Amelia Colban

2015-2016 MCN Fellow | Undergraduate University: Columbia University in the City of New York | Place of Origin: Norway | UN SDG: #4 - to ensure quality education for all and promote life long learning.First Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) at Columbia

Being a college student is stressful enough; no student should have to worry about finding a safe place to sleep as well. Amelia Colban wanted to bring the UN’s 4th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to fruition because 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.” The MCN Fellowship gave Amelia the platform to engage in dialogue about social issues and helped her cultivate the skills necessary to be a better leader. She is more encouraged and determined than ever to resolve inequality within institutions of higher education.

Prior to beginning her undergraduate studies at Columbia University in the City of New York, Amelia had been immersed in various different cultures. She grew up in Norway and was an avid traveler as a teenager. She's been to Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Spain.

Her wanderlust and travels made her realize “that ‘culture’ existed in more forms [than she was] aware of. [It existed] both internationally and in the nuances of individual identities within any geographic confine.” Such conceptualization of cultural definitions attracted Amelia to an American higher institution because she 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 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 an important part of her life in college through a friend. Amelia remembered overhearing someone she knew say, "students who have experienced homelessness" and she thought homelessness? here? at Columbia? an elite Ivy League school? It was the first time she ever heard “homelessness” in the Columbia culture, in their vernacular. Amelia quickly became engaged in FLIP once she realized homelessness amongst students at Columbia was more common than expected. The topic of homelessness was usually avoided, tucked away in the shadows, because of feelings of shame amongst those students affected.

FLIP at Columbia was conceived through the realization that marginalization; issues of homelessness; food insecurity; and feelings of misplacement in an elite, privileged environment were 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.

FLIP National's mission is to promote equal opportunity for first-generation and low-income students on all U.S. university campuses. By bringing difficult issues, such as student homelessness, to light and encouraging 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.

FLIP has received tremendous support from Columbia University and alumni since its inception. With this and the attention that FLIP's mission is getting via FLIP National, Amelia hopes that FLIP's reach only continues to grow. She'll continue to help FLIP include more students into "the conversation" at Columbia and help make the campus a more aware, open, and respectful space for all. 

Through each member, FLIP at Columbia is creating a revitalized community of empowered students to "advocate 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 impact of the organization in providing previously unmanaged, often inaccessible, resources. See below for examples of these resources.

Columbia University (CU) Meal Share:

New York is Expensive! CU Meal Share is a dining hall swipes-sharing platform and was one of FLIP's earliest initiatives. This food insecurity initiative 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 Swipes, a mobile application (app) 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 that all 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.


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-generation/low-income, which includes 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 recently launched to connect students in need of housing for a time period with others who have extra space. We are working with the school to implement institutional housing security protocols. Barnard College, 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.

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