Dual BA Program Student Prepares for Career in Genocide Prevention and Education

Dual BA Program student Abby Edwards spent her whole life in Charleston, South Carolina. Though she focused on creative pursuits including theatre, modeling, photography, and yoga, she felt limited by her education and hometown. When she learned of the Dual BA Program, Edwards jumped at the opportunity for an international education experience.

November 18, 2019

Before enrolling in the Dual BA Program at the School of General Studies, Columbia University’s undergraduate college for nontraditional students, Edwards considered herself as traditional as any high school student. She attended a public arts school in Charleston, South Carolina, worked at Old Navy, and never considered that the Ivy League was within reach. 

Throughout middle and high school, Edwards spent several hours a week dedicating her time to theatre. She had many artistic hobbies and interests including modeling, photography, and teaching yoga. With her focus on more creative pursuits, she was sure that her future lay in fashion or acting, but this trajectory shifted when she was exposed to a new field of study.

“I became incredibly burnt out with acting and stumbled upon A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. It was the first time I learned that there had been genocides after the Holocaust: Cambodia, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Darfur, and more,” said Edwards. “The following summer, I took a semester of classes at Stanford, including Genocide and Humanitarian Intervention, and became completely sure that genocide prevention and education was where I needed to dedicate my life.”

After having spent her whole life in South Carolina, Edwards began to look for a university experience that would allow her to move out of her hometown. She had no connection to France, or anywhere outside of the United States, but when she learned about the Dual BA Program, she decided it would be the perfect way to experience something new. 

Abby Edwards presented her research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium

“I felt deeply that my education had been limited by being with the same people from the same place for so many years. I relished the opportunity to study at two different universities in two different countries and the unmatched chance to earn two different degrees,” said Edwards of her decision to apply.

When she first arrived in France, Edwards went through an adjustment period. Easy tasks such as going to the post office or buying groceries proved to be challenging in a new city where most people spoke French. Eventually, she embraced the experience and the ways in which it helped her grow. 

Like college everywhere, this experience is what you make of it—you will be faced with challenges, but if you keep working through them, it might just be the best thing that could ever happen to you.

Abby Edwards, Dual BA Student

“My experience at Sciences Po made me reevaluate how I identify myself. In high school, I was smart—in this program, so was everyone else. The French grading system makes failure somewhat more socially acceptable, so I learned to approach learning in a way that was much less achievement-focused and, subsequently, healthier,” said Edwards.

During her time at Sciences Po, Edwards managed to craft the international experience she had craved. Edwards interned in the education department of a former concentration camp in Buchenwald in Weimar, Germany during her first summer. She had the opportunity to observe the department’s approach to history, design and pilot their first-ever curriculum on genocide beyond the Holocaust, and grow professionally.   

The following summer, Edwards traveled to Cambodia through a fellowship from the Center for Khmer Studies. She spent six weeks between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh conducting field research on the effects of politicized memorialization in post-conflict transitional justice efforts. She has also interned remotely as a researcher for the U.S. State Department and worked as a research team lead for the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies. 

Abby Edwards on Columbia University Morningside Campus

Upon her arrival to Columbia, Edwards decided to keep a low profile and immerse herself in campus life and New York City. She splits her time completing schoolwork and serving on the National Managing Committee of STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

“I have made self-care and getting out of the Columbia bubble a priority. I go to yoga every day in Harlem and enjoy being an anonymous body in a room of people who don’t know and wouldn’t care that I go to Columbia,” said Edwards.

At Sciences Po, Edwards focused her studies on politics and government, and at Columbia, she is studying human rights. In the long term, Edwards plans to enroll in graduate school.  

Abby Edwards gives presentation

“I see myself pursuing research opportunities outside of academia—I would love to work for institutions like USHMM’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, CFR’s Center for Preventative Action, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention, or on the ground as a part of transitional justice efforts. Concretely, I hope to work towards making Holocaust and genocide education mandatory in South Carolina,” said Edwards.

Reflecting on her time at both Sciences Po and Columbia University, Edwards believes that there is no “right person” for the Program.

“Like college everywhere, this experience is what you make of it—you will be faced with challenges, but if you keep working through them, it might just be the best thing that could ever happen to you,” said Edwards.