Beyond the Runway

Many Columbia GS students and alumni have strong ties to the fashion industry—before, during, or after their time at Columbia—as models, photographers, designers, makeup artists, magazine editors, public relations professionals, and more. Whether seeking to pursue higher education simultaneous to successful fashion pursuits, or to execute a transformative career pivot via academia, each of them found a home at the School of General Studies; a school which allows students to pursue a traditional Ivy League education while receiving dedicated and unparalleled support from a college that has been educating nontraditional students for more than 75 years.

In honor of New York Fashion Week, we’re highlighting several such students and alumni who have pursued their education at GS, and are making a meaningful impact, both within the fashion industry and beyond.

Zuzanna Bijoch '23GS on the Columbia campus

Zuzanna Bijoch '23GS

Hailing from Katowice, Poland, Bijoch enjoyed a thriving high-fashion modeling career prior to enrolling at Columbia University, featuring on the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle among others. 

As a GS student, she fostered a new passion for financial economics and graduated summa cum laude...and as the Valedictorian of the Class of 2023! “We all have different life experiences, ambitions and careers," said Bijoch in her Valedictory address, "and we should be proud of ourselves for following our own paths which have brought us here."

Bijoch now works as an analyst for BDT & MSD Partners.

Sara Ziff '11GS

Born and raised in New York City, Sara Ziff worked as a model for over two decades, appearing as the face of Stella McCartney, GAP, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, and more. As a GS alumna, Ziff has become a prominent champion of workers rights in the fashion industry and beyond, including as founder of the Model Alliance. Most recently, she drew national attention as a key advocate for the groundbreaking Adult Survivors Act.

Said Ziff of the influence that Columbia has had on her trajectory: "Without the breadth and flexibility of a Columbia GS education and the support of key Columbia faculty members, I would not have developed my intellectual curiosity in this emerging legal field."

Fashion &...

Intersections—between past and future careers, unexpected combinations of expertise, and varied interests—are at the heart of the GS experience. That's equally true of fashion, as these three GS stories exemplify.

Pritika Swarup
Fashion & Finance

Pritika Swarup '21GS

Runnie Exuma and Kaja Grujic
Fashion & Politics

Runnie Exuma ‘23GS and Kaja Grujic ’20GS

Sheng Chow with her husband and daughter
Fashion & Medicine

Sheng Chow ‘17PBPM

Queenie Luo '18GS

Queenie Luo fashion design, white dress with flower headpiece
Queenie Luo outside of Low Library during commencement
Queenie Luo fashion design, red set
Queenie Luo fashion design, blue and white dress in profile

Queenie Luo immigrated to Vancouver, Canada from Beijing with her family at 16. She grew up watching New York Fashion Week on television and dreamed of designing and sewing her own garments. After excelling in her sewing classes and selling her designs to independent retail stores, at 19, Luo became the youngest designer to have work shown at Vancouver Fashion Week and went on to spend three years studying fashion design at the Parsons School of Design.

Immersing herself in the fashion industry, Luo became more aware of the environmental, social, and spiritual costs of the industry. Her disillusionment with some of the realities of the industry prompted an interest in sustainable fashion. She left Parsons and decided to enroll at GS to study religion and physics. 

During her time at GS, Luo focused on the intersection of fashion, sustainability, and Buddhism. She was inducted into the GS Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa, and received the Phi Beta Kappa Prize, which is awarded to the candidate who best represents the ideals of the society—intellectual integrity, tolerance for other views, and a broad range of academic interests. After graduating in 2018, Luo received a Master of Theological Studies in Buddhist Studies and a Master of Science in Data Science from Harvard University, where she is currently pursuing a PhD focusing on computational humanities.

Marilee Jacobson Moe '23GS

Modeling for Elle
Modeling with Parrot
Marilee Jacobson Moe
Marilee on Columbia University campus

Marilee Jacobson Moe spent over 33 years building her international modeling career, working for some of the top modeling agencies around the world including Ford Models, Bella Agency, and Wilhelmina. As a young woman from a small town, her experiences working abroad in places like Israel, France, and Russia inspired her to gain a better understanding of the politics, art, and culture she encountered. As a result, Jacobson Moe first decided to enroll at the School of General Studies in 1997.

While Jacobson Moe loved what she was learning in her classes and the flexibility the school afforded her while she continued to model, with two small children at home and an opportunity to do contracted modeling work with a German fashion and beauty company that would require more travel time, she chose to put her education on pause.

She continued to balance modeling, travel, and a growing family, while also serving as a Boy Scouts of America Cub Master, volunteering with parent committees at her children's schools, and working as an event planner and photo studio manager.

Decades later, with her children grown, Jacobson Moe finally felt like it was the right time in her life to return to the School of General Studies and prioritize finishing her degree. She re-entered as an incoming spring 2020 student, and graduated in spring 2023.