What is energy, really, and how do we conserve it? That is the question posed in a course, “Energy and Energy Conservation,” that I developed some years ago and am teaching again this semester. Before becoming dean in 2011, I spent 20 years teaching undergraduates as a faculty member in the chemistry department, and it’s still a great thrill for me to be in the classroom, particularly when I am teaching a course I created. Our students never fail to inspire me, and they always remind me why Columbia College is such a special place.
Martin Seck / Columbia College
In the classroom we talk a lot about words and concepts, and the different ways in which we can use them. For example, I talk in my class about heat. As a scientific concept, heat is really only one thing: a transfer of energy. But when I think about the idea of transferring one thing to another, I can’t help but think about it in a broader context, and other examples of transferring something valuable, such as transferring knowledge and understanding from a former student to a current student.
Through your successes as College alumni, you have developed certain resources, skills, capacities and capabilities. There is a real story about each and every one of those opportunities that you can convey to the 4,500 College students currently living some of those same experiences. Your stories are about more than a single classroom, more than a major or a concentration and more than the degree you earned at the end of your time at Columbia.
There is a particular kind of experience that is unique to the College community. It revolves around our grounding in the Core Curriculum and our location in New York City, the greatest city in the world. Each of you experienced some part of this journey in your own unique way, and now each of our current students continue on a similar journey.
You can transfer your knowledge and understanding to our current students. Whether it’s through the My Columbia College Journey website, where you can submit your own reflections; our student wellness effort, Live Well | Learn Well, which has a “Get Involved” button at the bottom of every page; or by participating in the Odyssey Mentoring Program, there are many opportunities for you to convey the lessons you have learned.
And these students want to hear from you. Time after time, I hear them talk about how valuable it is to get firsthand knowledge from those who have walked the same halls, been instructed in these same Core classes and found the success they, too, hope to achieve after graduation.
In this new year, I hope you will remember why I often say, “College Walk doesn’t extend from Broadway to Amsterdam; it extends around the world.” That extension includes you, our 51,000-plus alumni, who can help propel this great undergraduate experience.
James J. Valentini