This spring, GS senior Pawel Maslag was awarded the Campbell Award, which “recognizes exceptional leadership and Columbia spirit.” But that’s arguably Pawel’s least exciting accomplishment. From running across the country to being a trained WWE wrestler to serving on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault, Pawel has accomplished more in his 20-some years than I probably will in my entire lifetime. Internal Editor Sarah Kinney (who knows him from Peer Health Exchange) sat down with Pawel last week to pick his brain and learn more about his inspiring life.
Name, School, Hometown, Major:
Pawel Maslag; GS; Garfield, New Jersey; Sociology.
Do you have a personal motto? If so, what is it? If not, make one up.
After graduating from high school, I decided to embark on an Americorps service year with City Year ― a year where I was a tutor and mentor to a second grade class in Long Island City, Queens. During the last day of my service year, I asked all my students to write a message of inspiration on my backpack. One of my students wrote a message that would change the course of my life forever: “Always do your best and help others.” Every decision I make in my life, whether it is my career after Columbia or how I spend my summers, I reflect whether or not the opportunity will allow me to do my best and help others.
You’re running across the world for cancer?! What?! Tell me more!
Last summer I cycled across the country, from Baltimore to San Francisco, for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. I was reflecting on my post-Columbia plans and I realized I had an open-ended summer, and I thought, “Why not go across country again, but run this time?” Here I am, about to run 4,500 miles (we take a bit of an upwards and then downwards route) from San Francisco to Boston!
So far I’ve been able to raise a little over $4,500 for the Ulman Cancer Fund, which provides critical services for young adults with cancer and their loved ones. The money I’ve raised is going towards supportive services, such as patient navigation and college scholarships, and it helps foster a supportive network for young adults with cancer ―a population that can feel isolated in a hospital where the majority of patients are much older than them.
I hope my summer will also inspire other young people to take action and commit to a large goal (or small goal!) that will impact lives and create positive change in our world.
Brag about a few other activist projects you have/are engaged in.
Before I embark on my run across the United States, I will be cycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Through the ride, I hope to raise awareness about the ways that different populations are affected by HIV. Though HIV rates are down across the United States as a whole, young gay men of color are still facing an ongoing crisis regarding high HIV infection rates. I hope to raise awareness about the need for health resources and services in areas that are most impacted and for populations, such as young gay men of color, across the United States.
Tell me about how/when/why you realized that you wanted to commit yourself to a life of activism.
There was never a true single moment, but rather a build up of many moments that led me to that realization. Going back to my time in City Year, one of our core values was ubuntuism. A South African philosophy, ubuntuism encompasses the idea of humanness, or “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” Learning about ubuntuism allowed me to better understand how we are all interconnected and my humanity, and everyone else’s humanity, cannot be realized unless all of our humanities are realized. Whether it is race, gender, class, or any other identity, we must work towards equality through the means of organizing, structural change, systematic change, making and creating changes on a macro and micro scale, the list goes on. Ubuntuism realizes that the process is continuous and requires action from all of us.
What other clubs/organizations are you a part of at Columbia?
I am currently the Community Service Representative on the General Studies Student Council, I sit on the executive board of the HeForShe as the General Body Chair, I am a Peer Educator with Peer Health Exchange, a Peer Educator with Sexual Violence Response and I was the GS Policy Chair on the Ivy Council and I also served as the undergraduate representative on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault. I’ve also served in other roles, such as orientation leader and junior marshal, but those are the main ones!
What do you plan on doing after you graduate? (The dreaded question, I know).
That’s a tough one! I’m still deciding, but I am in the best possible situation where I have more options than I ever would have imagined. The industries range from the non-profit, public, and private sectors ― from start-ups to major financial institutions. However, I am most gravitating towards joining the Peace Corps! I would absolutely love to work in health education, specifically HIV prevention.
Any other fun fact(s) about you:
1) I’m a trained professional wrestler. (Yeah, like the WWE kind!)
2) I want to climb the “Seven Summits” of the world.
3) I’m deathly afraid of roller coasters, but I love skydiving.
Photo via Pawel’s Facebook profile.