Columbia graduate students Lorraine Mull and Francesca ReDavid are bringing a simple message to local middle school girls: dream big.
Girl Meets World, which was founded three years ago by Teachers College student Mull and School of Continuing Education student ReDavid, hosted its first session at M.S. 161 on Amsterdam Avenue and 133rd Street on Wednesday.
A group of about 10 middle school girls filed into the school’s Learning Lounge and sat around a large round table to listen to Mull and ReDavid talk about themselves and their careers.
When the two speakers introduced themselves, the girls listened intently. Mull is set to complete her Ph.D. in nutrition this May. ReDavid, who is earning her master’s degree in strategic communications, works in the marketing division of InterActiveCorp, the umbrella group for websites such as Match.com.
The first workshop at M.S. 161 consisted of introductions. Girls said their names, what they wanted to be when they grew up, and two words to describe themselves. In roundtable discussion, the girls shared dream jobs. There were future singers, future actresses, future pediatricians, and even a presidential hopeful. Mull and ReDavid took notes on the responses to best tailor the program to the girls.
They then discussed ground rules and what leadership meant to them. Mull passed out a personality survey that asked the girls questions such as whether they were cool-headed or warm-hearted.
Gabrielle Deveaux, a member of the Girl Meets World advisory board and a special education coach at M.S. 161, said that while girls at the school are often initially shy during other programs, in Girl Meets World, they were different.
“The girls were very eager and jumped right in,” Deveaux said. “They’re really excited to meet new people and hear about different careers outside of being an actress or a singer or a dancer.”
Mull and ReDavid, best friends, brainstormed the idea as they rode a subway back to Brooklyn one day and tried to think of ways to get involved in the community.
“We wanted to participate in a service that was more hands-on,” ReDavid said. “But nothing really made us excited.”
So they thought of a new idea.
“We thought, ‘What do we love?’” ReDavid said. “We love working with kids, we love working with girls. What were we passionate about? Empowering women, empowering girls.”
The duo met with Rebecca Fagin, vice principal at Upper West Side middle school Mott Hall II, to start making their vision come to life. They began Girl Meets World later that year in 2010 and have so far received positive responses. The program held its first fundraising event on Jan. 10 and will expand to five schools next year.
“Initially, we thought we could teach them skills from the different professions like graphic design,” Mull said. But as she and ReDavid worked with the girls, she said, they started to focus on the “more broad leadership skills that are relatable to every person in any environment that they are going into.”
In future sessions at M.S. 161, Mull and ReDavid will bring in young professionals to talk about their career paths. One of their most memorable moments was a field trip to Rockefeller Center, where senior partners of a New York entertainment law firm met a group of girls.
“Not only do the students get something, but our speakers do, too,” ReDavid said. “Our speakers genuinely do love coming. They ask to come back to other schools or to come back to other sessions, so really, we help young professional women as well as the kids.”
Deveaux said that Girl Meets World aligns with M.S. 161’s mission: helping girls “dream bigger and think bigger, and to become very effective members of society and to be compassionate members of society as well as strong leaders.”
For example, Girl Meets World alumni have gone on to become student body presidents and vice presidents at their schools, Mull said.
“By the end of the year, I definitely feel like I can see them sitting a little taller, holding their head a little higher. They’re able to speak more clearly,” Mull said.
Mull and ReDavid attribute the success of the program to their close friendship and collaboration.
“Lorraine and I really work well together. We’re best friends—we were best friends before the program. We really support each other throughout our busy schedules,” ReDavid said. “We both are on the same page when it comes to the program itself.”
Earlier in the year, the two decided to create a moral code for the organization.
“It’s pretty simple,” ReDavid said. “It’s all about the girls. If it’s not about the girls, then we won’t do it.”