Around the Quads

Santiago Tobar Potes ’20

Santiago Tobar Potes ’20
CCT: What’s something interesting you learned recently?


Potes: I’ve been taking cognitive neuroscience just out of interest. Neuroscientists believe we have two types of decision-making systems: One of them is very old — it allowed our type of humans to survive; it’s intuitive, and processes information and reaches conclusions quickly. The other is a newer type of decision-making system — it’s slower and more rational. I find that so interesting because I feel that one of society’s biggest issues is dealing with both of these decision-making systems; one that helped us as a species and the other that’s helping us to adapt to new conditions.

CCT: What’s your favorite Core reading so far, and why?

Potes: Augustine’s Confessions and Dante’s Divine Comedy. I love Confessions because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I love — it’s helping me to develop my own value system. Augustine says you should only love things that are eternal, you should only love things that will never change, things that you won’t stop loving in a year, in a month. Now that I’m in my last year of college I have a clear vision of what I like, so now I’m asking myself why I like these things.

I was so touched by Dante’s Inferno in Lit Hum that I’ve been taking a yearlong class in which we read the entire Divine Comedy. It’s taught by Teodolinda Barolini, and she has been the most impactful teacher I’ve ever had. The text speaks to me because of what it represents: meeting different people, learning from them, improving yourself from what you’ve learned and keeping on with progress.

CCT: What do you like to do outside of class?

Potes: I started playing the violin when I was 11 after hearing a radio show on NPR; I remember hearing the sound, and being so captivated by it. I’ve been in the Columbia University Orchestra since freshman year. Last semester I was in two chamber ensembles — one a string quartet and the other a piano trio.

CCT: How do you like to take advantage of being in New York City?

Potes: I love New York City so much, and the relationship it has with Columbia. I’ve been very lucky to be mentored by some great alumni. The fact that the city has the highest number of alumni is also why where we are is so incredible — I can schedule a coffee meeting in between classes and take the subway to talk to so many people. It’s not just that New York is our classroom; New York is also a university unto itself.

Fast Facts

Major: No major, two concentrations: East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Hometown: Born in Cali, Colombia, but moved to Miami at 3 and grew up there.

Favorite spot on campus: The Reference Room in Butler Library. “There’s a quotation on it that says, ‘A man is but what he knoweth,’ and I look at that and think about the reason why I’m here. It’s beautiful in itself and it’s a beautiful reminder of why I’m here, despite the odds — I’m the first person in my family to go to college.”