"The Life of the Mind"
Sam Fleck ’17GSAS
As an Italian literature student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Sam Fleck ’17GSAS regularly deciphered handwriting on his papers to absorb his advisor’s meticulous feedback. Paolo Valesio, a prolific poet and professor emeritus at Columbia, worked closely with Fleck and other graduate students to, in Fleck’s words, enrich the life of the mind.
“When [Valesio] sat down to read something you wrote, he seriously engaged with your work,” says Fleck. “He would make extensive notes, so lengthy they would go on for pages. I learned from him how to be a careful reader.”
The intensity of professors like Valesio energized Fleck for many years at Columbia. “I spent as much time as I could reading, hours a day. I loved it.” But he noticed some advanced graduate students were not as lucky to have all that time as they worked to finish their dissertations.
To help students immerse themselves in their studies, Fleck, now a translator, decided before the pandemic last spring to create a fellowship for graduate students. Then in April 2020, right as a global crisis strained the University, the Fleck Family Fellowship Fund got off the ground. The timing was critical. “I couldn’t have anticipated that, but I’m glad the moment was so significant and serendipitous in helping students.”
Each year, the Fund supports a GSAS student in the humanities. “Italian epitomizes the humanities to me. And the humanities are invaluable,” says Fleck. “They have infinite depth and richness. Going to graduate school to study them is well worth it.” With Fleck’s gift, a Columbia humanities scholar will benefit from the Fleck family’s appreciation of the life of the mind.