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Episode Notes

Episode Title: The Columbia Years. Narayan Subramanian on Academics, Activism and the Big Apple.

Episode summary introduction: Narayan Subramanian, a Columbia University alum reflects on his years in college. He paints a vivid picture of life in school, the dorms and regales us with anecdotes on the activism on campus and the taste of the Big Apple.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • Being a student at Columbia University
  • What it is like being in a big city
  • Benefits of being in a school like Columbia

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • The Columbia Experience [2:14]
  • The First Semester - “Kid in a candy store” [6:40]
  • The Student Peers [12:33]
  • The Campus and the Big Apple [19:55]
  • The Living Quarters [25:18]
  • Summer Pursuits [29:52]
  • Random but Fun Memories [36:40]

Our Guest: Narayan Subramanian, majored in Earth and Environmental Engineering and minored in Political Science from Columbia University. Narayan went on to get a Masters in Public Affairs, Economics and Public Policy from Princeton University and JD from Columbia Law School.

Memorable Quote: "I was a kid in a candy store”

Episode Transcript: Please visit almamatters.io/podcasts.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat  0:12

It is not clear if the students shape a college culture, or if colleges pick students who embody their culture.

Hello & Welcome to another episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.

Narayan Subramanian, a product of Columbia University, is ambitious, energetic and subscribes to causes big and small.


While at Columbia, he sampled and absorbed diverse opportunities that Columbia and New York had to offer, while enriching the Columbia culture with his scholarly and activist contributions.

He is in a sense, a young man made for Columbia as much as Columbia is made for him.

In the ensuing conversation, Narayan shares his undergraduate years at Columbia with us.

So, Without any delay, Let’s dive right into it with Narayan!

Venkat  1:14  

Hi Narayan!

Narayan 1:16


Venkat 1:17

Welcome to our podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters.

Narayan 1:20

Thanks for having me.

Venkat 1:22

Sure thing, sure thing.

So thanks for making the time this morning. I kind of just wanted you to go down memory lane and reflect on Columbia University, your experience there. We are basically catering to, you know, international applicants, but, you know, these kind of conversations are beneficial to anyone who's college bound. So, just wanted to take some time and have you talk about your experience there and how how it all came about all the way to how it feels now looking back,

So, so, without further ado, let's get started. What did you think overall? I mean, as you think about Columbia, what do you think? What's your experience overall there?

Narayan  2:14  [The Columbia Experience]

Yeah, I mean, I, I had an incredible undergraduate experience at Columbia. To the extent that I also went back for three more years for my legal education, so. So obviously, you know, Columbia is an institution, is one, that I that I hold quite near and dear. And for me, personally going to Columbia was, it was a big transition coming from the Bay Area in California. And so even that, I'm sure for international applicants, it'll be a huge transition, but even for me from going from kind of a West Coast culture in the Bay Area to New York City, was it was a huge transition and I always felt like I grew a lot in this four years, especially that first year, I mean, and when I say grew, I mean also, you know, the weather changes obviously, build a lot of character as well. So...

Venkat  3:16  

So, before we get into why you chose Columbia, what are the things, that, that you think were quite different or you feel? I mean, obviously, you didn't sample a bunch of other colleges, but what do you think was certainly different about this experience? I mean, what do you think you wouldn't have gotten elsewhere?

Narayan  3:35  

Yeah, I think the thing that really stood out about Columbia to me even when I was applying, the big reason I kind of, Columbia was my dream school, even when I applied is Columbia is a, is a research university. And so reason research universities, they're they're a little different from your average University and that the graduate schools are quite prominent within the university system. And there's not just graduate schools, there's also entire research institutions.

So at Columbia, there was something called the Earth Institute or the Lamont Doherty, Center for Climate Science Research. And so there's all these, you know, different Institute's within within the university. So, I went into college knowing that I wanted to study environmental and energy policy and climate change policy, that that was something that I knew I wanted to do. But to be frank, you know, I, my interests within that realm were quite broad. I mean, I applied and went, went to Columbia as an engineering student. I knew I wanted a technical education, but I wanted, but, but my kind of ultimate interests kind of light at the intersection of law policy and engineering.

And, so being at a research university carried a lot of advantages, because I was, you know, as an engineering student, I was interning at something called the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, law school. I was also simultaneously doing reading research on carbon capture and storage within the engineering school. And so, I was I was kind of able to, you know, kind of bounce around a little bit within the larger research university, which was doing incredible work and then not just bounce around, but also just, you know, go to talks by prominent faculty members, across the different disciplines.

And then also Columbia has unique convening power by virtue of being in New York City. So, you know, anytime any world leader was coming through, especially during the UN General Assembly, which happens in the fall, they would always make a stop at Columbia. And so those kind of experiences, I mean, they actually ended up shaping my career trajectory a lot too, because, and we can talk about this a little bit more later, but I ended up, you know, getting associated with the Marshall Islands government, my sophomore year of college and that as an association that kind of carried through past college to the point where in 2015, I spent an entire year, advising the president and Foreign Minister toward climate change negotiations great. But that all kind of directly tied back to meeting them during a conference at Columbia.

So that that's, you know, that's just one example of many that I could give where, you know, Columbia was able to kind of uniquely give me exposure to, to this area that I had immense interest in, in going interested in, going in.

Venkat  6:23  

So let's start a little bit at the beginning. So you arrive at Columbia, and what was your first semester, like, how was that transition from school to college? I mean, all the things that you had to do, I mean, how did that go?

Narayan  6:40  [The First Semester - “Kid in a candy store”]

Yeah, it was on the academic side, I didn't find it to be much of a difficult transition. And that that also could be, you know, by virtue of the fact that, you know, I went to an extremely academically competitive high school here in the Bay Area. And I mean, to this day, I say you know, between my engineering education and undergrad, my policy school education, which was my master's degree and law school, I've none of those experiences academically compared to the rigor of high school, here in the Bay Area. Okay. And, you know, I don't resent that actually, I cherish the fact that that is the case. Like, I maintain that the, the smartest kids I ever went to school with were kids here in the Bay Area.

And and, and there's a lot of reasons for that. Right? All I mean, are my school was 80 to 90% students of immigrants to the US and so there's obviously a huge emphasis placed on education but when but but that but I'd like to make, you know, quick caveat to that which is emphasis was placed on, on academics on education.

What Columbia enabled for me in even starting that first semester, was kind of dabbling a lot more in the humanities things that intersected with technical education. But weren't necessarily technical in nature. So a lot of climate policy works that way. Right? So, you know, I felt in some ways, I felt like a kid in a candy store when I first got to college. And I was like, wow, opportunity here, opportunity there opportunity everywhere, you know, and I wanted to do all of it.

So I literally kind of went in that, was that kid that kind of signed up for all the mailing lists. And then within a couple of months, I was like, This is not sustainable. This is I need to kind of, I need to pare down what I'm trying to do on campus and but one of the other things I immediately started doing was I decided that I wanted to start writing about environmental policy and, and climate policy.

So I immediately started reaching out, and there was a big, actually Climate Change Conference happening that fall, the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. It was, it was going to be a big deal, because that was the first year of the Obama administration. It was the first time that Obama was going to be meeting world leaders to talk about climate change policy. So there was a lot of kind of activity, even though we're on campus, you know, run, you know, this kind of seminal event or so we thought it was going to be offensive.

And so I wanted to write a big article about, you know, what could happen, what could come of this, what's happening on campus towards this effort. So I, and this is actually a really good indication of kind of what kind of institution Colombia is. So I ended up writing an article where I went and interviewed a professor in the engineering school who focuses on carbon capture and research. Then I went and interviewed a professor at the law school, who focuses, who is a big expert on environmental law and climate change policy. And then I went and interviewed some kind of activist folks around campus as well.

So, um, and so I was doing that within my first month of college. And in that kind of, I think, demonstrates, also just kind of a breadth within Colombia, right that the fact that in one place I was able to very quickly go do that and the thing to be noted here is that the faculty were so welcome.

Um, and it's funny I mentioned this, because I, just last week I published a paper in law, in a Law Journal. And one and in the acknowledgments, I actually wrote to the professor at the law school that I'd interviewed for this article, he ended up becoming a mentor for me, and now it's been over a decade. He's the reason I went back to Columbia for law school, I'm still associated with him. And so in the acknowledgement, I actually literally wrote, you know, I thank Professor Michael Gerrard for his mentorship spanning over a decade. And it all started because of that, you know, article that I've written my first semester of college. So that's kind of how I approached the first semester.

So academically, it wasn't, you know, big I wasn't, you know, I didn't feel overwhelmed. Extracurricular-ly I felt overwhelmed in a good way. But then the third piece that, I that I ought to add is that in terms of culture, change, I felt absolutely overwhelmed and probably kind of leaning more towards the negative side. and the negative side, it's not, it wasn't so much Columbia's issue as much as it was, you know, the weather change, you know, that was my first winter that I was experiencing, I didn't have a proper winter coat, ended up falling very sick. I wish I had prepared better for that.

And so, you know, I was kind of dealing with, you know, trying to be an adult. And I think that's a typical experience a lot of people have, but, you know, it's one thing I think, to be in a university, it's kind of outside, outside the major cities, like that's kind of, I think, the more typical American university experience here, you know, it's like, you know, it's cold. And I'm also you know, feeling compelled to go do things out in New York, you know right?

So I, I think I was running at a million miles per hour that first semester as no one should in their first, you know, first experience with college. But I had to kind of quickly introspect and kind of pull back considerably for my own health. And also, you know, it never took a toll on academics. I think the best part about Columbia is I think, you know, there, you're, you're able to kind of find your footing academically, largely. And if you don't, you know, you, there are plenty of resources to help you kind of, you know, find your footing if that's okay. So, yeah, that's how I would describe my first first semester.

Venkat  12:33  [The Student Peers]

How about your classmates and other folks, other students? What is the, you know, caliber? I mean, you already mentioned that high school classmates were really probably one of the better ones. I mean, I can understand that and relate to that. But in general, how did you, how did you think the students were and, you know, just a distribution in terms of various things you might want to see,  both in terms of drive, passion and obviously, capability and etc, etc.

Narayan  13:06  

Yeah, the thing that I actually always say about my peers at Columbia, is, you could take any one of these students and everyone, everyone is really passionate about something. And that's what I absolutely loved about college. And when I say they're passionate about something, it truly, it spans the spectrum. It was not like, you know, this every everyone was some form of like a math whiz or Classics Greek whiz or something like that. It was that, you know, there was I remember there was one student who was like a world champion in like doing Rubik's cubes and he could also do it with his feet. You know, there's like one person on my floor who was actually my roommate at the time, who was an incredible DJ, just really passionate about DJing. There is a student on my floor who is extremely passionate about Violin to the point where, you know, they also like, did some kind of like hip hop fusion with violin, right. And I just I love that. I love that because it wasn't all of it was an academic. I mean, there were also like the math whizzes, right?

But that really kind of broadened my perspective on what people do. And you know, that kind of inspired me to go kind of join a kind of fusion acapella group kind of thing on campus. And I did some of that. And, yeah, I mean, the thing that I kind of took from that is, there were, there were spaces on campus to pursue a passion, regardless of what it is. And that's something that really stood out to me about my peers as well that everyone was, you know, trying to go pursue their passion in some regard on campus, through the student groups.

And then there was also New York City there were students that were like, you know, doing comedy shows, already students and the like, so.

Venkat  15:00  

Yeah. How was, how was the classes, how was the teaching? How were the Profs? How was the academic rigor, if you will.

Narayan  15:10  

So, the first year, so I was an engineering student. So one thing, the big reason that I wanted to go to, I knew I wanted to get an engineering education for undergrad. But the big reason I went to Columbia was because of the humanities, kind of underpinning to it. And Columbia is kind of known for what they call the core curriculum.

So regardless of what, what you're majoring in, whether it's philosophy or science or engineering, everyone has to take a core set of humanities classes. Granted, that core set is more for the kids in Columbia College, which is kind of the humanity school. But the engineering students have a pretty rigorous core curriculum.

And I mean, it has two effects. I mean, one is actually an ends up, meaning that your schedule is always full. I mean, there's a lot of requirements, you're always trying to get through it so you have a little less leeway. Then you may have other institutions in terms of like, kind of electives outside of your like, core technical things that you have to do to get your engineering education. But so it has that one effect.

But the second effect is that every student on campus then comes out having taken the same set of core classes, right, so everyone takes some form of literature, humanities or art humanities, and the like, so the conversations that you're having with students kind of revolves around Oh, what do you what did you think of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky? You know, I'm not exaggerating, those are conversations that are, that we would have at dining halls, because everyone would be kind of reading those books at the same time.

So that was you know, that was something that definitely kind of stood out to me about kind of the way classes work, but, but the first semester, as an engineering student, you know, you ended up having to take kind of like, Introduction to General Chemistry, Physics, one on one kind of thing or And then calculus. So there's, you know, you kind of have to, it's what I call kind of do all this like, you know, core engineering stuff.

But I was able to take like a Philosophy class my first semester. And I actually found that really hard. I found that really hard because I just, you know, I hadn't done anything like it before. In high school, like, I didn't take just a pure philosophy class. And granted, I was, you know, a high school student that for whatever reason, I mean, I was into speech and debate and stuff and so we would read a lot of kind of philosophical texts. So I, I went in with kind of this cockiness that Oh, I know, I know, philosophy, right?

And I was I was deeply but I took a college philosophy class because I remember the professor just, you know, the amount of read that would be on my essays was just dizzying. But it was a learning experience. Right. And I mean, I also quickly learned that I don't want to minor in this. I thought about it for a second. I decided that wasn't what I wanted to do. So then I ended up deciding to minor in political science, which felt a lot more kind of authentic to my interests and kind of my own skill sets, I thought.

But yeah, so the classroom environment, those intro classes, I think, are not very different from anywhere else. You know, there's a lot of students in those classes, probably, even up to 100 students in some of those introduction to chemistry and physics classes. But, but Columbia kind of emphasizes that.

So among those core classes, there's something called the University Writing that everyone has to take in their first first year and so, but one thing that Columbia really emphasize is that none of the core classes can have more than I think, like 20 to 25 students or something like that, if I'm not mistaken, they have even tried to push that number even lower. And so their logic is that those core classes are classes where you should be able to discuss with other students discussing the professor, you should be able to have that kind of environment. It shouldn't just be like a lecture. So that's something that's also quite unique about Columbia. That they really, really emphasize that core curriculum experience. To them, it's part of the community building. And I think they're quite successful at it. At least I definitely felt that way. Coming out.

Venkat  19:19  

Good. Now sounds exciting. I feel like going back to school.

Venkat  19:22

Segue to campus life, I mean, you know, obviously, you're in the middle of a big city. And you already, we already talked about the weather being a big, big sort of element to all this, but how, how's the you know, the dorms, the food, what kind of social activities, cultural activities, how, how busy was the campus?

Narayan  19:55  [The Campus and the Big Apple]

Yeah, campus. So, I actually I want to emphasize the fact that there is a Campus campus. And it because typically when people think about schools within New York City, they assume that oh, maybe it's not really a campus. So the unique thing about Columbia is there's not just a campus there's kind of, you know, there's almost like a, it's like cordoned off from the city. It's kind of like a city on its own Hill. And there's no pun intended there because actually, the neighborhood that Columbia is located in is called Morningside Heights in Manhattan and Morningside Heights is called that because it actually quite literally is elevated a little bit above the rest of the city. And so I think that's also kind of symbolic of, what, how Columbia as an institution, kind of, you know, exists within the city. It is it, it has its own kind of four walls and you could go, you could go entire weeks on end without leaving campus, which I think is quite incredible for university in the City.

So that, so but, but, but Columbia actually I think I mean, there's kind of two impulses that are always pulling in both directions. One is, you know, do I just throw myself at the campus university life? Or should I also you know, going, you know, I'm in a city you know, there's so many things happening. The Daily Show is downtown. I can go get tickets today and watch The Daily Show.

And actually, quick, quick aside and funny story is the first time I actually watched The Daily Show was because during one of the snowstorms they needed you know, they need Yeah, at the show, right. So they put out these shows will typically put out a quick call. They're like university students in the city that send out a call to Columbia students saying, if you're able to make the trek somehow downtown and get to the studio, you'll have tickets. And so you know, some of my first snowstorm experience also ended up being around Daily Show experience. You know, we just made the trek out to go watch, the watch the show. So that's that's also an example of how kind of, you know, there's so many things happening at Columbia. It's just a matter of, you know, knowing what's happening and not sure at Columbia in the city.

I think the hardest thing is just parsing the sheer amount of, you know, information and things that are coming in from the city and from Colombia about opportunities about events, and everything, right. So that's you have to be kind of judicious and, you know, what you decided to go, go undertake?

So, in terms of the culture on campus, um, you know, I always feared I did fear going in, that maybe there wouldn't be as much of a university culture because of the city. And I think, you know, maybe that still is true. That I mean, if you were to go to a university and it's in a rural town, that is the entire campus, that's your entire experience, your college experience, right? And there's something to that. I think I think there's definitely something there. There's huge advantages to that. Because you know, to make friends within within that setting, you can't, you can't really run away if you wanted to.

So but but one thing I think Columbia has done is they've really kind of internalized New York City into the campus culture and their DNA where, you know, the University Student Life grew, but there's kind of a student life part of the student government, and they would give free tickets to students to go watch Broadway shows, to go watch comedy shows, and they would do this thing where they would link that up with alumni, where alumni would also join these things. So it's a good way to kind of meet alumni, you and your friends are able to go to these shows that would otherwise cost hundreds of dollars for free. So the university puts a lot of they kind of have accepted the fact that you know, they're in the city. And so they've also invested a lot in trying to help the students, you know, get some of the best experiences of the city that they otherwise wouldn't be able to get on the street. Bunch of.

So, yeah, so Columbia definitely kind of exists in this duality of where we're a campus with a unique campus culture. But we're also a campus within, the, you know, most the most lively city in the country, right?

So, I think I think some students kind of struggle with that duality because, you know, some people will go all the way on the New York City side, because they may have friends in the city that go to the other universities or even kind of older friends that are graduating live in the city or family members.

So, you know, some people will index quite high on that experience. And then some people will kind of index highly on just being on campus. And then I would say that there's a healthy balance of doing a little bit of both and just accepting the fact that Yeah, I am in the city, but the city doesn't have to be, you know, everything in my college experience and my campus also doesn't have to be everything in my college experience either. And I think that is really what Columbia tries to foster among students that I felt that way, I mean, I actually probably indexed even more highly on the campus part than the city part as a student.

Venkat  25:11  

How were the dorms, and how were the living quarters, so to speak?

Narayan  25:18  [The Living Quarters]

The dorm, so all the first year students are actually kind of into into campus campus. So there's there's four major undergraduate dorms, there's something called Carman Hall, John Jay, Fernald Hall, and then Hartley, and all the first years live in one of those four dorms and those dorms are all you know, located very close together. So each but which dorm you end up in in your first year is like a big, it's a big thing. And people typically like to associate each one of those dorms with the four houses from Harry Potter. So and you know, they, there's something to it, they all kind of they have their own slant to them, each one of the different dorms. And then obviously people can visit the other dorms.

But, but the other thing about the Columbia undergraduate experience that I'd say is that there's Columbia University, the University and then there's actually four undergraduate colleges within Columbia. So there's and the two main ones that you typically hear about are Columbia College, and then School of Engineering and Applied Science.

And then the two, the other two are the School of General Studies, which also confers Bachelors of Arts degrees. But the School of general studies have actually catered towards students that are kind of coming back for returning education or doing their undergraduate education in kind of, a atypical way. So that's where a lot of military veterans are in the School of General Studies.

And then the fourth one is Barnard College, which is an all women's college which kind of exists within the Columbia University, you know, apparatus, but, but they have their own dorms, they're kind of Barnard is kind of literally across the street, but you're able to kind of cross list classes. So I was able to take classes at Barnard, but I was also able to go to the Barnard dining hall, and vice versa. So Bernard students can come to Columbia dining halls and Columbia students can go to Barnard dining halls. So that is one, one thing, I would emphasize that I mean, people would know about Colombia kind of looking from outside, but they haven't been on campus that there is actually a lot of mingling with the all women's college as well, and the school of General Studies. So there's a lot happening on campus in that regard.

And that and, you know, sometimes, you know, what we would all do is we would kind of look at what the the dining hall menu is for the Columbia dining halls that day, and then we'd look at what the Barnard menu is, and then we would, you know, basically pick based on that, and I mean, all the dining hall menus kind of operate on a cycle. So we know that you know, Tuesday and Thursday's lunches that Hewitt, which is Barnard's dining hall. Wednesday's will be at John Jay dining hall, or whatever.

So, you know, so that's it's gonna Columbia, they have multiple dining halls, you can kind of pick and choose. And there's a lot of, especially in the first year, first year, everyone basically is kind of required to be on the dining plan. So there's a lot of, kind of the the campus culture, the social experience kind of revolves around the dining hall, like you'll go to the dining hall together with your dorm mates with their friends. And then so I actually ended up staying on kind of like a limited dining hall plan for my remaining three years after my first year, because it was just easy to, you know, go just pop my head and grab a quick meal and get out but but the experience isn't as robust as it isn't the first year because everyone is literally on the dining plan required to be on the dining plan in the first year.

So that kind of shapes the culture, dorm life definitely. Like I said, it's kind of unique among the four different dorms, but there's something to it, you know, everyone is socializing in the dorms, people get very close to their floors. So I mean, to the extent where, you know, you would identify people as like, oh, that person is like, a sixth floor John Jay person. And like, you know, people, even people who weren't in those dorm buildings would still identify people based on the floor of the other dorm buildings. I mean, it to that extent that each floor had its own character. And and people would identify that way. So that's, that's something I think that's, you know, that definitely kind of exists at Columbia. And I think it existed a lot of other universities.

But once again, you wouldn't expect it at Columbia because it's in the city. We think that people just don't care about those things. But no, people care a lot about those things.

Venkat  29:52  [Summer Pursuits]

How, how did your summers go, what did you do during the summers, one of the things with international students is you know, if they want to do some more things, and just to get an idea of how you spent your summers, obviously, lots of choices and based on what you've been talking about, they're just so many things to choose from. And so many things one could be doing depending on your interests and passion.

So, I mean, obviously, there's no shortage. The question becomes what, what are some things to do more, more, more, not so much as a list, but strategically, how do you how do you think about the summers, and what's the best way to utilize them?

Narayan  30:37  

Yeah, well, the the way I went about the summers is I really just, I, I actually, two out of my three summers. I stayed on campus actually. And because like I said, there's just so many opportunities.

So my first summer I interned with the professor in the engineering school. And she focused on carbon capture and storage research. So I spent the summer in a lab in the engineering school doing that.

The next summer I interned at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law that I'd mentioned with that professor at the law school. And then, so to both times, I actually ended up staying on campus. I interned and you know, and the best part is that, because I did that over the summer, they kind of naturally spilled over into the next semester or even the next year, so I was able to still kind of continue that research and continue that work throughout if people have, you know, different different approaches to summer internships, right.

Some people will say, you know, get off campus, go do, you know, go do something that you otherwise, you know, can't do on campus. I just took a different approach where I just kind of threw myself at the campus opportunities, and I was also able to get funding and some academic credit for having done some of that work on campus. So it worked out for me in that sense.

And then my third summer, actually that that summer kind of came out of the summer, the summer prior. So my sophomore year summer, I said, I worked at the Sabin Center. And that's when they were hosting something called the Threatened Island Nations Conference, they were talking about the legal implications of sea level rise for island nations. And so they had invited the Marshall Islands, I've done a lot of work for them, kind of in the lead up to that center.

And so that actually enabled an opportunity for me to work at the United Nations the next summer for the Marshall Islands government. So I was working at their UN Office that summer, summer of 2012. And so that's also another kind of, you know, example of how kind of opportunities within Columbia kind of evolved into opportunities outside of Columbia, because it's a research university and the and the professor's very few professors are just doing kind of inward research that is just contained within the four walls of campus.

Almost every professor has some collaboration or something. connected to the broader world. I am sure that's true in most places, but it's especially true at a university research university in New York, where they have that ability to kind of constantly collaborate with policymakers, with political leaders, with researchers and everything.

So, I definitely took ample, ample advantage of that. So I would say my internship experience was a little different from, from, from the average because a lot of people would go back home and intern there, they would go to, you know, other cities, they would, they would take on kind of corporate internships, right. Some people would go work at consulting firms, they would work at banks, they would work at engineering firms, I thought about this things. And I made kind of a conscious decision that no, I kind of, you know, these are my interests, I want to kind of go kind of broadly expose myself within, kind of the environmental policy world, and then kind of make my career decisions based on that. So I took a slightly atypical path, I would say, compared to...

Venkat  33:56  

You're being strategic, right? I mean, you were, you were sort of kind of Following your interest in passion, and, you know, hopefully with the hope that it would lead to something. So, which is which is great, which is great. I think, I think that's really critical rather than just, you know, doing things just because a whole bunch of people did that before you.

Narayan  34:21  

And one thing, one thing I should add to that is, so a lot of the best internship opportunities, unfortunately tend to be unpaid. Right/ And there's, there's a lot of kind of socio economic implications of that who gets to do those unpaid internships and like.

And one thing Columbia did was, even when I was an undergrad, they they had kind of a budget or they had fellowships and things that you could apply to to get funding. So actually, one of my summers I was able to get funding through one of those kind of one of those fellowships that Columbia had.

Since I graduated, I've actually served on the Engineering Young Alumni Board. And I was specifically within the career committee. And one of the things that I've pushed for, and Colombia's actually responded quite well to and with, obviously a lot of alumni support, is to increase a lot of that funding to help students pursue unpaid internships in areas that they find, you know, interesting things that they wouldn't be able to get funding for, or funding from those institutions yet, because like nonprofits, and a lot of these academic institutions don't have the money to pay, right.

So I think Columbia has really kind of learned how important and, and formative those experiences are for students. And so they've put a lot of money and effort. And alumni have worked very hard to try to help undergrads.

Venkat  35:48  

That's really awesome. I mean, I do think, I do think the ability to just sample different things and be able to do it without worrying about is this paid or unpaid and having that sort of taken care of in some way. I think. I think it's a great way to nurture.

Venkat  36:08  

Okay, so we're nearing the end of our conversation. I just want to, kind of, have you talk about if there's anything that about Columbia that we haven't touched, or if you have to share any fond memories or things that, you know, one or two things that obviously they're a fountain of things that happened, but there's anything special you want to share before we wrap up here.

Narayan  36:40  [Random but Fun Memories]

Memories Mmm hmm.

I, there are a lot of kind of, like random, but but fun memories that I have kind of on campus of you know, you'll always kind of want to like a movie shoot on campus. That happens.

Sometimes you'll, you'll run into political leaders. I remember what you know, Joe Biden was walking on campus, that was his there. Right. And sometimes you'll just see, you know, a bunch of Secret Service vehicles pull up and, you know, a you know, foreign leader, like Nicolas Sarkozy at the time, would, would get out. And so and so they had these things called, like the World Leaders Forum. That's, that's targeted at kind of hosting these leaders and letting students kind of come to those events interact with them.

And so those are the things I mean, I, I cherish those memories, because they were fun. I mean, we would all wait in line outside for like four or 5am to get inside. We would do things like that.

And then, I mean, I think the thing I actually didn't mention that that I that I should have is the thing that I was really involved in campus was kind of the, the political culture on campus. And so, so I actually served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Political review, my junior year. And one thing that that people should know about Colombia is it actually has a very rich, activist history to it. And it especially goes back to the 1960s. The Civil Rights protests.

So in fact, Eric Holder, who is the former Attorney General, United States, he has his a really funny anecdote where he, he was at Columbia during some of those tumultuous years, when the Vietnam protests kind of intersected, so protests against the Vietnam War intersected with the civil rights protests. And Eric Holder kind of famously famously talks about how he and a couple of his friends held the Dean of the College hostage in his office for a couple of days. And and he says, Only at Columbia, could you hold your dean hostage, and then turn around and ask them for a letter of recommendation for law school later on, and a And that, to me I think just sums up kind of the culture At Columbia in a nutshell, right?

It's, it's very, like, you know, it's amped up politically very much. You know, people are always there's always kind of protests happening. And there's always kind of a struggle between, you know, students and administration, and but, you know, we all kind of love that. We all kind of grew out of that we loved it, and it connects directly back to the 60s. And I think that ethic, ethos kind of carried over well into my cultures, and so one of the things that I got really, really interested in as a kind of a side project was trying to figure out, you know, how can we kind of emulate or replicate what happened with the Vietnam protests with with the climate change movement? how can, how can we kind of bring back that level of, you know, activism around this issue? What, What, what, what were the kind of ingredients that led to the 60s protests. And so I actually ended up doing a kind of a lot of deep, you know, Reading on my own, about the history of the 60s and specifically at Columbia.

And so the student leader who led the Columbia 1960s protests was this man named Mark Rudd. And so I ended up kind of I read his autobiography, and then a couple years later through the political review, we will actually interview him and ask him about, you know, the the protests.

And then similarly, there was also another Columbia alum, through kind of my climate policy work I met his name is Stuart Scott. And he, he was one of the people who was actively part of the protests as well in the 60s. And one of the things he did, so he and I worked a lot on, on kind of climate policy things. But a couple of years in, he sent me a box, which I still have. He had saved all the newspaper clippings from the 1960s including clippings within like the campus leaflets, leaflets that were being passed around to promote testers on campus. Also the front page of the New York Times at the time, what, what was happening? How is the university administration responding, and he sent me this box.

And to this day I've been, it's been one of the projects, it's been at the back of my mind to try to, you know, digitize these things, or at least donate it or find a way to kind of share it because it's an incredible trove of things. But that actually stands out to me is kind of one of the best experiences I had as an undergrad where I was, I was trying to connect with generations past and they were very much willing to do so to talk about their experience with activism.

And then I brought it into campus culture, running the political review. So I would do these things where I try to get the Israeli & Palestinian students, student organizations together on the same page, they had kind of like a non-engagement policy that spanned many years because it was never constructive and they tried to engage. So we kind of created like, we created a specific special forum within our magazine for them to kind of have a dialogue. So it was not, it was a non verbal dialogue. I know, physical violence or anything that sometimes erupted in the past. And so that ended up actually, somebody came back. And they basically said, we didn't realize that this could be a constructive form of engagement. And it's actually something that I ended up, I ended up getting an award for doing this, at the end of my undergraduate experience, because it was a model that they ended up kind of using and replicating afterward.

But that's just to say that, you know, the political culture in Columbia, I think, is just the is the best part. I mean, some people could say, it's too much, but I actually think you learn so much from it because people aren't silent about their opinions, or their views. And so, you know, you're just kind of a sponge learning what, you know, why, why do these really students feel this way? Why did the Palestinian students feel this way? Or in the case of India and Pakistan, why what's happening in Kashmir, why, what are the different perspectives around this, right?

So, yeah, that's that's just I think something that, you know, when I think back of my undergraduate years, I definitely, you know, think back at a lot of those kind of, I mean, those were intense heated meetings, we would have within the Political Review, even within the political review on how we would, you know, deal with some of those things, how we would cover them.

And I mean, the last thing I'll say, related to that is the Political Review, we prided, prided ourselves in a multi partisan magazine, so we would, we would invite people to write from various perspectives. So it was not so we had conservative writers, we had liberal writers, we had writers who had different perspectives, even within the Middle East within the you know, you know, Arab world divide all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I think, you know, for people that have even a mild political interest, it's Columbia truly is just kind of the best place.

Venkat  43:50  

Yeah, sounds Like a microcosm is what you were creating. Very nice, very nice,

Narayan  43:56  

Right. So

Venkat  43:58  

So, this has been very, very good. Very actually very inspiring and very exciting. Appreciate your passion and obviously the love for Colombia comes through. So thank you, thank you so much for your time and for talking to me.

Venkat 44:17

So, what did you think of this podcast with Narayan Subramanian? This Columbia grad is certainly a young man in a hurry. He really was, a kid in a candy store.

I hope you got a vivid feel for what it is like to be at Columbia, that you are inspired to explore more.

Thank you so much for listening to our podcast today.

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

Columbia University, New York City, Dorms, Engineering, Dining Hall, Joe Biden, Marshall Islands, Barnard College

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