CUSP Community Building Events 2024-25

CUSP’s Community Building Events enrich the education of our scholars outside of the classroom, from exploring the resources on campus to navigating all that New York City has to offer.

Upcoming Events

To be announced

Check back soon for upcoming events!

Past Events

Tour of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, April 12, 2024

Scholars were treated to a walking tour of the grounds of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge led by Alexandra Kanonik, the Jamaica Bay Program Director of the American Littoral Society. Founded in 1972, the refuge emerged from the collaborative efforts of local activists and government agencies aiming to preserve and restore the Jamaica Bay estuary. Originally a dumping ground, the area has undergone a remarkable transformation thanks to the dedicated conservation initiatives led out of the office we toured.

Today, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a thriving habitat teeming with wildlife. During our tour, we saw egrets, ospreys, and flocks of ducks and swallows. Ongoing conservation efforts focus on controlling invasive species, monitoring wildlife populations, and restoring habitats. One notable endeavor is the osprey restoration project, aimed at bolstering the population of these magnificent raptors in the bay area. Through the installation of nesting platforms and habitat enhancements, the refuge provides a safe haven for ospreys to breed and thrive, contributing to the ecological balance of the region. We were told that this project has been such a success that bald eagles are now looking to use the nesting platforms.

This field trip provided scholars with a firsthand glimpse into the rich biodiversity found in the outskirts of New York City

Audubon Mural Project Walking Tour, March 29, 2024

Named for famed naturalist John James Audubon, the NYC Audubon Society has been advocating on behalf of the city’s wild birds for over 40 years, running over 200 educational programs per year. Students were surprised to learn that despite NYC’s reputation as an urban jungle, hundreds of bird species pass through the city on a yearly basis. Students were taken on a two-hour walking tour of the Audubon Society’s ambitious mural project, which spans Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights. Inspired by the fact that climate change poses a dire threat to nearly half of North American bird species by 2080, Audubon has commissioned artists to paint murals of the affected birds. These include familiar species like the barn swallow, bald eagle, osprey, mountain bluebird, snowy owl, Canada goose, and trumpeter swans – all of which featured in murals that students saw on our tour – as well as the yellow-throated warbler, pine siskin, greater sage grouse, pinyon jay, and fish crow, among many others. 

Licensed NYC tour guide Leigh Hallingby led students on an exploration of these birds and the urban context of the tour, in which murals were sometimes in unexpected places – high up on the sides of buildings, painted across the metal security doors used by businesses, above gas stations, and in small, narrow spaces that were very much in active everyday use. A particular highlight of the tour was the “Trumpeter Swan Mosaic” by Carlos Pintos and Joan Sear at 601 W 163rd St, which was completed in December 2020 and brought joy to many in the neighborhood during the pandemic. The stunning mosaic featured pieces of glass donated by the community, and alongside its primary depiction of two swans, memorialized names of people close to the artists.

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, November 10, 2023

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) is a leading research institution affiliated with Columbia University, dedicated to the study of Earth and its processes. Located in Palisades, New York, LDEO boasts a diverse range of research initiatives covering various aspects of Earth science. Scientists and researchers at LDEO investigate topics such as climate change, oceanography, seismology, and the Earth's interior. The observatory is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and instruments, including research vessels, seismic monitoring networks, and laboratories that allow for cutting-edge research. LDEO plays a crucial role in advancing our understanding of the Earth system, contributing valuable insights to address pressing environmental challenges.

Clara Chang, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, gave students the first tour through the LDEO Core Repository. This lab serves as a “library” for sediment and rock cores collected from oceans and lakes around the world. These cores provide a geological record of Earth's history, allowing scientists to study past climate changes, tectonic activity, and environmental conditions. Lamont houses the largest core repository in the world, providing a valuable resource for researchers across the world studying Earth’s past and its implications for the future. Clara showed the students her favorite sediment core, which was taken in Jamaica shortly after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. She showed us exactly where in the core the earthquake was recorded –– a sharp fault line dividing an otherwise continuous core.

The second tour of the day was led by Dr. Jennifer Middleton, one of the scientific leads of the Noble Gas Lab. This lab focuses on the analysis of noble gases, such as helium, neon, and argon, to gain insights into Earth's geophysical processes. Noble gases, being chemically inert, can provide valuable information about the Earth's mantle, crust, and ocean. Researchers in this lab use mass spectrometry and other advanced techniques to measure the concentrations and isotopic compositions of noble gases in various geological samples. Students were shocked to discover just how noisy science can be –– the labs that Jenny walked us through were full of humming equipment. When asked about the price of one piece of equipment, we were shocked to learn that the lab equipment costs totaled in the millions of dollars. We ended the tour by hearing of Jenny’s experiences as a sea-going scientist, which has taken her into the Pacific and Southern Oceans. Tales of 20 foot waves in the Southern Ocean were not for the faint-hearted!

The tours of the LDEO Core Repository and the Noble Gas Lab exemplified Columbia’s commitment to multidisciplinary research that advances our understanding of Earth's complex and interconnected systems. It was an added bonus to get to tour Lamont on such a lovely autumn day.

Met Museum Cloisters Tour, October 25, 2023

Opened in 1938 as a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, the Met Cloisters is the only museum in the country devoted exclusively to European medieval art and architecture. Located in Fort Tyron Park in northern Manhattan, the museum derives its name from the remains of four medieval cloisters - quadrangular covered walkways that provided access to other monastic buildings - which have been incorporated into the museum’s structure. Each set of cloisters leads to galleries displaying European sculpture and painting from the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Overlooking the picturesque Hudson River, the ornate design, peaceful ambience, and tranquil surroundings of the Met Cloisters evoke a sense of the detached nature of European monastic life.

A group of CUSP Scholars attended a tour of the cloisters as well as the surrounding galleries and courtyards. Our tour guide discussed the history of the site, emphasizing the role of financier John D. Rockefeller Jr. in purchasing the cloisters from the American art collector George Gray Barnard, who had initially acquired them from French monasteries during his sojourn there in the early twentieth century. Scholars paid particular attention to the site’s architecture, noting the preservation of many of the structural elements of monasteries. They also had the opportunity to consider  the site in relation to the Speaker Series’ theme of “Absence” - the fact that the cloisters were not built anew but transported from their original locations in rural France offered a chance to ponder its significance and contrast in relation to its urban New York City surroundings. Our tour guide emphasized these aspects of the Cloisters, while also spending time analyzing the religious symbolism involved in the paintings and sculptures on display. The tour concluded with a visit to the Unicorn Tapestries, which depict a hunt for the legendary creature. Scholars discussed the religious significance of the tapestries as a way to praise God’s creation, particularly with regard to nature and its abundance. 

St. John the Divine Cathedral, October 6, 2023

At over 125 years old, St. John the Divine Cathedral is a landmarked building containing an assortment of architectural styles, from the Romanesque columns to the neo-Gothic vaulting. St. John is the largest Cathedral in the world, and one of the five largest church buildings in the world. Since its construction in 1892, the Cathedral has aspired to be an intellectual center and house of prayer for diverse groups of people. 

A group of CUSP students, let by tour guide Bill Schneberger, completed the Vertical Tour, climbing narrow winding stone staircases to four points of interest within (and outside) the cathedral, including a beautiful rooftop view of New York City and a stop in “la fôret,” the attic-like “forest” of metal girders that holds up the roof of the cathedral. Our guide shared information about the construction of St John, which has never been fully completed due to a lack of funds, and has not been added to since 1994. It uses a “stone on top of stone” method of construction, without metal in its framework, that was considered a surprising archaism in its own day in comparison with the skyscrapers that were going up at the same time, but which makes for extraordinary durability. We learned that the cathedral’s rose window is the largest in the US, at 40 feet in diameter, with the central image (of Jesus) standing at 5’7” although it appeared so small to us from the ground. We learned that the stained glass window bays are arranged according to human activity – including categories such as arts, medicine, sports and communication – with the lower window depicting a “mundane” version of that activity featuring historical figures, and the upper window depicting associated saints. The tour provided a glimpse into the Cathedral as an homage to the history and heritage of New York City.

Senior Get-Together, May 3, 2023

CUSP staff invited our graduating senior cohort to celebrate their achievements by sharing an afternoon in 401 Lerner reminiscing about their experiences and sharing their future plans. Seniors were invited to share a meal and chat with their peers and advisors, and they participated in a raffle to pick out Columbia faculty books and Columbia branded goodies to take a piece of Columbia with them as they move on, even as they wrote out their words to be displayed at next year’s SEF Showcase, leaving their advice for the students still to come.

New York Botanical Garden and Orchid Show Tour, April 21, 2023

Students visited the New York Botanical Garden just as spring came into full bloom with cherry blossoms, lilacs, and lingering daffodils. Students had time to explore the grounds on their own before we all enjoyed a tour led by a veteran NYBG volunteer (and retired math teacher!). Our tour guide led us through the Orchid Show: Natural Heritage, designed by Lily Kwong, and taught our varied group not just about plants, but the history of the NYBG. We even had the good luck to see a vanilla orchid flower–these only bloom for a single day.

Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program


403 Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Call: (212) 854-6378

Fax: (212) 854-2562

Office Hours
9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.