Columbia University is home to three undergraduate schools: Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (AKA Columbia Engineering) and the School of General Studies. While most of your classes will be with peers from your school, you can look forward to making new friends and acquaintances from other Columbia schools too. Here is a bit of essential background about Columbia College and Columbia Engineering.
About Columbia College
There is no more effective and dynamic preparation for the future than studying at Columbia College in the heart of the world’s most cosmopolitan city. At Columbia College, a uniquely designed Core Curriculum of philosophy, history, politics, literature, art, music, science and writing provides every student with a comprehensive and truly transformational understanding of modern civilization. The format of the Core Courses is distinctively personal and highly interactive in order to develop your ability for engagement in an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing world.
Columbia students also have the exclusive opportunity to enhance their studies through the unparalleled energy, vitality and multicultural variety of New York City. No other college in America offers students the integration of the highest level of educational excellence in a community with an incomparable offering of professional, career and life experiences.
Columbia College provides all the benefits of a small college and all the reach of a great research university. You'll have close contact with prize-winning and path-breaking faculty, a comprehensive advising system and a community where individuals are able to interact with their peers in a deep, meaningful way both inside and outside of the classroom. You'll also benefit from close ties with the University’s renowned graduate and professional schools, including law, business, medicine, arts, journalism, and international and public affairs, all while being surrounded by the world’s most exciting city: New York.
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Columbia College’s History
In 1754, King George II of England granted the royal charter that designated “The College of the Province of New York, in the City of New York ... known by the name of King’s College.” The campus was located in a school house at Trinity Church, in what is now part of Lower Manhattan. That first class comprised eight students and one faculty member — colonial scholar and Anglican minister Samuel Johnson — who also was the first College’s first president.
During the Revolutionary War, the campus was seized and put to use as a military hospital, first by the Continental army and then by the British during their occupation of Manhattan. While most trustees, students and faculty sided with the crown, a number of them, including Alexander Hamilton (Class of 1778), John Jay (Class of 1764), Gouverneur Morris (Class of 1768) and Robert R. Livingston (Class of 1765) became important figures in the founding of America. Jay and Hamilton were instrumental in the reopening of the College in 1784 when it was renamed by the New York State Legislature as Columbia College, the “mother college of the University of the State of New York.”
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Dean James J. Valentini
James J. Valentini has served as the Dean of Columbia College and Vice President for Undergraduate Education since September 2011. Affectionately called “Deantini” by Columbia undergraduates, he has been a member of Columbia’s faculty since 1990. Under his leadership, Columbia College launched a $750 million Core to Commencement campaign, the first campaign devoted exclusively to Columbia College students and faculty. And, in 2021, Dean Valentini announced the largest financial aid campaign in the history of the College and the University.
As the chief academic and executive officer of the College, Dean Valentini’s central focus is to support and develop the College so that students and faculty have the greatest possible experience. The dean oversees the College curriculum, which includes the Core as well as the academic and programmatic services and policies that contribute to the undergraduate experience beyond the classroom. He frequently attends campus events and hosts meals with students to discuss their undergraduate experience.
Before becoming dean, Dean Valentini served as chair of the chemistry department and director of the chemistry department’s Undergraduate Studies Program and was instrumental in creating the Science Research Fellows program. Prior to arriving at Columbia, Dean Valentini was a member of the research staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Irvine. He is a fellow in the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dean Valentini earned his B.S. in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, his M.S. in chemistry from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed postdoctoral work at Harvard.
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About Columbia Engineering
The mission of Columbia Engineering is to expand knowledge and advance technology through research, while educating students to become leaders and innovators informed by an engineering foundation. Columbia Engineering is ranked as the #1 school of engineering in the Ivy League and has produced major leaps in engineering such as the first steam locomotive, the long-distance telephone, FM radio, the first computers of IBM, the New York subway system, the first industrial robot, the world’s first nuclear submarine and the field of biomechanical engineering. Today, Columbia Engineering remains at the forefront of technological innovations from environmental sustainability and the human genome to infrastructure sensors, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and data sciences.
Enriched with the intellectual resources of a global university in the City of New York, Columbia Engineering students push disciplinary frontiers, confront complex issues, and engineer innovative solutions to address the grand challenges of our time. The Columbia Engineering community creates a collaborative environment that embraces interdisciplinary thought, creativity, integrated entrepreneurship, cultural awareness and social responsibility. Columbia Engineers are inventors and entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 CEOs and finance leaders, Nobel Prize winners and astronauts. These engineers—of all genders, races, nationalities and backgrounds—share an innate intellectual curiosity and drive that have always been hallmarks of a Columbia education.
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Columbia Engineering’s History
The School of Mines of Columbia College opened its doors in 1864, with a student body of 20 and a faculty of three. The new school reflected in many ways the demands of its age, recognizing the need for raw materials to wage the Civil War and to supply the rapid industrialization of the United States.
Since then, Columbia Engineering has grown and expanded on every front. Today the School is home to more than 170 faculty members, 1,500 undergraduate students, 2,000 master’s degree students and 700 doctoral students across nine departments and multiple campuses. The School attracts students from around the world and an entering undergraduate class that is 44 percent women. The school’s curriculum still reflects Columbia’s unfailing commitment to liberal arts instruction, with The Core, while pushing the frontiers of technology and applied science.
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Engineering for Humanity
Columbia Engineering’s vision — Engineering for Humanity — sets a bold path for a sustainable, healthy, secure, connected, and creative humanity. The students, faculty and leadership of Columbia Engineering are devoted to pushing the frontiers of engineering to address the key needs for the future of humanity.
From sustainable urban infrastructure to intelligent sensor systems that monitor an individual’s energy footprint and provide actionable feedback, we are giving cities and industries the tools to keep the environment healthy. We are pioneering medical imaging techniques, developing methods for connecting people at faster speeds with less energy, creating models for preventing crises and mitigating disasters, and designing technologies to enable creative and artistic expression never seen before.
We have never been more optimistic about the role engineering can play in the service of society and in bringing those advances to populations across the country and around the world.
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Interim Dean Shih-Fu Chang
Interim Dean Shih-Fu Chang leads the education and research mission of Columbia Engineering and is committed to facilitating and celebrating the creativity and innovation of students and faculty. Previously Senior Executive Vice Dean at SEAS, Dean Chang is also the Richard Dicker Professor with appointments in the Electrical Engineering Department and the Computer Science Department, and director of the Columbia Center of Artificial Intelligence Technology in collaboration with Amazon. He has helped to shape the mission of Columbia Engineering and to strengthen its standing among the top engineering schools in the nation. Dean Chang was instrumental in developing Columbia Engineering for Humanity, a commitment to serving the public good through work across disciplines, departments, and schools. He was also responsible for creating University-wide, cross-disciplinary initiatives for SEAS, collaborating with outside industry experts and companies to create research centers, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs within the School.
Dean Chang is also an admired scientist whose research focuses on artificial intelligence, multimedia content analysis, and computer vision. He develops systems that can extract information from content including images, video, and audio. His projects have led to breakthroughs with significant real-world applications, including tools that prevent human trafficking and those that provide image recognition capabilities to journalists and public health professionals.
Dean Chang’s work has appeared in more than 350 peer-reviewed publications and he has been issued over 30 patents. He was listed as the Most Influential Scholar in the field of Multimedia by Aminer in 2016. For his long-term contributions, he was awarded the IEEE Signal Processing Society Technical Achievement Award, ACM Multimedia Special Interest Group Technical Achievement Award, the Honorary Doctorate from the University of Amsterdam, and the IEEE Kiyo Tomiyasu Award. He received the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), ACM, and IEEE.
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About Columbia School of General Studies
Columbia University School of General Studies (GS) is the only college of its kind created to meet the needs of returning and nontraditional students seeking a rigorous, traditional, Ivy League undergraduate degree full or part time.
GS students earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, which combines breadth of study in a range of subjects and disciplines, represented by the core requirements, with specialization in a major field of study. GS students take the same classes with the same professors as all Columbia undergraduates. Undergraduate courses are taught by members of the Columbia University Faculty of Arts and Sciences.