A Love of Columbia Community
Luke Nelson ’19
Luke Nelson ’19’s favorite memory from his junior year involves a certain popular superhero. As a resident advisor at 47 Claremont, he helped organize a West Campus-wide outing to see Black Panther at the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem. “We won ‘Best Program of the Year’ for that movie night,” Nelson says proudly. “We had to coordinate among all the RAs and with different hall councils, and we raised money so no student had to pay for their ticket.
“Not only did the residents come but their friends did, too, so the whole theater was full of Columbia students. Everyone found something in the movie that they connected with. It was a beautiful experience.”
Nelson, a psychology major from Miami, became an RA as a sophomore because of the influence of his own freshman RA, Patrick Flanagan ’18. “He really impacted my first year in a fantastic way,” Nelson says. “I decided, ‘This is what I would like to do during the rest of my time at Columbia.’
“As an RA, my responsibility is for the wellness of my peers, and the Residential Life community tries to address that by putting on programs,” he says. “We have to be very intentional, so there are different goals that we set for each event, like inclusion and diversity, addressing personal enrichment or helping to connect students to the Center for Career Education (CCE).”
Nelson will remain an RA in the same building for his senior year, even though that residence hall has its challenges. “47 Claremont doesn’t have a lounge so you have to work twice as hard to foster community,” he says. “You have to get really creative with your events so that residents will come out of their rooms and engage.” In addition to the Black Panther event, Nelson has hosted grilled cheese nights and smoothie parties, and has gotten residents together for gaming, local takeout and Zumba. “A lot of my fun stems from connecting with the Columbia community,” he says. “There’s always something cool to do.”
We have to be very intentional, so there are different goals that we set for each event, like inclusion and diversity, addressing personal enrichment or helping to connect students to the Center for Career Education.
Nelson also enjoys being part of the Men of Color Alliance (MOCA), which he joined his first year. “It was wonderful to find a specific community [for self-identified men of color] while I was adjusting to being away from home,” he says. “Being able to see each other, to witness each other’s presence on campus, is powerful and very important. In our meetings we talk about everything, our concerns and our frustrations — it’s a safe space.”
While many young people take their time at college to decide their career path, Nelson is certain about what he wants to do: become an ophthalmologist. He’s been passionate about the field since he got glasses as a teen. “It feels like a totally new world, when you see things clearly,” he says. “I was so fascinated with optometry. When I put on my first pair of glasses, I started crying. ‘I can see, and this is something I want to do!’ Every time I get a new prescription, I get that same feeling in my heart.”
Learning the difference between optometry and ophthalmology piqued his interest further, and while still in high school, Nelson found a mentor who let him shadow her at her ophthalmology practice. He was excited to see a cataract surgery performed but adds, “I learned so much just walking around with my notebook.”
At the College, Nelson sought out internships that would move him toward his goals. As part of the Global Health Security Fellows Program (supported by the Office of Global Programs), he spent summer 2016 in rural Haiti, helping community health workers collect data and develop best practices. As a Haitian-American, this role was particularly special for him. “I had been to Haiti the summer before I came to Columbia, meeting family for the first time. I felt a bond there. It is a place that is constantly rebuilding.”
His four months working there were challenging but rewarding: “Public health requires a lot of introspection,” he says. “Columbia does a great job of giving you the tools to heighten your sense of self-reflection and has nurtured my ability to get involved and give back. I hear from other students that some people there still ask about me, so that makes me feel really good.”
This summer, Nelson will do research at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Md. “I’m really excited. I’m going to be studying age macular degeneration,” he says. “CCE helped me get this position, and I got funding through the Summer Funding Program. I get to represent the College and be on the frontlines of medicine — from being spectator to being an actor.”
When he returns for senior year, Nelson plans to take vision-related classes in his major, apply to medical schools and maybe even run a marathon. Regardless of his activities, his last year at the College will be a happy one. “I’m looking forward to continuing my research, being an RA, fostering community and wrapping up my time here. I love Columbia so much!”