Benjamin's piano photo is by Yvette Gallardo D’El; Sarah's dance photo is by Uri Nevo
From starting medical school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to teaching English in South Korea, the 1,168 members of the Class of 2016 have left the Gates to pursue their passions and embrace new challenges, in places near and far. And while the College afforded them a shared set of experiences — Core classes, all-nighters in Butler and sunny days on the Steps — no two of their journeys are the same. In celebration of all they have achieved, we offer a glimpse into the diverse talents and interests of the College’s newest alumni — which range from music to science to advocacy — through seven of their stories.
At the outset of his undergraduate career, Lorenzo Gibson ’16 pictured one day earning a Ph.D. in educational leadership and later returning to his hometown of Camden, N.J., to pursue the position of superintendent of public schools. Four years later, his goals are no longer so clearly defined, but his desire to go on to doctoral study remains, cemented by a positive experience in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program.
Each spring, MMUF accepts as many as five sophomores from underrepresented groups who have shown potential for doctoral study. For the remainder of their time at the College, fellows receive support for academic research in the form of stipends and faculty mentors and guidance on applying to graduate school.
Gibson, who cites “U.S. Intellectual History from 1865 to the Present” with Casey Blake, the Mendelson Family Professor of American Studies, as having shaped his interests, used his time in MMUF to explore a variety of subjects, ranging from hip-hop culture to the relationship between the research university model that originated in Germany and its American counterpart. He credits MMUF with giving him “a concrete sense of what life as a professor and a researcher could be.” Adds Gibson, “That’s all incredibly exciting to me.”
Major: American studies
Hometown: Camden, N.J.
Awards: King’s Crown Leadership Excellence Award – Innovation and Enhancement (2014), Civic Responsibility (2015), Indelible Mark (2016)
Clubs: Men of Color Alliance, Barnard + Columbia Design for America, Multicultural Recruitment Committee
Research Interests: American intellectual history
Gibson ranks MMUF as one of the most important components of his time at the College. He feels similarly about his involvement with the Men of Color Alliance (MCA), an initiative of the Office of Multicultural Affairs that he co-founded in 2013. After helping to get the program off the ground, Gibson became one of its coordinators. In that role, he worked on mentorship initiatives that connect undergraduate and graduate male students of color. His responsibilities also included facilitating MCA’s weekly meetings and other events, which typically have been attended by 10–12 members and have ranged from group discussions to speaker presentations to movie screenings. Under Gibson’s leadership, MCA collaborated with other student groups and the offices of Financial Aid and Admissions to give campus tours to groups of middle school and high school students.
Thanks to MCA, says Gibson, he has learned “how to lead an organization and how to work with peers to get things done.” He also has appreciated the group’s culture of openness and mutual understanding: “It was really great to be able to ask all kinds of questions,” he says.
As an undergraduate, Karina Jougla ’16 devoted much of her time and energy to championing girls’ and women’s rights.
Jougla has been cognizant of gender inequality issues since she was 5, when she became a member of Girls Inc., a national nonprofit that works to empower young girls. In 2010, Girls Inc. nominated Jougla to be a National Teen Advisor with Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign to create awareness about the plight of underserved teenage girls around the world. She has since held various volunteer positions with Girl Up.
In June 2013, Jougla traveled to Moscow to represent Girl Up at the annual G(irls)20 Summit — an event that parallels the G20 Summit and mobilizes women and girls to increase global economic growth — where she led a workshop about child marriage. In September 2014, media entrepreneur Ted Turner, founder and chairman of the UN Foundation, ceded his speaking time to Jougla at a Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group event attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; the prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg; and the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. Ahead of the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, she used the time to “highlight how securing girls’ and women’s rights depends on ensuring a sustainable future by addressing climate change.”
Major: Comparative literature and society
Hometown: Carpinteria, Calif.
Awards: King’s Crown Leadership Excellence Award - Civic Responsibility (2016), Alumni Association Achievement Award (2016)
Clubs: Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, Columbia Artist Society, Columbia Art of Living Club, French Cultural Society
“It was humbling to be on stage with all those world leaders,” says Jougla.
A John Jay Scholar, Jougla spent last summer interning with the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, an effort to gather and study data to gauge progress since the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The previous summer, she was an intern at the Convergences World Forum in Paris, which brings together public, private and civil society actors who are committed to developing environmentally sustainable ways of ending poverty.
Jougla also was involved with Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, a coalition of students, faculty and community members dedicated to divesting the University’s endowments from the fossil fuel industry. From her sophomore year onward, Jougla, who fondly recalls her father reading The Iliad and The Odyssey to her as bedtime stories, also was an RA, a role she relished because it allowed her to “contribute to the feeling of a campus community.”
This summer, Jougla will be a Residential Teaching Counselor with the Girls Leadership program at Mount Holyoke College — a camp for middle and high school girls — as she continues to explore “long-term opportunities in the nonprofit girls’ and women’s rights space.”
A fascination with the human body inspired many of Sarah Kellner ’16’s endeavors as an undergraduate, from her choice of major — dance — to her decision to become a certified doula and pursue a career in women’s healthcare.
A dancer since she was 3, Keller took up modern dance seriously at 13. She chose the College in part because she was drawn to Columbia’s interdisciplinary dance program, which allowed her to take both technique and liberal arts courses. Kellner says, “How people move tells you a lot about them. From the way people move their shoulders, for example, you can get insight into what they are thinking or feeling.”
Hometown: Hartsdale, N.Y.
Awards: National Residence Hall Honorary – King’s Crown Chapter Member, Sands Family Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship
Clubs: Columbia/Barnard Hillel, JQ, Koach, Columbia University Ballroom Dance Team, CoLab Performing Arts Collective, Columbia University Undergraduate Recruitment Committee
Favorite Campus Spot: Van Am Quad
Kellner once aspired to become a professional dancer, but at the College she completed a pre-med curriculum and has plans to attend medical school. Though she has research experience, she would rather “work directly with people” and help make healthcare “more compassionate and patient-focused.” That’s precisely what she’s done for the past year as a doula — a woman trained to assist other women, physically and emotionally, before, during and after childbirth.
Kellner, who “grew up in a family that was really passionate about reproductive justice” and witnessed the home birth of one of her sisters at 7, volunteers as a birth and abortion doula. She also has worked with private clients. “I think women should be supported in any decision they make regarding their pregnancies,” says Kellner.
An ethos of understanding and acceptance also has guided Kellner in her co-curricular activities, including her approach as an RA and a community adviser. She likens those responsibilities to those of a doula, insofar as both roles entail “supporting people and being a non-judgmental person who provides resources.”
Also active in the campus’ Jewish community, Kellner is proud of her work with JQ, a Jewish LGBTQ and ally group, of which she is a founding board member. JQ began during the Fall 2014 semester with small dinners in Kellner’s room in Hartley Hall. During the past year, she says, around 40 Columbia students have attended each of the group’s two to three monthly events, which have expanded to include larger group meals and speaker panels. “I thought it was important for there to be a space in which Jewish LGBTQ students could feel comfortable,” she says.
Leadership and service defined Sharon Liao ’16’s time at the College, and she wasted no time making her mark.
Days after arriving, Liao became a volunteer ESL tutor with Community Impact (CI), a Columbia-based organization whose programs serve the communities around the University. She also participated in the Community Impact Leadership Program, which prepares first-years to take on leadership roles on campus, and was the lead coordinator for CILP as a sophomore. Most recently, she led field trips for low-income kids with CI’s Columbia Youth Adventurers.
Majors: History and economics
Awards: Kings Crown Leadership Award – Civic Responsibility (2015), Kings Crown Leadership Award – Columbia Spirit (2016)
Clubs: Community Impact, Columbia College Senior Fund, Columbia College Student Ambassadors, Columbia College Women
Favorite Study Spot on Campus: The Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College
“I’ve been passionate about education and youth development, and Community Impact has helped me sustain and expand that passion,” says Liao, who for two years also volunteered with Let’s Get Ready, a national nonprofit that provides free SAT prep for low-income high school students.
Liao traces those interests to her experience with Breakthrough Collaborative, a national organization that offers academic enrichment programs for underserved middle school students. Through Breakthrough Collaborative, she spent two summers teaching a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum in Cincinnati and came away feeling “curious about the operational side” of educational programming.
During summer 2014, Liao sated that curiosity through the Kenneth Cole Community Engagement Program, a partnership among the College and Engineering and fashion designer Kenneth Cole P: ’10 that offers fellowships at community-based organizations in New York City. As a Kenneth Cole Fellow, Liao interned at YWCA, a nonprofit dedicated to ending racism and empowering women. There she helped create a framework for a STEM program for high school girls. “That was an awesome opportunity to see what it’s like to work at a nonprofit and work on a project that resonates with me,” says Liao.
On campus, Liao worked with Columbia College Student Ambassadors and Columbia College Women to strengthen ties between students and alumni and also volunteered with the Columbia College Fund and the 2016 Columbia College Senior Fund.
Last summer, Liao interned with the NBA because she was “excited about the prospect of working at the intersection of business, sports and social impact.” This fall, she will rejoin the NBA via its Associate Program. She’ll work in four departments before being given a permanent position. Says Liao, “[The NBA] is an organization I’ve admired for a long time because of how it does its business and how it makes social impact an integral part of its mission.”
This July, Karleta Peterson ’16 will head to South Korea to embark on the yearlong Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program, an exchange initiative that places native English-speaking college graduates from the United States in grade schools around the world.
Just a few years ago, it would have seemed like an improbable route for Peterson, whose love affair with Korean language and culture began “by accident” when she registered for “First-Year Korean 1” her freshman year because it was one of the few language courses that was still open and accommodated her schedule. That experience “made me want to be engaged, not just with learning the language and the grammar but also with cultural elements,” says Peterson.
Peterson spent the first semester of her junior year studying abroad through the Council on International Educational Exchange Seoul Arts and Sciences Program. There she took courses on Korean history and North Korean politics at Yonsei University and mentored kids 8–13 at a care center for disadvantaged children, where her responsibilities included leading art and craft activities and workshops on the English language and American culture. She fondly recalls bonding with the children by teaching them how to play the hand-clapping rhyme game “Quack Diddly Oso.” “It was cultural exchange in the moment,” she says.
Hometown: New York City
Awards: Community Impact Exceptional Leadership in Service Award
Clubs: Liberty in North Korea –
Columbia University Chapter, Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, Community Impact
Favorite Course: “Introduction to Cultural Psychology”
Favorite Spot on Campus: JJ’s Place
Peterson, who grew up in East Harlem, was a Thompson-Muñoz Scholar — an honor for need-based scholarship recipients in the College and Engineering who come from schools and communities that surround the University. Having grown increasingly aware of inequality and class differences in New York City, she majored in sociology to learn more about those issues. For her senior thesis, she explored different ways in which people use the term “ghetto.”
On campus, Peterson was involved with the Visitors Center and the Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, which in both cases entailed leading and coordinating tours. With the URC, she also helped organize Days on Campus, two days of events and programs for admitted students and their families.
During her first two years in the College, Peterson also was a coordinator for the GED program run by the Columbia-based nonprofit Community Impact. In that role, she met a few participants who lived near her family’s home. “Being able to make a difference in my own neighborhood was something I really enjoyed,” she says.
By the time he enrolled at the College, jazz pianist and composer Benjamin Rosenblum ’16 had already performed at music festivals throughout the Northeast and one in New Delhi, written a commissioned jazz piece for the XIBUS World Orchestra in Boston and received the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, which recognizes composers under 30.
As an undergraduate, Rosenblum continued to hone his skills and bolster his credentials as a pianist. He was accepted into the Columbia-Juilliard Exchange as a junior, which allowed him to receive weekly jazz piano instruction at Juilliard in addition to his lessons at Columbia, and in 2015 and 2016, respectively, he was a finalist at the American Jazz Pianist Competition in Melbourne, Fla., and the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition.
A John Jay Scholar, Rosenblum, who has been playing the piano since he was 5, was introduced to jazz when he was around 10 and became enthralled by the musical freedom and flexibility it allows. “I’d always enjoyed sitting at the piano with no music and playing, and I found out that that was what jazz was all about — making stuff up and improvising,” says Rosenblum, who draws inspiration from an array of musical genres.
Hometown: New York City
Awards: Class of 2016 Junior Phi Beta Kappa
Favorite Spot on Campus: Music Performance Program Office
Memorable Performance Experiences: Richmond Jazz Festival, Masten Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival
Eager to promote jazz at Columbia, in 2014 Rosenblum founded Jazz House, a Special Interest Community that occupies half of the first floor of River Hall. Jazz House residents put on concerts, jam sessions and other programming for the Columbia community and also benefit from the camaraderie that comes with living with fellow musicians. “It’s really cool to see that people know what Jazz House is and to have Jazz House become a presence on campus,” says Rosenblum.
After graduation, Rosenblum plans to devote himself to teaching piano while continuing to perform. His first teaching experience came at The Child School/Legacy H.S. on Roosevelt Island, a charter school for children with learning disabilities, where he taught weekly from 2011 to 2014. He currently teaches private students and volunteers with Musical Mentors Collaborative, a New York City-based nonprofit that offers one-on-one music lessons at public elementary schools.
For Rosenblum, one of the most rewarding parts of being a jazz musician is interacting with other artists, established and aspiring. “Getting to know someone through music is a very deep bond,” he says. “Jazz has allowed me to make connections with people I would have never met otherwise — people from different backgrounds, cultures and countries, and different ages.”
Though he has long aspired to a career in medicine, Charles Sanky ’16 chose the College because he sought a “wide variety of experiences” as an undergraduate. For that same reason, in 2014, he applied successfully to the Icahn Medical School at Mount Sinai’s FlexMed program, which offers early acceptance to college sophomores from any major and does not require an MCAT.
Having thus secured a spot in medical school early on, Sanky went on to fulfill his vision of an eclectic undergraduate experience. In addition to enjoying academic flexibility, he had time for an array of co-curricular activities, including the performing arts. During all four years, he played the euphonium with the CU Wind Ensemble, of which he was president as a sophomore and junior. In March, he performed with the group in its first appearance at Carnegie Hall since 1965. “I’m very proud of the group,” says Sanky, who also was part of the cast for the 122nd Varsity Show. “We’ve grown a lot over the years and have become one of the premier college wind ensembles.”
Major: Psychology; special concentration in business management
Hometown: Valley Stream, N.Y.
Awards: National Residence Hall Honorary – King’s Crown Chapter Member, King’s Crown Leadership Award – Columbia Spirit (2014), Indelible Mark (2015, 2016); Milch Prize (2015), Frederick A.P. Barnard Award (2015), Richard H. Fox Memorial Prize (2016)
Clubs: Columbia Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Columbia University Wind Ensemble, Multicultural Business Association at Columbia University, American Medical Students Association at Columbia - Public Health Committee
A Kluge Scholar, Sanky also pursued a number of leadership roles on campus, serving on the Columbia College Student Council as student services representative his junior year and on the Class of 2016 Council as VP his senior year. He also was the CC/SEAS student chair for the 2014 New Student Orientation Program.
Although he did not follow a traditional pre-med curriculum, Sanky explored his passion for healthcare in other ways. A New York State certified EMT, he volunteered with the Columbia University Emergency Medical Service for two years. During summer and fall 2015, he interned at New York City Department of Health, in the Division of Policy, Planning, and Strategic Data Use within the First Deputy Commissioner’s Office. And, from June 2015 until he graduated, he conducted research for the School of Social Work’s Project ICI — a three-year study that examines changes in the ways New York City’s health and social service agencies work together to meet the needs of constituents.
Confident that having studied psychology as an undergraduate will allow him to better “understand where [his] patients are coming from,” Sanky will begin his M.D. studies this fall. “Medicine combines all the things that are important to me — advocacy, education, community service and science,” he says. “It’s the perfect field for me.”
Nathalie Alonso ’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 CCT.
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