In her time working at the Visitor’s Center, Alex Parkhurst, CC ’19, has rubbed shoulders with director Steven Spielberg, White Chicks actor Marlon Wayans, and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. “You don’t know who’s gonna come through that door,” she tells me.
But when she describes her most memorable tours, the ones that come to mind are not only those tours with celebrities or politicians. She tells me about a tour with a prospective astrophysics student who she took out of the way to see the Pupin telescope and tours with differently abled students whose experience of Columbia’s campus opened her eyes to its inaccessibility.
She loves giving tours because she gets to know people, to hear their stories, and see the world their way. Parkhurst seeks out this diversity of experience in other aspects of her life as well. In her time at Columbia, Parkhurst has gotten involved in student groups that she says “reach across multiple social circles,” including the Columbia Marching Band and the Columbia Women’s Business Society, where she has just finished her tenure as president.
From her own experiences as an FGLI student, which is “not an obvious identity,” Parkhurst knows how important it is to look beyond the surface. She describes her first year as a “hard transition.” She wasn’t sure how to behave in the college space or who to turn to for advice. After writing and submitting her first Lit Hum paper, her professor sat down with her and told her she didn’t belong at Columbia.
As a sophomore interested in finance, she remembers going to campus events with dozens of people and feeling completely overwhelmed. She didn’t feel like she was learning much from these events, and even CWBS felt “transactional” when she first joined. She and her board have instituted a number of initiatives to make the organization into a community, to make a place where all students are comfortable going for help.
Even networking, which many people “scoff” at, is an opportunity to build relationships, and Parkhurst tells me that seeing it this way “totally changes your outlook on life.”
Parkhurst herself hosts weekly workshops for students looking for assistance. “I’ve reviewed so many people’s resumes on this campus.” She first tries to learn as much as she can about the person and their background. “It’s very important to know the full story or as much as you can of it before actually trying to help them.”
Thanks to the relationships she’s built, Parkhurst has had an overall positive experience at Columbia. As a tour guide, people often ask her whether she’s been happy here. She’s honest with them: While there are some things the school could do better, she’s seen a lot of progress in her time here. Among other efforts, she says the FGLI community is much stronger now. “It’s just nice to know that we’re not alone,” she tells me.
She credits the progress she’s seen to what she calls “the student voice,” to students who are interested in their community and want to make it better for those around them. Parkhurst herself has been able to find her voice while at Columbia, and she hopes that the programs she’s established in her four years will help others do the same.