Photo by Ariel Kao
At the College, Schwartz was president of the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE), helped co-found Columbia’s Almaworks Tech Accelerator and led economic and environmental initiatives at The Roosevelt Institute. He graduated with a major in philosophy and a concentration in archaeology.
What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
The first thing that pretty much anyone learns about me is that I grew up on a farm in rural Virginia. It’s the defining part of my identity. To come to Morningside from such a place was to drink from a firehose in basically every way. Before Columbia, I had never lived within 15 miles of a grocery store, never took an econ or computer science class, never had a friend who identified as LGBTQ and never had any idea there was a difference between work jeans and dress jeans.
I was excited beyond measure, way over-confident and blissfully, mercifully unaware as to the vastness of all the things I didn’t know. But I knew for sure that I was ready to get after it.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I remember laughing at the notion of coming to the big city for college only to find myself on a ground floor, but a fairly spacious, sun-drenched double in Furnald 1 was the perfect 200 sq. ft. in which to begin my New York adventure. The long footprint of the space afforded itself well to social scenarios, and its location — the back corner, nestled between the stairwell and some of the most tolerant neighbors Columbia has ever known — meant that we didn’t have to worry too much about being loud.
I shared this space with a lanky, self-assured, incredibly likeable Indian kid from Texas, with whom I knew immediately I would get along. Rachit Mohan SEAS’17 was a grade-A enabler, an egger-on, a peer pressurer, and on all our adventures, an incredible partner in crime. We lived together all four years, much to the chagrin of campus security and several R.A.s, I’m sure.
What class do you most remember, and why?
With apologies to the philosophy department, my Lit Hum instructor Amy Johnson GSAS’97 — who helped freshman Simon far more than she will ever realize — and professor Paul Olsen — whose class “Dinosaurs and the History of Life” was the origin of some of my happiest college memories — the class I feel compelled to mention was sophomore year’s econometrics.
I hated it.
I began my time at the College as an econ major and econometrics finally made me realize it was simply not for me. I vividly remember sitting in my final, well on my way to the lowest grade I ever received, pondering why I had subjected myself to it in the first place. I was quite sure I’d never use any of it in my professional life and by this point I was doing so much with CORE — the student group dedicated to all things entrepreneurship — that time spent trying to parse through econometrics simply felt unproductive. So I walked out! I changed majors and resolved to be more judicious about how I spent my time and energy. It was the final nudge that I needed to jump onto a path filled with more unconventional learning opportunities and experiences.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
Far, far too many to count! A few that immediately come to mind:
Also, it was an open secret — or at least it was in my time — that roofs were prime targets for midnight exploration. The view from the roof of Mudd will forever be my favorite view of New York City. It was one of the few places where the country boy in me could both breathe and have his breath taken away.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
Not a damn thing. From my first night of college to the last, I was completely captivated by the lights of the city and the myriad opportunities — intellectual, social and professional — that were afforded to me. Things don’t get boring at Columbia, or in New York for that matter, and I never took it for granted. More importantly, I had a group of friends who made everything so easy. With them around, I don’t think a subpar College experience would have been possible.
That being said, if I had to nitpick, I’d probably have gone to more office hours.