Meet Faija, Columbia Class of 2022

Faija, a current high school senior, would call herself “an original” Project Rousseau student and has maintained a close relationship with Andrew over the course of high school while developing new relationships with other staff members as the organization grew. Faija and her family immigrated from Bangladesh to the Bronx at the age of 9 and she joined Project Rousseau during middle school.

Recently, Faija was accepted to Columbia University where her sister is a student. Columbia has been Faija’s dream school for a long time, as she has grown up visiting the campus with  Project Rousseau, and then later exploring the neighborhood with her sister.

The application process was strenuous, but Faija takes pride in her determination and “was at the office every day working [to complete the application on time].” Faija describes the doubt she felt before opening the portal to view her acceptance. She says, “I knew the statistics of who gets in and I don’t have connections to Columbia,”.

Faija in Boston with Project Rousseau in 2015 where she visited Harvard, Tufts and MIT. 

Faija in Boston with Project Rousseau in 2015 where she visited Harvard, Tufts and MIT. 

Faija opened her decision letter with her sister, Tahiya, on campus: “I had to decide if I was going to visit her at Columbia and cry about Columbia at Columbia or cry at home.”. When Tahiya relayed the good news to Faija, “[Faija] didn’t believe her.” “I was in tears because it has been my dream school since freshman year,” Faija says of the experience. She “was shaky in the moment,” and, “couldn’t believe that [she] could do something like this.” For Faija, she had made not only her dream come true, but her parents’ dream as well.

Looking back, Faija spoke of the SAT process as stressful, but is grateful for her opportunity to participate in Project Rousseau’s SAT Bootcamp in Denmark. With the help of the Project Rousseau team, Faija also set due dates for herself and as well as a timeline to finish her personal statement. Faija, unlike her friends, felt like she “had a schedule to stick to” which motivated her.

Faija at the 2017 Copenhagen SAT Boot Camp with her Project Rousseau and Rysensteen Gymnasium peers. 

Faija at the 2017 Copenhagen SAT Boot Camp with her Project Rousseau and Rysensteen Gymnasium peers. 

Faija is appreciative of her Project Rousseau family and says, “Project Rousseau is always there for me, not only in terms of college or SATs, but they are always there to listen to me and guide me and tell me what to do. Project Rousseau is not only about academics but personal issues too.” She offers her advice to college applicants and is adamant that it is important to “start studying for the SAT early,” and to, “use your Project Rousseau resources if you are stuck!” Faija reflects on her application process as a test in discipline and perseverance, and is excited to be attending Columbia next fall!

Pie Day 2017

Pie Day 2017 was a huge success! Project Rousseau’s sixth annual Pie Day celebration was the perfect kickoff to the holiday season in both Nashville and NYC. Over a hundred students baked pies to donate to local homeless shelters. 


The day started out bright and early at 9am as the volunteers rolled in ready to bake! Students, families, and friends gathered together to turn out pies. We made dough, filled the pies, decorated them with lattice, and watched as they came out of the oven cooked to perfection! 

In the end, we made over 440 pies in total, breaking Project Rousseau’s record in previous years! 

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A big thanks to everyone who came ready to bake and serve the homeless community of NYC and Nashville!


Meet Johanna, our Fall Gap Year Fellow

Meet Johanna, a Gap Year Fellow from Denmark working in New York City! Aside from the educational aspect of Project Rousseau, Johanna was intrigued by, “The volunteering work, where you can give these students an opportunity that they wouldn't have if we didn’t provide if for them.” The idea of “helping and getting to know other people” outside of her community in Denmark through Project Rousseau interested Johanna so much so that she came to New York!

Now, she spends her days at Project Rousseau performing a wide variety of jobs. On a Saturday, Johanna is “in charge of the SAT testing,” however she says, “During the week I do everything from going to different schools, to sorting out the financial aid for students, to going to a baseball game, or visiting museums with the students.” At Project Rousseau, Johanna is not limited to office work and administrative tasks but has been to seminars at Columbia with the students and taken them to Astronomy nights through the broadening horizons events.

As a Big Apple newcomer, Johanna describes New York as overwhelming compared to her previous experiences at home. “There’s always something to do, it really is the city that never sleeps,” she says. Johanna adjusted quickly to the fast paced lifestyle of a New Yorker, but despite the endless possibilities in New York, Johanna “[misses] nature a little bit.”

After settling into her routine at Project Rousseau, Johanna says the best part of her job is, “That you can help a lot of students, and you can really have that personal contact with them.” At Project Rousseau, she realized “How keen people actually are into learning, and that they actually want to learn because I’ve been used to the idea that you just go to school because you have to learn something, just like you have to do your homework.” For Johanna, meeting students who are so passionate about learning and engaged in wanting to learn is the most amazing aspect of working as a Gap Year Fellow at Project Rousseau.

Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies is Project Rousseau's newest elective course, bringing together students from across all grades and partner schools. The course provides students with an opportunity to learn about and discuss a range of cultural topics, alongside an introduction to French and German. Through a combination of linguistic and cultural topics in each lesson, students begin to develop a sense of how and why cultural and linguistic understanding are intertwined, and in turn experience what a language and cultures class in college might be like.

Cultural Studies is like a really innovative way to learn without the feeling of just drilling information in your head. It’s also easy to remember the greetings, and conversation starters because, nothing is in English so you become very accustomed to reading in French and German without hassle. It’s not only languages but we enhance our prespective on the world around us by learning stereotypes and the effects it has on mind and how we percieve certain groups of people.
— Queentera, an A Phillip Randolph 10th Grade Student

So far we have covered topics as diverse as nationalism, the United Nations, and European art at the turn of the 20th Century, each combined with visits to cultural landmarks in New York. Thus a second aim of the course is to open students' minds to the linguistic and cultural opportunities available to them on their doorstep.

I have really enjoyed the cultural studies elective ! It allows for us to discuss cultural topics such as language, stereotypes, and global trends with a class size that allows for everyone to contribute. It also gives us the opportunity to visit interesting places relating to the course.
— Virginia, a Global Learning Collaborative 10th Grade Student

On our most recent trip, our students visited the Neue Galerie to see Gustav Klimt's Woman in Gold. Along the way they learned about using color theory to convey tone and the history behind the paintings. This is one way we connect what the students are learning inside the classroom to the real world. 

Meet Kadijat, a Project Rousseau student who interned in Jordan

Project Rousseau gives our students opportunities to travel internationally. Our students have been on educational trips and exchanges to destinations such as England, Germany and Japan. Our former student Kadijat, our latest who now attends the University of Pennsylvania, went on our London exchange and interned at a school in Jordan this summer through Project Rousseau.

Kadijat told us that the best part about London was that by staying with a host family, "we felt like we were older, and gained more independence, especially in a foreign country. I think that was really important, it asserted that you can survive on your own, you can do adult things... it was helpful for when I travelled abroad last summer, as it took away some of the fear about living with strangers."

"In the summer, I went to Jordan to teach middle schoolers... it was awesome! For three weeks I taught them back to back, and I was also their counselor kind of, because we had duties outside of the classroom- for example we did room checks. Because we were older, we were accountable and responsible for the students."

"Staying in Jordan was great. I knew no one there when I went, but it was great, I loved the people I was working with, and the kids were wonderful… the food was amazing, can’t forget the food!"

More broadly, Kadijat cited our SAT Prep classes and community service program as key to her success, and told us that "In terms of applying to college, the thing is a lot of people outside of Project Rousseau were telling me that I don’t think this is realistic, this will not happen, you can’t do this and that, and Project Rousseau told me that you can do it, if you work hard enough, you can do it, versus other people telling me no. It helped re-affirm that I did really want to apply to these schools, and that I wouldn’t let other people’s opinions deter me from going big, like go hard or go home. I won’t settle for something else."



Danish Students Visit

Last Sunday's community service was filled to the brim because we had the pleasure of introducing the Danish students from Rysensteen Gymnasium to our weekly visit at the Amsterdam Nursing Home. They came with great interest and spend the afternoon with our students and the residents learning a great deal. It was filled with laughter and all parties were very engaged in participating in the games and fun. The visit was followed by an American inspired lunch at Tom's Diner, and thereafter a tour of Harlem planned by Yaya, with personal stories from Rony and Yaya about growing up in Harlem.

Yaya's tour of Harlem

Yaya's tour of Harlem

On Tuesday both Danish and Project Rousseau students met up at the Global Learning Collaborative to discuss cultural differences. Not only did it help the Danish students with their Global Citizenship project, but it broadened their horizons about growing up in New York and the United States. Our students loved hanging out with them, and will look forward to their next visit!

Trip to Williams College

On September 14th, four of our students went to visit Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. They left New York City early in the morning to arrive at the college later that day where they met by enthusiastic students, delighted to share their college experiences. Project Rousseau student Mangbe said about her host, "Sophie was amazing. Absolutely nice and genuinely wanted me to enjoy my stay, loved her school and promised to stay in contact with me after the overnight trip." They also got the opportunity to sit in on lectures and seminars. Mangbe's favorite class was the 'Black Literature Matters'-class because it "spoke a lot about Truth and Identity, how black people should be viewed in the media and does anyone with that platform have to make it political statements for us black people as a whole." The students appreciated that the small seminars meant they got to participate in discussions, despite not being college students. Rony said, "I enjoyed the amount of attention I got from both the professors and students when visiting classes. The instructors gave me the same amount respect, attention, and help. I felt very comfortable even though there was a significant gap in education. They always made sure that everyone was on the same page and engaged."

The students also got a taste of the exciting events and lectures that happen outside of class at college. Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy, spoke at the college about his life and career as a public interest lawyer. Kevin stated, "I really enjoyed Bryan Stevenson's talk about mass incarceration in the United States and his struggles with being a black lawyer in the south. It was great to see everyone bond together at this event and see such a powerful person and speaker." 

In all, the trip was a great experience for our seniors who are working on their college applications and provided them with a great insight into college life! 


Meet our new Fall staff

This fall Project Rousseau is joined by 4 volunteer consultants and 1 gap year fellow.


Johanna, Project Rousseau's Gap Year Fellow learned about Project Rousseau through the Global Citizenship Programme at her school, Rysensteen Gymnasium, one of Project Rousseau's partner schools in Copenhagen, Denmark. Before starting with Project Rousseau, she participated in various volunteering projects, such as helping refugees with school work and biking with elders. She has been an active member of various clubs in her school, attending Model United Nation conferences and traveling on various exchanges to different parts of the world. These experiences have all developed her belief that knowledge, education, and tolerance are the keys to a safer and better world, something she is excited to promote through Project Rousseau during her gap year.

Johanna wishes to travel around the world and volunteer in less developed countries to improve educational standards. She hopes to pursue a degree in Geography or Architecture, both with a focus on global warming, sustainable solutions, and an international cooperation.


Having found that working with young people in new cultural contexts brought out the best in him, Alistair pursued a number of roles in education, both in and outside his native U.K.. As a language assistant and then business English teacher and camp counsellor in Austria he began to develop an individualised approach to help each student exceed their own expectations, which he tried to continue as a primary class teacher in North London after graduating from university. He hopes to bring the value of these experiences, and an interest in and commitment to Project Rousseau's ethos, to the charity and its students. Alistair has a BA from Oxford University in History and Modern Languages, and a PGCE in Primary Education from University College London. He is an enthusiastic runner and squash player, and captained his college hockey team.


Susanna was most drawn to Project Rousseau's philosophy that academic problems rarely have academic causes. She just finished her Masters in Psychology and Education at the University of Cambridge, where she was interested in gender gaps in attainment, and undertook research on how students think and feel about their academic abilities. She was previously involved in the access efforts of her undergraduate college in Oxford, and is now excited to work more closely with students at Project Rousseau, to help them achieve their ambitions for the future.


Ever since starting university Grace has been engaged with social mobility and education ventures, both at home in the UK and across India, Burma and Nepal. Having graduated in the summer of 2016, after studying History at Oxford, Grace has continued to work on education projects, as well as working with startups and galleries in London. She stumbled across Project Rousseau while researching renowned education charities and looks forward to being able to work on a more focussed and long term project.


Rosalie is passionate about access to university, and is keen to go into either charity work or teaching. She was immediately struck by Project Rousseau’s mission and the effectiveness of the charity, and hopes to build on her background in access work, charity volunteering and marketing. Rosalie has graduated from Oxford with a BA in English Literature, and spent her time at Oxford working for the charity Just Like Us, being an access ambassador for the English department and as part of the university’s LGBT+ and Women’s Societies.

Meet Eliana, a Project Rousseau student at Georgetown

Eliana (pictured right) is a junior at Georgetown university, majoring in anthropology. We spoke to her for our new #humansofprojectrousseau initative about her experience going to university, and the continued support Project Rousseau has given her at Georgetown.


“The good thing about Project Rousseau is that the helps extends past High School. I can feel alone at Georgetown or that I don’t belong in my classes, but having Project Rousseau’s support has been a great help. When I started college I had a really hard time with my chemistry classes, because I didn’t have the right foundation. We only covered one chapter of the textbook in school… you can feel behind, like you’re not smart enough to be at college. But Project Rousseau offered me tutoring, helped me keep my schedule organised, and helped cover the costs of my books.”

“My experience of Project Rousseau is like when you go to the gym, and you have a personal trainer to push you and keep you on track, but on an academic level. Our Broadening Horizons programme (Project Rousseau’s program that takes its students to events ranging from international exchanges to visiting local museums) really helped me when I was at college. With Project Rousseau I went to the Philharmonic for the first time, and to a museum, and other places like that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. So at college when people talk about visiting the opera, museums and other countries, I didn’t have a huge culture shock because I had experienced those things.”

“I also like giving back through Project Rousseau. It’s a give and take kind of relationship, we get help but we also give help that others need too. Our community service (Project Rousseau’s students are involved in a great deal of community service, such as weekly volunteering at the Amsterdam Avenue Nursing Home) is kind of a form of showing your gratitude for the things Project Rousseau are giving you. They also got me involved with teach it back, when Project Rousseau students tutor others for the SATs. I’ll definitely keep up with Project Rousseau when I’m older.”