Maya Castronovo on Storytelling and Trying New Things
Maya Castronovo, CC’23, joined University Life as a freshman looking for a work-study job. Now, four years later, Maya is graduating and leaving her role at University Life. We recently sat down with Maya and asked her to reflect on her experiences at Columbia.
This interview was edited for clarity and style.
Can you share a little bit about your background and what drew you to Columbia?
I'm originally from Madison, Wisconsin and I attended high school in a small town outside of the city. I was initially drawn to Columbia because I wanted to live in a metropolitan area with a lot of different film and art opportunities.
When I found out I had been accepted to Columbia, I remember running down the stairs in my socks and almost tripping and falling as I was trying to go tell my parents. I'm someone who has a lot of energy and so the first couple of nights after I got in, I was too excited to fall asleep.
“When I found out I had been accepted to Columbia, I remember running down the stairs in my socks and almost tripping and falling as I was trying to go tell my parents.”
What have you been involved in outside of the classroom?
Last year, I participated in the Columbia Undergraduate Film Festival, where my short documentary won the audience award. I can’t wait to attend the festival again this year and see everybody's work!
I've also gained experience in the film industry through various internships. Last semester, I worked at a reality television production company, where I got a chance to develop casting campaigns and pitch original show ideas. I’m currently working at a documentary production company. Overall, I think these experiences have deepened my interest in media and nonfiction storytelling.
What were some of the biggest joys and challenges you've had in your time as a student?
I first started working at University Life as a freshman. Working in a professional office setting was entirely new to me, and I was initially worried about juggling a job on top of school and seeing my friends. Once COVID hit and Columbia shifted to online learning, my job became more challenging because I had to develop ways to build a sense of connection and community virtually.
That challenge carried over into my personal life as well. COVID happened in the spring of my freshman year, right when I had begun to adjust to college. When I was at home, I was wondering if a lot of my friendships that I had made would continue.
One thing I’ll miss about Columbia is just living on campus. It’s really nice to run into people and to see my friends anytime I want.
Who have been some of your mentors at Columbia?
Some professors really stand out to me. In fact, I'm taking a course this semester called Museums, Memory and Public Culture. The professor, Valerie Paley, works at the New York Historical Society in addition to teaching the seminar course.
She brings in professionals from the museum world to speak to our class, which has helped me envision life beyond college. It's inspiring to see just how much she loves her job and is fulfilled by the work she does.
What advice do you have for new students who are going to be starting Fall 2023?
I would say try not to take yourself too seriously. When you get to college, you think you have to have everything figured out right away and be really good at the things that you want to do, whether it be an extracurricular or academic pursuit.
Everyone is very high-achieving here, so it can be a hard environment to try something new. But put yourself out there. Don't be afraid to look silly or fail.
“One thing I’ll miss about Columbia is just living on campus. It’s really nice to run into people and to see my friends anytime I want.”
What are you looking forward to after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to work as a curatorial intern this summer at Death Valley National Park in California. The position involves cataloging and interpreting cultural artifacts from the Manzanar Historic Site, which was a Japanese American internment camp during World War II.
I’m particularly interested in exploring how artifacts and other archival materials can tell rich and publicly accessible stories about the past. I’ll be living out in the desert, in the park facilities. I’m excited to leave the city for a while and experience an entirely different landscape.
“Everyone is very high-achieving here, so it can be a hard environment to try something new. But put yourself out there. Don't be afraid to look silly or fail.”
Maya Castronovo, CC’23, is a Film and Media Studies major. She has worked as a Communications Assistant at University Life during all four years of her tenure at Columbia.