Welcome, Class of 2017!

Aug 30 2013 | By Melanie A. Farmer

Columbia Engineering’s incoming first-year students received a warm welcome at the University’s annual convocation held August 26 on the Morningside campus. Each year, the ceremony serves as the official kick-off, both for students of Engineering and Columbia College, to orientation to their new academic home. In this case, it also marked the first convocation for the Engineering School’s new dean, Mary C. Boyce, who began her role as Dean and Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor of Engineering in July.

Addressing an audience of about 3500 first-year students, families, and guests, Dean Boyce gave an uplifting speech that underscored the significance of the School’s upcoming 150th anniversary as an opportunity to not only celebrate a long tradition of innovation and excellence but also look forward to a promising future of even more ingenuity and impact.

“The role of engineers in bringing solutions to many of the most pressing challenges and to shape our world for the better has never been more important today and it has never been more recognized by society at large,” said Boyce. “We are entering what I believe will be a Renaissance period for engineering—a period of great research, great education, great innovation, great invention, and incredible translation of these innovations to solutions that impact society, cities, the environment, and the world.”

She also took a moment to acknowledge the great city of New York, urging students to take note of this important epicenter they now have the opportunity to experience firsthand.

“I think we need a shout-out to New York,” she said to an audience who cheered in response. “New York’s a truly global city and one that has embraced the role and the potential of engineering in shaping a better tomorrow.”

The ceremony also included remarks by Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia College Dean James Valentini, and Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez.

In his remarks, Bollinger stressed that there is no other new beginning in life that can compare to the start of college. “It is when we expect to develop our mind and our character into a serious, independent, critical, and mature being,” he said, “ready to figure out our roles in the world, ready for the tumult of the marketplace of ideas, and ready for the responsibilities of relationships, be they intimate or communal . . .We, your teachers and care takers in all kinds of ways, are here to help you take this beginning and to turn it into a permanent and successful reality for your lives.”

Indeed, the take-home message during Convocation to new students was to work hard and get involved in the Columbia Community. To that, Dean Martinez added having fun, too. “Above all else, enjoy your experience at Columbia. Make it your own,” she said. “This is that once-in-a-lifetime journey. By all means, take full advantage of everything this great university and city have to offer.”

Engineering first-year students also attended the annual Academic Assembly, which introduced them to some of the exciting work and breakthrough research faculty and students have been involved in, and that has had a global impact. In her welcome remarks, Dean Boyce emphasized the opportunities available to students to work in collaboration with multiple disciplines and departments at the University and to learn from professors who have interdisciplinary knowledge and specialties.

Professors Kartik Chandran, Helen Lu, and Vijay Modi each explained new developments in wastewater treatment, tissue engineering, and environmental sustainability, respectively. Alumnus and serial entrepreneur Adnan Durrani BS’81, founder and CEO of Saffron Roads and president of Condor Ventures, Inc., gave a rousing speech about how the Engineering School gave him the necessary fundamentals to build a successful career path, first on Wall Street and later as the leader of his own entrepreneurial ventures. He said, “Engineering early on drilled this discipline in me of using technology, research, data, and quantitative thinking” in order to solve major problems in the world and to “really think critically of all points of view.”

Durrani, who serves as vice chair of the School’s Board of Visitors, encouraged the new students to make connections—with faculty, with peers—and get involved right away in the Columbia community. "Engage yourself on campus. Dive in!”

Andrew Sumner, a chemical engineering senior, rounded out the program by describing his experiences working with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to build a 210-foot bridge over a gorge in the rural community of Ait Bayoud, Morocco. The Tagawowt River, which floods during the rainy season, separates residents from key businesses located across the river; mainly a local health clinic, schools, and markets. The footbridge now gives hundreds of villagers access to these necessities even during excessive rainy periods.

Sumner said that while he is majoring in chemical engineering, the School, through programs like EWB, has given him many different opportunities to learn from other disciplines, such as bridge building in Morocco. Sumner also interned at NASA, after making a connection with an Engineering alumnus at one of the School’s career fairs. At NASA, he had the chance to work closely with climate scientists on statistical analysis. “This back and forth [between fields] in your life is what makes engineering exciting,” he said.

Class of 2017ers also received a commemorative beanie to mark their entry into the Columbia Engineering community. Once a mandatory accessory, and tradition at Columbia, the beanie is now a souvenir for incoming freshman.