Campus activist Jacob Matilsky has had to deal with his fair share of political fires at Columbia. But fires are nothing for him. Before coming to Columbia, Matilsky fought wildfires alongside his highly trained peers from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service out west. He notes that fire helps to sustain the natural ecosystem, and demanding well planned management rather than total suppression. His interest in fires was piqued in the summer of 1999, when the home-schooled 19-year-old from New Jersey witnessed the awesome power of fires engulfing the area outside the Montana ranch where he worked. A decade later, after having transferred from Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, N.Y. to the School of General Studies in the spring of 2007, Matilsky hopes to one day apply his political science major to a career in international or environmental law. "Land use management is my personal pet peeve," he said, recalling firsthand experiences in which inefficient supervision and patchy government design exacerbated the problems already plaguing wilderness ecosystems. Praising his former fire professionals' "encyclopedic" familiarity with the land, he proposed that "putting people like that in charge of their specialty could do wonders for the ecosystem." "Jake knows the legal and ethical ins and outs of river basins the way Mark Twain's pilot knew the Mississippi," political science professor Michael Doyle said. Matilsky wrote on ethical and legal issues surrounding water allocation in river-heavy Southeast Asia for one of Doyle's seminars. While Matilsky, like many Columbians, admits to holding a passion for the library, his academics have in no way diluted his vigor for voicing political and social concerns. Protesting with the Columbia Coalition Against the War, Students for a Democratic Society, and Students for Justice in the Middle East, he has striven over the past five semesters to galvanize the student body and encourage cooperation between ideologically disparate organizations. Referring to events that attracted groups with outwardly contrary stances on Israeli-Palestinian relations, Matilsky stressed the need for "activist meetings where students can compromise" and find common grounds. Aside from his interest in the Middle East, which motivated him to learn Arabic, Matilsky explored Latin American politics during a stay in Chile. He also traveled around the South America, an activity he aims to resume next year when he tries his hand at freelance photojournalism. It is sometimes hard to juggle academics and extracurriculars, but Matilsky has still found the time to participate in the General Studies Student Council "Jake is basically the most fun professional guy I know," Nathan Miller, GS and delegate at large in GSSC, said. "He is 100-percent business when he needs to be, but at the same time, he is an extremely amusing, friendly, and easily approachable guy and a good friend." "General Studies has some discrepancies between student life and academics," Matilsky said, reflecting on his time on the GSSC's academic and policy committees and the school's faculty-led Committee on Instruction. "Particularly with academics, what I hope to see is complete academic parity. Getting closer to parity will get Columbia closer to becoming an integrated school."
Columbia Spectator Staff