Posted in alumnae

Alumnae Spotlight: Batya Chava Reflects on the Value of her Barnard Experience

I first met Batya in my sophomore year in a seminar titled, “Stalinist Civilizations,” taught by Professor Brandon Schechter.  Professor Schechter is one of those professors who are true nurturing educators so I can easily attribute my passion for history to him. His ability to engage and teach combined with a room packed full of eloquent and witty students meant that I had no shortage of role models. In this class, I had the pleasure of knowing Batya who struck me as one of the warmest, most helpful, and driven people. Here is Batya in her own words on graduating Barnard, reflecting on her college experience, and having been a History major at Barnard!

–Reporter Connie Cai

What have you been up to since graduating from Barnard in 2020?

I am currently in sunny Santa Barbara as a part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. This particular program, VISTA, in the US federal government is specifically dedicated to alleviating poverty. It provides stipends for volunteers to join different organizations combating poverty. I work in IT, so capacity building, which means my job entails a lot of data analysis and web development.

How did you get into IT having been a History major?

I was actually very STEM throughout high school but found that I vibed better with the History department at Barnard. Within my History major I also concentrated on two areas/themes: Central Asia and Russia and the History of Technology. Also, there are History classes that intersect both my areas. I wrote my senior thesis on Soviet air policy and focused  on Soviet technology.

How did you get into History and now Law then?

Well, growing up, I thought I would eventually become a computational linguist at companies like Google. I thought I would work in machine learning. Then, I took a bioethics course in college where we debated ideas around science rather than actually doing. This drove me to become a History major- so I can continue discussing and debating. And law, well, I interned at a data privacy practice at a law firm and decided that this was what I wanted to do.

Are you heading off to law school next year?

I’m applying to law school again this year. Last year, I secured a place and tried to defer a year due to COVID-19 when I realized that I didn’t want to do online classes but due to logistical issues, I had to reapply again this year

Batya poses in downtown New York City. She recalls spending a lot of her time exploring cafés and museums off-campus.

What is your experience with applying for law school?

I’m currently a very stressed reapplicant! Reapplying comes with some drawbacks: having been accepted and then denying and then reapplying. In general, it’s been fairly straightforward. I received a lot of help from the Barnard Writing Center but that resource isn’t open to Barnard graduates so right now, my friends have been my greatest help.

Which history classes and professors were the most influential?

Well, I took the majority of my classes at Columbia due to the nature of my concentrations. The Barnard class that stands out the most is “Historical Theory” taught by Joel Kaye. It was a great eye-opening experience for me to be in a class with a professor with whom I disagreed. It was intellectually challenging. The classes that were the most influential and most interesting to me would have to be a two-way tie with Professor Schechter’s classes (I took two!) and Professor Jennifer Wilson’s “Harlem and Moscow” class. Professor Schechter’s classes were incredible and really informed my senior thesis, law school applications, and basically what I want to do with my life.

Batya with her two best friends on their junior year spring break.

What were your best memories of Barnard?

I can’t pick just one. There were so many good memories: Friday night meals in my suite, lots of great ones happened in CG, 600s, and Goldsmiths which in my time was only a JTS dorm. CG is definitely one of the best apartments, honestly, the perfect apartment. I lived in CG my senior year and I still think about that apartment. In Santa Barbara, I share an apartment with five other people and the place is great but CG was the best. 

What was the best surprising aspect about college? 

I definitely grew up a lot. Certainly apartment style dorms encourage me to be an adult in the world but I anticipated college as a time of growth.  When I applied to Barnard, I heard that students never got out of campus but I didn’t find it hard to get off campus at all. New York is so cool- I went to museums, cafés downtown, and did a couple of internships.

What is your advice to current Barnard students? Particularly Barnard History seniors?

You should definitely use all of the resources at your disposal- your senior thesis advisor and your peers in your thesis class which must feel so different over Zoom. Also, I took a lot of language classes during my time at Barnard. I took Hebrew in my Freshman year and then French and Russian. I actually entered Barnard with varying degrees of proficiency in Russian, French, Hebrew, and Turkish. Certainly, learning more languages opens the number of texts and regions you can study. There are a lot of important texts written in other languages. The more languages you speak, the easier it is to connect with other people.

Also a general piece of advice to undergraduate students is to save all of your readings. I realized very early that you can sort of get by not doing 100% of the reading. You can skim and still make it through. However, I started doing all of my readings in my junior year and was so surprised by the intellectual depth you glean from them. I was in Professor Schechter’s class titled, “Stalinist Civilizations.” I did 100% of the reading, in part due to the fact that Professor Schechter is so engaging. He drove you to do your best! Generally, we are incredibly lucky to have access to this information, to have professors who provide us with pdfs and know the field so well that they recommend certain texts. It’s difficult to waddle through dense texts but it is worthwhile and you will progress intellectually. Save all your readings!

Please email Connie Cai (fc2565@barnard.edu) if you have person in mind who we should interview for the BarnardHistoryBlog!

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