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My Columbia Stories

My Columbia Story

J. Wayne Tukes

J. Wayne Tukes
College Advisor / Donor

In 2009, college advisor J. Wayne Tukes and his fellow advisors noticed an alarming effect of the economic downturn: more and more students were coming to the College Advising Center with concerns about financial resources, some unsure how they would stay in school. "My immediate response was that we at Columbia have risen to meet every challenge that's faced us since 1890," said Wayne. "So what do we do now? We stood up and said, 'Why don't we look at a scholarship for students that comes directly from faculty and staff?' We wanted to do something that would cut across all areas of the college to bring people in this community together for the greater good."

Wayne and a small group of colleagues began talking to others across campus, and soon came up with a plan: the Faculty and Staff Scholarship Initiative. The initiative is coordinated with Scholarship Columbia, a matching-fund campaign aimed primarily at alumni. Wayne and his colleagues expanded the idea over brown-bag lunches and through viral videos and mailings. The group partnered with the Office of Institutional Advancement, but carefully kept the message peer to peer.

By mid April 2010, less than a year into the initiative, faculty and staff had given nearly $100,000 toward student scholarships, and about 200 supporters turned out for an April Fool's Day "loft party" fundraiser, featuring an auction of works donated by faculty and staff artists and live entertainment from a faculty and staff band. "We're giving in the financial sense, but also creatively," says Wayne, who is quick to acknowledge the dozens of faculty and staff members who have collaborated all year to make the initiative a success. "This initiative is driven by people first," he says."That's the key to it. Everything else will follow."


My Columbia Story

Curtis Mann

Curtis Mann (M.F.A. '08)
Alum / Donor

When Curtis Mann drove from Dayton, Ohio to Chicago one day, he thought he was just going to attend a lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP). Instead, he changed the course of his life.

Working as a mechanical engineer in Ohio, he began studying photography at the University of Dayton, and never looked back. "As soon as I saw my first exhibition at the MoCP, Painting on Photography, I had Columbia on my list of possible graduate schools and had a pretty good feeling I'd be back," he says.

Meeting the faculty sealed the deal. "It was one part scholarship, one part meeting Barbara Kasten, and one part just pure gut feelings that it was the right place for me."

Curtis recalls his most memorable times at the college as "a blur of laughs and hard work and stressful moments I had working at the MoCP," which he describes as his "second family." Along the way, he learned that "nothing will replace dedication, working through your problems and your ruts, and remembering to always trust your instincts and your abilities."

Curtis envisions a future "of creating, making things, challenging myself, late nights, cute dogs, an amazing wife, and a kid who hopefully is much less mischievous than I was." That future will be shaped by his time at Columbia. "The greatest personal reward is being able to take with me all the voices, advice, encouragements, and challenges that still rumble around in my head every single time I am in the studio making work," he says. "This collage of the help I received for three years at Columbia will be with me throughout my career."

Mauro Fiore

Mauro Fiore (B.A. '87)

Two weeks before winning his Academy Award for Best Cinematography on Avatar, Columbia alumnus Mauro Fiore toured his alma mater's new Media Production Center. His guide was Bruce Sheridan, chair of the Film & Video department, who provided behind-the-scenes details such as the inspiration that architect Jeanne Gang found in films like Citizen Kane and Rear Window as she developed her design.

Ninoos Bethishou, artist-in-residence in the department, introduced Fiore to his Lighting I class. One tip from the alum for these young filmmakers: think of "what attitude you bring to a film set," because, as he learned in Hollywood, "people love enthusiastic people around."

Enthusiasm was plentiful at Columbia in the 1980s, when there were only 670 film majors—"It was very much like a small town," observed Fiore. Although majors in the department now number around 2,200, that small-town spirit remains, and is evident in the new, collaborative-style curriculum. "Students learn more from each other than from us," noted Sheridan.

Another thing that hasn't changed since Fiore's days at Columbia: the importance of networking. "I have a really good friend who graduated the same year," Fiore told Bethishou's students. He was speaking of classmate Janusz Kaminski ('87), who got a gaffer gig on Saturday the 14th Strikes Back (1988) and brought along his friend as a key grip. Both soon moved up to become directors of photography: Kaminski shot Schindler's List and many later films directed by Steven Spielberg; Fiore's pre-Avatar credits include Training Day, Tears of the Sun, The Island, and The Kingdom.

A New Trier ninth-grader who had seen Avatar three times once asked Fiore the usual question about getting his proverbial foot in the door. The answer: "You can start by going to Columbia College."