Building a Stronger Community Through “Odyssey” Mentoring

In the musical Hamilton, the Schuyler sisters sing of the wonders happening in New York City in Summer 1776:

Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!
History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be
In the greatest city in the world!

While the reference is to New York’s role in the birth of our nation, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics make me think of the exciting things happening at Columbia today.

Photo of Jaime Prieto ’83, of Ogilvy & Mather, talking with students at the Odyssey Mentoring Program kickoff.

Jaime Prieto ’83, of Ogilvy & Mather, talks with students at the Odyssey Mentoring Program kickoff

Jaime Danies SEAS’20

By all measures, Columbia is on a roll. This fall, Columbia College claimed the number 2 spot in the 2018 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings report. In October, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Joachim Frank, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and of biological sciences. In Manhattanville, the first buildings have come to life on our new 17-acre campus. The Class of 2021, with a 5.8 percent acceptance rate, is a testament that Columbia is one of the most desirable places for undergraduate study in the world. And of course, many of us enthusiastically followed the renaissance of our football team under Coach Al Bagnoli. They finished the year with an 8–2 record and the number 2 spot in the Ivy League — their best season in more than 20 years!

How lucky we are to be Lions right now!

Alumni play an important role in Columbia’s continued successes. Our engagement and financial support directly help our students and faculty and advance the College’s mission. (Indeed, alumni engagement is one of several factors evaluated in some college rankings.) Thank you all for your support for and involvement with alma mater. Your efforts have an impact.

While we have much to celebrate, it’s worth noting that today’s undergraduates face a unique set of challenges and obstacles, far different than we experienced while on campus.

At the October Columbia College Alumni Association Board of Directors’ meeting, members met with John MacPhee ’89, PH’12, executive director and CEO of The Jed Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit established by Phillip Satow ’63 and his wife, Donna Satow GS’65, whose mission is to protect the emotional health of and prevent suicide among our nation’s teens and young adults. The foundation is working closely with Dean James J. Valentini to develop a comprehensive strategic wellness plan for Columbia undergraduates.

The statistics reported by The Jed Foundation are alarming. Nationwide, one of every four young adults has struggled with an anxiety disorder; depression rates among teens are up 37 percent since 2005; and suicide and accidental overdose are the leading causes of death among young adults, taking 44 lives per day. Columbia students are not immune to these trends.

Fostering connectedness and belonging on campus is one of the cornerstones of the foundation’s approach to promoting mental health. In that vein, the CCAA board believes that regularly creating the opportunity for more meaningful alumni and student connections is a way to strengthen the sense of Columbia community. And one of the College’s most recent initiatives — the Odyssey Mentoring Program — does precisely that.

Odyssey, which launched in September, seeks to connect our 50,000-plus alumni in an easy and dynamic way with students and fellow alumni for long-term mentoring relationships or short and informal connections. It is a valuable resource for both alumni and students. Through Odyssey, students can leverage our diverse and vibrant alumni community for advice on academics, career and/or basic life choices, while alumni can foster and maintain connections with students and fellow alumni, thereby creating a stronger community as a whole.

As CCAA president, I am regularly asked how alumni can get involved and meaningfully connect with fellow alumni and/or students. Odyssey is just such an opportunity. Hundreds of alumni have signed up so far, but we currently have more students than available mentors. Plus, with a student population as diverse as ours, we need as many mentors as possible to ensure that every background, profession and interest is represented. Your involvement will not only enrich the College community but also make a difference in the lives of individual students. It’s a tangible way you can help the College remain a top institution for generations to come while contributing to the dean’s priority of supporting students in all facets of their lives.

More on the Odyssey Mentoring Program can be found at You also can reach out to Alumni Mentoring Committee co-chairs Scott Koonin ’02 ( and Sherri Wolf ’90 ( They, and I, welcome your involvement.