Higher Education Today

By providing underserved, high-achieving students access to quality educational experiences, Stamford’s REACH Prep empowers students to become scholars and leaders in their communities. This year’s REACH Prep Annual Benefit Luncheon takes place at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich on Monday, April 23. Joanne Berger-Sweeney, current president of Trinity College, is this year’s featured speaker. Berger-Sweeney holds a Ph.D. in neurotoxicologically from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is an accomplished scientist and administrator. She is also the first African-American and the first woman to be elected president of Trinity College. We asked her about her views on the transformative powers of higher education, women in STEM fields, and more.

Greenwich Magazine: How has education changed since you entered the field? What are some changes that still need to be made?

Joanne Berger-Sweeney: One of the most exciting aspects of the field of education is that it is constantly evolving—we teach, we research, we generate new ideas and share the public good that is higher education. We are increasingly recognizing the value of experiential education and the power of students complementing their classroom lessons with internships, community involvement, or research to address real-world problems. We are fortunate at Trinity College to be located in a vibrant capital city that is home to dozens of cultural, corporate, and nonprofit institutions that welcome student engagement. One of the biggest challenges in higher education today is ensuring access to high-quality education for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. As income inequality widens and public disinvestment in higher education continues, we have to provide a cost-effective education with real value and relevance, and we have to increase financial aid to make that education affordable for all. Colleges like Trinity can play a significant role in addressing this, and so can an organization like REACH Prep.

GM: What impact can a quality education have on a young person?

JBS: A high-quality education offers a world of possibilities to students of all backgrounds and can change the trajectory of an individual’s life. At Trinity College, we strive to inspire a highly capable, talented, and diverse student body to become educated global citizens. What we do at our core is teach and create knowledge in the liberal arts—exposing students to a wide range of subjects that prepare them broadly for life after college, giving them a diverse and complex environment in which to learn, and engaging them in research that advances our community and the world.

GM: Why is it important for young women to be involved in STEM fields?

JBS: Women are woefully underrepresented in many STEM fields; while women hold close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold fewer than 25 percent of STEM jobs. I am always rooting for young women to discover, as I have, the abundant opportunities that STEM fields offer. Science is made better by having more women scientists—we change what questions are studied and how research is conducted! It’s been a great highlight for me that for the past four years, Trinity College has joined the Connecticut chapter of the AAUW (American Association of University Women) in hosting a STEM conference each spring for middle school girls and their parents and teachers.

GM: As a woman of color and a leader in higher education, how do you feel about being this year’s speaker at the REACH Prep Benefit Luncheon?

JBS: I am quite honored that REACH Prep invited me to speak at its Annual Benefit Luncheon. At the core of REACH Prep’s work is a belief in the transformational power of education, and this is one of my core beliefs too. I am grateful for the opportunity to share a bit of my story and to speak about how I was drawn to science and came to know the benefits of studying science in a liberal arts environment.

Head to reachprep.org for luncheon information and ticket

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