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Student Profiles

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Onika Shabazz

Onika Shabazz
Bronx, NY
Psychology Major
Class of 2010

I chose the School of General Studies because:
After meeting a GS representative who was down-to-earth and inspirational, I knew Columbia was the right place for me. I was out of school for about 15 years, and I’ve always had a vision of doing more and a college degree was part of it — GS was the perfect fit.

What do you like most about being a GS student?
"Wow" is a word that comes to mind. There are so many emotions wrapped up in my GS experience. I’ve had an incredible time at Columbia: it has been tough, fun, maddening, and rewarding.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I will always remember the amazing staff and administration at GS that made it feel like home. I can’t believe at one time I worried that I wouldn’t fit in. I love the people here. From day one, I felt like I belonged.

My favorite class:
My favorite class is Infant Development and The Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging. It is satisfying to learn from experts in the field and have your work validated. The faculty is amazing—their work is cited practically everywhere. To have that kind of connection at your fingertips is unbelievable.

What I am most proud of:
My proudest accomplishment is finding a balance in various parts of my life — successfully managing my time to do things that are important to me, such as being a good student and wonderful friend, taking time for myself, and spending quality time with family.

My plans for the future:
I will be attending the University of Washington after graduation to pursue my master’s degree in social work.

My favorite extracurricular activity:
I participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. I truly enjoy working with New York Cares painting schools, gardening and cleaning up neighborhoods throughout New York, and being a mentor on campus helping new students to GS transition to academic life.

Andrea Hinojosa

Andrea Hinojosa
Austin, TX
History Major, Archaeology Concentration

I chose the School of General Studies because:
I initially considered taking a break after finishing my associate’s degree, but when I was accepted to the School of General Studies I knew I had to continue. Columbia was my first and only choice.

What do you like most about being a GS student?
The GS experience is mind-opening. Columbia faculty members are the celebrities of academia. There is unlimited opportunity to stretch and challenge yourself at Columbia but also the support and guidance to fulfill your goals.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I was surprised how formal Columbia is with its students, from emails to interactions with University administrators. Overall, I think it’s helped me become more polish and professional as a student.

My favorite class:
There are many great professors at Columbia like Marco Maiuro. Professor Maiuro is an archaeologist and an economic historian of the Roman Era. I’ve had the privilege of taking his course "The Romans 754 B.C. to 565 A.D." and his seminar "Romanization." I am truly impressed by the depth and breadth of his knowledge.

What I am most proud of:
My name was on the Dean’s List last semester, and I hope to make it there again this year.

My plans for the future:
I plan to attend to attend graduate school to study classical archaeology, but not immediately. I want to spend time with my family and learn some modern languages like German, but I also want to study Ancient Greek.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
My favorite place is Lerner Hall. I love it when the music students practice piano while I’m studying.

Natalia Chavez

Natalia Chavez
New York, New York  (Washington Heights)
Film Studies

I chose the School of General Studies because:
After a 10-year break from school, I decided it was time to go back. GS is the right fit for me, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

What do you like most about being a GS student?
The individual attention GS is able to provide helped me prepare and be successful at Columbia. I love the environment here—there is a lot of energy and a lot of smart people on campus.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I will always remember the beauty of the campus, the extraordinary resources, and the people here ready to help.

My favorite class:
Professor Christoph Wiedenmayer’s "Mind, Brain, and Behavior" has been my favorite class. It was intriguing to explore topics on why people do what they do.

What I am most proud of:
I am proud to be at Columbia and succeeding.

My plans for the future:
In the future, I would love to go to graduate school at Columbia’s School of the Arts. It is a few years away but I would like to focus on production and directing and branch out into film.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
Low Steps in the afternoon. It is an excellent spot to perch and watch the campus.

Robert Clemens

Robert Clemens
Los Angeles, California
Architecture

I chose the School of General Studies because:
Although I considered attending the Rhode Island School of Design, I decided a broad-based liberal-arts education at GS would ultimately serve me better than a more narrowly focused professional degree.

What do you like most about being a GS student?
Many GS students were successful professionally before they came to Columbia but still felt like something was missing—maybe the chance to study their world in a way that isn’t possible in the working world. GS has allowed me to redefine myself and grow through my pursuit of knowledge.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I learned how to learn. Anyone can pick up a book to try to learn something but what you take from GS is a complete approach to learning about anything.

My favorite class:
The class that has influenced me the most was Jeffrey Sachs’ "Challenges of Sustainable Development." He teaches you a multidisciplinary approach to understand some of the most difficult issues we face today. Professor Sachs is an example of why we’re lucky to be at Columbia University.

What I am most proud of:
I’m proud of going out on a limb to come to Columbia. I pretty much sold everything I owned and moved to NYC. I had hit a plateau in my career, and felt nothing was going to change if I didn’t try something new.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
My favorite place is the library in Kent Hall. I like the old wood interiors.

Trisha Gill

Trisha Gill
Chicago, Illinois
Political Science

I chose the School of General Studies because:
I was attending Quinnipiac University, when I first learned about GS. I believe Columbia has the support system in place for non-traditional students to get the best education, so I decided to take ownership of my education and go for the best.

What do you like most about being a GS student?
GS allows me to fit in. I am a little older than the average college student but it is more than looking the part. The deans at GS care about my history and how my education will fit me.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I’ll always remember that with the right perspective challenges can be rewarding. Challenges are opportunities to redevelop and redefine myself—it has made me a stronger person.

My favorite class:
I'm very happy I took Frontiers of Science. It opened my eyes and taught me about a world I partake in, but often take for granted.

What I am most proud of:
I am a first-generation college student, so I am proud to be able to pave the way for my younger sister.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
My favorite place on campus is the platform near the top of Low Steps. When I’m sitting there, I often think about the history of Columbia and events like the ServiceNation Forum that have taken place here.

Corin Kent

Corin Kent
Mountain Top, Pennsylvania
Political Science

I chose the School of General Studies because:
I chose Columbia because of its stellar faculty and unparalleled resources. I feel the possibilities are endless for students to find their own voice.

What do you like most about being a GS student?
I enjoy the strenuous academic nature because it challenges me to think critically. I come out better and learn more because of it.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I’ll always remember speaking to incoming GS students during orientation about succeeding at Columbia—many looked nervous and anxious. I reassured them that they are smart and will do well. It wasn’t long ago that I was in their shoes.

My favorite class:
I am fascinated by languages, so I would choose my Arabic and Wolof language classes.

What I am most proud of:
I am proud of my accomplishments and the confidence I’ve gained. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to intern at the U.S. State Department and take summer classes at Howard University. It has all helped in my pursuit of becoming a U.S. Foreign Service Officer.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
The East Asian Library in Kent is one of my favorite places on campus. And Lehman Library in IAB has a great '70s feel to it.

Amira Al-Khulaidy

Amira Al-Khulaidy
Sana'a, Yemen; Petropolis, Brazil
English and Comparative Literature; Philosophy

I chose the School of General Studies because:
I learned about GS while I was attending Northern Virginia Community College, and it quickly became my dream school. I feel that coming to Columbia is the best thing I have ever done.

What do you like most about being a GS student?
GS's greatest asset is its incredible diversity. There are few places in the world where I could have gone to meet people from such different backgrounds. There are so many inspiring stories.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I’ve learned that no matter how much you learn there is always more to learn. The pursuit of knowledge is never ending.

My favorite class:
There are too many to choose from. I love the Core Curriculum. Art Hum and Music Hum were fantastic. And Professor Alan Segal’s course on Judaism is another one of my favorites. He is interesting, engaging, and his class is another hallmark of a Columbia education.

What I am most proud of:
I am proud of living on my own in New York City. I’ve come to know a few people; GS is good about keeping its community integrated.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
I have always been interested in the universe and in astrophysics. I took a course on galaxies and cosmology, and Pupin became my favorite building. I like the labs and the scientific feel of it.

Jessica Cuttone

Jessica Cuttone
New York, NY
Anthropology

I chose the School of General Studies because:
Coming to GS is an opportunity of a lifetime. While I was studying at a community college in the Bronx, I received encouragement to apply for a scholarship to attend General Studies.

What do you like most about being a student at GS?
I enjoy learning and being part of the University community. Although, my fellow GS classmates and I have taken different paths to get to here, GS makes it enjoyable to be a student again.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
People and culture are incredibly complex, so I think it is important to be exposed to new ideas and people. I believe when we are isolated we lose perspective and forget how much we have in common with others.

My favorite class:
One of my favorite classes is an Urban Studies course about race, ethnicity, and immigration. It is a subject that interests me a great deal. I also volunteer as an ESL teacher for the Center for the Integration and the Advancement of New Americans (CIANA) in Queens.

What I am most proud of:
I am proud to be at Columbia and to be doing well. I am able to do much more than I ever imagined, and somehow able to stay sane while balancing academics and family life.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
Much of my free time goes to studying—I can probably be found in the GS Lounge.

Marilyn Gamez Garcia

Marlyn Gamez Garcia
Guatemala
Economics

I chose the School of General Studies because:
I’ve always dreamed about living in New York City. Dean Scott Halvorson and the financial aid provided by GS were instrumental in making it a dream come true.

What do you like most about being a student at GS?
I like that no one has an identical background—GS students have taken different paths in life.

My favorite class:
My favorite class has been "Economic Growth and Development" because it has deeply impacted the way I see the world. Originally I was planning to pursue a degree in the humanities but economics captured my interest.

What I am most proud of:
I am proud of my education at Columbia. I feel I will benefit greatly from it in the long run.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
NYC is amazing. A trip on the subway can take you to another part of the world. At any moment you’ll likely run into someone speaking a foreign language you do not recognize.

George Mallone
Brooklyn, New York
Political Science

I chose the School of General Studies because:
I earned my associate's degree at Hillsborough Community College, and I decided I wanted a more competitive and challenging academic environment that is oriented for nontraditional students. GS was the obvious choice.

What do you like most about being a student at GS?
I like how GS is integrated with the University. Any course available to the traditional undergraduate is also available to me. The GS student body is diverse in every sense of the word: Olympic athletes, professional cellists, and people who've accomplished incredible things. But it’s our openness and willingness to embrace other perspectives that make the GS experience unforgettable.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I will remember the degree to which I’ve been pushed academically. GS provides a challenging environment. It is sometimes stressful, but it brings out the best in people.

My best class:
I’m currently taking President Bollinger’s course on freedom of speech. His legal knowledge is expansive and his lectures engaging. He challenges the class and expects students to fully justify their answers—a taste of things to come in law school.

Judith Russell’s Introduction to American Government: I'm familiar with the subject and didn't expect to gain new insight from an introductory class. In fact, the class inspired my thesis topic: why war-making power has shifted from the legislative to the executive branch.

What I am most proud of:
Hard work, determination, and the PALS Scholarship got me to Columbia University; I believe it’s never too late to pursue an education. I volunteer as a GED math instructor at Community Impact, and I feel lucky to be able to share my experiences with others who are aiming high and daring to dream.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
Lerner Hall is a well-designed space—you feel like you’re out in the open while still being safe from the rain. It is a mix of hubbub and distraction with spots where you can find silence and anonymity, which also makes it conducive to studying.

Elizabeth Alonso-Hallifax
Berkeley, California
English and Comparative Literature

I chose the School of General Studies because:
GS appealed to me because of its exceptional undergraduate education—I wanted to continue to grow and stretch myself intellectually—and the opportunity to immerse myself in a different environment.

What do you like most about being a student at GS?
The GS community is amazing. It’s a supportive environment filled with extremely creative and impressive minds—GS students are not afraid to speak up.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
Looking back over my two years, I think that some of the experiences that developed me most were from Nicholas Dames' course on Dickens, Eliot, and Thackeray. He trained people to think, to find and articulate meaning from literature in a fashion that is practical, exciting, and sophisticated.

My best class:
It’s difficult to choose. But I would say Karen Karbiener’s course on Walt Whitman and New York City. Much of the New York Whitman knew is still standing, so with her hands-on approach to the city and Whitman, she brought his work to life.

What I am most proud of:
For someone with my background, coming to GS was a big change, but the culture here is about challenging yourself and making those changes. General Studies helped me to develop a greater capacity to learn, to constantly challenge myself, and to enjoy life. The most incredible gift is the confidence you build in your own capabilities, and the realization that nothing is out of reach.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
The Low steps are always beautiful, no matter the season. An interesting bit of information is that the design of the steps is modeled after Raphael’s The School of Athens.

Connelly M. Stokes-Buckles
Woodstock, Vermont
Psychology

I chose the School of General Studies because:
My work as an LPN helped to clarify my desire to return to school and pursue a degree in psychology. I was primarily interested in attending Columbia University or New York University. After much research, I decided GS was the best fit for me, and 2 years of nursing school credits transferred.

What do you like most about being a student at GS?
I find the diversity of GS amazing. Entering GS with me in 2006 were military veterans, writers, cab drivers, and an Olympic figure skater, to name a few. GSers bring a wide range of invaluable life experiences into the classroom.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
I’ll never forget what a luxury it is to be a full-time student!

My best class:
Josh Davis’s psych course on social cognition stands out for me, and I’ve had a great time in every French class I’ve taken here.

What I am most proud of:
Going back to school is a challenge. My first semester back was nerve-wracking but I did very well—it was satisfying to know that I could still succeed academically after a long hiatus from school!

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
I enjoy hanging out on the steps at Low, at the Psychology Library, and at the Student Calling Center, where I work to raise money for GS and Columbia.

Donald Taylor
Chicago, Illinois
African-American History

I chose the School of General Studies because:
My decision was between Columbia and the University of Chicago. I hold both in high regard, but General Studies won me over at the personal level. Throughout the admissions process I felt welcomed and appreciated.

What do you like most about being a student at GS?
There is nothing else like GS. I believe the School respects and embraces people’s differences. The GS community inspires me to dream and achieve things I did not think were possible. My peers at GS are passionate about learning, and our classroom interactions are always enriching.

Something I learned at Columbia that I will always remember:
Columbia is known for producing political and revolutionary leaders. After learning of that distinction, I began to believe that I too can be part of that legacy, that tradition. Ultimately Columbia has taught me that there is room in the world for dreams—and I am now an avid dreamer!

My best class:
Professor Nahum Chandler’s Historicity and Sovereignty seminar had a profound effect on me—it opened my eyes to people around the world and changed the way I think.

What I am most proud of:
At one point, I was working five jobs to pay tuition. It was a struggle to stay afloat financially and keep my studies in order. I believe many students at GS feel the same way I do—that GS represents not a first or second chance, but the only chance. I worked very hard and people noticed; I received a scholarship, which has helped considerably with my expenses and allowed me to focus on my education.

My favorite place on campus or in the neighborhood:
Two places have become home to me on campus, the Institute for Research in African-American Studies and the registrar’s office. In both places, the folks there took me in like family and have continuously provided strength in my times of weakness. I’ll never forget them.

Dina BatemanDina Bateman
Houston, Texas
Religion, Premedical Sciences

As long as I can remember I wanted to be a doctor, but somewhere along the way I lost confidence in myself. Then in my first semester at GS, I was captivated by my Frontiers of Science class. When I found myself researching class topics just for fun, I realized that I needed to think again about pursuing my original ambition.

Doing well my first year gave me confidence, and my advisor and fellow GS students gave me the support I needed to embark on the path to medical school. Thanks to them, I realized that it’s never too late to follow your calling.

Emilio RodriguezEmilio Rodriguez
Miami, Florida
Economics-Political Science

Having grown up in poor Miami neighborhoods, I thought my options were limited. Thanks to GS, I now know there are no limits to my success.

An economics and political science major, I am planning a career in business and, eventually, politics. I believe it's important to have a well-rounded education in order to understand how the world functions, both at a macro level and in terms of appreciating the beauties of the human spirit. This is at the core of a Columbia education.

GS is changing my life! It has opened up doors for me I never knew could be opened.