Cracking the Leadership Code on Campus



January 18, 2024

Perla Dahan (’26) is a recipient of the Paulson Leadership Award for Jewish students at the City University of New York (CUNY), a Hillel International scholarship for students attending CUNY colleges and universities served by Hillel. For more information or to explore other Hillel International scholarships, click here.

My passion for learning has been a driving force in my life. I’ve always been fascinated by books, and eager to explore new and diverse subjects. As a first generation student, college isn’t just a path to a degree, but an opportunity for me to redefine my family’s narrative and provide a foundation of support for those who come after me. It represents the realization of a lifelong dream for me — to pursue my unwavering love for learning.

At John Jay College of Criminal Justice, my curiosity has flourished, allowing me to delve deeper into the subjects I’m passionate about. College has been an opportunity for me to experience transformation and empowerment, and I’ve worked to pay that forward by bringing empowerment to others. 

As a Computer Science and Information Systems major, I quickly saw that there was a serious gender imbalance in my classes. Reflecting on the gender disparity in the tech industry and my own love for coding, I felt inspired to create a Girls Who Code club, where women could explore computer science and technology in a supportive environment. 

Our Girls Who Code club has had a huge impact, on campus and off. Many members joined without coding experience, but within our club, they learned, practiced, and thrived. We also reached out to local high schools to organize coding workshops and mentoring sessions for young girls in our community, and participated in local events where we showcased the talents and potential of female programmers.

Being part of this community has been transformative — and so has my Jewish community on campus. I still remember the moment I was approached by a fellow student on campus who asked me a simple, yet profound question: “Are you Jewish?” 

This student felt safe approaching me — someone she’d never met — just because of our shared Jewish heritage. In that moment, I felt a surge of pride in my Jewish identity. I not only felt proud of who I was but also of the inclusive atmosphere I had fostered through my leadership and empowerment of others.

This inspiring Jewish moment reinforced the importance of proudly embracing our heritage and identity, even in the face of adversity — whether it’s empowering diversity in STEM or being loudly, proudly Jewish on campus amidst rising antisemitism.