Take Five with Caroline Donnal ’15

Caroline Donnal2
Caroline Donnal ’15 is a first lieutenant in the United States Air Force, currently assigned to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla. as an executive officer. Donnal previously worked for two years as an analyst at Central Command with expertise in Middle East. She was deployed twice in 2018: to Kuwait, Iraq and Syria in support of the global campaign to defeat ISIS, and to Afghanistan for stabilization and counter-terrorism efforts.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was bright-eyed, nervous and slightly overwhelmed, wrestling with a giant blue moving bin, trying to haul all my matching Bed Bath & Beyond dorm “necessities” to the 11th floor of Carman Hall. My excitement came from the bustling city and academic mystique of Columbia (plus a rich love for Breakfast at Tiffany’s), and the nerves came from day 1 of field hockey pre-season. I was eager for adventure, ambitious to dive in — but had no idea how formative, challenging and amazing my next four years would be.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

Ms. Kyle Marsh ’15, my roommate for all four years. Kyle and I were both on the field hockey team, frequently dreaded our 6 a.m. alarms for practice, occasionally argued over fridge space and shared a love of Christmas. We covered our room in lights and played carols starting the day after Thanksgiving break — we even bought a 6-ft. tree for our room in McBain in sophomore year (thank you to the helpful security guard on that one). Christmas on Carman 11 helped ease the pain of round one of college finals and was a tradition we carried through each year.

What class do you most remember and why?

My three years of Turkish were my favorite, and the most memorable. Sophomore year, we had a class of about 12, but by senior year there were four, plus our professor, Ayse Ozcan. The class became a coffee hour, where Ayse combined language, food and tradition to give us a holistic dose of the culture. We came to class with a prepared current event, book or topic of interest, and the discussions — strictly in Turkish — launched from there. We would talk about anything from Jane Austen to Turkish elections to American politics, all over rich coffee and baklava. It was an incredible and immersive way to learn the language, and I loved the atmosphere.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

In true Columbia fashion, my favorite spot was the steps of Low Library. I loved to sit there around dusk, when the lights from a bustling Butler were starting to give the whole campus a soft glow, as our little world began its transition from a day full of classes to an evening full of studying. There was something calming and centering about sitting on the steps and looking at Butler (a beautiful library but one I admittedly had a love-hate relationship with, for obvious reasons). Seeing our Literature Humanities curriculum etched in stone across the top of the library and reading the names — Sophocles, Cicero and Homer — felt a little bit timeless. Here I was, sitting under the names of the greatest philosophers and writers from centuries ago, in one of the most modern cities on earth, lost somewhere in a second of time where these two worlds merged. Not only was it a humbling and magical place to sit, but it also made me incredibly grateful to be a Columbia Lion.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I would definitely study more and read more of my Lit Hum and Contemporary Civilization books. I realize how cool it is to look back at the massive menu of books we read, I just wish I could remember more of them! I would also explore the city more. Freshman year I thought “lower Manhattan” was Lincoln Center and didn’t make it to Brooklyn until junior year. One word of advice to students: you are in the GREATEST city on earth at the GREATEST academic institution. Be students of the incredible world immediately outside the Gates!