After surfing the unpredictable waves of the entertainment industry—jumping wildly in a Foo Fighters music video and touring with an Elvis impersonator band—Adrienne Herrera decided it was time to take on the most unfamiliar adventure of all: college.
Herrera, a Mexican-Irish senior in the School of General Studies, double majored in sociology and English literature, after leaving behind her flashy life in Southern California.
Before she decided to test the waters of an undergraduate education, Herrera developed a diverse acting resume, booking numerous national commercials, and a role in an off-Broadway play.
But after years of acting, singing, and working as an agent, she felt directionless and decided to go back to the books.
Though she has stopped acting, she has kept busy at Columbia.
Notably, in spring of 2008, Herrera founded a program called Symposium, which brings high school students to campus for seminars that encourage them to apply to college and also provide support during the process.
“When I first came to Columbia, I was really feeling overwhelmed,” Herrera said. “While it is in New York, I don’t think it is really of New York. The gates did not seem permeable.”
She wanted this to change. Along with Symposium, Herrera organized the first annual Columbia Explorers, in which elementary students paired up one-on-one with undergraduates and toured the school. In total, she has brought over 300 students to the University, working personally with many of them. “They pretty much stormed the campus.”
Herrera has also engaged the disabled community on campus, serving on the disabilities sub-committee of the Student Health Advisory Committee fighting for fairer testing conditions as well as acting as a Project Eye-To-Eye mentor for three years, directly tutoring students that struggle with learning disabilities.
While her achievements clearly add up on paper, friends and mentors agreed that Herrera stands out among her peers for her passion and keen ability to make meaningful human connections.
Scott Halvorson, the acting GS dean of students and Herrera’s academic advisor, said she was a perfect candidate for the No Limits Derrick Wilder Award for Leadership and Service, which she was recently awarded, because she is “passionate, extremely energetic, and committed to equal access for education.”
Alfred Davis, GS, who has volunteered for Symposium, applauded Herrera for breaking away from campus. “She works outside of the box, outside of this very nebulous student bubble,” he said.
Herrera plans on continuing her work with New York students while she pursues a master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia in the anthropology and education department. She said she hopes to develop a career in which she can promote better access to college through outreach.