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Photo: Char Smullyan

Class of 2014 Senior Snapshot: Onella Cooray

“Not everyone has the time to sift through it or the knowledge to unpack it to see what actually goes into [the food] they eat and [the things they] use.”

This profile will appear as part of the Summer 2014 Columbia College Todays Senior Snapshots feature.

Onella Cooray CC ’14 envisions a career in which she can help average consumers make healthful decisions for themselves and the planet. “There’s so much information about sustainable living floating around,” she says. “Not everyone has the time to sift through it or the knowledge to unpack it to see what actually goes into [the food] they eat and [the things they] use.”

In her last semester, the self-professed foodie interned with Clean Plates, whose offerings — restaurant guides and a free app for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Los Angeles, among other things — direct consumers to food sources the company deems sustainable, healthful and flavorful. 

In her last semester, the self-professed foodie interned with Clean Plates, whose offerings — which include restaurant guides and a free app for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Los Angeles — direct consumers to sustainable, healthful and flavorful food sources. Though the company is based in Manhattan, Cooray mostly telecommuted thanks to the Center for Career Education’s Virtual Internship Program. She both conducted research for the Clean Plates newsletter and contributed to a glossary of nutrition and sustainable food terms.

Previously, Cooray interned with GrowNYC, a nonprofit that operates more than 50 farmers’ markets throughout the city. Once or twice a week from June 2013 through January 2014, she managed food stamp transactions at the Lincoln Hospital Greenmarket in the Bronx. Cooray also visited the hospital to encourage beneficiaries of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — federal food assistance for low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children ages 5 and under — to use their checks at the market “to buy fresh produce that is in season and probably less exposed to pesticides and chemicals,” she says.

A Kluge Scholar from Colombo, Sri Lanka, Cooray was drawn to Columbia’s emphasis on the liberal arts. After completing a concentration in environmental science, she opted for a second concentration in sustainable development to see “the social and human aspects of environmental issues.” She had an “aha” moment when she took “Global Food Systems” as a sophomore. “I was aware of issues surrounding food, but I hadn’t really considered pursuing that as a career,” says Cooray, who during her first two years was a member of Columbia University EcoReps, a student group that works with Housing and Dining to make the campus more environmentally sustainable.

Cooray’s most significant co-curricular activities, however, revolved around the International Students Orientation Program, a Student Affairs initiative that helps foreign students transition to the United States and the College. For Cooray, the friendships and insight she gained from the program were so vital that she volunteered as an ISOP orientation leader the next two years and was one of two paid student coordinators for ISOP 2013. She was recognized for her dedication to the program with a King’s Crown Leadership Excellence Award. “ISOP was definitely one of my more important commitments and has brought me a great sense of accomplishment,” says Cooray.

After graduation, Cooray will be an editorial consultant at Clean Plates before turning her attention to graduate school. For now she’d like to stay in the Big Apple, where she relishes the culinary scene. “I really enjoy good food and good ingredients,” says Cooray. “So coming to New York City was just marvelous.”


Nathalie Alonso CC ’08, from Queens, is a freelance journalist and an editorial producer for LasMayores.com, Major League Baseball’s official Spanish language website. She writes “Student Spotlight” for Columbia College Today.

Last updated Monday May 22, 2017

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