"If you're willing to take on the
risk, the complete loss of everything, the rewards can be huge.
It's all how much risk you want to tolerate for the possible
entrepreneurial credo was offered by George Yancopolous '80, a
physician who left the security of a career in academia to start up
the biotechnology firm Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. He spoke to
College students at a recent Alumni Partnership Program
practical experience of an alumnus often on the cutting edge of his
or her field, shared during a relaxing evening in the comfort of an
informal campus setting, has been attracting students to Alumni
Partnership Program events for the past year and a half.
challenge was how to bridge the gap between successful, engaging
alumni and current students in the College. The solution, realized
through the help of a generous gift from Jerry Grossman '61, is a
program that is the nexus of three offices: the Center for Career
Services, Residence Life, and the Class Programs.
'93 of Career Services coordinates the Alumni Partnership Program.
In identifying and reaching out to potential participants, Nover
has found Director of Alumni Programs and former Dean of Students
Roger Lehecka '67 to be a valuable resource because of the links
with students he has formed and maintained throughout his years of
involvement with the College.
was meant not to be a lawyer coming to tell students how to be a
lawyer, or a journalist coming to say how to get a job in a tough
job market," explained Lehecka. "It was meant for graduates of the
College to talk about what they've done with their lives and what
paths they've taken to get there.
students' side, one of the most valuable lessons is that very few
paths are straight. So many alumni are doing different things than
they thought they would be doing when they graduated from the
College. Many have been through several different kinds of careers
over that period of time. To hear graduates reflect on that, and in
many cases what their experiences in the College meant to them as
they made those choices, is valuable in itself."
"The goal of the program is to provide opportunities for students
and alumni to connect on a personal level and to provide alumni
with additional outlets to contribute to the school, as an
alternative to or in addition to giving money. It's a really great
way for them to get involved."
Paquette, Dean of Residence Life, has taken an active role in the
Alumni Partnership Program since its inception.
program is necessary because it lets students know that our
community isn't just Columbia, meaning those of us that are here on
this campus right now. It's Columbia and our alumni," said
Paquette. "Often students don't hear what it means to be alumni
until they're seniors. I think that's an error. You need to hear
about what an alumnus or alumna is when you're a first-year so you
realize that you're cultivating a large community. I think the
Alumni Partnership Program does that. It makes students aware that
you can come back to the school and give in any number of
of Residence Life advertises and hosts the program's events. The
Residence Life staff, which consists of residence hall directors
and undergraduate resident advisors, works with Nover to match
events with a particular residence hall and a particular class.
Although most of the events are open to all students, those that
are more career-focused are geared toward seniors.
Rajbhandary '99, a residence advisor for Furnald Hall, hosted an
event at which John Metaxas '80 and Kristina Nye '93, both from CNN
Financial News, discussed with students how to break into the
popular field of broadcast news. As Furnald is primarily a senior
residence hall, Rajbhandary felt the event was particularly helpful
for students thinking about careers in journalism after
great opportunity to talk to someone who's not there to recruit,
who's not there to give you their line," said Rajbhandary. "They
were just giving us their honest opinions. There were no agendas,
Partnership Program events have targeted other classes as well.
Richard Witten '75, a partner at Goldman Sachs and an active alum,
has hosted a group of juniors at the Goldman Sachs office on Wall
Street for the past two years. This event consists of a networking
reception, presentations from various alumni employed in investment
banking, and a tour of the trading floors.
explained, "Having this opportunity in the spring of one's junior
year can be a fundamental part of the decision-making process at
the time that undergraduates start asking themselves where they'll
be in little over a year. In this case they'll be better prepared
when recruiters for financial services show up in the spring of
their senior years."
A fall event planned specifically for
first-year students was a visit to Shea Stadium to watch a Mets
game with the team's broadcaster, Gary Cohen '81. Karen Wisniewski,
residence hall director for Carman, accompanied Nover and nine
first-year students to watch the Mets take on the Montreal
"It gave me
the opportunity to get to know a few of my residents in Carman on a
more personal level," said Wisniewski, identifying another benefit
of the program. "Off-campus events are a little more difficult to
plan, but I think students really take a lot out of
On the other
hand, Daniel Greenstein '00, who has attended many Alumni
Partnership Program events, likes the idea that the program brings
alumni back to campus.
should be the kind of school that alumni want to maintain their
connections with," he said. "I know I'll look back fondly upon my
experiences here when I'm an alumnus, and I would definitely want
the opportunity to give back by coming back."
A return to
Morningside Heights can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the
event for the participating alumni. Yancopolous, who is also an
adjunct professor on the Physicians & Surgeons campus, hasn't
been a stranger to the Morningside campus since his days as a
student. As he explained, however, "Never before have I come back
to campus with the express purpose or opportunity to spend some
time going to the old dorms and seeing dimensions of campus I
haven't seen in 20 years.
come rushing back. When I walked into Butler Library, which I
hadn't seen in 20 years, it was surprisingly so much the same. I
walked around and was immediately reminded of what it was like when
I was a student here. I don't usually have the time to just come
back to campus and be nostalgic, but this gave me the opportunity
to do so, to have those memories reawakened.
some of the questions the students have is interesting, because
they have the same kinds of fears and insecurities and questions
about the future that I had. What I tried to do was to remind
myself of how I felt back then and address the sort of thoughts
people have at this point in their college careers."
The challenge was how to bridge the gap between successful,
engaging alumni and current students in the College.
alumni have participated in the program, including musical legend
Art Garfunkel '62, star of the Fox television drama Party of Five
Matthew Fox '89, renowned playwright Tony Kushner '78, Deputy US
Attorney General Eric Holder '73, MTV founder David Horowitz '48
and celebrated architect Robert A.M. Stern '60. However, the
program is not limited to the famous; often students relate well to
younger alumni who are just establishing themselves in a
reporter Bob Hardt '91 of the New York Post met this fall with a
group of students to reflect on the outcomes of the recent
elections and to discuss his coverage of the New York Senate race
in which Charles Schumer unseated Al D'Amato.
I don't have a huge resumé, like someone who may have been
in the field for a longer amount of time, I think it's helpful to
have someone who's younger come and be able to talk to people
rather than deliver a lecture from someplace on high," observed
Hardt. "People in their 20s and early 30s are able to be the
example of someone who isn't that far out of college but is
program's greatest accomplishment is that it helps students
envision what the future may hold for them. Students get a chance
to see what alumni have done after Columbia and how Columbia has
played a role in their career choices.
the Yancopolous event, Chris Brady '01 said, "I know I like
biology, but I don't want to be a doctor and I don't know what else
there really is to do [with a degree in biology]. I like to come to
these kinds of things to see in what other directions you can
are other programs to help students make career choices, Brady felt
the story of an alumnus, told in his own words, carries a certain
really good to hear about his experiences here, especially because
I don't really think of Columbia as a science-oriented school. With
the Core and all, it's very humanities focused. So it helps to hear
from someone who studied the sciences here and went on to become so
successful in a science-related field."
Class Dean Karen Chung sees the benefits of the Alumni Partnership
Program for students in their second year at the
"A lot of
alumni have all these different routes they take before they
actually get to where they are. One of our messages to the
sophomore class is to major in what you want, and the career will
seem to really enjoy the sense that here's someone in front of them
who has suffered through the same college experience that they're
currently immersed in. It builds a kind of connection."