There is a girls school in Troy, NY that is intentionally focused on what matters most in learning. At Emma Willard School, faculty members strive to nurture the characteristics students need to feel empowered –– especially in a world that often forgets the value of female leadership. Their top priority is instilling a dynamic balance in mind, body and spirit.
This holistic approach results in unrivalled confidence and intellect — the kind that comprises questioning, reasoning, envisioning, and finding solutions for a variety of challenges and scales. Each Emma graduate can leverage critical analysis alongside independent thought and expression. They use these skills to focus their future aspirations, address the most pressing issues of their time, and champion the importance of building and sustaining equity and justice in their world — if they aren’t doing it themselves. This is the vision Madame Emma Hart Willard had in mind when she founded her school over 200 years ago.
The journey to Emma begins with a positive disruption. Students at Emma come from every corner of the globe –– 39 countries and 21 states, to be exact. While leaving home can be a fraught experience, the discoveries and community found upon arriving can almost instantly provide a sense of comfort.
This was the case for Tina M. ’23 from Beijing, who was initially uneasy about taking in new surroundings while trying to fit in. Thankfully, she didn’t need to worry. “During my campus tour, I fell in love with the architecture and the environment. Somehow the atmosphere of Emma just felt so natural and ‘right’.” she enthused. “The friends I’ve made as a boarder are the closest friends I’ve ever had. I spend a lot of time with them after school and on weekends, so we are able to have more direct and deep conversations.”
Tina and her peers embarked on an enlightening experience of a lifetime. Here, community complements rigorous academics, enriching the collective Emma experience. For boarders, life at school becomes a home away from home.
“I came to Emma my freshmen year as a boarder, and it has been a very valuable experience. I was able to meet amazing friends and discover more of my passions, such as photography and science. I can feel the incredibly inclusive environment and the support Emma offers,” adds Victoria H. ’23 from China. “Whether it’s finding the clubs I’m into or being able to conduct experiments outside of class, the community has made it possible to do what I love.”
The education Victoria speaks of was designed to inspire. Every Emma student is encouraged to explore their passions inside and outside the classroom. In the process, they gain a greater connection to the world beyond their picturesque campus. Two personalised study programmes, Practicum and Signature, are specially geared towards helping students discover who they want to be as members of society, where they want to be in life, and what it takes to get there.
The Practicum programme allows for the exploration of ideas and passions through personalised, independent study. Students are paired with mentors, faculty advisors, coaches, peers, and alumnae to provide maximum guidance through experiential learning on- and off-campus. The goal is to give them a glimpse into their possible futures. Some respond to medical emergencies and others teach literacy, while the rest might learn to fence or create an advanced portfolio of artwork.
The Signature capstone programme is another Emma hallmark. These sessions were designed for juniors and seniors to spend two semesters exploring their personal passions, alongside an on-campus mentor and/or an off-campus expert. The experience culminates in a summation of their work presented to the entire school community. Every student is eligible to participate. They just need to demonstrate a passion for a topic, identify an adult to serve as a mentor, and allocate time to developing their project.
Past Signature participants have promoted local women-owned businesses, conducted cutting-edge biotechnology research at nearby universities, reported news for the Albany Times Union, created their own films, and taken on other inspiring roles. The school’s year-long STEAM offerings enable juniors to take on projects or conduct research in science, math, technology, engineering, or the arts.
Gabby Z. ’22 has jumped right into all of the opportunities that she has been presented with during her time on campus. “Each year at Emma, I have challenged myself to take advantage of a new opportunity – first joining the crew team, then participating in Mock Trial, and now starting a Signature project.”
That’s not all. Apart from internship opportunities, social activities, competitive athletics, and therapeutic studies in the arts; life in the classroom is just as fulfilling. There are over 140 courses in total, spanning the topics of Arts, English, Languages, Mathematics, Science, Technology, Athletics and Physical Education, and more. Every class is as interactive as it is comprehensive. Tina recalls, “When my agency introduced me to Emma Willard School, I looked through the school website and was fascinated by the many classes that Emma offers, especially art classes!”
“My favorite class so far has been Physics,” Sofia T. ’24 exclaims. “Although I’m not the best at it, I really enjoy the hands-on attitude the class has. I didn’t even know I liked science this much before I came here!”
“Learning new information about challenging topics is something I really enjoy doing. Specifically, when I am learning about something that I may struggle with, working alongside other students to figure it out is one of the best moments,” shared Mika F. ‘22. “That is something that I love the most about Emma!”
Emma students continue to collaborate and grow well after graduating. Over 8,000 women are proud to be part of an empowering network that extends far beyond campus. Regardless of what the next generation of Emma graduates goes on to achieve, they too will forever be connected to the school that shaped them.
Lucia B. ’24 sums up these enduring connections best, stating: “My experience at Emma has been wonderful. Everyone is truly so kind, and I’ve never had a moment when I doubted I belonged here.”
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