Our Alumni

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GS Alum Dina Bateman
Dina Bateman

Hometown: Houston, TX
Major at GS: Religion, with a Premedical Concentration
Path to GS:

  • Born in Colombia
  • Grew up in Houston with activist, feminist mom
  • Volunteered and taught English, Spanish and salsa dancing in Cambodia
  • Worked as a nanny in Florida

“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.”

Columbia GS Alumna Mason Beard '04
Mason Beard

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Occupation: Program Coordinator, Council on Foreign Relations
Major at GS: Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures
Path to GS:

  • Left high school at 16 to pursue dream
  • Intensive dance training
  • Professional Ballet Dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet

How she continued her story: Assistant Director at the Council on Foreign Relations (2004-2007); 2009 MBA from Columbia Graduate School of Business; Associate Director, CCS Fund Raising (June 2009-present)

Mason is helping close the education achievement gap as vice president of growth strategy at New York Needs You.

"When I decided to retire from my career as a professional ballet dancer, I accepted with some trepidation that I would be starting from scratch as I pursued jobs outside the dance world. Matriculating at General Studies enabled me to lose that fear and make a full-fledged commitment to the new direction of my life. Courses like Regime Change in the Middle East and Late Ottoman State and Society, combined with the skills and relationships I developed in student groups like the General Studies Student Council, prepared me to excel in a position at an influential foreign policy institution. My college experience turned a difficult career transition into an amazing opportunity for intensive academic and social exploration, and ultimately, helped me discover a whole new world!"

Current GS Student PJ Bodner
PJ Bodnar

Hometown: Half Moon Bay, California
Major at GS: Political Science and American Studies
Path to GS:

  • Police Officer
  • Moved from California
  • Father of three

“I joined the police force to serve my community and, after I was wounded in the line of duty, I wanted to continue to serve. I chose GS and moved to New York because I really feel that, if you want to be your best, you have to be taught by the best. That’s what Columbia offers: the chance to realize my potential.”

GS Alum Anthony Carter
Anthony "Acar" Carter

Hometown: Newark, New Jersey
Major at GS: Psychology/ Education
Path to GS:

  • Inner-city Newark, NJ
  • Fixing things; electrician
  • Dad to little Toni
  • Restoration of rail service to World Trade Center
  • Teacher/Mentor

"As a kid, when my mom Fannie Mae went to church in the evenings, I spent my time repairing neighbors' knob-less black and white TVs needing antennas or their faulty light switches that sparked when flipped. My motto became "I fix things." These inner-city survival skills led to a career in the construction industry, yet I knew I had more to give to the world. As a student in GS's Program for Academic Leadership and Service, I am getting the education to fix things on a different level - one that allows me to pursue my dream of cultivating a positive environment for underprivileged youth through my ultimate goal of building an educational institution where their dreams can be realized."

GS Alum Aries Dela Cruz
Aries Dela Cruz

Hometown: New York, NY
Major at GS: Anthropology
Path to GS:

  • Activist
  • Emergency Medical Technician

"Anthropology showed me that it’s not only about the answers, but the questions that are asked. In an increasingly globalized world, a Columbia education provides students with the capacity to formulate answers to questions that haven't even been asked yet.

I will always relish the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of gifted people who share views completely antithetical to mine. Columbia is not only what you learn inside the classroom, but also the experiences you go through along the way, with your fellow students, that will transform you into a cultivated and substantive individual."

GS Alum John DeSerio
John DeSerio

Hometown: Berkeley, CA
Major at GS: Political Science
Path to GS:

  • Baseball player
  • Professional ballet dancer
  • Labor organizer

"Having grown up the son of a hardworking plumber, I learned early that my career had to be something I loved doing, not just a job. That’s one of the reasons I became a professional ballet dancer and the main incentive I had for moving all the way from California to New York and studying here at Columbia. Since beginning my studies here, the opportunities that Columbia and New York City have offered have been unbelievable. I’ve discussed US policy with world-renowned professors, listened to heads of state speak on human rights, taken restoration ecology classes in the Brazilian rainforest and art history classes in Venice, Italy. I’ve also had the fantastic experience of being a member of the Columbia rowing team and rowing on the Harlem River. As a student at Columbia, you have the opportunities that New York City has to offer. I’ve seen shows of American Ballet Theater and seen incredible art exhibits at MoMa and the Whitney. Being a student at the School of General Studies at Columbia University has afforded me so many amazing experiences and opportunities, and I feel lucky."

Retired New York City fire-fighter David Drury is a Columbia GS alumnus.
David Drury

Hometown: Montgomery, New York
Major at GS: American History
Path to GS:

  • Retired New York City Firefighter
  • Rescue Operations Instructor for New York City Fire Dept.
  • Developed Spanish program for New York State Fire Academy
  • Designed and built family home (twice).

How he continued his story: In August 2009, Dave earned his masters degree from St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Dave is cultivating a career as a secondary school teacher.

"I may not look like a typical college student, but on this campus I feel like one, even though I have three college-aged sons. They are proud that I’ve gone back to school, and their support helps keep me focused. My goal is to major in American History and possibly teach high school. I am thankful to be here, and I look forward to each and every one of my classes. If I had a wish list, I couldn’t add to it."

GS Alum Erich Erving
Erich Erving

Hometown: Torrance, CA/Tucson, AZ
Major at GS: Literature-Writing
Path to GS:

  • Worked with developmentally disabled adults in a residential setting
  • Moved to New York to be closer to Europe
  • Social worker/paralegal/backup dancer/world traveler

Today: Erich is a poet and printmaker living in New York City.

“School and I never got along: my third grade teacher had me tested for the gifted program; my fourth grade teacher for special ed. By high school, I had enough and dropped out. I didn't slack off: over the years I explored careers from paralegal to performance artist to social worker to world traveler (not really a very lucrative career), but nothing felt right. At 29, I got my GED and discovered that I had an undiagnosed mathematics disability. A chance meeting with a Columbia professor in a local bakery led me to GS. When I stepped on to campus, it immediately felt right, and I submitted my application the next day. At first, I was only admitted provisionally, but I've proven myself, making the Dean's List several times.”

GS Alum Sagit Goldenberg
Sagit Goldenberg

Hometown: Ra'anana, Israel
Major at GS: Neuroscience and Behavior
Path to GS:

  • Branch manager for medical aesthetics company at the age of 17
  • Israeli Air Force Officer
  • Cardiovascular surgery assistant
Barely two months after finishing my military service in the Israeli Air Force, I packed my bags and moved all on my own to Los Angeles.
I attended a community college there for two years and planned to transfer to a nearby university. When I began the application process, my advisor strongly encouraged me to consider Columbia. It took some persuasion—I wasn't sure I was eligible, let alone a strong applicant, until I did some research and discovered GS.
For the past few years, to give back in a humble way to the GS community, I've served as an Orientation Leader. I consider myself very lucky to be able to take part in such an incredible event.
The excitement of the day, combined with the hesitation and uncertainty on the new students' faces, reminds me of when I first came to GS and reinforces how much I've grown both intellectually and personally since then. I always look forward to sharing my personal experience with the new students to help them make the most of an amazing opportunity.
Lakshmi Gopal '11
Lakshmi Gopal
Hometown: Adinad, Kerala, India/Washington D.C.
Major: Visual Arts
Path to GS:
  • Proud Keralite
  • One-on-one training in Indian philosophy with a nationally acclaimed scholar
  • B.A. with honors in philosophy from King’s College, London
  • Enrolled at GS to pursue a 2nd Bachelor’s degree
Today: Graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

"At GS I encountered professors and mentors who were keen and honest observers of the world they inhabit. I attended classes with an amazing variety of people, all of whom have enriched my life and my worldview. I’m also grateful to have been able to share my culture and my passion with our campus community by organizing a concert, with the help of the Heyman Center for Humanities, by Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan, one of the foremost exponents of South Asian classical music."