By the time Devyn Tyler CC ’13 enrolled in the College, she had landed minor roles in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and The Great Debaters, directed by Denzel Washington. For the past four years, however, her film career has been largely on hold in favor of a degree in French and Francophone studies.
Since Spring 2011, Tyler has had the support of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, awarded each year to five sophomores of underrepresented minorities who are interested in and demonstrate potential for doctoral study and professorial careers. Fellows meet faculty and graduate students in various fields, learn about the process of applying to graduate school and receive financial support and research training for the duration of their College careers.
“It took me from being a sophomore, not knowing what a Ph.D. was or why it mattered, [to having it] explained to me, not only what it is, but also why it’s important and how I can get there,” Tyler says of the program.
Tyler, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in French, credits the course “Major Debates in the Study of Africa” with broadening her view of the French-speaking world and French colonialism. “I realized I could go to many different places and understand many different histories,” she says.
After spending the Fall 2011 semester in Paris through the Columbia-Penn Program at Reid Hall, Tyler became a peer adviser in the Office of Global Programs, where she was a resource for fellow students pondering study abroad in the French capital. This past semester, she co-taught an extracurricular French course to middle schoolers at the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change in Harlem, where she had her students research a French-speaking country. “That wide, diasporic view of the world that French gave me and made me so excited in college — I wanted to expose them to that,” she says.
Tyler first studied French at The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, the city her family relocated to when her native New Orleans was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tyler, who had just started high school in New Orleans, evacuated ahead of the storm and, despite seeing the destruction on television, was initially resistant to starting over in a new state.
“I was forced to, because we couldn’t go back home,” she says. “Even if we did go back, our house wasn’t going to be there.”
Tyler’s transition to the College was smoother; she knew she wanted to go to Columbia from the moment she first visited the Morningside campus as a high school student. “When I saw it, I thought, ‘That must be what college is.’ It was my first ‘picture’ of college,” she says.
After graduation, Tyler, who played Mariana in the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe’s Spring 2010 production of Measure for Measure, plans to take time off from academia to pursue acting more intensely.
“I’m going to take at least a year to get back into the film industry and theatre and get artistically productive again,” she says.
- Nathalie Alonso CC ’08