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Scholar Profiles

Wangari Mungai

Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya

Columbia College ‘14

Environmental Science

John W. Kluge Scholar

They tell you about the gazillion opportunities you will find at Columbia, but they never really give you the manual on how to manoeuvre these opportunities. Two years down the lane, I know all too well how overwhelming this task can get, especially for an international student visiting the US for the very first time. Which is where, thankfully, CUSP comes in.

The scholars program hones in on four important elements (academic excellence, leadership, global awareness and civic engagement) and through a purposeful series of well-structured events, cultivates these elements in its scholars. Through CUSP, I have listened to my fellow scholars discuss advances in alienating the cancer gene, previewed an Chilean independent film before its public release, watched Robin Williams at his Broadway debut and attended my very first opera at the Met. By walking up to a professor after a CUSP speaker series, I landed my first summer internship back home in Nairobi, and later obtained funding for the internship through CUSP funding. I have met incredibly gifted students from all over the world and engaged with them without having to worry about being graded at the end of the semester. All the while, I have been encouraged to think about my responsibility not only to my home country and continent, but also along the larger context of the world.

I could speak for days on end about what CUSP has done for me during my short time here. However, it all boils down to one thing: direction. This program, along with its amazing advisors, has been my manual for navigating the very promising but sometimes very intimidating concrete jungle known as Columbia. And for that, I cannot express adequately just how grateful I am.


Danny Murcia

Danny Murcia CC’14

Weston, FL

English Major

John W. Kluge Scholar

My experience with CUSP has been nothing short of amazing. The CJS sessions provided a relaxed yet engaging environment for intellectual discussion on fascinating issues, in addition to connecting me with some of the best friends I’ve met at Columbia. What’s special about meeting other scholars is that we’re all truly movers and shakers at heart. Last semester I joined heads with my best friend and fellow scholar, Zach Vargas-Sullivan, to found a brand new all-male a cappella group on campus called SHARP. Now fourteen members strong and performing regularly around campus, SHARP sprang from the musical and artistic vision of two guys who just happened to sit next to each other at CJS.


Another aspect of CUSP that has helped me tremendously is the advising department. As an aspiring music producer and songwriter, I came to Columbia eager to land an internship at a major record label in NYC. Although freshman internships are extremely rare, my adviser helped me secure an internship at Atlantic Records. Thanks to the connections I made during that internship, I was recently signed by Kara DioGuardi to a music publishing deal. This summer, I’ll be working exclusively under her wing in Los Angeles, honing my skills in recording/writing sessions with many of the artists and producers she works with on a daily basis.


In short, I think what unites scholars is that in addition to being passionate about our studies at Columbia, we’re all eager to make connections outside the classroom and strive to be more than just students. Personally, I’m lucky enough to have one foot in academia and the other in the music industry, and CUSP has not only encouraged me, but also actively guided me toward success in both of my lifelong passions.


Ashley Elizabeth Mendez

Ashley Elizabeth Mendez

Arcadia, California

John W. Kluge Scholar

Class of 2015

Major: Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies

Concentration: Psychology

Inspiration, opportunity, and community are the three words that come to mind when I think about my experience in CUSP. Being a student at Columbia means that I am exposed to new ideas, experiences, and organizations, but being a Scholar places me in the forefront of possibilities that would be difficult to come across on my own.

CUSP speaker series, outings, and seminars provide a medium of inspiration. Whether it is through Atkhar Badshah’s insight on the use of technology or John Gager’s opinions on religion, I was able to explore thought processes that I could not have experienced in classes focused on my major. Among my fellow scholars, I saw engineers get excited about narrative medicine from Rita Charon and political science majors rethink their ideas on law based on Elsa Stamatopoulou’s provoking words about Occupy Wallstreet. The Journey seminars for freshmen were also a source of inspiration as we discussed current events, new discoveries, and innovative thoughts.

When it comes to opportunities, I have been encouraged to explore communities beyond my own in order to become a true student of the world. The Harlem tour is an excellent example of gaining an opportunity to see a community through a different perspective and without the dominating misconceptions. Hearing from other Scholars about their ability to become interns at their dream jobs or volunteer in an obscure part of the world just speaks of the various opportunities possible with the funding from CUSP.

Yet with all the experiences as a Scholar, community is the key feature. The connection with fellow classmates through the shared sense of identification has allowed me to develop friendships I never would have foreseen. In addition, the community of deans and graduate advisors provides an open door to discuss my various plans. 

Overall, I am not just a Columbia student or a Scholar because thanks to CUSP I am a woman laying the foundation for my future.


Su Ann Lim

Su Ann Lim

Scholar Type: John Jay Global Scholar

School: Columbia College '12

Majors: Economics and Political Science

Hometown: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

My most illuminating -- and favorite -- experience of being a Scholar was a train ride back to campus from Montclair, New Jersey. We had just completed an interview with a distinguished activist in the housing and community-building scene for our CJS project, and we were tired, but could not stop talking of what we had learned about housing advocacy during the interview. And now that the work was over, we also had the chance to learn more about each other. She was a John Jay Global Scholar like me and from Brooklyn, and I was from Kuala Lumpur. We swapped stories of our hometowns, high school lives and anxieties/excitement from freshman year through the whole commute, and talked about our perspectives from the Harlem outing with other scholars. It could have been a conversation with anyone, but it was the big dreams and elaborate ideals -- and the awareness that we were in a program that trains us to do something about these dreams and ideals -- that made it a truly unique discussion. Later on through CJS seminars and over pizza before CUSP cultural outings (Scholars sometimes get free tickets to musicals, operas and shows!) I would come to meet so many more inspiring peers like her, and share experiences like that evening train ride from Montclair where ideas become born from context and interaction. And that’s what CUSP has been for me: full of inspiration and opportunities, guided under the watchful eye of some very wonderful deans who seem to know all the secrets of Columbia if you ask the right questions. CUSP is what you make of it, and that’s perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned from the opportunities at CUSP that I have both missed and seized over the years: that life, also, is what you make of it.


Laura Quintela

Laura Quintela

Hometown: Oakton, Virginia

Scholar: John Jay 2014

Major: Neuroscience and Behavior, Linguistics concentration

Cold night in February and I'm hiking through Harlem, texting my graduate student mentor to meet up with him after a late Psych lecture so that a group of scholars and I can all attend one of the scholars enrichment programs.  We weren't going to a museum or a guest lecture.  We were going to be many of the enthusiastic fans at the Apollo Theater open mic night, cheering the good acts and booing the bad ones, and getting a glimpse of the beautifully historic theater on 125th and how it’s still being used today.  This kind of thing is what the scholars program has meant to me, on the small and the large scale.  Being with a group of people who will go a little out of their way for something pretty amazing and definitely fun.  Whether it’s spending a night in a different part of town or taking the big leap to spend the summer doing research in a different part of the world, the scholars program - especially the brilliant students that make it up - has been an incredible system of encouragement and inspiration. 

On campus, I probably dabble in a few too many things, but I give each of them my absolute all and wouldn't have it any other way, especially when I feel like a member of the subgroup of Columbians who are proud to call themselves scholars.  As scholars, we go above and beyond and have a burning passion to always always do more: that can mean cheering louder than everyone else in the Apollo, or pushing the boundaries of non-profit work in the city.  In fact, that's what makes us scholars!  And being a part of this extremely dynamic group that never fails to drive me onwards has given me my own drive to keep doing my best. I like to think I honor the title in all I do. 



Jared Odessky

Jared Odessky

Hometown: Plantation, FL

Scholar Designation: John Jay

Class Year: 2015

Majors: History, Business Management (concentration)

The Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program offers a great supplement to an already wonderful Columbia experience. One of my favorite parts of the program has been the weekly Columbia Journey Seminar sessions, focused this year on the Millennium Development Goals. CJS provides scholars with a way to actively engage in discussing a pressing topic with peers while operating outside of a classroom setting. With the comfort of CJS, people are really willing to open up and express their opinions on issues without feeling the pressure of a grade. Some of my most enlightening discussions here at Columbia have emerged from talks of HIV/AIDS suddenly transforming into long-winded chats about the value of higher education in the United States.

However, beyond CJS, I've really been able to take advantage of the speakers programs and forums. The most memorable event that I attended last semester was a discussion about the early formation of religion featuring professors Peter Awn and John Gager. It opened my mind to a topic that I did not know much about, and after having the unique chance to speak directly with both speakers after the event, I'm now considering a second concentration in Religion. 

Above all, the Scholars Program engenders a strong sense of community. As the 2015 class president, the program has proven to be an invaluable resource for me as I work with various offices at campus to get things done for the freshman class. My adviser—Lavinia Lorch—is probably the most well-connected person I've ever met, and she always knows which direction to point me in.

I applied to Columbia as an Early Decision applicant and received the scholar distinction completely by surprise. While I would be happy enough to be living the dream here at Columbia without some sort of special designation, CUSP has made my freshman year all the better.



Derek Turner

CC 2012

Political Science and Anthropology

Phoenix, Arizona

John Jay Scholar

Being a student at Columbia is an amazing experience. Being a student in the Undergraduate Scholar Program only adds to it. As a John Jay scholar, I have met world-class academics outside the classroom, been empowered to have extraordinary summer experiences, and have been advised in a way that has transformed my outlook on my scholarly and occupational pursuits.

While my first exposure to the program was in the letter I got alongside my Columbia acceptance, the program only really got “real” during my first year. All first-years experience the CJS – Columbia Journey Seminar. When I went through it, we learned about the history of Columbia (especially the fascinating 1968 student riots), did projects on neighborhoods throughout the city, and conducted an extensive oral history project with Revson Fellows. In having these sort of discussions and doing these projects, I not only became acquainted with this school and city, but I also built relationships with my fellow scholar that exist to this day.

And that was just the first year! For my first two summers at Columbia, CUSP gave me Summer Enhancement Fellowships that helped me work for a nonprofit in South Africa (followed by a road trip through Namibia and Botswana) and a cyber security firm in Singapore (followed by a train trip through India). During the year, I went to CUSP Speaker Series’ where brilliant minds addressed the theme of the year. I heard from engineers, philanthropists, and Jazz musicians—an array of exposure that I don’t think I would have had otherwise. Between those speakers, the dinners, and cultural outings, CUSP truly opens your mind to think in an interdisciplinary way.

Because of the advising I received through the program, I got internships on campus and off. Not only that, but my advisor always gave me the advice that I needed to hear—not just wanted to hear. Her words have kept me from doing the status quo. Instead, I’ve been pushed to carve an original path in the world. That’s a daunting idea, but CUSP has given me the resources and encouragement that I need.


Dennis Dacarett

Dennis Dacarett

John Jay Scholar

Hometown: Austin, TX

CC 2015

Academic Interests: Major - Neuroscience and Behavior, Concentration - Sociology 

Attending Columbia alone is sufficiently incredible, but the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program (CUSP) enables you to do anything you want to do and more while you are here in the best city in the world! CUSP facilitates and links you to possibilities you did not even know existed. 

CUSP bridges the gaps when you want to do something you normally would not be able to do. With the help of CUSP, I obtained a summer internship as a Research Analyst at the San Francisco Department of Public Health in its HIV Prevention Section. I will be assisting in a behavioral intervention study consisting of medication trials for methamphetamine-dependent MSM  (men who have sex with men) to see if the medications help men reduce their meth use and sexual risk behavior due to meth use. Additionally, CUSP will be funding my housing, transportation and food for the 11 weeks I will be in San Francisco.

Through CUSP, I have also been able to connect my academic interests to my artistry. 

As a ballet dancer first-year student interested in HIV prevention, I was able to organize an event to see the world-class dance company, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, perform its world premiere of Home, a work inspired by people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as its signature piece that I have always wanted to see, Revelations. On World AIDS Day, I was able to see this moving performance with my friends in CUSP from my favorite seats in the house, Center Front Mezzanine -- all for free. 

CUSP has completed the Columbia experience for me. Being here at Columbia is definitively an incredible opportunity. The CUSP family maximizes your possibilities, ensuring that you accomplish the things you want to do with the limited time and resources you have. 


Bryan Terrazas

Bryan Terrazas

Hometown: Springfield, VA

Scholar Type: John Jay

Year: 2013

Major: Astrophysics

It’s hard to think of how the Columbia experience can be better than it already is, but somehow, CUSP finds a way.  The first day I met my CUSP advisor and told her I wanted to be an astrophysics major, she asked me if I wanted to go to CERN for a summer to do research.  I knew there would be amazing opportunities at Columbia, but only CUSP could have brought it to me on my third day of college.  Astonishingly enough, it was not an empty promise.

This past summer I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland where I worked at CERN at the Large Hadron Collider doing research for the ATLAS Experiment.  This was completely funded by the CUSP Summer Enhancement Fellowship, an opportunity that gives students funding and guidance to pursue projects which would be impossible to undertake without their support.  The summer before, I received the same fellowship and worked with professor and Dean of Science Amber Miller on building instruments to detect the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.  The fellowship has given me a chance to do some of the most ground-breaking research in the world with the best advising at Columbia.  It has also made me extremely competitive in applying to research opportunities such as NSF-funded REUs.  It is because of these resources CUSP has provided me that I was accepted as an REU researcher this summer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  CUSP successfully extends their support past Columbia’s campus and into the world stage.

Not only does CUSP provide the best advising and resources at Columbia but it also provides an opportunity to build community while experiencing New York City.  As a part of the cultural outings CUSP organizes, I was able see Anna Netrebko in Manon at the Metropolitan Opera, Laura Linney and Christina Ricci in the Broadway play Time Stands Still, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the New York City Center.  CUSP has been guiding me from the beginning and continues to improve my experience here at Columbia.


Michael Fusella

Hometown: Niskayuna, New York

C.P. Davis Scholar

SEAS 2012

Major: Applied Physics; Minors: Applied Mathematics, German

The Scholars Program is a community within a community. I remember feeling part of a unique group from the moment we had our plenary session during the first week of my freshman year. Since then I have tried to take advantage as much as I could of what CUSP has to offer. The Speaker Series is one such example. The speakers hail from academia, industry, and elsewhere and all are leaders in their respective fields. I remember taking home at least one crucial message from every speaker event I attended. Whether the topic was theater, medicine, or anthropology, I have found a way to incorporate the speakers’ messages into my own study of physics and engineering.

The CUSP Summer Fellowship Program was one of the best opportunities I have had at Columbia. For three summers the Scholars Program provided me with financial support so that I could pursue research in the Columbia Plasma Physics Laboratory. This research experience has been essential in helping me decide what I want to pursue in graduate school and it simply would not have been possible without the aid of CUSP. One of the best features of CUSP, though, is that these great experiences are shared with others. Each year there is a gathering for the Fellowship recipients to discuss their experiences and provide information to new Scholars on how to take advantage of the program. I’ve been contacted several times after this event by first year scholars who are interested in the research I’ve conducted and are looking to get involved.

Within the larger Columbia community, it’s nice to have CUSP as a home base. From more personalized advising to thoughtful discussions with speakers to the tremendous summer opportunities, CUSP offers a uniquely enhanced Columbia experience.


Amanda Su

SEAS 2012

Hometown: Lexington, Massachusetts

Scholar Type: C.P Davis

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Many people think of SEAS and envision overwhelming course loads, never ending nights in the library, and sunny days spent in laboratories instead of outdoors. While this may be more accurate than any SEAS major would like to admit, CUSP has enriched my experience and defined my personal and academic growth here at Columbia. From studying parasites in Africa to engineering artificial knee ligaments to observing open heart surgery, the CUSP summer fellowship has privileged me with not one, but three summers, of life-changing experiences.

The research opportunities I was able to take advantage of through the scholars program have not only been incredible learning experiences, but have also helped me realize that my true passion for medicine lies outside the laboratory, in the personal interactions of clinical settings. This past summer, again with the help of CUSP funding, I participated in an amazing program at the NYU Medical Center, through which I shadowed doctors in the Cardiology Department. Every day, I was impressed by the intimidating scope of the doctors’ knowledge, and was awed by the incredible procedures I observed, such as cardiac catheterizations and open heart surgery! I also participated in challenging discussions about ethical issues in the healthcare field, with other students in the program and healthcare professionals. My experience made me only more certain that I want to become a doctor, a cardiologist if possible. 

I will be applying to medical schools this summer, and plan to spend the next year abroad, teaching in a developing country.


Jack Klempay

John Jay Scholar, 2015

Hometown: Missoula, Montana

Academic Interests: Economics, French and Russian Literature

What I enjoy most about the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program are the opportunities it affords students outside of the classroom.  Starting off first semester freshman year, I was offered an internship at the French Embassy through my CUSP advisor, which in turn led to a research assistantship studying the role of American philanthropy in the development of African higher education and the chance to present at a global forum on the French language in Quebec City, Canada.  Aside from building my academic and professional resumes, these experiences brought new relevance to my Columbia education and I soon found myself applying what I had learned in the classroom at work: my internship at the Embassy is without a doubt the highlight of every week.  The CUSP advising staff did a great job matching my interests – Francophone studies – with real world opportunities, igniting my curiosity and setting me upon a path I had never even considered possible.

Finally, these opportunities have shown me exactly where a Columbia education can take me.  Thanks to CUSP, I have not only discovered my passion but delved into it whole-heartedly: CUSP is about exploration but also about experience, and I am grateful to have been able to jump into an exciting professional environment from the very start of my college career.


Nicole Bleuel

C.P. Davis 2014

Hometown: Stamford, CT

Academic Interests: Finance, Economics, Entrepreneurship and Innovation

In the spring of 2010, I attended my first CUSP speakers’ series with esteemed particle physicist Michael Tuts. Dr. Tuts spoke about his work on one of the world’s largest experiments, ATLAS, which uses the world’s highest energy particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. Dr. Tuts played the “Large Hadron Collider Rap” and spoke about how recent movies like “Angels and Demons” have been strongly influenced by particle physics. This is an example of how CUSP aims to bring all backgrounds and interests together, encouraging the poet to explore physics and the physicist poetry.

Though I’m an engineer studying finance and economics, I have a strong passion for video, media, and now marketing and advertising. My CUSP advisor encouraged me to pursue both and so I wound up (with the help of CUSP funding) interning at NBCUniversal during summer 2011, working part time as a financial consultant for two film producers, and traveling to Tanzania to film a promotional video for a nonprofit.

Further, as a member of the CUSP Alliance, I’ve been able to organize CUSP-funded outings that bring these two passions together. For example, we saw War Horse on Broadway and then had a post show discussion about the amazing “emotional engineering” that brings the puppets to life. The best part was that this was a joint outing between the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association and CUSP, so we got to enjoy the company and insight of several alums. Last year CEAA and CUSP hosted a joint cultural outing to see Robin Williams in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.

I look forward to continuing to explore my passions with the support of CUSP and hope to graduate a well-rounded, confident scholar of the world.


Alison Ferris

Alison Ferris

C.P. Davis Scholar

Mechanical Engineering, 2012

It’s one thing to learn about the process of combustion and calculate the angular velocities of a pulley system in a classroom; it’s quite another to travel over 7,000 miles away to install diesel engines and configure pulley systems to couple the engines to agricultural processing units and electrical generators.  As engineers, we patiently take notes as we learn about various laws, relations, and derivations.  But what we really want is to touch, hear, and see how what we’re learning inside the classroom applies to the real world.  Throughout my years at Columbia, the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program has allowed me to do just that: bridge the gap between theory and practice. 

As a two-time recipient of the program’s Summer Enhancement Fellowship, I was twice able to travel to Soroti, Uganda through an Engineers Without Borders program.  During the summer of 2009, I traveled to Soroti with a group of students, worked with a local NGO to install two stationary diesel engines (Multifunction Platforms) in two rural communities, and led technical, financial, and social training sessions.  Each engine was installed with a mill attachment to allow community members to process their raw goods and create a business around the technology they had enlisted our help to implement.  During the summer of 2010, I led a group of students back to Soroti – this time, we worked with a local electrician to help the communities expand their engine systems to include electrical generators and small electrical systems consisting of a few light bulbs, outlets, and switches.  The Scholars Program has allowed me to apply my mechanical engineering skills and interest in fuels and combustion in a way that is helpful to others, while also pursuing my passion for travel and exploring new places.

After graduating from Columbia, I plan to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on the combustion of alternative fuels.  Outside the world of academia, I enjoy exploring the more obscure nooks and crannies of New York City. 

Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program


403 Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Call: (212) 854-6378

Fax: (212) 854-2562

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