What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I was born and raised in New York City and attended a high school (Riverdale Country School) that incorporated aspects of the Core Curriculum in its program, so I was somewhat familiar with both the campus and some of the classes I was required to take my first year. While I walked in with some experience, I was still pretty awestruck at the privilege of attending Columbia. I am a first-generation daughter of Dominican immigrants with humble beginnings and the achievement of being a part of an institution that created leaders in government, science, law and academia was not lost on me. I felt proud to be counted among them. But I also felt pressure to make sure I did well so as not to waste an opportunity that is offered to so few.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived on Carman 5 — an all-girl floor. While I was happy not to have to share a bathroom with an entire floor (I preferred suite living), I was unhappy that it was not a coeducational floor. That said, it was a great experience overall. I had the typical college experience of learning about other religions and cultures; my suitemates were orthodox Jewish and we earnestly learned about one another’s backgrounds. I made lifelong friends from Carman 5 and 3 (the other all-girl floor) whom I now consider family and whom I still see and speak to frequently.
What class do you most remember and why?
“American Government,” with Professor Charles V. Hamilton. I had floundered while trying to decide on a major. I thought about majoring in psychology or economics, or being pre-med (but my experience with the first semester of general chemistry quickly disposed of that thought). I took the introductory courses in those areas but nothing felt right. My sophomore year, I decided to take American government and within the first week I knew that this was my path. All of the questions that I had regarding how Congress worked and the mechanics of legislation were answered. And Profession Hamilton had a brilliant way of highlighting how government is the intersection of policy, legislation and process. I loved learning about the role that government played in trying to provide solutions to problems that affect society. I was hooked. And I had found a mentor in Professor Hamilton, who provided me with help and advice until his retirement during my junior year. Little did I know at the time that his class would become part of the foundation of my career.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
I loved the Double Discovery Center (DDC). I volunteered and worked there all throughout college — I spent many hours in those offices (first in Ferris Booth Hall and later in the Lions Den while Alfred Lerner Hall was being constructed). I worked in the Early Intervention Initiative that targeted NYC middle-schoolers. I loved seeing NYC middle- and high school students co-exist with college students like me, learning from one another and sharing Columbia’s beautiful campus. And I loved that DDC made Columbia and higher education real to the DDC students — something that they could one day achieve.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
My biggest regret is that I did not study abroad. I would have loved to have done a semester in Spain, where I could have improved my Spanish, or Italy, where I could have practiced the language I had been learning. However, not doing so also allowed me to secure good campus housing for my senior year so at least there’s that!