Though we've struggled as a campus community to formulate the ideal Columbia experience and understand exactly how we are supposed to achieve success while maintaining personal well-being, the majority of our dialogue has excluded one of the biggest factors of wellness in a university community: the academic experience. However, rather than regarding academics as something that must be compromised for the sake of wellness, we can look to the academic experience itself as a source of community. The new Columbia College Student Council departmental advising initiative is intended to seize the intellectual curiosity that brought us here, supplement it with specific information for each major that is easy to access, and ultimately help people forge deeper bonds with their professors as well as with peers in their major.
Your major shouldn't only feel like a set of classes you have to take for points that you trade in for a diploma. It should be your happy place, where you can participate in an intellectual project of your choosing and revel in discussing the questions that have plagued the experts for centuries. It should allow you to discover your own specific interests and add your thoughts to the canon of ideas that preceded you. The Core, which is built on the concept of a shared intellectual foundation and a sense of kinship among all those who have participated in the tradition, is the obvious example of this type of academic community. Now imagine this type of camaraderie when you're in your scholastic wheelhouse. With departmental information, administrators, and advice more easily accessible, students might find that their majors are some of their most comfortable and vibrant communities.
Sometimes frustration and confusion can lead us to forget the passion and curiosity that led us here, eventually giving us tunnel vision and blocking our opportunities for growth outside the minimum requirements for graduation. This is why we need to establish stronger connections with departmental administrators, professors, and our peers, so that decisions about our majors, coursework, and futures are exciting and inspiring rather than fraught with anxiety.
This future online “user's manual” will serve as a central database separate from the Columbia College Bulletin for information on majors. Students will be able to find a list of action items to consider, organized by class year, as first-years and sophomores have different needs and questions than juniors and seniors. This will be supplemented by an FAQ section for each major, where students can find practical guidance on practical issues that come up, such as how to develop an idea for a thesis or secure an adviser, which classes are best to take together or separately, and suggestions for professors to reach out to based on particular subject interests.
Rather than repeating the information in the bulletin, this resource aims to direct people on where to go after they have read those general descriptions and generated questions and short- or long-term goals. It is not meant to be a substitute for face-to-face conversations with professors, but rather a resource to guide students to and through those conversations. In the long term, this project will involve the addition of major-specific undergraduate peer advisers who can offer their advice and experiences to underclassmen as well as a bank of research opportunities with professors within each department. This greater degree of coordination can lead to events like “major mixers” and lecture series created by students in the major, ultimately yielding more fluid relationships between students and professors in the department. Students shouldn't have to feel nervous reaching out to a professor they've never spoken to before or approaching older students for advice. Overall, the initiative aims to enable students to create a well-rounded academic experience for themselves through exploration of their own research interests, discussions with a variety of professors—including those with whom they may never take a class—and the development of unique bonds with peers in their departments. Those faces that keep popping up in your lectures and seminars will be more than “that girl/guy in my major” or “the other pre-meds,” but actually friends and intellectual partners.
Academics is certainly not the only realm with the potential to improve on and find community, but it is perhaps our most untapped. Though our student body is diverse in many ways, and though it may take a while to figure out where in campus life you feel most comfortable, there is a place for everybody in the academic community—regardless of the specific abilities and skills everyone brought to college—because we share a certain excitement and curiosity for the future. With a little bit of help, we can soon discover where those feelings are strongest and then dive into that area with all the gusto that defines us as Columbians.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science and psychology. She is the academic affairs representative for Columbia College Student Council.
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