The Columbia community is large, diverse, and global. Connecting the Columbia diaspora so our community can connect and share their passions with one another was the motivation for the social storytelling platform, ColumbiaYou.
Inspiration for this program came to Louise Rosen '99JRN while poring over maps and intermittently staring out of her window. Through the glass she could see the Harlem River, and beyond it, the city's most famous piece of Columbia-inspired vandalism, the "C" rock in Spuyten Duyvil.
"I was staring at the giant 'C' and then it hit me. Just show people, don't tell them. Use a map to allow people to share their own experiences and as it's populated, the story of the diverse community will show itself," Rosen told The Low Down. "It was the core of every lesson I learned in J-school, show don't tell." Above all, she was motivated by her desire to provide a way for people to see what she has recognized since she began working for the University. "A community made up of brilliant and amazing characters and personalities that are connected by their passions, their experiences, their drive," said Rosen. Though several Columbia Schools have story-based websites for their alumni communities, before ColumbiaYou there was no University-wide site platform for story sharing among alumni, students, and faculty.
An economic geographer and journalist by training, Rosen spent 11 years working for Columbia Earth Institute before accepting her current position as Deputy Vice President of Strategic Engagement. During this time she worked closely with faculty and students and saw firsthand the passion and drive with which they approached their work. This mix of geography and storytelling is manifest in ColumbiaYou, a new program from the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) that uses a world map to demonstrate the breadth of the Columbia community.
The stories on YOU reflect the passion and inspiration of the community; Dr. Robin Bell, a Senior Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and proud GSAS alum speaks about how none of her research would have been possible without her husband. Because of this, she has been able to make some remarkable findings. "I've discovered a place where you have an ice sheet sitting on top of a continent, Antarctica, so two miles of ice and there's a mountain range completely hidden by the ice. You couldn't walk on it, no human being has ever walked on it. We went and we mapped it. We found there was water in the valleys and the water runs uphill in this mountain range. So I think that's my favorite, the water running uphill and then it freezes back up on the bottom of the ice sheet."
Current College of Dental Medicine student Lynda Asadourian shared her story of volunteering in the Dominican Republic with her class and what this experience meant to her as a first generation citizen born to Armenian parents. "We were in this amazing clinic helping out this entire indigenous town. These people don’t have much access to barely running water, and we were there to provide them dental care and general healthcare," she said. "I was able to change their pain and suffering and cries into smiles and hugs after, even though I did a whole workup on them. And that's the feeling that I really had when wanting to become a pediatric dentist."
"My involvement in the Black Panther party taught me at an early age, the power of organizing, the power of standing up to the system, and also the power of organizing united fronts," said School of the Arts' Professor Jamal Joseph. "My Columbia story is something I'm very excited about, because it combines my work as a filmmaker with my work as a teacher."
"At Columbia we have an incredibly rich, diverse, and dynamic community," Rosen said. "And sometimes it can be hard to navigate it, especially if you want to explore beyond your own experience."
In other words, there was no central platform to aggregate stories from students, faculty, alumni, administrators, grateful medical patients, parents, and other members of the Columbia community. To meet this need, Rosen drew on her professed obsession with maps and anecdotes.
"Maps tell stories," Rosen said. "A map, to me, is very much akin to a picture. They're beautiful visually and can be incredibly sophisticated from the point of view of the stories that they’re trying to get across. Maps are about places and what people know about them."
After hatching the initial idea in the summer of 2013 and getting the green light, the concept was refined through a partnership with Situation Interactive (an experiential design firm that ultimately designed the site) and a series of focus groups with stakeholders, alumni, students, and faculty. The Digital Storytelling Lab also played a key role in the early development stages, with co-founder, David K. Park, serving as a long-term advisor to the project. "A community is not a collection of individuals," Park said. "Instead it is a collection of connections and the fabric that weaves that tapestry together are those shared stories,"
It turned out to be a years-long endeavor, with Rosen and these partners participating in every step of the design process.
"Everything you see was born out of these discussions," Rosen said of the resulting website, which recently launched.
ColumbiaYou is an ambitious, visually rich multimedia experience that has members of the Columbia community telling their stories in a variety of formats.
"There's no single format for storytelling," Rosen said. "It's the format you want for your story from video to slideshows, from an audio recording to a text."
Now that the ColumbiaYou platform is built, the community needs to populate it. The next phase will be focusing on stories: getting people to tell them and share them. From these submissions, a documentary will eventually be made.
"These are remarkable people, and we want people to see what I see," she added. "It's why I love being here. Our role is to enable these people to soar, because they're remarkable, and we need to celebrate them—which is why ColumbiaYou is here."
Explore stories on ColumbiaYou and share your own here.