Benjie Frieling

We know, we know, it’s a little early for this. In honor of those mid-year graduates, we’re running a short series of Senior Wisdoms. Kicking things off we have Benjie Frieling, saving the day from congestion.

Name, Hometown, School: Benjamin Frieling, though most people call me Benjie [no, not the dog]. Hailing from the rather nearby Lawrence, NY. Civil Engineering at SEAS !

Claim to fame? CSA Peer Adviser [last remaining of the first batch, completing 3rd semester tour of duty, with 2 crazy weeks of NSOP under my belt]; Challah for Hunger [sporadic member for 3 years; Sales Manager this semester]; CU Souper Troopers [R.I.P.]; Hillel Social Justice Coordinator for a semester; completing a self-organized half-Ironman in a little over 8 hours this past August even with a flat-tire in the middle of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Where are you going? “To Infinity and Beyond !” Just kidding. Well for now while I’m on this planet, the upcoming semester will be a seven-week pilot trip to Israel to check out grad school, employment, and housing prospects, and to relax a bit – with the plan to move there this upcoming summer/fall or possibly the following one. It’s definitely going to be a big shift – language, culture, pay scale – but I am looking forward to experience a bit more of a spiritual and laid back lifestyle in addition to having an enormous opportunity to work on civil engineering infrastructure projects there. [Like the US, much of the country was built in the 1950s and is falling apart.] Thankfully, I have a good support network of friends there who should make the move smoother!

Three things you learned at Columbia:

  1. If you haven’t changed your major (or for engineers, at least your minor), you haven’t seen enough of the academic breadth available here. Initially arriving as a staunch environmental engineering focusing on green tech, I quickly realized I’d rather be working on the macro scale buildings, transportation, and other large-scale projects versus the micro scale of thermodynamics and organic chemistry involved in alternative energy. However, I still kept at my passion by shifting it toward an interdisciplinary minor in sustainable engineering including environment, economy (Gulati in Principles and Global :) ), and engineering aspects.
  2. Break out of your small social group, especially via extracurriculars. Even with friends from your dorm and some from class, it’s nice to have a separate crew to hang out and work with. For me, this ranged from Triathlon to Hiking to Anime to Social Justice and more. There’s nothing that bonds friendship (or at least spawns eternally-burning hatred) like losing a game of Monopoly, Setters of Catan, or Risk at 1 AM to a last-minute back-stabbing maneuver of treachery.
  3. Get off campus ! See the shining steel and concrete towers of mid-town, explore the downtown neighborhoods where the numbered streets end and direction is a figment of one’s imagination, frolic in the greenery of Central Park, Riverside Park, Sakura Park, Union Square Park as well as the dozens of hiking trails with gorgeous views that are only a subway or Metro-North or bus ride away ! Shameless plug – CU Hiking Club !

Back in my day… Google extended its global domination efforts into the Columbia campus with the transition from Cubmail to Lionmail. Alas, Google Docs is still not working and a good number of students plus faculty are not aware of this changeover.

East Campus had a single entrance ! One entrance ! Thankfully, we now have two to three slide-stiles that both expedite access and snap closed on the slow-moving.

NYPD-ESU rolled in heavy at 4 AM for a drug raid on various frats on 114th Street utilizing battering rams and more – I slept through it all on Carman 2.

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: Helping thousands of people on a daily basis by improving transportation networks. Although congestion will never end, I’ll do my damn best to fight it to the end.

Write a CU Admirers post to anyone or anything at Columbia: To the bureaucracy of Columbia. As much as some may hate the red tape aspects of it, the very fact – that it is possible to obtain a same day appointment at Health Services for a polio vaccine and flu shot (after a travel warning posted two days before my flight out), that there exists an entire network of anti-stress / pro-productivity organizations including CPS, Stressbusters, ALICE, etc. open for the taking, that there is a full office of professional and student advisors at the CSA waiting to answer (or at least refer) your questions, and so much more – form a strong safety net when things go wrong. Yes, it may be slow at times. Yes, I too have been shuffled (a half dozen times between the CSA, OGP, and SEAS Aboard – all to sign the final form for summer study aboard clearance). But if you reach out, they are there to help. [ Disclaimer: Currently employed as a CSA Peer Adviser ]

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? As the former regent to the throne of Busserfest (a festive Jewish meal on the week when the Torah section concerning the flood and celebrating the subsequent permission by G-d for Noah to eat meat; created by Columbia alum Scott Susser, continued until recently by Jeffrey Susser ’13 SEAS, and passed down to future generations by yours truly), I must eschew cheese.

One thing to do before graduating: Stick around for a long intersession break (winter or summer). You will never have such an easy opportunity to really appreciate campus nor will ever have the time to sightsee the environs of NYC as when you are dorming/subletting in the heart of it all without any classwork to keep you busy. Remember, work is only until 5 PM !

Any regrets? Not realizing until this semester that as an engineer (likely) not going to grad school, grades don’t matter as much and so I could have taken it easier and socialized a bit more. Then again, I did learn a lot more by trying rather than lazing through, plus passed the FE licensing exam on first try – so worth it ! So I guess, not much =>