Jessica Valerio

Growing up the youngest child in a large Italian family outside of Boston, Jessica Valerio feels right at home among the thousands of students here at the country’s largest arts and media college.

“Even though Columbia has a 12,000-student population, I never feel lost,” Valerio says. “Faculty, staff, and administration go out of their way to support students and be present in their development throughout the creative process and in the students’ body of work.”

Seeing her fellow students as a 12,000-person support system has helped Valerio appreciate the sense of community at Columbia. “The Columbia culture in itself fosters an environment for you to be supportive of your fellow students, and vice versa,” she says. “We are all crucial parts in each other’s experience of the artistic process.” She also values the diversity she finds here. “Knowing I can walk down Wabash Avenue and see peers from all different nationalities, backgrounds, religions, sexual preferences, and ages is truly the Columbia landscape, and being able to interact with such a range of personal experiences in the classroom has made my education all the more meaningful.”

As a high school student, Valerio had yet to experience that artistic process, and was contemplating an education in chemistry.

“I have always had an appreciation for the arts, but based on my narrow definition of it could never play a part, because I could not draw a picture if my life depended on it,” Valerio says. “After taking a photography class my junior year of high school, I was hooked, and my career and college search quickly changed from studying chemistry at George Washington University, to studying photojournalism at a liberal arts school.”

I knew at that moment that Columbia is where I had to be.It was a happy accident, however, that brought her to Columbia. “My mother and I visited the Museum of Contemporary Photography, completely oblivious to any affiliation with Columbia College Chicago,” she recalls. She thought, “Huh? I think this is an arts school!” She soon went to an information session the college was holding in Boston. “The session opened with that year’s Manifest video, and that was it,” she says. “I knew at that moment that Columbia is where I had to be.”

Valerio’s attraction to the possibilities of cross-departmental collaboration eventually led her to a visual arts management major and an art history minor. And her interest in collaboration and her boundless energy have led her to a prominent role in student government, where she serves as Columbia’s Student Government Association president.

“The working relationships that I have established here at Columbia, both with students and with faculty, staff, and administration, are irreplaceable.  Certainly ones that I doubt I could have made at any other higher education institution,” she says. They're all experiences that will serve her well as she pursues her ambition of “working in a non-profit organization, engaging the public in the arts, culture, and in the creative process.”