By Allison Scola
“From a faculty perspective, an undergraduate, is an undergraduate, is an undergraduate,” School of General Studies Dean Peter J. Awn reported at the GS Alumni Lunch on Saturday, June 4 when he spoke to approximately 100 alumni in attendance in the Skyline Ballroom of Faculty House. Such news is a tribute to the work that the School’s administration and students have accomplished over the last two decades—work that Awn outlined in his annual State of the School address and was highlighted throughout the annual All-Year Alumni Reunion.
“This is not the GS of the 1970s or 1980s. On campus, GS is celebrated,” Awn explained.
The General Studies dean of nearly 20 years recounted how today the senior leadership of Columbia frequently recognizes the value nontraditional students add to the University’s classrooms—and he encouraged alumni to be proud of their alma mater. Painting a picture of campus life today, Awn explained that for current GS students, LitHum (Literature Humanities) and CC (Contemporary Civilization) courses are required for graduation. And in stark contrast to 15 years ago, the Columbia Spectator frequently publishes stories about the significant contributions GS and its students make to University life. Different from what alumni prior to 2005 will remember, he said, the undergraduate student councils work together as a unit.
“Since we are a very unique Ivy League college, we deserve a name that distinguishes us,” Awn explained. “A person’s name for our college would make a real difference in our ability to realize our vision and mission.”
Awn explained that as GS approaches its 70th anniversary in 2017, the definition of nontraditional students is being expanded—programs such as the Dual BA with Sciences Po and the double degree with City University of Hong Kong are growing steadily—and fundraising to support student scholarships is the administration’s primary objective. As companion to that, he discussed the desire to identify a donor seeking a naming opportunity. “Since we are a very unique Ivy League college, we deserve a name that distinguishes us,” Awn explained. “A person’s name for our college would make a real difference in our ability to realize our vision and mission.”
After a morning of lectures such as the keynote discussion led by Robert Seigel of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and “Resistance Theory, Domestic Conduct and Shakespeare’s Othello” given by Julie Crawford, the Mark Van Doren Professor of Humanities and Chair of Literature Humanities, the luncheon offered an opportunity for alumni to reconnect with old classmates as well as to make new friends.
Throughout the day, more than 200 GS alumni and guests took advantage of various activities including tours of the Morningside campus and the surrounding neighborhood, a presentation about the burgeoning Manhattanville site, and mini-Core classes lead by Arts & Science faculty. For example, in the early afternoon, “How Can the Sacred Be Sensuous?” led by Professor of Indian Art Vidya Dehejia and “The Disappointments of Aeneas: High Hopes and Low Blows in Virgil’s Aeneid” given by Classics Department Chair Gareth Williams inspired GSers and their guests.
Columbia Veterans and the School of General Studies hosted an affinity reception. Host Richie Space ’05 recounted accomplishments and initiatives of the group, while Dean Peter Awn announced the establishment of the Columbia Veteran Center for Transition, Integration, and Leadership.
Later on Saturday, in cooperation with Columbia Veterans, a nonprofit organization that serves CU alumni, faculty, staff, and students, the School of General Studies hosted an affinity reception. Host Richie Space ’05 recounted accomplishments and initiatives of the group, while Dean Peter Awn announced the establishment of the Columbia Veteran Center for Transition, Integration, and Leadership. Awn said, “After working in the space of veteran’s education for more than 14 years, we have developed best practices in recruiting and integrating and supporting veterans into the educational system. We want to disseminate what we’ve learned nationally about veterans cycling out of the military into education, from education into the work force, and then from the workforce back to education.”
Awn explained that along with an array of on-campus units, GS will be partnering with a number of national veterans’ service groups to create an on-line course as well as workshops and trainings aimed at sharing knowledge and supporting institutions around the country that help military personnel transition to student and civilian life.
After a well-attended wine tasting event on Low Plaza, General Studies alumni regrouped at Faculty House for a cocktail reception and formal dinner co-hosted by Reunion chairs Lydia Chan ’12 and Jessica Garza ’09. Recent graduate Kirsty Jardine ’15 addressed attendees, explaining how GS opened doors for her, and her success led to her enrollment in the accelerated M.P.H. program at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
New graduate and outstanding nontraditional student Elizabeth Ross ’16 spoke about her life’s path growing up in rural Tennessee as a child of parents who were substance abusers. She described how she beat the odds, and through hard work and with the support of her partner, she was awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship upon graduation from community college—a scholarship that enabled her to attend Columbia which then positioned her for acceptance at Harvard University, where this fall she will enroll in an exclusive J.D./Ph.D. program.
Dean Peter Awn along with Jayson Medhurst, GSAA Co-chair, recognized out-going GSAA Co-chair Mason Beard ’04 for her contributions to the growing organization.
To conclude the dinner, Dean Awn briefly spoke to attendees, highlighting the contributions founding members of the new GS Alumni Association have made. Awn, along with Jayson Medhurst, GSAA Co-chair, recognized Mason Beard ’04, out-going GSAA Co-chair, for her work with the growing organization. The moment was a heartwarming capstone to a day recognizing the School’s and its alumni leaders’ recent accomplishments.
The night concluded with the much-anticipated Starlight Reception, a well-attended annual gathering featuring live music and dancing on Low Plaza.