From Columbia GS Student, to Columbia School of the Arts Professor

2024 Grad Profile: Behrang Garakani ‘24GS on moving from a career in digital game to film studies at Columbia GS, and his excitement to transition from Columbia student to Columbia professor.

April 28, 2024

As Behrang Garakani ‘24GS puts it, “our greatest successes are best appreciated from the vantage point of our most devastating defeats.” Garakani came to Columbia GS after a professional setback, but he graduates this spring with a degree in film and media studies, a position at the Whitney Museum of American Art…and next fall, he’ll be back on Columbia’s campus as an adjunct assistant professor at the School of the Arts!

Tell us about your path to GS.

I had a storied career in technology, primarily in digital games in both Electronic Arts and The Walt Disney Company. Then, after a failed start up, I decided to go back and finish my degree. Winds were carrying me towards New York City and Columbia University, and I decided to let them carry me to see what may happen.

What has been your proudest accomplishment at Columbia?

I began in Columbia University during the pandemic, so I didn't get a chance to meet Professor Annette Insdorf of the School of the Arts and the Harriman Institute, one of my favorite professors, until 2022. We met at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. She helped curate "Dark Mirrors: The Doubles in Cinema" exhibit, and she introduced Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique," a film we studied in her Auteur Study course in 2021. I produced a video essay on that film for her course, and to my surprise, she screened my film after the film screening at the National Gallery. When I saw my film on the big screen in our nation's art gallery, I felt everything was possible.

Another memory is that for my language requirement, I spent a month bonding with my mother learning to read and write Persian. We covered the equivalent of one semester per week. I easily passed my language exam because of her. I'm forever grateful to her in many ways, but to experience this moment felt like a full circle as she also taught me English when we immigrated to the United States.

One more: When we first came to the United States, my father delivered The New York Times in Los Angeles to make ends meet while he attended graduate school. I sometimes went with him in those pre-dawn deliveries. So when I was interviewed by The New York Times last year, it felt like another full circle moment. It was the immigrant dream of going from an outsider to an insider.

What was a class that contributed the most to your Columbia experience?

In spring 2023, I took a Digital Storytelling course with Professor Lance Weiler of the School of the Arts and the School of Professional Studies (my fourth course with him). During the semester, The New York Times was interviewing him for an article about teaching AI in art classes. The Times wanted to interview some students. He asked me if I would do it, and I agreed. Our project was an interactive experience that reimagines a modern-day Voyager. Golden Record [“a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth”] was prominently mentioned in the article. We speculated that we had a partnership with NASA JPL to send out our messages via satellite. 

The piece caught the eye of Jon Lomberg, the artist who worked with Carl Sagan on the original Golden Record. We met virtually several times, trying to figure out a way to work together. Then in January of this year, Lomberg wrote to me with an introduction to Dr. Jonathan Jiang, a NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) scientist. Serendipitously, Dr. Jiang started an initiative called "Message in a Bottle," which is based off of the Golden Record. It's still early, but we will be presenting together at Columbia University next fall.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I've already started the next chapter: I began working as a leader in the technology team at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In addition, I'll be an adjunct assistant professor for the Columbia School of the Arts. My course titled "Lab in the Video Essay" was recently approved by the Committee of Instruction thanks to the support of Professor Rob King, one of my favorite professors, who championed my idea for this course at Columbia University.

What advice would you give to a student who's about to start their GS journey?

Our greatest successes are best appreciated from the vantage point of our most devastating defeats.