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Giving of Time and Self

Photo of Carlos Cruz ’88CC

“I hope for the better. I think we all do, but I think most Columbia graduates go out into the world hoping to improve it.”  

Carlos Cruz ’88CC has always given of himself by sharing his time. As a student, he was an active volunteer, enriching the campus experience through his work on orientation programs and with special interest groups. Now, as a Class Agent, a member of and Ambassador for the 1754 Society, and overall passionate alumnus, he continues to give his time to building community and supporting today’s undergraduates in their Columbia journey. For him, it’s how he pays forward what Columbia gave him.

Community involvement from a young age

The child of immigrants from Mexico and Panama, Carlos spent the first six years of his life living in housing projects in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, later moving to southern Texas. Growing up in these communities left an impression—they were the same regions he represented in his first professional position as a recruiter for Columbia’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. It was a job that gave him a love of business travel, which he would later do in his career in apparel supply chain. Through his work at various apparel companies including Saks Fifth Avenue, Gap Brands, and Target, he traveled around the world. He also found a calling for working directly with young people, which he continues today through mentorship efforts at Columbia and teaching at Marist College. 

When it came to life at Columbia, Carlos dove in—getting as he calls it “way too involved!” He was a residence counselor, joined (what is now called) the Chicanx Caucus, and volunteered to organize the New Student Orientation Program, in a summer that he remembers as one of the best of his life. He became reengaged with the University while living in San Francisco in the late 2000s and since then has become involved with Columbia Pride and the Columbia Latino Alumni Association where he has held leadership positions for many years. 

Inspiring students through mentorship

Increasing scholarships has been a huge focus of his volunteer work. Through his work with the Latino Alumni Association of Columbia Board, he has helped to triple the amount for scholarship funding for leaders in the Latino community at Columbia College. Similarly, he worked to establish a scholarship fund for leaders of the LGBTQIA+ community at Columbia through his work with Columbia Pride—the Columbia University LGBTQIA+ alumni group sponsored by the Columbia Alumni Association. He is also excited to have been part of establishing a scholarship fund at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science for leaders in the Latino community at that school, which will be awarded for the first time this year.  

“Volunteering at Columbia has always been an inspiring activity for me. Not only inspiring in the fact that I’m doing something for others, but it’s also inspiring in that I have tremendous discussions with many people.” 

Carlos calls mentoring Columbia undergraduates one of his most meaningful activities because he meets current students and young people and finds the combinations of their differences and commonalities inspiring. It keeps him connected to the gratitude for diversity and dialogue he found at Columbia in his own time as a student. In many ways, Columbia is where he found his first community. He made friends of different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds and still today appreciates the perspectives of his classmates that he hears through social media and through groups like the 1754 Society. 

“I benefited so much not only from the education and the professors at Columbia, the philosophers and authors we read, but also from my classmates who had different opinions than I did. I was amazed and grateful that was a possibility, and I learned so much from that experience and being in that kind of world. Moreover, I am extremely appreciative of the opportunities for lifelong learning that are offered by the University such as the Mini-Core classes, book clubs, and webinars about entrepreneurship and management, which have only multiplied with the move to virtual meetings.”

Thoughtful planning for an improved future

Through estate planning, Carlos has named Columbia a beneficiary of both his retirement plans and his stock-option plans from his time with Gap Inc. In keeping with the work he does as a volunteer, his intention is that these contributions would support scholarships for students who have demonstrated leadership and a commitment to excellence. 

“I was on financial aid all four years. I wouldn’t have been able to attend Columbia without it, so this is my way of giving back, giving forward, and leaving a legacy. I hope that with my contributions monetarily or with my time, I give opportunity.”

Carlos is grateful for the community that volunteering and the 1754 Society have given him. He serves as an Ambassador for the Society and is amazed by how people not only want to give financially to the University but give of their time—to building the Columbia community they want to see and through that, a world bettered by Columbia graduates. Carlos hopes that the sense of community at Columbia will only continue to grow and that the shared goals of Columbia graduates will provide a network for generations to come. 

“I think we need more people to be out there and advocate for improvements in society, whether it be better educators or someone who’s going to cure COVID completely or statesmen who are really going to do work for our betterment. I hope for the better. I think we all do, but I think most Columbia graduates go out into the world hoping to improve it.”

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