PCCC Alumna Graduates Phi Beta Kappa
from Columbia University
PCCC to Ivy League - Liz Walsh on her
Liz Walsh did not want to attend PCCC at first. “I had a number of pre-conceived notions about what community college would be like,” said the 2011 alumna who earned an A.A. degree in Liberal Arts/English with highest honors. “I thought it would be easy, and I wouldn’t be challenged.”
She found that it wasn’t so easy, that she was challenged, and that PCCC provided her with a firm foundation for her academic journey through the prestigious Ivy League.
Last month, the 22-year-old graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with her B.A. degree in anthropology and a rare 4.06 GPA. “I received some A+ grades,” explained Liz of her GPA which exceeds the standard “perfect” score of 4.0
A member of the Honor Society at Columbia’s School for General Studies, Liz also won: the 2014 Dean’s Prize for Anthropology, awarded for excellence in that field; the Ward H. Dennis Scholarship, given for academic achievement; and several other community service and academic awards.
“PCCC does a wonderful job of preparing students for anything they want to do next,” said the soft-spoken young woman who admitted to being somewhat nervous when she started Columbia.
“I had done well at PCCC, but wondered if I was really prepared for the Ivy League.”
She was. Though the workload at Columbia was heavier and assignments were longer, Liz said she did not feel less prepared than fellow students, some of whom graduated from elite prep schools. “I kept coming back to what I learned at PCCC and was able to handle whatever came my way.”
Being Different Was An Asset
Like many others at Columbia’s School for General Studies, Liz was a non-traditional student. Home schooled since her sophomore year of high school, she came to the Ivy League through a community college, and even commuted to Columbia’s Manhattan campus from her family’s farm in West Milford, balancing her farm duties with scholarly studies.
“The professors I had at Columbia were very impressed and excited that I was bringing a new unique perspective to the classroom,” said Liz who views her non-traditional status as an asset. It certainly made her unforgettable to one faculty member.
“Absences from some classes required a note from a doctor,” she explained. So when she had to miss a class because she was tending to an ill horse, Liz brought a note from the veterinarian. The amused professor asked if he could pin it to his wall. “It’s probably the only note any Columbia professor ever got asking to excuse an absence because a horse was sick,” Liz said, laughing.
Equine on the Farm, Feline in the Classroom
Education is More Than Academics
The young scholar’s Ivy League education was further enriched by community service projects, two significant internships, and the vibrant cultural opportunities in New York. “I attended my first opera, Rigoletto, for a school assignment,” she said.
Tutoring GED students from the local area, was particularly rewarding for Liz. “They were working so hard to improve their lives, and I empathized as someone who left high school and went about education in nontraditional way.”
As an intern, Liz assisted with curriculum research and programming for Children’s and Educational Media at WNET/Thirteen and also served as a teaching volunteer at the Museum of Natural History, where she is now employed in a paid position as a teaching assistant.
An accomplished equestrian, Liz writes for a number of equine publications and, last year, received Columbia’s prestigious Albert E. Gollin Prize, awarded to a junior with promising talent in sociology, media, or journalism.
Looking Ahead, Acknowledging the Past
Though she initially intended to major in English at Columbia, a course in anthropology changed her direction. “My dream job would be to work in a museum like the Museum of Natural History or the Smithsonian, possibly as a curator,” said Liz.
With plans to eventually earn a doctoral degree, she recently traveled to Oxford and Cambridge in England to explore those universities as possibilities for her master’s degree. Columbia is also in the running. “I loved many of my professors there, so it’s definitely on the table,” she said.
Last May, the accomplished alumna was a guest speaker at PCCC’s 2014 induction ceremony for Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges that provided her with a scholarship to continue her education.
She told her inspirational personal story and delivered a message of encouragement to the inductees. “Your induction into Phi Theta Kappa is an acknowledgement of your hard work, your drive, and a quality of mind that has led you to excel here at PCCC.”
Recalling the “thoughtful, driven community college students across the nation” she met through the organization, Liz said she came to realize that her PTK peers were, “among the best of the best, and we weren’t the exception to a community college education – we exemplified how community colleges can and do change lives every day.”