Millennium Fellow Spotlight

By Beth He

UN Sustainable Development Goal #4: Ensure quality education for all and promote life long learning

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Prior to beginning undergraduate studies at Columbia University, Amelia Colban had been immersed in various different cultures. She grew up in Norway, and as a teenager, avidly traveled Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Spain. Intrigued by Wanderlust, she realized “that ‘culture’ existed in more forms that [she] could be aware of, both internationally and in the nuances of individual identities within any geographic confines.” Such conceptualization of cultural definitions attracted Amelia to an American university education because wanted to “engage worldly concepts from a [similar] theoretical, but intellectually immediate, approach.” Columbia gave her the opportunity to not only be surrounded by diverse individuals with interesting backgrounds, but also the thought-provoking education of“learning” by way of uncomfortable, but necessary conversations.

Driven by exploration and intellectual growth, Amelia has fully integrated herself in the world of academia. Such enthusiasm for trying everything has lead her to discovering a wide range of subjects from international human rights to the history of crime and policing in the U.S.

First Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) at Columbia became a large part of her life through a friend. As Amelia remembers, “I overheard someone I knew mentions ‘students who have experienced homelessness.’” Homelessness? Here? At Columbia? An elite Ivy League school? It was the first time she had ever heard “homelessness” in the Columbia culture, in their vernacular. Amelia became quickly engaged in FLIP as homelessness turned out to be a more common than expected at Columbia, but often hidden in the shadows.

FLIP at Columbia was conceived through the realization of the marginalized, often invisible, issues of homelessness, food insecurity, and feelings of misplacement in an elite, sometimes privileged environment, common amongst first-generation and low-income students. Amelia now serves as the treasurer of FLIP Columbia and is among the founders of FLIP National, whose mission is to reach many more U.S. university campuses. Through bringing these issues to light and encouraging an open dialogue, FLIP hopes to redirect the conversation away from stigmatizing financial hardship to fostering resources and a community of empowerment to first generation and low-income students.

Since its inception, FLIP at Columbia has received tremendous support from the university, alumni, and other supporters from gaining national attention. With this, Amelia plans on helping FLIP at Columbia grow to include more students in the conversation, creating a more aware, open, and respectful campus environment.

Through each member, FLIP at Columbia is creating a revitalized community of empowered students to “advocate for and create resources for an often marginalized group and increase the consciousness of the specific challenges that emerge on an institutional and campus wide level.”  They have implemented incredible projects that demonstrate the mission, value, and impacts of the organization in providing previously unmanaged, often inaccessible, resources.

Food Insecurity Initiatives: New York is Expensive! Columbia University (CU) Meal Share, a dining hall swipes-sharing platform, was one of FLIP's earliest initiatives. It quickly gained a lot of traction and the student group recently expanded it into a three-pronged system. Now, CU Meal Share is accompanied by the Emergency Meal Fund, a swipes-bank program operated by Columbia Dining Services, as well as a mobile app, Swipes, that connects students in various dining halls with students who need access.

Columbia University Class Confessions: CUCC is a social media forum in which students can anonymously share their experiences and challenges. These emotionally stirring confessions have educated the student body and the administration alike about complicated facets of low-income students' issues so they are better equipped to address them. Many students have written how food insecurity, homelessness, imposter syndrome, illegal work, and a lack of institutional support is a part of the reality they live in order to make it through Columbia. The content from this page has sparked extensive media coverage as well as extended conversations on campus between students, administrators, and faculty.

Textbook Lending library: FLIP at Columbia collected over a thousand commonly required textbooks through a book drive to then redistribute otherwise expensive reading materials.

Coat Drive: Collection and redistribution of high-quality winter coats to students who have yet to acquire the necessary outerwear for living in the Northeast.

Q-FLIP: This is a co-sponsored program by QuestBridge and FLIP at Columbia. It pairs incoming students from underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds with more seasoned peers to help them navigate struggles related to being first-gen/low-income, including financial restrictions, feeling out of place (imposter syndrome), and feeling underprepared by their (relative to Columbia) nontraditional academic backgrounds. Though in its first year, the program's enrollment is already in the hundreds.

Homelessness Initiative: This program just launched to connect students in need of housing for a time period with others who have extra space, while we work with the school to implement institutional housing security protocols. (Barnard, Columbia's sister school, closes dormitories during winter break. Students who cannot afford to go home, or who do not have a home to return to, lack affordable housing options between semesters. This has been the focus of the initiative in its first few days.)

Being a college student is stressful enough; no student should have to worry about a finding a safe place to sleep. Directly connected to the UN’s 4th Sustainable Development Goal, everyone should have the opportunity for quality education without worrying about basic necessities.

Amelia became an MCN Fellow because she was “enthralled by the prospect of engaging in a dialogue with other students and with experts advocating for equal opportunity in higher education.” With the initiation and development of FLIP National, the MCN Fellowship has given Amelia the platform for dialogue about social issues and the formulated the skills to be a better leader. She is more encouraged and determined than ever to resolve inequality within institutions of higher education for years to come.

Interested in donating? Want to learn more about FLIP at Columbia? Contact: info@flipnational.org