A Snapshot of SEAS First-Years

Oct 21 2015 | By Elaine Rooney

This year’s class of Columbia Engineering first-years is multi-talented, ambitious, and diverse. Here’s a look at just a handful of the outstanding students who are already hitting the ground running at Morningside, and undoubtedly, creating lasting and memorable experiences along the way.

Ismael Villegas

Hometown: El Centro, CA
Who Inspires You: My older brothers and my parents
Dream Job: Engineering teacher by day, jazz trombonist by night!
Currently Reading: Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington
iPhone or Android: Android all the way!

While many people come to New York to leave their hometown, Ismael Villegas has traveled cross-country in pursuit of the betterment of his. “My city is regarded as the capital of the recession, but I want to change the way it’s viewed,” says Villegas, and he knows how it can happen: “I really want to make my hometown the next manufacturer of semiconductors in the world.”

A man of many talents, Villegas is a dedicated musician, a certified scuba diver, and a black belt in Taekwondo. He will continue those pursuits, among others, at Columbia, where he has already joined the University Orchestra and the Jazz Trombone Instruction group.


Walker Magrath

Hometown: Spring Gap, MD
Who Inspires You: My peers
Dream Job: Research Surgeon
Go-to App: Snapchat
Potential Major: Biomedical Engineering, Premed

Walker Magrath has made the move from small town to big city, undaunted. “This immersion into New York City has been such a rich, fun experience that has allowed me, so far, to engage in my every interest.” One of those interests is music. Magrath has received numerous awards for his fiddle playing and intends to expand on that passion here at Columbia.

When it comes down to what he is most excited for, however, Magrath wants to make real contributions with hands-on experience at SEAS: “I cannot wait to get involved with research for the first time at the greatest University in the world.”


Ashley Rodriguez

Hometown: McLean, VA
Who Inspires You: James Watson, Francis Crick, and Rosalind Franklin
Dream Job: A researcher who uses biomedical innovations to create new treatments for cancer and other diseases
Potential Major: Biomedical Engineering
iPhone or Android: iPhone

As any animal lover knows, losing a pet is like losing a family member. But for Ashley Rodriguez, losing her beloved family dog to cancer was more than a tragic loss; it was a turning point in her budding scientific career. Frustrated by an inability to help her pup, Rodriguez began a course of research with which she identified an FDA-approved drug for Multiple Sclerosis that could kill cancer cells. Her work has earned recognition at national talent competitions, including first place at the Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

Here at Columbia, Rodriguez looks forward to exploring her passion for cell signaling through chemical and biological engineering. “These fields particularly fascinate me, as they will allow me to develop novel early detection tests and design new drug delivery methods to specifically target cancer tumors.”


Abyssinia Stamps

Hometown: Jackson, MS
Inspiration: As cliché as it may be, I’d be lying if I said anyone inspires me more than my mother.
Dream Job: I would love to work for NASA.
Favorite Book: It’s usually the last one I've read, so as of now it's One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Abyssinia Stamps loves a challenge. Self-proclaimed math obsessed, Stamps admits the subject doesn’t come easily for her, though she recognizes the thrill of its mastery: “This idea that I could use these seemingly abstract concepts I’d learned for the benefit of the real world is what first drew me to engineering."

Back home in Jackson, Mississippi, Stamps garnered eye-opening experience when she tutored students in one of the nation’s worst public school systems. Here at Columbia, she is thrilled to continue opening her mind. “I very much look forward to continuing to meet people here who are from places I've never heard of and have ideas about things I've never even thought about.”


Rafael Corrales Fatou

Hometown: Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain
Dream Job: Private engineering consultant for the ITER project and other future international R&D endeavors
Favorite Book: Brave New World
Decided Major: Mechanical Engineering

Rafael Corrales Fatou comes to SEAS with a profound appreciation for his major. “I admire engineers, the risks they run when designing their creations, the cultural awareness with which they work, and, especially, the responsibility they have towards those who depend on their ingenuity.”

Corrales Fatou is no stranger to the exciting work he respects so much, having built a 3D printer with his high school’s engineering club—a club he personally founded with the help of classmates. He understands that with the power of engineering comes great responsibility, and he is dedicated to being a master of his craft.

Corrales Fatou is confident he found an environment that can match his zeal: “At SEAS it is immediately clear how we all share the same passion for engineering and that has made me feel at home since the beginning.”