The core mission of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is to enable students to develop their intellectual strengths so that after they graduate, they can change and improve the world. At the 2019 Alumni Awards Dinner, GSAS recognized four alumni who have done just that — transforming popular culture, the social sciences, literature, and biotechnology — and one graduating student who is on her way to making her mark. This intimate and festive event was held on June 19, 2019, in the library of Columbia University’s Italian Academy.
In his opening remarks, GSAS Dean Carlos J. Alonso said that the evening is an occasion “to recognize former students and now alumni of the school. … It is one of those moments in which we make explicit the achievements of our former students,” who are the public manifestation of the school’s mission.
Dean Alonso presented the first prize of the evening — the Campbell Award, which the Columbia Alumni Association gives each year to a graduating student who demonstrates exceptional leadership qualities. The Campbell Award was established in 2016 by the University Trustees and the Board of the Columbia Alumni Association and is named for the late Bill Campbell ’62CC ’64TC; Chair Emeritus, University Trustees; and CAA founder. The recipient of this year’s Campbell Award was Sarah Arkebauer (’19PhD, English and Comparative Literature). Ms. Arkebauer has served this year as the president of the Arts and Sciences Graduate Council (ASGC), which consists of student-elected representatives from over 70 doctoral and master’s programs in the Arts and Sciences.
The master’s recipient of the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award was Amanda Seales (’05MA, American Studies). Ms. Seales is a comedian, actor, writer, and recording artist who uses humor as an engine for vital social change. Currently she has an active career on television as a series regular on HBO’s Insecure, and most recently she has guest-starred on ABC’s black-ish, released her debut stand-up special, I Be Knowin’, and created the live comedy game show Smart, Funny & Black. Ms. Seales was unable to attend the Alumni Awards Dinner because of a schedule change in her comedy tour.
Tracy Zwick, chair of the GSAS Alumni Board’s awards committee, presented the doctoral Outstanding Recent Alumni Award to Matthew Salganik (’07PhD, Sociology), Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. Dr. Salganik has helped to bring social science into the digital age, enabling sociologists and other intellectuals to understand how the collection and processing of data about human behavior has transformed the social sciences. He is the author of Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age; popular accounts of his work have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The New Yorker. Social influence is a key driver in the digital world, and Dr. Salganik was among the first to research the implications of this phenomenon.
John Glusman (’78CC, ’80GSAS, English and Comparative Literature) was this year’s master’s recipient of the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement, which Dean Alonso presented. Mr. Glusman is the vice president and editor-in-chief of W.W. Norton & Company, and it is difficult to imagine what the literary world would look like without his editorial and publishing efforts. A veteran of nearly 40 years in the publication sector, he has championed and published the works of many important authors, including Nobel Prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Orhan Pamuk; National Book Award winner Richard Powers; National Book Critics Circle Award winners John Lahr and Jim Crace; Pulitzer Prize winners Annie Proulx, Ronan Farrow, David Rohde, and Laurie Garrett; and New York Times bestselling authors Neil deGrasse Tyson (GSAS ’92), Frans de Waal, Erik Larson, Ben Macintyre, David E. Sanger, Alice Hoffman, and Rosellen Brown. Mr. Glusman is also the author of Conduct Under Fire: Four American Doctors and Their Fight for Life as Prisoners of the Japanese, 1941-45.
“The roots of my wide range of interests date back directly to my studies of the humanities at Columbia College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences,” said Mr. Glusman in his acceptance remarks. “Ultimately, the value of the humanities is to educate, illuminate, teach us to think critically, and ennoble us…to see the extraordinary in the ordinary… and the first steps in my lifelong journey to do just that began right here at Columbia, to which I owe my heartfelt thanks."
The doctoral recipient of the Award for Distinguished Achievement was George Yancopoulos (’86PhD, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics) — a pioneer in biotech innovation and the cofounder, president, and chief scientific officer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Because of his accomplishments — said Dean Alonso as he presented the award — people around the world benefit from lifesaving drugs.
Over the last 30 years, Dr. Yancopoulos has worked with his longtime research partner, Dr. Leonard S. Schleifer, to build Regeneron into a leading biotech company that has invented and developed FDA-approved medicines for major diseases including cancer, vision-threatening eye diseases, heart disease, atopic dermatitis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. His team continues to lead biotech innovation, including through the Regeneron Genetics Center, a world-leading effort that has already sequenced the DNA of over 500,000 people. He has authored more than 350 papers, holds over 100 patents, and was the eleventh most-cited scientist in the world in the 1990s. Dr. Yancopoulos was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, was inducted into the Biotech Hall of Fame in 2014, and was named — along with Dr. Schleifer — the Ernst & Young’s 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year.
The graduate school experience is a new one for students, Dr. Yancopoulos said in his acceptance remarks. “At every other school before graduate school, there is a curriculum; there is a path; and as long as you do what they tell you, you will be fine. [But at graduate school] there is no path; there is no curriculum; nobody tells you what to do.… With the help of your mentors and fellow students, you figure it out from scratch on your own.… Figuring it out is one of the greatest lessons you can apply to almost anything else you do in your life.”
Dr. Yancopoulos continued, “For me, the graduate school experience was the most important part of my training in life. I owe everything to it. I am very much appreciative of this recognition, but more so to everything I learned and experienced here.”
“This celebration is important because it reminds us of the core mission of the graduate school – forming intellectually individuals who go out and challenge, change, and improve the world,” said Dean Alonso as he concluded the event. “This fundamental project is the reason for our existence, and I’m happy that you were able to join us tonight for this recognition.”