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A STEM Program at Columbia Opens Opportunities for New York City High School Students

This year, 27 New York City high school students in the Youth in STEM Initiative (YIS) participated in rigorous Columbia University Pre-College Program STEM courses and enjoyed an expanded mentorship program. 

Launched by the Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) in 2016, YIS prepares students from underrepresented populations to enter college with the knowledge and confidence to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. While in the past the program was open to students across the United States, in an effort to better serve Columbia’s neighboring communities, today YIS is geared towards high school students in New York City’s five boroughs.

Over the last academic year, YIS students took online Columbia courses on weekends such as Introduction to Engineering and Intro to Global Economics and Public Policy. They also explored career pathways through personality assessments, branding workshops, and mock interviews. 

“Initiatives like Youth in STEM are part of our DNA at Columbia SPS. Time and time again, research has shown the multiplier effects of educating young people, especially in fields where they’re underrepresented,” said Zelon Crawford, senior associate dean of student affairs at Columbia SPS. 

Gregory Robinson, lecturer from School of Professional Studies and former program director for the James Webb telescope mets with students from the Youth in Stem program

As a way to better connect students to leaders in their fields, YIS expanded its mentorship component. This past year, two to three students were paired with one mentor. They had multiple opportunities to meet with them, where they received guidance on topics, like college and career advice and what courses might suit their passions.

James Karmacharya, a 2022–23 YIS student from Queens, NY, was mentored by Roya Heydari, associate director of Faculty Assessment at SPS. Heydari, whose background is in education and focuses on teaching effectiveness, provided Karmacharya the needed support and “critical space to navigate challenges, ask questions, take risks, and find solutions of his own.”

With the help of Heydari, Karmacharya ultimately determined his interests weren’t in engineering, but rather in economics and public policy. Combining his educational interests and passion for his family’s country of Nepal, Karmacharya was able to envision his goal of tackling a capitalistic society and closing the technological gap between Nepal and other, more developed nations.

The year concluded this July with an in-person event where students presented their final design projects on New York City’s housing crisis, networked with professionals from companies including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, and met and listened to Greg Robinson, Information and Knowledge Strategy program lecturer and former program director of the James Webb Space Telescope. 

“When I was their age, I didn’t know much about college at all,” said Robinson. “And so, for these students to get a head start in learning what college is all about and learning about careers, it’s a huge deal.”