Campus News

Commencement 2024: Dr. Tarika Barrett, CEO of Girls Who Code, to receive an honorary degree

By Nick Masuda  |

It’s a story that isn’t unfamiliar around Medgar Evers College.

A confident, distinguished and accomplished Black woman taking over a prestigious organization amid the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020.

For MEC, it was Dr. Patricia Ramsey.

For the global non-profit organization Girls Who Code, it was Dr. Tarika Barrett.

On May 31, 2024, their worlds will collide as Dr. Barrett is awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree at Commencement.

While the pandemic flipped the world on its proverbial head, it shed institutional boundaries for Girls Who Code — opening new pathways for the organization to close the gender gap in technology by equipping young women with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.

“The pandemic gave us no gifts, except that it pushed us to think about expanding our reach and our access and the way that we got to young people in a completely different way,” explained Dr. Barrett, in her fourth year as CEO of Girls Who Code. 

“Geographical boundaries simply slipped away. Suddenly we were reaching more girls in poor and rural areas than ever before.”

Taking on the role was one that made her firmly look at herself in the mirror, questioning her own resolve while also confronted with others wondering if she was about to bite off more than she can chew by taking over with what seemed like one hand tied behind her back.

But, as a female Black leader and first Black CEO of the organization, she also knew that opportunities such as taking over an organization that is connected to hundreds of thousands of females in the STEM industry isn’t something that comes along every day.

It was a step she had to take.

“I knew how important it was to be visible for girls and young women and them to see me taking on this challenge,” Dr. Barrett said. “I knew that I wanted to choose this platform to talk to these young women and also the larger industry, about why these young people, sometimes our most marginalized, should have a seat at the table.”

That commitment to representing the underserved was borne from an upbringing that was one part Brooklyn and the other Kingston, as she is the proud daughter of Jamaican immigrants.

The split time between the two cities gave her a unique perspective on the impact of opportunities, class, race and equity — something that her parents proactively instilled in her.

They also encouraged her to be an agent of change, to not limit herself in what she can do with the right resolve.

“My mom instilled in me the power of mentorship and also the importance of going into the spaces and believing that you can be the change you want to see,” said Dr. Barrett, who is a graduate of Brookly College, while also receiving her Masters in Deaf Education from Columbia Teachers College and Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from NYU.

Her upbring and her education have taught her to stay involved in order to stay informed.

She serves on a number of influential boards, including CSforALL, Eskolta, AT&T’s Accelerator Advisory Board, and McGraw Hill, a leading learning science company that creates world-class educational content and provides best-in-class digital platforms for learners and educators.

In addition, she was named the Co-Chair of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Emerging Technology Advisory Board in March 2024.

The array of experiences has been purposeful for Dr. Barrett, as she was offered advice from a mentor early in her career to be committed to what you are doing in the moment, that what you will be doing tomorrow might be different.

And that has led to Dr. Barrett offers her own advice to younger minds.

“Please do not think that I came out of the womb knowing exactly what I wanted to do, that I was going to be a CEO and I was going to do this,” Dr. Barrett said.

“I tell them, do not think like that. Be present, live a life of purpose. Think about the thing that sparks joy for you.”

For Dr. Barrett, she is committed to a life dedicated to equity in everything — something she carries into boardrooms, Zoom meetings and her personal life alike.

She also does it for her grandma, whose highest level of education was the sixth grade because she had to take care of her seven younger siblings.

“Never in my grandmother’s wildest dreams, not in my ancestors’ wildest dreams, would they have envisioned that I would be walking into these spaces and leading or talking about the needs of young people and how to make sure that they remain at the forefront of our thinking,” Dr. Barrett said.

“It is an honor, a gift to be able to walk into these spaces and understand that I sit on the shoulders of so many who have gone before me.”