Message from the Dean
Alumni, Faculty Work To Help Students
In my first three months in Hamilton Hall, I have spent much of my time meeting with and talking to students, alumni and faculty. Every conversation reminds me how special Columbia College really is. In every interaction with College students, they prove to be ever-more intelligent, perceptive about themselves and the world, and engaged in life on campus and in New York. At every event with alumni — whom I prefer to call simply “previous students” — I see further evidence of their dedication to and generosity toward their alma mater, and their continuing interest in the lives of students. And after every meeting with faculty, I am impressed with their commitment to our students, both in the classroom and outside. All of these students, alumni and faculty are eager to work very, very hard toward achieving our goal of keeping Columbia College the greatest college, in the greatest university, in the greatest city in the world, and to continue strengthening the College and enhancing the undergraduate experience here.
As I talk with current and previous students about their experience with the Core Curriculum, I am increasingly aware of its significance in their intellectual development while here, and in their personal lives after they leave. It is the signature experience in the College, and the core of our identity. It is what makes Columbia College unique, and what makes our graduates unique. It is what unites all students, both current and previous, as members of an enduring and cross-generational intellectual community that connects every Columbia student to every other.
As a chemistry professor for more than 20 years and director of undergraduate studies in chemistry, I taught and got to know hundreds of students, and many enjoyed their courses with me a great deal. But when I ask students about their favorite class, they don’t automatically say, “Well, Professor Valentini, of course it was your course in … ” Instead, even science majors point to the Core as having made the greatest impression. The answer has been so consistent as to be entirely predictable. Oh, it varies a little bit — Lit Hum, CC, Art Hum or Music Hum — but it is invariably one of the Core courses. This is, of course, understandable. The Core introduces students to great books and eternal ideas, encourages them to ask big questions and wrestle with grand themes, and, equally important, transforms the way they read, write, think and see the world.
But the Core also is the first part of a complete and rich undergraduate education; it transitions to one of our many majors and concentrations that allow students to explore their individual and specialized academic interests. The tradition of close interaction between students and faculty, which starts in the Core, continues throughout every year a student is an undergraduate here, in undergraduate research programs such as the Rabi Fellows and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships and through the Faculty in Residence in our residence halls. Faculty members take students on all-night bicycle trips around New York City, encourage them to do urban ethnographic research and take them to New Mexico for archaeological digs or trips to Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Our alumni are increasingly reaching out to students, especially in areas such as career development and mentoring. In speaking with students, I’ve realized that they are feeling increasingly uncertain about their futures, considering today’s economic situation, and feeling pressured to take the first career opportunity that comes along, even if it’s not in their main area of interest. Alumni are working with students in several ways to help ameliorate this concern. This fall, we launched the Columbia College Alumni-sponsored Internship Program, which will provide our undergraduates with access to high-quality internships hosted or facilitated by College alumni in a wide range of industries. We also have initiated the Columbia Exploration Externship, which will allow first-year students to observe and shadow alumni at work during spring break. We have seen tremendous growth in the Columbia College Women Mentoring Program, in which alumnae provide insight, support and career guidance to Columbia undergraduate women. This year, we had a 300 percent increase in mentee applications over last year. We currently have 180 seniors matched one-on-one with alumni mentors, and an additional 150 juniors matched in groups. We are committed to expanding the reach and impact of all these network and mentoring programs.
Indeed, what I’ve realized in my first three months as dean is that Columbia College is really, truly doing great. Students can study just about anything in our 75 majors and 52 concentrations, ranging from philosophy to sustainable development, or can create a major of their own. They can participate in one of more than 200 study abroad programs, conduct cutting-edge scientific research on campus or at one of our research institutes, or intern at a global corporation or a New York City arts institution. And we are dedicated to increasing the number of internships and research opportunities for students both domestically and internationally. We want students to be able to apply what they have learned in the Core and in their majors, and expand their academic training through research and professional experience. We want to ensure that Columbia College students continue to have the best possible undergraduate education and have access to an unlimited number of opportunities on campus, in New York City and around the world.
Roar, Lions, Roar,