The Foundation of the College Experience

Reflecting on Columbia College experiences.

Dean James Valentini and a student, both smiling


Columbia College students live and learn in a uniquely rich environment, with the opportunities that our college, the many other schools of our university and the City of New York offer. Approaching that experience with Beginner’s Mind, they expand their knowledge and understanding of themselves and their world as they encounter new concepts, discover perspectives unfamiliar to them, and engage with their professors and peers in and out of the classroom.

The Core Curriculum is the foundation of this experience, expressing a conscious and deliberate institutional commitment to a curriculum taken by every student, specially constructed to prepare each of them to be analytical and imaginative, empathetic and active, and collaborative and visionary, as well as leaders in advancing their communities, society and the world. It achieves that through small classes in which instructors guide genuine discussions about how societies have been conceptualized and developed; how new knowledge has reshaped the concepts and reformed the development; how individual rights and responsibilities have been balanced; and how the joys and challenges of that human existence have been expressed in literature, music and art.

In the Core’s centennial year, we celebrate not only its value, but also its spirit, and we celebrate it by examining it critically and analytically. We are revisiting its creation; examining its evolution and adaptation to a continually changing world; assessing its present success, challenges and limitations; and charting a future in which it will continue to achieve its ambitious goals. That examination, assessment and planning will be most successful if opinions, perspectives and ideas are contributed by the thousands of faculty and students who have participated in the Core during its long history.

In particular, we seek recollections from you, our alumni, about how it felt to be in Core classroom discussions, to struggle to understand Kant or Plato, to analyze the complex dynamic of composer and librettist in Le Nozze di Figaro, to explain the many-dimensional aesthetic of the works of Bernini. We want to hear how the Core has informed, guided and enlightened your life journey, so, we invite you to share your personal history of the Core through our Core Stories project, which will run through the end of the centennial year (June 2020).

In 2018, we made a conscious and deliberate decision to focus student attention on that life journey, through a vehicle we call My Columbia College Journey, a strategic planning guide that directs each student to maintain a unique, individual, personal attention to developing the attitudes, abilities, skills, perspectives and understanding that will empower success in their personal and professional lives, no matter what their path. We express that through 13 Core Competencies, which provide the structure for Journey. This guide encourages each student to approach with Beginner’s Mind all parts of their individual College experience, and to recognize all of those seemingly discrete parts as connected in a self-guided and self-aware approach to building the Core Competencies.

As we continue our centennial celebration and reflect on its past, present and future, and as the College continues to expand the importance of Journey, I hope that you will join me in taking a moment to reflect on your own past, present and future — wherever your journey has taken you.


James J. Valentini