Steven Castellano

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Steven Castellano

Steven Castellano CC '13 is from Middletown, New Jersey and majored in Biophysics. He was one of the head coordinators for CUE, the CCSC Academic Affairs Representative, a leading member of the Student Wellness Project, a TA for Biology, a researcher who crystallized neural proteins in Fairchild and is pretty much the most helpful and caring person you'll ever meet on this earth. A good way to sum up his dedication to others is to either imagine him as the person who will A) Drop everything he is doing when you need him there for you even if he is in the middle of a paper and you call at 4am or B) be that person on the team who gives everyone direction and inspiration, but when they aren't able to pull their weight, he goes ahead and picks up their slack without ever complaining. Steven is highly conscientious and cares deeply about mental health and fighting unhealthy student stress. Using his ability to connect well with others, Steven has also successfully negotiated with nearly every department at Columbia and made institutional change through getting them to join his coalitions.

Contents

Student Council

During Steven's first year at Columbia, he joined CCSC's Campus Life committee, believing that throwing better events would improve community at Columbia. He became the secretary in his freshman spring and planned large events like the Tree Lighting Ceremony and College Days. Around this time, he also joined the policy committee, and hoped to use this experience to win a seat in the University senate during his race in his sophomore year. He came in dead last[1]. His junior year, he reached out to more students and used social media and then won the Academic Affairs Representative position.[2]

In one of Steven's first successes, he worked with the registrar to release the schedules of finals earlier. He, with the Academic Integrity Task Force, then planned implementing an honor code, which was an initiative he began working on a year earlier. The code would include an honor pledge to be recited by all incoming students during NSOP, a signing of an honor code, NSOP programming about academic integrity and wellness, and a short version of this pledge to appear on all Columbia Blue Books. Throughout Steven was inspired by many TED talks from [Dan Arierly] who showed that cheating is more of a cultural phenomenon that is internally justified and that can be prevented through moralistic reminders; stricter punishment, by contrast, has little effect on cheating.

After two years of research, his plan was robust. Yet despite all the student councils passing a resolution that favored these measured and many students supporting an effort that would not make them feel "forced to cheat" as it became status quo for students to look up homework answers online, etc., ESC decided to rescind their vote on the grounds that such an effort needed to be discussed more with the students, and that ESC members were not aware of how well the administration knew of the plan.[3]. Steve and other members of CCSC were surprised with the reversal[4] as the discussion had been publicly documented since November[5], the administrators who would implement the program were informed, the organizations are called student councils for a reason, and ESC did not bring up any of their concerns when they initially rubber stamped passed the resolution. The intention was to use the honor code as a way of uniting the four schools, but with ESC's sudden departure, Steven went ahead and convinced SGA, CCSC, and GSSC to pass a version of the proposal without a clause stating that all four schools had to be included. The idea was to pilot the honor code in such a way that ESC could join on when it was ready while not letting the two years of planning and student and faculty excitement putter to a halt.

Steven undermining ESC's legitimacy like a bau5

Steven then went on to tackle the issue of a course waitlist, which the councils had been seeking for over 20 years. As if relations with ESC weren't peachy already, Steve asked them for help implementing a new schematic plan after working to unite the registar, advising, faculty, and students behind the ambitious effort. Since none of the ESC members were free to attend his meetings with the registrar's Barry Kane, Steve recruited a non-ESC SEAS student to help him get engineering input on the issue. Steve's past action working with them to release the finals schedules proved useful; the registrar said they would be able to implement most of his suggestions after twenty years of students working to institute such a waitlist. In addition, they wanted to automate the add/drop process for adding and dropping classes. [6]

The last step was to present this completely-safe, no-brainer plan to the councils, and of course, ESC found something wrong with it. They argued that it was more fair for students to relentlessly click refresh instead of using a waitlist because it ensured the people who wanted the course the most would get it and people who had better registration times wouldn't be able to hog up all the waitlist spots. Forget the fact that people actually want to use engineering technology to reduce work in their day, and that it would be in a senior's best interest to drop a course if they got into too many from the waitlist. ESC again felt there hadn't be enough discussion about the matter among the students, and they advised the registrar to refrain from implementing any new technologies over the summer, insisting that they engage in negotiations in fall 2013 for possible implementation in 2014 (though the most likely reason is that ESC figured any progress from CCSC would make ESC's lack of progress less embarrassing). Luckily for us, the registrar doesn't take anyone's shit when it comes to making progress. The other three councils also unanimously passed the resolution for the course waitlist, representing the end of 20 years of student councils asking the registrar for a course waitlist to no avail.

Though less drama filled than his honor code proposal, his first-semester Pass/D/Fail was probably the most controversial. During his election, students asked him to implement academic policies to reduce student stress. He concluded the root of the problem is that students placed alot of the stress on themselves by taking a bajillion credits and tying the worth classes to GPA instead of learning the material. He first considered trying to lower the credit limit, but assessed this would be spurned by students. Instead, he looked at how other schools implemented a pass/fail policy. He compiled this report which outlined the strength and weakness of the policy. The general consensus is that students would put less work into their classes, but they would learn for learning sake, and that students who come from disadvantage from high school would have a semester to adjust to the rigors of colleges without worrying about it forever harming their GPA. Among his many pages of research on Columbia, peer schools, Pass/Fail medical schools, etc., his research on stress on MIT and his bwog interview were highly popular. Another Ted Talk from Dan Pink was also influential, as it showed that traditional carrot/stick motivators actually make performance worse when accomplishing creative tasks. Still, Steve believed that Pass/D/Fail should not apply to core and language classes after Steve discussed its implications with these departments. CCSC passed the proposal 23-4.[7].

Upon graduating, Steven received an "MVP" paper plate award from the members of CCSC and was invited to the GS annual Gala for his work throughout the year. He also maintained many friendships throughout the four councils after tying them together through his many collaborative efforts and still connects with many council members as an alumn. Throughout his initiatives, Steven continuously sought to address the root cause of campus problems, noting that quick fixes did not work. He accordingly focused on motivational studies rather than workloads when addressing student stress and on campus culture rather than discipline when focusing on academic integrity.

Student Wellness

Steven doing work late at night with friends

Aside from his student council policies aiming to improve student wellness, Steven was also a very active member of the Student Wellness Project. After working to establish the group as an official organization, he arranged the Student Wellness Summit, which brought together many of Columbia's leadership organizations to find root problems with student wellness, and brainstorm actions to directly improve wellness. Deantini said he would support the 3 solutions the summit deemed the most effective, but want very specific reforms, not things like "make school less stressful". Out of this summit, and meetings with people interested in drafting the letter, he finalized this wellness report, calling for a reform of NSOP, a revamp of Columbia Psychological Services, and a Pass/D/Fail Policy. Long term changes resulting from this report are unclear, but at least admin were receptive to its ideas.[8].

As a coordinator of CUE, Steven had a large role improving the program. He made a bajillion page coordinator guide that guided every aspect of running CUE (ran almost or over 100 pages)and compiled survey data to make suggestions to administration on how to improve the program. He also institutionalized the CUE weekly training sessions in the spring for developing coaches skills, formalized a leader retreat curriculum, and institutionalized the CUE list serv and monthly brunches. During CUE week, he was known for making an effort to get to know each and every CUEer, which is practically unheard of when considering that this was on top of his administrative responsibilities in the program. This translated to staying up till 6am every night doing everything from talking to students about life at Columbia, to yelling at Mcbain athletes who threw water at a group of his fellow CUEers hanging out in the shaft, and really just anything to make students feel included. This is the main reason why he always brought First-Years to his senior parties. His involvement in the program is also why he was quite peeved when administrators decided to house students in their permanent dorms during CUE week instead of as a community in Mcbain.[9] Terry Martinez and Scott Wright will receive hell for this. On a related noted, despite his undying devotion to CUE (his senior wisdom CU Admirer section was dedicaated to CUE) he still hasn't updated the wikicu CUE page.

After the suicide of Martha Corey-Ochoa, Administration responded by simply reminding its students that certain services were available and that CPS was open for 3 more hours on a Saturday.[10] Steven, still extremely sleep deprived from sleeping 2 hours a night during CUE, worked with Student Wellness Project to arrange an open discussion event where students could be in small groups with others who were also affect by Martha's death.[11]. Steve continued these discussions in SWP through a roundtable group that strived for deep, high-threshold conversations about stressors and high and low points in its members' weeks and lives more generally.

Steve also was very active in the Student Wellness Project receiving a floor of the Convent brownstone [Special Interest Community] in 2013.

During Steven's first year at Columbia, he went through the hell we call Physics 2801 and was the type who did all the Lit Hum reading because he found it so damn awesome. He spent a lot of his first semester cramped up in Butler, spending most of his free time studying until he realized in his second semester that there was more for him to learn from his peers and through seeking new experiences than through perfecting details covered in his textbook. Though he seemed to always be learning from his friends and supporting his many former CUE-ers, he still was excited about all the classes at Columbia, often went over the credit limit, and took 27 credits during his first semester senior year. Still, he did so with an extremely chill attitude and wrote this op-ed] afterwards, encouraging students to enjoy the college experience, stress out less, and drop a class if they were no longer excited about it. Though many of his friends joke that this makes him a hypocrite, it actually is fairly consistent with his treatment of classes as equal to all the other things he cares about. Otherwise, this op-ed was extremely well received. After it spread as far as the west coast where students proclaimed that it should be mandatory reading for incoming first years, another classmate then translated it into Chinese, and she shared it on renren.com where it has received over 50,000 views![12]

Awards

Steven was inducted[13] into Phi Beta Kappa. He was a recipient of the King's Crown Leadership Award for Ethics & Morality.[14] and he won the Alumni Association Achievement Award, which has a description so badass and fitting for Steve that I have to include it right here. "A trophy, in the form of a Columbia lion, awarded annually to the member of the senior class who is judged to be most outstanding for qualities of mind, character, and service to the College."

Despite all of Steven's awards and stellar grades, he shared a bit too much with Mortimer Adler. Steven's concern at the end of his senior wisdom came true, and he technically failed to graduate on time because he neglected to take his swim test!! Sadly for all of us who wanted Steven and his institutional memory for an extra year, he did indeed take the swim test after his senior-spring bronchitis and pneumonia cleared away, and he was awarded a May degree.

Other Shenanigans

Aside from kicking ass in politicking around Columbia, easing student stress, and being an amazing friend, he is well known for his crazy dance moves. He is objectively the best at "The Wobble". Other than that, he is also extremely clumsy. Many wonder how he was able to walk the stage at graduation without tripping over something. He inadvertently spills something on someone 2.357 times per party, but we still love him, and have funny stories to tell because of him.

References

  1. http://spectrum.columbiaspectator.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/CCSC-2011-Election-Results.pdf
  2. http://spectrum.columbiaspectator.com/spectrum/the-212-wins-ccsc-executive-board-election
  3. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2013/04/24/engineering-student-council-rescinds-vote-honor-code
  4. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2013/04/26/ccsc-members-surprised-confused-esc-reversal-honor-code
  5. http://spectrum.columbiaspectator.com/news/this-week-in-esc-don-the-dean
  6. http://bwog.com/2013/05/14/desperation-formalized/
  7. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2013/04/09/ccsc-calls-mandatory-passdfail-first-semester
  8. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2013/05/06/administrators-receptive-student-wellness-project-recommendations
  9. http://bwog.com/2013/07/18/community-building-and-the-curious-cue-quandary/
  10. http://www.wikicu.com/images/4/4e/Adminresponse.JPG
  11. http://bwog.com/2012/08/28/open-discussion-to-be-held-tonight-in-john-jay-lounge/
  12. http://blog.renren.com/share/449275890/15267283368
  13. http://bwog.com/2013/04/30/phi-beta-kappa-inductees-for-2013-announced/
  14. http://spectrum.columbiaspectator.com/spectrum/columbia-releases-this-years-award-winners-and-honorees
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