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A Fierce Advocate for Kindness

Elizabeth Ndungu was recently elected vice president of the Columbia School of Professional Studies Student Government (SPSSG). Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Ndungu has lived in the U.S. since 2006. Before starting at Columbia, she worked her way up from server at the Courtyard by Marriott in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. to dual general manager at the Marriott International in Syracuse, N.Y. After graduating, Ndungu hopes to pursue a career that allows her to explore her passions, including the effects of media on decision-making, bias, and organizational culture. An Information & Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) student and a mother of two small children, Ndungu spoke to us about her life at Columbia and her new role in student government. Excerpts:

What are your plans as vice president of the SPS Student Government?

I have three main goals: to amplify the student voice, to celebrate our students’ kindness and achievements, and to assist in addressing mental health and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility [DEIA] challenges at Columbia. I want to carry on former SPSSG President Adam Gerber’s vision of ensuring that all SPS students feel seen, as well as current President Caitlin Lasher’s goal to continuously address student concerns about diversity and inclusion. I would like to focus on these issues while spreading kindness and celebrating our student body.

I want to amplify the student voice and advocate for DEIA and mental health. I am going to approach this in three ways. One, each month the SPS Student Government will meet with the Dean to voice student concerns. These monthly opportunities create a bridge between the administration and the student body. Two, I will host a weekly open hour every Friday for anyone at SPS who wants to express a concern, talk about DEIA or mental health, or simply chat. Three, I want to write and speak about DEIA and mental health issues.

It’s also very important to me to celebrate SPS students, so every week on the Career Design Lab’s LinkedIn page, we celebrate students and alumni who have received promotions, landed new jobs or internships, etc. Thanks to the CDL team for this wonderful idea! I love celebrating kindness, from simple, daily acts of volunteering to supporting the competitors in the Greater Good Challenge, a competition in which students and alumni pitch innovative business solutions addressing current global and societal needs, and the UNICC Think-a-Thon, which invites students and alumni from all over the world to take action on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The teams work hard to create proposals that benefit the community, therefore celebrating them and shining a light on them spreads their kindness further and benefits more people.

What was your experience like as a member of the SPS Student Government last year?

When I first started, I was nervous. It was my first time as a student government representative. I wasn’t sure what my role entailed or if I could successfully assist the student body. I just knew I wanted to share the importance of kindness in governance and spread it like confetti. When Roman Damaso and I ran as program representatives in the Student Government for our cohort, we campaigned together and won. We worked together to ensure that the students in the IKNS program understood that we were there to represent them and share any concerns they had, as well as making sure that they were kept well-informed.

As an IKNS student, what do you think of your experience in the program?

Awe-inspiring! The IKNS program at Columbia is one of the best out there. I remember my very first class was Foundations for the Knowledge Driven Organization. I was very nervous, and impostor syndrome was wreaking havoc on my mental health. I couldn’t believe I was among such decorated executives and intelligent people. I had professors from companies like Google and NASA in addition to the father of knowledge management, Larry Prusak. The idea of being able to participate in an Ivy League institution with such phenomenal people highlighted how inadequate I felt. Then Professor Ed Hoffman, the main lecturer in that first class, said something like, “You were selected to be here. We chose you!”—and it felt like I was given permission to just be myself. The psychological safety that was created made me feel at home right away in that first class, and I have been enjoying it since.

Another awesome thing is that the courses were created with the professional in mind. Each professor I have had has been kind, informative, knowledgeable, and understanding. As a caregiver of an injured partner and a mother of two small children, I also balance internships, volunteer opportunities, and classwork—I’m very busy! I have needed grace and understanding during medical emergencies, and the professors were understanding and kind, and even helped me attain resources that the school offered.  

Congratulations on being named a Columbia Alumni Association [CAA] Scholar! How are you planning on staying connected with the School through CAA and this opportunity?

When I received the news, I realized how focused CAA is on elevating current students and alumni. I began receiving invitations for networking opportunities, and it made my heart smile, especially as I pivot from hospitality and operations toward knowledge management, artificial intelligence, and psychology. I intend to meet as many alumni and students as possible to celebrate them and their kindness and speak of them in rooms full of opportunities. Because you never know—that room may be the room of someone’s next big success story.

Learn more about SPS Student Government

The Columbia University M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program provides students with foundations in information science, organizational psychology, and change management as well as practical skills in project management and executive leadership. The program is available part-time, full-time, on-campus, and online. 

Fall 2023 application deadlines for the M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program are February 15, 2023 for the priority deadline; March 15 for applicants with international documents; and June 15 for the final deadline. Applications are reviewed and admission decisions released on a rolling basis. Learn more here.