Meet Assul, who has started her own STEM Community Service Program

Women in the United States make up forty eight percent of the workforce, and yet only twenty four percent of STEM workers are women. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women of color makeup fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers. Assul, a Project Rousseau student is working to defy these odds. She founded a project at a local middle school called the STEM Initiative, which seeks to inspire young students to become interested in STEM. Assul is an exemplary, highly motivated student who uses her academic strength for good.

In the 10th grade, Assul noticed a discrepancy in her community and strived to bridge that gap. “Not everyone gets the same opportunities, I didn’t have that chance when I was their age” Assul stated. She followed by explaining that she wishes she could have had the early exposure to this material that she is giving to her students. Her time as the president of her school’s chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers inspired her to launch this program. Now Assul provides students with homework assistance, tutoring for state tests, and interactive STEM projects to apply what the students are learning.

The creation of her dream project was not a fluid process, it required time, effort, patience and most importantly, communication skills. Launching the program was the most difficult part, not only coordinating the space and lesson plans but establishing relationships with students so that they would return to the lessons every week. Assul creates the lesson plan every week and spends the sparse amount of time that she has a junior in highschool to come up with innovative ways of teaching and assisting her students.

Assul credits Project Rousseau as a major contributor to the formulation and execution of the program. Staff at Project Rousseau worked with Assul on time management. Assul stated “how the staff at Project Rousseau treat me inspires the way I want to treat my students.” She followed up by stating that “All of the help that I have received from Project Rousseau has made me want to give back.”

Assul has also recently been awarded a Peace First Mini Grant to help fund her initiative. She worked with Project Rousseau staff to write this grant application and hopes to use the funds to purchase materials for her tutors and snacks to encourage attendance among her tutees. The support of Peace First will be invaluable to Assul and will allow her project to flourish. 

In the future, Assul wants to pursue a career in biomedical engineering and do well in her field by doing good for others. When asked why she chose the path of biomedical engineering, Assul responded that growing up she wanted to be a doctor but she soon realized that she could make an impact on the medical community through creating helpful technology. Assul stated “even when I go to college I want to make an impact on others,” inspiring them to feel the same passion for the STEM field as she does.  

London Exchange 2018

From historical sites and museums to visiting prestigious universities our London 2018 Exchange was once again a huge hit for all participating students.

The trip included a whistle-stop tour through British history with students learning about various key periods including Shakespeare's London, Churchill's war time efforts and women's suffrage. Indeed, many students said that one of their trip highlights was visiting three museums in one day, something they had never done before. 

During the trip we also visited various elite universities, including the London School of Economics and Oxford University. While in Oxford Carolina and Ruby were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in a tutorial alongside current students and Dr Caroline Phillips. They discussed the evolution of human violence and the use of chimpanzees and bonobos as a model to explain this. 

Another high point of the trip was visiting the Houses of Parliament and sitting in on a debate in both chambers. In the House of Commons we heard about the impact of Brexit on different regions and their industries in the UK and also about outsourcing in the public sector. This second debate was particularly of interest to Denzel, who had recently learned about outsourcing in his community college classes! 

For chaperones, a highlight of the trip is without a doubt conversations had with the students on the tube, at lunch or walking between museums. Notable student observations from this trip included, the differences between NYC housing projects and London's council estates, diversity in the various career paths and financial aid in the UK vs. the USA.  Throughout the trip students engaged with their new environment in a very impressive manner and we hope that they will continue this while back in NYC and when they travel again in the future. 

As ever, we are extremely thankful for the host families and schools in London which make this trip a success. All of our students had fantastic experiences with their hosts and a running theme  was how welcome they felt. 

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!