The Class of 2024 Arrives

Students gather from across the globe to officially kick off the academic year

Sep 02 2020 | By Jesse Adams

Gathering remotely worldwide with friends and mentors to be, Columbia Engineering’s Class of 2024 kicked off their university experience this week with a new spin on the annual Convocation and Academic Assembly.

“Every new academic year brings with it great promise—new beginnings, new friendships, new perspectives and new adventures,” Dean Mary C. Boyce greeted incoming students at Convocation. “This year, we also begin with a deep sense of purpose and commitment to confront the challenges of this pandemic together, to build an amazing year together one like no other, to connect and engage together in new ways, and to prepare you together to learn, to discover, to dream, to grow, to explore, to create, to thrive, to engage and to have impact.” For the university-wide Convocation the evening of August 30, Boyce joined Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger, Dean James J. Valentini of Columbia College, and others to formally welcome new students under unprecedented circumstances.

“In all the years I have been fortunate enough to be in this role, and to stand with you at the outset, never did I imagine that I would have to do this virtually,” Bollinger reflected. “But I can assure you of this: that the feelings of pride and warmth for you, and the determination to provide you with the best educational experience in the world in the years ahead, are just as strong as ever—and perhaps even stronger because we have been deprived for the moment of that personal interaction we value so deeply.”

“So much is different this year – your classmates are spread throughout the world, your classrooms will be checkerboards of individual student images on the display of an electronic device, you’ll engage in a community that lives in virtual space rather than on the terra firma of College Walk,” Valentini noted. “Yet with the loss of those traditional forms there must be, and will be, possibilities.” Via Zoom the next day, Boyce hosted the School’s Academic Assembly—an orientation for the newest crop of Columbia Engineers with Professors Matei Ciocarlie and Barclay Morrison in addition to student speaker Ketsia Zinga ’21. James Wang ’22 also detailed the university’s commitment to scholastic integrity and led a pledge to observe the academic code of honor.

This is a challenging time, but believe me—you have each been chosen for your incredible excellence and resilience, and you are going to form an amazing community that is sharing experiences like no one ever has before.

Mary C. Boyce
Dean of Columbia Engineering

A robotics expert in the department of mechanical engineering, Ciocarlie discussed how crucial undergraduate contributions have been to his lab’s work developing technology for the International Space Station, stroke rehabilitation, and recreating snake locomotion, among many other projects. Beyond the foundational coursework, he suggested, the future of engineering is inherently interdisciplinary, and requires the spark of human curiosity.

“Just be a restless maker of things, be someone who’s not at peace unless you’re building something,” Ciocarlie advised. “Sure, that can be a physical gizmo, but you can also be building a community, you can be building software, you can be doing analysis and simulation… that’s what life takes even beyond engineering, just in general.”

Looking back on a tumultuous first year discovering who she was and where her great passions lay, Zinga walked students through a “declassified SEAS survival guide” with a range of pointers on thriving as Columbians. Among the senior’s advice: that change is a fact of life.

“We’ve already seen how quickly life can change, not only over several years but in a matter of weeks and days, and I want you to know that you can change just as fast, and you’ll learn how to be flexible, and that lesson has already begun,” Zinga said. “The bad news is, nothing is set in stone—and the good news is, nothing is set in stone.”

The Class of 2024 is both global and diverse—348 young engineers, just over half of them women, representing 44 U.S. states and 33 countries. Nearly a fifth are the first in their families to pursue higher education.

“This is a challenging time, but believe me—you have each been chosen for your incredible excellence and resilience, and you are going to form an amazing community that is sharing experiences like no one ever has before.” Boyce told the new students. “We are really proud to welcome you to Columbia Engineering!”