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Marni Sommer '90, Public Health

Marni Sommer ’90 has always been tremendously grateful for the opportunities afforded her during her years as a Bryn Mawr student. In fact, it was this appreciation, and the desire to ensure that more girls all over the world have access to the same empowerment through education, that inspired her most recent project: a book addressing puberty and menstruation for girls in impoverished countries in Africa and Asia.
Sommer, an assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, has spent the past two decades devoted to studying and solving global public health issues. She was surprised to learn that one of the primary obstacles to girls’ ability to stay in school was the onset of their periods. Often, they drop out due to fear or embarrassment caused by lack of knowledge and proper guidance. Her book, which provides basic puberty information and stories passed down from older girls, was first published in Tanzania. It has become so popular that she is releasing a similar version in Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Ghana through Grow and Know, the nonprofit organization she founded. After spending years earning her degrees and working in public health, “I very much wanted to circle back to my inherent passion for girls’ education,” Sommer says. “I think that 100 percent stems from the very powerful and wonderful experience I had at Bryn Mawr.”

This experience, she acknowledges, would not have been possible with the vision and foresight of Bryn Mawr’s founders. Sommer also remembers that Bryn Mawr always placed a strong emphasis on connecting students to the greater community beyond the classroom. “They let us know that it was possible for us to effect big change,” she recalls, “and impressed upon us that fighting for the roles of girls and women and giving them the chance to achieve equitable opportunities were just part of what you do in this world.”