architecture. She then showed the students what is now the CUNY Graduate Center, which used to be a high-end department store on 5th Avenue.  She then turned to discussing  buildings designed by Jewish architects hired by Jewish factory owners and the distinctive style they developed in what became known as the Garment District.

Touring Manhattan's famous Garment District

Levine also discussed skyscraper design as well as the art-deco style of architecture and how it originated. She showed the students a building by the famed architect, Ely Jacques Kahn, whose style incorporates Middle Eastern influences, and another that features a jazz-age architecture style. “I really enjoyed learning about the fascinating history of the Garment District, and surrounding area, as seen through its architecture,” explained Vered Gottleib. “It gave me a new appreciation for the thought that went into the design of the buildings of Manhattan.”

Nathaniel Stinnett, Director of the Environmental Voter Project

On Wednesday, May 3, Nathaniel Stinnett spoke with the honors students about his important and impactful work as the founder of the Environmental Voter Project, a non-partisan nonprofit that uses data analytics and behavioral science to mobilize environmentalists to vote. Named one of five global “climate visionaries” by The New York Times in 2018 and dubbed “The Voting Guru” by Grist magazine, Stinnett is a frequent and popular speaker on the latest and most innovate campaign techniques and the behavioral science behind getting people to vote.

Stinnett enthusiastically explained to the students the various techniques his organization uses to encourage people to vote, and told the students, “Just remember, who you vote for is private, but whether you vote is public record.”  Political candidates, he noted, will only target and respond to the interests of established voters. "Nathaniel Stinnett was a great speaker, and it was very interesting to learn about how powerful a voter is in the grand scheme of policymaking," commented Yuval Surpin ‘23S after the event.

Senior Project Presentations and Dinner 

Rounding out the spring semester’s events was the Honors Senior Project Presentations and Dinner on April 27 celebrating the students’ accomplishments over the past school year. The event began with a festive dinner, and then 50 graduating seniors each had two minutes to present their research questions and findings.  It made for a fun, fast-paced, and fascinating event.  Among the topics the students presented were: “Tracing Jewish Soviet Immigration through a Personal Lens: 1970s-1980s,” “Gender Disparities in Medicine: Factors Contributing to the Biases Against Women in Clinical Care,” “Identification of Proteins with Potentially Essential Functions in Sumoylation and Male Infertility,” and “The Power of Perception: An In-depth Analysis of How Social Group Attitudes Predict Political Ideology and Partisanship in American Jewry.”

“I loved all of the events we enjoyed together during the second half of the spring semester, but my very favorite was the Senior Project presentations,” commented Dr. Wachtell. “To say that I was impressed is a huge understatement.  The students were so articulate and passionate about the projects they had worked on over the course of three semesters, and those projects – spanning such a wide range of topics – were so interesting and impactful. I am simply awed by all that these students accomplished here at Stern.”

Many thanks to Vered Gottleib for her help with the writing of this article.