Welcoming the Class of 2026

Allison Elliot
September 06, 2022

A new cohort of students begin their first year at Columbia Engineering.

More than 360 students converged on Lerner Hall on Wednesday, August 13, to be welcomed as the newest Columbia engineers and given their traditional first-year beanies. 

Dean Shih-Fu Chang greeted the students, relating that, as the newly named dean of engineering, he too felt that he was beginning a new journey. He highlighted the many opportunities open to students to participate in entrepreneurship programming and extracurricular clubs, study and intern abroad, and work with faculty in labs doing cutting-edge research. Dean Chang also stressed the importance of an engineering degree. 

“Engineering is now a foundational degree,” said Dean Chang. “It is an incredibly wide field with many opportunities, enriched by the Liberal Arts Columbia Core, research and internship opportunities, a very large number of clubs and student activities, and the unique NYC experience that you cannot find in any other place.”

"Engineering is now a foundational degree."

Paul Sajda, Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Biomedical Engineering, then shared with students insights from his research in neural engineering. His research involves what happens in the brain when it makes a rapid decision and what brain processes are behind our preferences and choices, especially under time pressure. Such research can lead to advances in cognitive orthotics, the development of tools to help people with cognitive impairment. 

Sajda, who is also a professor of electrical engineering and radiology, encouraged students to think of engineering in this human-centered way.

“It’s not just about making a cool new tool,” he said. “Now more than ever the actual application matters.” 

He is currently exploring how this area can address psychiatric conditions like PTSD and potentially alleviate symptoms once a trigger is sensed by a mobile brain-computer interface. 

“We are solving problems that matter,” he said. “That’s a 21st century engineer.” 

Leonard Robinson, an electrical engineering major from the Class of 2013, followed Sajda with some advice for students. Now an engineering team lead at biotech company Cytiva, Robinson counseled students to focus on their health, cherish their friendships, and build wealth – in the broadest sense. 

Quoting Warren Buffet, he said, “the biggest investment you can make is in yourself” and urged students to take advantage of the wealth of educational and learning opportunities open to them at Columbia. 

It’s not just about making a cool new tool... Now more than ever the actual application matters.

Sophomore and Davis Scholar María Valerio Roa rounded out the program with her personal experience as an international student from the Dominican Republic applying to colleges during the pandemic. It was during the Columbia Engineering Experience (CE2) program for prospective students that she “fell in love with Columbia Engineering.” 

Roa, admitting to feelings of hopelessness from remote schooling during the pandemic, was particularly inspired by the Art of Engineering talk with Professor David Vallancourt. “Here were professors who were so curious and dedicated,” she said. 

She applied to only one college in the United States – Columbia Engineering, early decision. “I joked to friends that I made the decision and chose Columbia before applying,” she said. 

Calling it the best decision of her life, Roa recounted how she soon made friends, joining the Columbia Undergraduate Science Journal and Grupo Quisqueyano, a student club representing Dominican students. She also shared that she had interned at a pharmaceutical company back home and co-founded a program to help low-income students from the Dominican Republic apply to competitive schools. 

“Columbia allowed me to dream and use the city as my classroom,” she said. “Columbia Engineering taught me that college is for way more than studying; it’s for dreaming and discovering.” 

After the talks, Junior Tameem Asif, representing Engineering Student Council Academic Affairs, led the students in the Honor Pledge before Vice Dean of Undergraduate Programs Barclay Morrison closed out the program, encouraging students to enjoy the rest of their orientation before the start of classes after the Labor Day holiday.