Creating a Connected Community

Alumni-student connections are the lifeblood of the Columbia College Alumni Association (CCAA), forging a bridge that links Columbia’s past with its future. Alumni benefit from the fresh perspectives that students bring, while students gain valuable insights from alumni. There are obvious professional advantages, too, as students learn about different career paths. More importantly, these connections often give students a chance to broaden their views and can even lead to lifelong relationships. One way we help to establish these connections is through Alumni-Hosted Dinners, a CCAA program that invites alumni and students to share a meal right in Morningside Heights.

I have hosted several of these dinners. Conversation typically begins with my perspective about Columbia in the ’80s and my experience with the Core Curriculum; it then quickly evolves into a lively exchange about the most popular classes and professors, campus controversies, which dining halls have the best food, and the best places to hang out or study on campus. The students often come from diverse backgrounds and might not know each other. Yet, as they gather around the table, a sense of community emerges.

If you are interested in learning about hosting a dinner on campus, please reach out to the CCAA ( Here, we asked three alumni to share their experience with connecting across generations.

Iyobosa Bello-Asemota ’19

As an international first-generation/low-income student coming to Columbia after living in both Nigeria and Ireland, the adults in my life could not fully relate to the opportunities and challenges that I was experiencing on and off campus. My alumni mentors really helped to fill that gap. It was great to have a community with a wealth of knowledge and connections that I could tap into to figure out how to navigate not just a new school but also a new country. I made lifelong friendships out of many of those mentoring relationships, and they continue to yield benefits.

One of my most impactful Columbia experiences was attending an alumni-hosted dinner in my junior year. The host, John Rodin ’97, today is a mentor, close friend and role model who has helped guide me through several challenging career and personal milestones. That dinner also allowed me to form deeper connections with the other student attendees, many of whom were not in my class, who have gone on to do cool and interesting things. I’m thankful to every alum who generously offers their time to students.

Austin Cohen ’11, BUS’16

I have found mentoring and advising to be incredibly rewarding. I recall my days as a student and the value of my conversations with alums who were gracious enough to connect. A Columbia degree is a privilege that extends far beyond four years on campus — and playing a part in the flywheel of sharing knowledge, insights and experience is something that I have always felt strongly about. Helping others to accelerate their paths and to open their minds to opportunities is tactical and applicable, and even imperative to the continued development of young leaders. I recently had the opportunity to spend time with 10 undergrads over dinner, discussing everything from life at school to career decision making. I was incredibly touched by how grateful the students were to have a forum to openly ask questions and to receive candid feedback and guidance.

Khadijah Sharif-Drinkard ’93

I recently hosted a dinner for 10 Columbia students, who were diverse in every respect. While the tensions on campus were running high over the war in the Middle East, I brought students together to remind them of their commonality in the subtlest of ways. We discussed the protests that were happening and the effects it had on them, but we also tackled how to land internships and full-time jobs after graduation. I was so moved by the compassion and courtesy they showed one another that I asked if I could mentor them for the rest of the school year. I want to remain connected to this cohort not only to assist them in their development but also to witness their civility and generosity toward each other — something we can all take a lesson from these days.

The truth is, I gained as much from them as they did from me. I’ve had the honor of serving as a mentor and sponsor for more than two decades. It has been my life’s work. Every interaction has the potential to change someone’s perspective and life.