The recently created NeXXt Scholars Program is a partnership between the U.S. Department of State and American women’s colleges. The program is designed to increase opportunities for women from Muslim-majority countries to pursue undergraduate degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
The NeXXt Scholars Program is the brainchild of Sandra Laney ’96, MA ’02. Currently a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State, Sandra was working as a research scientist at Smith College, when she met Weam Zaky ’10, a graduate student from a conservative family in Egypt.
Like many families from Muslim countries, Zaky’s family initially “balked at sending her abroad to study but had agreed to let her go because they believed that a women’s college would provide a safer learning environment.” It was Weam’s story that inspired Sandra to develop the NeXXt Scholars Program. With such a program, which highlights the benefits of science education at women’s colleges, Sandra believes that more families will be willing to send their daughters abroad to study.
The NeXXt Scholars Program hopes to recruit 75 students over the program’s first two years and will focus on outreach to young women interested in the sciences, many of whom may not have considered studying in the United States. Each undergraduate who participates in the program will be paired with a female scientist who will serve as a mentor and will also be given membership to the New York Academy of Sciences, so that they can take advantage of events and materials presented by the scientific society.
Smith College, along with 35 other women’s colleges, will accept applicants from the program.