GSAS Conversations

A series of special virtual talks for friends and alumni of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Columbia’s research and learning environment provides the innovation, leadership, and discovery that helps to make our world a better place. In times like these, as the impact of the novel coronavirus is being felt across the world and in all domains of our lives, the strength of our alumni community takes on a new meaning.

Alumni from every department and program of the Graduate School have perspectives to add to the global conversations arising from the pandemic. With this in mind, we invite our friends and alumni to a series of conversations with scholars and practitioners: quick, deep dives into aspects of the crisis, thought-provoking examinations of issues at the core of humanity, and much-needed distractions.

These conversations are free and open to all alumni. A Zoom link will be emailed to registrants shortly before each episode.

We look forward to your participation.

Please note that all episodes will be recorded and published, contingent on consent from the presenters. Participants should be mindful of this in case their personal information—including their name or image—appears at any time during recording.

Have questions or suggestions for future GSAS Conversations topics? Write to [email protected].

Upcoming Conversations

Episode 9

Kobi Abayomi (‘08PhD, Statistics)
Senior Vice President, Data Science and Analytics, Warner Music Group
A little bit about inequality: measurement and example.
Wednesday, January 27 | 7:00–8:00 pm

There is concord between classical work on measuring economic inequality and the contemporary zeitgeist. People these days well understand the dependency across what is economically measured and personally felt. Recognized data science expert, statistician, and author Kobi Abayomi will share a brief history of the statistics that measure inequality, and how these measurements of inequality affect business growth and operations. Abayomi will pay particular attention to the metrics of ad impressions and consumption impressions that are important to media companies.

Episode 1

David M. Blitzer (‘78PhD, Economics), former chairman of the S&P Dow Jones Index Committee
Today's Stock Market vs. Infamous Bear Markets
May 13, 2020

Over a 39-year career at Standard & Poor’s, including 30 years as the chairman of S&P Dow Jones Index Committee that oversees the S&P 500 stock index, David Blitzer had a unique vantage point for the bear markets of 1987, 1999-2000, and 2008. Hear David’s thoughts on how the current downturn compares with those bear markets of the past and whether they may provide hints as to the trajectory of recovery.

Episode 2

Jessamyn Conrad (‘16PhD, Art History and Archaeology), Managing Director, H Partners, and CEO, Artusi, Inc.
From Black Death to Little Black Dress
May 20, 2020

Today’s fast fashion traces its lineage to that infamous pandemic of the 14th and 15th centuries. The Bubonic Plague dramatically changed the course of the world economy and helped spur mass luxury spending, creating a consumer culture that drove the development of fashion. Take a walk along the timeline of the invention of fashion with Jessie Conrad, investor, writer, and student of the financial and political history of medieval Italian art and architecture, and a winner of the Columbia College Preceptor Teaching Award in both Literature Humanities and Art Humanities.

Episode 3

Martha Joynt Kumar (’72PhD, Political Science), Director, White House Transition Project, and Professor Emerita, Towson University
Stay Tuned: Current Presidential Press Relations and Upcoming Transitions
May 27, 2020

Martha Joynt Kumar has spent decades watching presidents transition into and out of office and, while in that office, establish relationships with the press. In addition to being an academic observer of White House operations, Martha works with her non-profit, non-partisan team of presidency scholars to provide analytical information to incoming White House staff about the functions and responsibilities of their offices and directors. Hear her insights on the current President’s meetings with the press in historical context as well as what to look for during the upcoming presidential transition.

Episode 4

Arline Bronzaft (’66PhD, Psychology), Professor Emerita, CUNY
When Less Noise Is More: COVID-19 and the Changed Urban Soundscape
June 3, 2020

Arline Bronzaft serves on the board of, having been named by five New York City Mayors, and oversees activities of to lessen noise in NYC. Her research on the effects of sound and noise on our mental and physical health contributed to the update of the noise code in New York City, becoming a model for other cities. Following on interviews in the New York Times and Newsday about the changed soundscape in New York City as a result of the pandemic, Arline spoke about sound in the "less noisy" environment.

Episode 5

Dr. Gerrard P. Bushell (’83CC; ’04 PhD, Political Science), Executive Chair of The New Terminal One Development Project at JFK and Chair of CAG Holdings
Delivering the Airport of the Future in an Uncertain World
June 10, 2020

In September 2019, Gerrard Bushell became the Executive Chair of The New Terminal One at JFK and the Chair of CAG Holdings, the airport investment platform of The Carlyle Group. Gerrard, a graduate with four degrees from and an adjunct professor at Columbia, is leading the team advancing a public-private partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to build a world-class, 2.8 million square foot international terminal that will be the finest airport facility in the Americas. The approximately $8 billion project will be delivered with a high degree of community engagement, labor participation, and minority- and women-owned business enterprise goals of 30%. Gerrard discussed infrastructure investment, community development, public-private partnerships, and job creation and how the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more essential than ever.

Episode 6

Amanda Paul-Garnier (’06MA, French Cultural Studies), Marketing Director–Italy at Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd.
Virus and Vines: The Future of Italian Wine
July 1, 2020

Amanda Paul-Garnier has spent 11 years in the luxury goods and food and wine industries, most recently working with the portfolio of Frederick Wildman & Sons in Italy. The largest wine-producing nation, Italy has been hit by Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus, an early spring, and a protracted global decline in tourism and hospitality. Hear Amanda’s thoughts about the pandemic’s effects on the Italian and global winemakers and what the future may hold for the Italian wine industry.

Episode 7

Maria Konnikova (’13PhD, Psychology)
Psychologist, Journalist, Writer, and International Poker Champion
Tells and Table Talk
Wednesday, August 12 | 7:30-8:30 pm EST
Watch video

Poker is a sport and a pastime, an efficient way to lose some money—and a surprisingly enlightening path to self-knowledge. Maria Konnikova bet that her doctoral research on risky and emotional decision-making in uncertain environments would apply to the game of poker, and won big—$300,000 in tournament earnings and a best-selling book (The Biggest Bluff). She speaks with Jeremy Feinberg ’92CC, ’95LAW, former sports editor for the Columbia Daily Spectator and sports broadcaster on WKCR, about the human decision-making process, sports writing, and the world of professional poker.

Episode 8

Aakanksha Tangri (’14MA, South Asian Studies)
Journalist and Founder of Re:Set
Two Steps Back: Silent Side Effects of COVID-19
Wednesday, October 14 | 12:00–1:00 pm EST

Aakanksha Tangri has worked at Vice News and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. In 2019, she launched Re:Set, a resource of tools and stories around education, parenting, gender, inclusivity, mental health and well-being. Today, the platform provides an in-depth and trusted resource of stories and reporting where people can connect, get inspired and learn from one another, and for this she was recently named to the Forbes Middle East 30 Under 30. Tangri will introduce us to Re:Set, and speak about the impact of COVID-19 on education, mental health, and gender equality.