By Allison Scola
As a new alumnus in 2005, Richard M. Space, Jr., known as Richie to friends and family, felt disconnected. Introductions to previous graduates of Columbia University School of General Studies were few, meaning that current students and new graduates like himself had a tenuous connection to the existing General Studies alumni network.
Soon after graduation, Space and a group of his fellow recent graduates including Justin White ’05, Mason Beard ’04, and Matan Ariel ’06, to name a few, discussed how they missed the community that they enjoyed while students. They craved a network they in which they could participate, and more importantly, “a framework for future alumni to push the ball forward,” Space explained. Out of this desire to “graduate into something,” Space and White co-founded the Recent Alumni Leadership Committee (RALC) in 2007.
A Vice President of Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley, Space was raised in Queens, N.Y., where he attended St. Francis Preparatory School. Following high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served for four years. He then returned to New York and worked full time at the United Nations in diplomatic security while also attending GS full time. An economics-political science major, he served on the General Studies Student Council and was a member of the Columbia Rugby Football Club.
While at GS, Space, like many of his fellow military veterans, sought a student community that understood his service background. Along with about a dozen friends, he formed what started out as a social club and eventually became the U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University (MilVets). Over time, MilVets evolved into a robust organization that not only worked to support and mentor new undergraduates who were transitioning to civilian and student life, but also served as an advocacy group that contributed to the implementation of national veterans’ education policies such as the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“As a student, Richie worked hard to build community among GS students,” said Mason Beard ’04. “This led organically to his work after graduation to connect all GS alumni via RALC, then connecting the GS alumni to the broader network via the Columbia Alumni Association, and finally, focusing on the unique needs of our veteran students and alumni as he built MilVets and the Columbia Veterans Inc.”
Space is masterful at seeing where and how he can contribute. “Richie has a huge passion for the GS alumni community,” said Janet Griffin, Associate Director of Alumni Relations. “He has always been willing to serve his alma mater and rally his classmates to join him.”
Such contributions, which include mentoring young alumni, advising students, and promoting active alumni engagement over the last decade, drew the attention of fellow GSers and University administrators. In May 2016, along with nine other Columbia graduates, Space was awarded the University’s highest honor bestowed upon alumni, the Alumni Medal, an award that recognizes graduates for 10 years or more of distinguished service to Columbia.
Winning the award “was very humbling,” Space said, emphasizing that many people contributed to the honor, including the aforementioned White, Beard, and Ariel, as well as Christopher Riano ’07, Alexandre Vial ’09, and other alumni and administrators, such as Jose Gonzalez, Sheila Brogan Testa ’91, and Griffin.
Suggesting that the recognition belonged to a community of people, Space explained: “At Commencement, it was very exciting to see the GS graduates on the right side of the Plaza waving and cheering as I walked down the stairs from Low. The energy was palpable. You are reminded of the responsibility of the degree—‘the rights, responsibilities, and privileges thereto attached.’ It refocuses you.”