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Meet the mind behind Barnard’s ‘Ann and Andrew Tisch Scholarship for Refugee Women, Maia Bix!

School & class: Barnard College, Class of 2017!

Major: Political Science, minor in Economics

Hometown: Amherst, MA                                              

1. Tell me a little about yourself. Are you involved with anything on or off campus? 

I’m a senior, so I’ve spending a lot of time just trying to wrap my head around graduation and work out my post-grad plans! On campus I’m involved with Barnard Senior Fund and the Columbia-wide chapter of Students Organize for Syria (SOS), and I work as a research assistant to the brilliant Professor Séverine Autesserre in the Political Science Department. I also intern for half the week at the Malala Fund and babysit two fantastic kids. 

2. Over the fall semester you worked to establish the ‘Ann and Andrew Tisch Scholarship for Refugee Women. Would you mind elaborating on what this scholarship is? 

The’ is a new Barnard scholarship for forcibly displaced women. It covers all four years of tuition, housing, and meals as well as all sorts of other essentials, like books and warm clothes and airfare. It was designed to be comprehensive so that no matter what the recipient’s circumstances are before she comes to Barnard, she’ll have everything she needs to succeed when she gets here.

3. The idea for this scholarship started in the Fall of 2016 when you met with former Barnard President, Deborah Spar. What motivated you to meet with Deborah Spar, and how did the meeting go? 

I originally went to President Spar’s office hours because I was frustrated that Barnard wasn’t responding to the refugee crisis in any significant way, but at that point I didn’t have the scholarship in mind yet. President Spar completely agreed that Barnard needed to do something and she asked me to come back to her with a proposal for what that thing could be. I’m grateful that President Spar chose to empower me to come up with a solution in that moment, and even more grateful that she so fully supported the scholarship proposal that I eventually came back to her with.

4. Why did you decide to create a scholarship? 

After my meeting with President Spar I began to seek out students and professors who were already working to address the refugee crisis, which is how I got involved with Columbia’s chapter of Students Organize for Syria (SOS). One member of SOS, Nadine Fattaleh CC ’17, was already involved with a scholarship effort across the street at Columbia, and another, Alema Begum BC ’18, was running a university-wide scholarship campaign through Books Not Bombs. With their input I put together the scholarship proposal that I eventually took back to President Spar.

5. How did you create this scholarship? 

President Spar was extremely supportive of the scholarship proposal from the moment I brought it to her. She had me meet with the Development office, and they worked to shape my proposal into a pitch to take to potential donors as part of the Bold Standard campaign. I don’t think any of us expected to find a donor for the scholarship so quickly – let alone a donor who was willing to donate enough to endow it! – but Ann and Andrew Tisch stepped up almost immediately. Ann in particular is a huge advocate for girls’ education (I later realized I already had a second-degree connection to her – she’s also a big Malala Fund supporter!). They’re truly generous people and I’m so grateful that they decided to donate.

6. Why do you think that it is important for Barnard to respond to the Syrian Refugee Crisis? 

Although I had originally conceived of this scholarship as a way for Barnard to address the Syrian crisis specifically, it’s ended up being more general than that, which I think is a really good thing. Any forcibly displaced woman can apply for the scholarship, so that includes Syrian refugees, but it also includes refugees from any other country, or women who have been displaced internally within their country of origin, or women who are already in the United States have only have Temporary Protected Status. Since the scholarship is endowed, in theory Barnard will be awarding it to new recipients forever. That meant that the eligibility criteria has to be broad – although it might make most sense to award it to a Syrian applicant today, there’s no knowing for certain what country or region will be epicenter of mass displacement in a few decades.

In general though, I think that higher education institutions are meant to be places where students, faculty, and staff engage with global issues. When it comes to staggering challenges like the current refugee crisis, I think it’s indefensible for these institutions to limit their engagement to academic inquiry when they have the resources to create a positive impact.

7. How have you spread awareness about the scholarship on campus?

Last semester Nadine, Alema, and I did an event to promote the scholarship effort in partnership with SOS. This semester I worked with the chair of Barnard Senior Fund, Margaux Charmey (BC ’17), to have 25% of the class gift be donated to the new scholarship. Margaux and the rest of Senior Fund committee have done an excellent job promoting the scholarship and raising awareness among the senior class. (If you’re a Barnard senior, please give!)

8. In addition to your work on the ‘Ann and Andrew Tisch Scholarship for Refugee Women, you are currently working as an Intern at the Malala Fund. What motivated you to take on this position? 

I’ve admired Malala Fund’s work from afar for years. Malala Fund’s mission is to ensure that all girls – especially the most marginalized girls, so that includes refugees – have access to twelve years of safe, quality education. While I was interning at the Clinton Foundation last year I made friends with another intern (hi Lexi!) who’d previously interned at Malala Fund. She’d had a great experience there and encouraged me to apply. So far the internship has been fantastic – the work is exactly what I’m most passionate about and I get to work with a bunch of kind, smart, dedicated people.

9. Have you always been passionate about girls’ education and/or refugee education? 

Yes! Even before coming to Barnard these were issues I was passionate about, but since college I’ve been pretty single-minded in my focus – most of my academic work and internships have pertained to girls’ education, refugee education, or both.

10. As a Senior, do you have any plans to work on girls’ education and/or refugee education after you graduate? 

I don’t have set post-grad plans as of now, but I’m applying to a bunch of organizations here in New York that work on girls’ education and refugee education.

11. Who is your role model? 

This probably won’t come as a surprise, but my role model is Malala. She’s the most powerful advocate for girls’ education in the world, and she’s deeply dedicated to her work. She’s been an inspiration to me for years now (I actually wrote about her in my application to Barnard!), and after meeting her, I can confirm that she’s just as incredible in person.

My grandmothers – Toshie and Ann – are my “real life” role models. I recently wrote about them in an International Women’s Day blog post for Malala Fund!

12. If you could make one change in the world, what would it be and why? 

If I could make just one change, I would ensure that the over 130 million girls who are out of school today could all access twelve years of safe, quality education – and ideally higher education, too!

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Catherine Atherton

Columbia Barnard

Student at Barnard College, Columbia University
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