The Spring 2019 entering class comprises a truly diverse body, boasting 37 U.S. military veterans, 15 veterans from foreign militaries, and international students representing 24 countries. It includes teachers, designers, entrepreneurs, athletes, dancers, musicians, real estate investors, and workers in the non-profit, healthcare, global affairs, law, hospitality, technology, and security industries, to name a few.
“In this regard, Columbia is truly a leader amongst elite institutions—welcoming high-performing students with non-traditional educational backgrounds to our campus and embracing your contributions to the academic discourse in a truly integrated way,” Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences of Columbia University Dr. Maya Tolstoy said.
Below, a few incoming students share their stories—from their experiences before coming to GS to now—all of it culminating in their enrollment at Columbia University.
My life as a professional drummer these past eight years has been split between performance and education. I’ve had the great fortune of touring with some legendary musicians and Grammy winners/nominees. My own band, Childish Japes, is a great source of creative freedom and fulfillment. I’ve done masterclasses, played drum festivals, and taught similar events in 34 countries on six continents. These experiences and the friends I’ve made along the way are among the things I’m most grateful for in my life. They have played an key role in shaping my values and opinions about the world.
I fancy myself a creative person, but the music industry has begun to feel more and more like an unlikely place for me to have ended up. While my musician friends tend to spend their down time writing music, learning new instruments, and digging deep into the history of music, I have always been far more interested in reading about the mind, neuroscience, psychology, meditation, and pretty much anything other than music. A lot of this information has found its way into my teaching, and students are consistently more responsive to and excited about these broader "life-relevant" ideas. Plus, anyone who teaches older students privately can tell you that half your lessons are therapy sessions anyway.
I returned to school because I have a hunch that my greatest potential might lie in a different field. One reason I plan on studying psychology is that it can be applied in combination with so many other fields. I don’t know where I want to end up, but I want to do work that helps spread well being to as many people as possible. Whether that is through research, writing, seeing private patients, or something else will be told in time.
Sylvia Gilsun Won
I moved to the U.S. to just learn English at first, but as I was taking classes at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida, I fell in love with the subject of social justice. In general, the American approach to education was a culture shock, but I also found it was a way to self-actualization and mindfulness for me. Since I wanted to pursue more education and better myself, I joined the U.S. Army, where I served for four years.
I decided to apply to GS for many reasons. First, the communities at GS do not exist in other Ivy League universities, and Columbia is one of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. Since I had made up my mind on going back to school after my military service, I decided to apply for the best school I could possibly think of. In addition, I visited NYC once and fell in love with the location of the university, not to mention the diverse cultures and museums. Also, lastly and most importantly, Columbia was one of the few universities that offer a major in human rights, which is what I intend to pursue.
I hope to attend a law school after I graduate so that I can take a better part in changing the world. Methods can vary. I believe even a very small effort counts in the attempt to change anything. Also, I believe everyone should not lose hope about humanitarianism!
Before enrolling at GS, I was on the 11th year of my Army career as a Ranger, a linguist, and an analyst, with a combined 29 months split between combat and operational deployments. During this time, I was fortunate enough to see the effects of unconventional thinking on longstanding problems—the judicious use of economic, information, or political efforts often completely replaced the need to use any military force. I wanted to participate and expand the idea of engaging global problems with unconventional and innovative means of engagement: be that reducing extremist recruitment pools by ensuring increased economic and educational opportunity, or encouraging the growth of conservationism and shared mutual stewardship of natural resources in the Middle East.
Columbia University's School of General Studies provides an unparalleled opportunity to address the blind spots in my understanding of regional problems, and to combine my military experience with an extremely rigorous education, to produce effective, realistic means of impacting the world for the better. I hope to pursue a bachelor's degree in either the policy or science of the environment and utility of natural resources, which I feel will be a crucial political factor in the years to come. From there, I would like to pursue additional education, and perform research in the Levant.
Being a musician in South Korea for ten years (as half of the indie pop-duo, Lucite Tokki) gave me a lot of things to think about. Despite the decent success of my band’s first album, I had to navigate through a troubling path in the patriarchal industry as a young female musician. I had to undergo an unfair deal from my first label and faced countless discriminations that were rooted from gender hierarchy. Under such circumstances, I constantly felt the need to expand my intellectual capacity not only to become a better creator, but also to raise my voice as a person who experienced such inequalities that universally exist in our society throughout the world.
In this regard, GS is the perfect place for me with its rigorous liberal arts curriculum, and the cultural advantage of Columbia’s location will enrich my experience as a learner and a creator at the same time. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to be a college student again. Besides the financial burden of studying abroad, leaving behind the liberal lifestyle as a freelancer musician was something I’d never imagined before. However, as soon as I set off on this journey at Borough of Manhattan Community College two years ago, I realized that I am going to enjoy it rather than endure it. Learning new things allowed me space to process my past experience and to have a better understanding of the world. I am really excited to open this new chapter in my life at Columbia. I will gladly face the next level of challenges at the world’s finest academic institution, because I know I will grow further in the upcoming years.
Prior to coming to GS I was a Sergeant, Force Recon-Scout Sniper in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. With them, I deployed to multiple countries in Southeast Asia. Since I was a reservist, I was able to attend community college in my free time thanks to scholarships and the G.I. Bill. And the money that I saved from military training made it possible to buy, renovate, and rent out two houses that were once abandoned in my grandparents' neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama. I decided to apply to Columbia because I heard about their strong initiative to recruit well-qualified veterans. I plan on majoring in economics because I believe it will set me up the best to one day give back to my community in real estate or possibly politics.
For more stories about GS students and alumni, visit the School News section of the website.