A few years ago I received the following email out of the blue. It was a big part of the inspiration for Access Applied. I go back and read it every so often when I need a little boost. I have many, many friends and colleagues who have touched the lives of students in a similar way – and continue to do so on a daily basis. It’s important for everyone who helps students navigate the path to college to step back every so often and remind yourself that you are making a real difference.
And it is even more important for all of us to continue to spread the word to students (and parents) that there are many paths to a life-changing college experience.
You probably don’t remember me, but you significantly changed my life. Immediately after you took on the job as head of financial aid, you rang my parents’ phone at about 10:30 at night. Upon answering, I remember pretending that you were my best friend to throw off my parents who were on guard (and who were not at all happy with the idea of me going to college). And, mostly, I remember your exact words and how you calmly and said them even though it was clear you were buried in paperwork, “I think we can work something out.” Little did you know what sort of a life you got me out of and into. I never had the opportunity to properly thank you.
Columbia opened up the world for me. Everything from literature to art to music to science to philosophy. I loved every moment and savored every drop. And I worked my butt off. I was a physics major and was welcomed by the department. It was a dream come true. Now I am tenure-track at a (the?) top institute in astrophysics (and still happily paying off my student loans). No chance any of this would have happened if I had to work my way through Queens College with a job at the mall and my parents on my back every night about how women don’t belong in college. And this is all due to your phone call that evening (and your continued support during my time at Columbia).
Given my experiences, I am a strong proponent of financial aid and I would like to be able to give back by helping the system change for the better. Aside from the desire to help students find intellectual fulfillment, I see the need we have as a planet to continue to develop scientifically, artistically, peacefully, and without destroying our home. To do so, we need top minds with top educations which are both broad and deep, humanistic and scientific. And I feel we are alienating many students due to the high cost and aloofness of our top universities. I think these universities are not doing themselves any favors by thinking of returns only in terms of money and in the near-term (say < 50 years). That said, I am keen on learning your perspective on these issues. I only know things from essentially one perspective (i.e., mine), and I would like to see the whole full-dimensional space which you are familiar with. Would you possibly be up for meeting over a coffee at some point? I am in the city every now and then. Thank you again for changing my life.