Faces of the Class of 2026

Hear from 1Ls about what inspired them to study law, why they chose Columbia Law School, and how they hope to spend the next three years.

Headshots of 11 Columbia Law students

The Class of 2026 has begun their Law School odyssey. They bring with them an array of academic interests, life experiences, and professional ambitions. Meet 11 members of this gifted and driven cohort.

“I am most looking forward to meeting and befriending people with similar passions to mine, as well as expanding my legal understanding and ability under the guidance of Columbia’s accomplished faculty.” 
—Cole Ginghina ’26

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Woman standing in front of trees

Rosy Araujo ’26

Hometown: Santa Ana, California

Education: UCLA, B.A. in Chicana/Chicano studies and Central American studies, minor in labor and employment studies

What inspired you to study law?

I was born in California, lived in Mexico as a baby, and we moved back to California when I was 7 years old. The law was always on my mind. Immigration law impacted my mixed-legal-status family. Labor and employment law affected my father, who was a car wash worker. From a young age, I wanted to practice law and garner the skills to help my family and my community. After working as a paralegal for five years, I decided it was time to fulfill that childhood dream.

Are there any particular professors you would like to study with?

Kimberlé Crenshaw. She also teaches at UCLA, but I was not lucky enough to take any of her classes as an undergraduate. Learning about her concept of intersectionality during my freshman year allowed me to hone in on my identity and the existing power structures that affect us daily.

Why Columbia Law School?

I wanted a change of scenery, and the idea of living in New York City was exciting. 

What are you most looking forward to at Columbia Law?

I am excited to get involved with various student groups—Latinx Law Students Association (LaLSA), Empowering Women of Color (EWOC), California Society (CalSoc)—and meet as many of my peers as possible. As a 1L senator, I look forward to helping to plan Columbia Law events and working with my fellow senators to build community.

Man in white polo shirt with bag over his shoulder

Leland Ben ’26

Hometown: Loudonville, New York

Education: Duke University, B.A. in public policy and Russian

What inspired you to go to law school?

At a young age, I joined my mother, a lawyer, on the campaign trail as she ran for local elected office. I was inspired by her ability to engage with her constituents and defend their interests in the face of powerful, adverse institutional pressure. Those are precisely the types of skills you develop as a lawyer, and their application is widely transferable.

Why Columbia Law School?

Having been admitted to the Law School via the Leadership Experience Admission Deferral (LEAD) Fellowship Program, I was afforded the opportunity to pursue my career interests by working in New York City for two years—at Morgan Stanley and a hedge fund—before entering my 1L year. This was incredibly important to me, as it now helps me put my legal education in the context of my real-world work experience. Columbia is one of the few schools that offers this sort of fellowship program and recognizes the value of such an experience.

What classes are you most looking forward to taking?

I have always been most interested in the intersection of law and finance, and Columbia Law offers an impressive breadth of courses in this area. Specifically, Professor Edward Morrison’s bankruptcy and corporate finance classes are of interest to me.

Man wearing glasses in checked shirt

Andrew E. Brennen ’26

Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky 

Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A. in political science; Harvard Graduate School of Education, M.Ed. in policy and management

Why did you want to go to law school? 

I’m inspired by civil rights attorneys throughout history who have sought to resolve power and resource imbalances in our society that undermine our democracy. I’m also inspired by my parents, who were both the first in their families to attend law school, especially my father, who was the first African American law school dean in Kentucky’s history. As an NAACP Legal Defense Fund Marshall-Motley Scholar, I intend to follow in their footsteps by dedicating my legal career to pursuing civil rights law in the South.  

What class are you most looking forward to taking?

Tax law. That might be surprising to hear since my goal is to become a civil rights attorney, but I look forward to this course for two reasons. First, having worked in philanthropy, I’ve seen firsthand how tax law implicates the resources (or lack thereof) that social initiatives have access to. Second, I know how taxes can create and exacerbate the racial wealth gap.

Is there a fact about you that would surprise people? 

I served as an intervening defendant in the affirmative action cases recently heard before the Supreme Court. I joined the cases my sophomore year at UNC-Chapel Hill, testified during the federal district court trial in 2020, and sat in the gallery alongside my attorneys from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as I watched the Supreme Court debate the future of affirmative action. Obviously, I think they got it wrong.

What is your most interesting New York City moment or discovery so far?

In August, on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, I found myself in the basement of Silvana in Harlem, listening to jazz and to older musicians reflect on where they were during the march. I expected to hear deep reflections on the state of the civil rights movement and the role they felt called to play. While there was some of that, I chuckled at the several musicians who admitted they attended the march chasing after pretty girls.

Man in t-shirt and necklace standing outdoors

Gabriel Castro ’26

Hometown: Tampa, Florida

Education: University of Florida, B.A. in international studies and political science

Why did you want to go to law school? 

I saw the legal undertones in my undergraduate studies and the influence and power of the law to affect change all around me and my identities. I felt like receiving a degree as versatile as a law degree could equip me with the tools necessary to enact change in my community and abroad.

Why Columbia Law School? 

I think if you aspire to learn the law, there is no place like New York City. The power of the Columbia name will give me the opportunity to pursue my interests in whichever type of law I choose to pursue. Also, the people at this school were unlike any others I met at competing institutions—they truly inspire me each and every day and are some of the kindest people I have ever met.

What are you most looking forward to over the next three years? 

The city! Growing up in a small town as a queer man, I never felt like I could really be myself. Living in a city as diverse and welcoming as New York has really opened me up to living my authentic life.

What area of law are you most looking forward to studying?

With the U.N. at our doorstep, having the opportunity to study international law in the forum where it’s most manifested and taught by world-class professors is an experience I look forward to the most.

Are there any particular professors you hope to take a class with?

Monica Hakimi—listening to her speak at an admitted students’ day panel was very inspiring. She speaks with an articulateness and kindness that really resonate with me. I also believe we share similar interests in our scholarly passions and how foreign affairs are interconnected with the law.

What’s a fun fact about you?

I grew up on an alpaca farm and helped my family raise and breed alpacas.

Man in glasses and short sleeve shirt crossing his arms

Andrei Chon Kei Chen ’26

Hometowns: Macao SAR, China, and Markham, Ontario, Canada

Education: University of Western Ontario, B.A. in political science and economics

What inspired you to go to law school?

Law school has been a seemingly unattainable dream for me since my teenage years. Throughout high school, I was one of the nerdy Model U.N. and debate kids who went to virtually every available conference, training workshop, and competition. My nearly obsessive involvement in these argument-intensive extracurriculars made me realize that I am deeply interested in advocacy and would love to spend my academic and professional career refining my skills in understanding and formulating logical arguments.

Why Columbia Law School?

On my visit to Columbia Law prior to accepting my offer of admission, I was amazed by the physical environment, the course offerings, and most importantly, the vibrant intellectual atmosphere that professors and students alike have cultivated here. Everyone I met on my visit had unique backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives that I knew I would be able to draw upon in developing my own future in the legal field.

Do you have any hobbies that you’re looking forward to continuing while at Columbia?

I have joined DeVinimus, Columbia Law School’s wine society, and have thoroughly enjoyed the tastings that we have had so far. I look forward to taking every Thursday evening off from school work to enjoy the company of my fine peers at these tastings.

Student with Columbia Law bookbag standing outside

Melissa De La Torre ’26

Hometown: Queens, New York

Education: Vanderbilt University, B.A., in public policy and sociology.

What inspired you to go to law school? 

My upbringing as the daughter of two Ecuadorian immigrants inspired me to pursue law school. Through my family’s experiences with legal institutions, I realized how inaccessible the legal system is for low-income and immigrant families, and I want to ameliorate this throughout my legal career.  

Why Columbia Law School? 

As a native New Yorker, I knew that Columbia Law was the right place for me because it would allow me to work directly with my New York City community and leave it better than I found it. I also came to law school because I want to create comprehensive legal technology that improves access to legal services for those who have historically lacked them. 

I am super excited to merge my interests by participating in the Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (SIRR) and the Legal Tech Association. The Law School also offers unique funding for innovative ideas through the Davis Polk Leadership Initiative. I hope to apply during my 2L year and pilot a project related to the challenges presented by the U.S. naturalization exam in accessing democracy. On a more personal note, I knew Columbia Law was the right place for me because of the incredible support offered by organizations like LaLSA and EWOC, whose members have similar experiences to my own in navigating the legal community as a woman of color. 

Is there a particular class you're most excited about? 

I hope to participate in the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic. I am a firm believer that we can leverage technology to improve access to justice, and this clinic will give me the hands-on opportunity to tackle a legal problem by working directly with an organization to provide a tech solution. 

Student with backpack over his shoulders

Cole Ginghina ’26

Hometown: Dobbs Ferry, New York

Education: University of Virginia, B.A. in public policy

What inspired you to go to law school?

My father and grandmother emigrated from Romania to New York in the 1970s, and they were forced to navigate the complex and oftentimes unfair immigration laws that dictated their arrival. Growing up hearing their story, I learned their successful passage was the exception, not the norm, and that future migrants need legal minds to help guide them through the convolution of U.S. policy.

Why Columbia Law School?

I wanted to return to New York for law school after going to the University of Virginia (UVA) for undergrad. New York City is the epicenter of the legal world, with Columbia’s location and network opening many opportunities both in and beyond the city’s limits.

What extracurricular activities are you looking forward to pursuing? 

I was vice president of UVA’s undergraduate moot court team, and I am excited to explore the variety of specialized moot courts offered at Columbia Law School.

What are you most looking forward to over the next three years?

Meeting and befriending people with similar passions to mine, as well as expanding my legal understanding and ability under the guidance of Columbia’s accomplished faculty.

What is your most interesting New York City discovery so far?

I grew up in the New York area, so I have a good handle on the city, but one thing I never did was run here. I ran track for the University of Virginia and have begun running in both Central Park and Riverside Park, both of which have been great.

Woman in striped shirt with backpack over shoulder

Bettina Lee ’26

Hometown: La Crescenta, California

Education: Smith College, B.A. in government, minor in philosophy 

What inspired you to go to law school?

I figured out that I wanted to go to law school over time. I realized that being a lawyer would incorporate many things that I enjoy—reading and constantly learning. I did several extracurriculars in high school that included debate competitions and had a lot of fun constructing arguments with the information I was given. After college, I worked as a legal assistant at States United Democracy Center and was able to see what “lawyering” actually looked like. Working there solidified for me that this was a path I wanted to pursue. Since my work background is in voting rights and pro-democracy work, I have an interest in that, but I am exploring other options as well.

Why Columbia Law School? 

I really enjoyed the accepted students’ event, especially the mock classes. I knew that coming here meant that I would receive an excellent education and endless opportunities.

Do you have any hobbies that you’re looking forward to continuing at Columbia?

I come from a cross-country and track background but became an ultramarathoner after college. I hope to continue running as much as I can!

Student standing on sidewalk on Morningside Heights

Nile Pierre ’26

Hometown: Los Angeles 

Education: Tulane University, B.A. in political economy and Latin American studies 

What inspired you to go to law school?

I worked as a management consultant, and the law was relevant in every step of the business. Whether it was creating project contracts or following the parameters set forth by a client’s legal department, there was constant interaction with the law in some way. I wanted to come to law school to further understand the ways the law intersects with business and utilize what I learn to expand my career options. 

Why Columbia Law School? 

I chose Columbia because it is well positioned to provide me with deep knowledge about law and business and real-life experience related to my interests. The community at Columbia is supportive and well connected, and as the first J.D. in my family, this was a major draw.

What class are you most looking forward to taking?

Property law. It is a very expansive subject that interacts with other areas of the law that you might not initially realize.

What are your hopes for the next three years?

I’m looking forward to meeting lifelong friends, being inspired by my professors, and the opportunity to expand and challenge the ideas I hold.

Woman on plaza with trees

Priyanka Shingwekar ’26

Hometown: Fremont, California

Education: Georgetown University, B.A. in government, minors in economics and philosophy

What inspired you to go to law school?

After studying government, policy, business, and international relations, I learned that law is both the basis of and solution to a lot of issues and aspects of society. I want to become an advocate for underrepresented communities in the legal sphere and beyond.

Why Columbia Law School?

Columbia was and still is my dream school for so many reasons! It is situated in the greatest city in the world, and I was drawn to the unparalleled faculty and experiential learning opportunities. When I visited for an admitted students’ day, I also learned that the students at this school are the brightest and kindest people you will ever meet.

What are your hopes for the next three years?

I am most looking forward to building a community here at Columbia Law School and in New York. I’m so excited to connect with my professors and professionals in the area to learn from their expertise, and I am eager to get to know my inspirational and like-minded peers.

Woman with crossed arms on plaza with trees

Celeste Woloshyn ’26

Hometowns: Menlo Park, California, and London, England

Education: Washington University in St. Louis, B.A. in global studies, minors in mathematics and women, gender, and sexuality studies 

What inspired you to go to law school? 

I worked for a member of Congress for three years before coming to law school. During that time, I was able to draft and investigate policy across health care, technology, women’s issues, and LGBTQ+ rights, and talk to experts in each field who could offer their perspective on how our systems are actually working. Many of those I talked to were lawyers, and I was inspired by the way they framed issues and thought out sensible solutions that could fix some of the most pressing issues of our time. To be honest, I wanted to be like them, so I applied to law school! 

Why Columbia Law School? 

I was awed by the incredible faculty. At the time I was applying, there were big debates around antitrust happening in Congress. Once I started reading the literature on the topic to learn more, I found that many of the most-respected experts were professors at Columbia Law. After that, I was set on the school, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

What class are you most looking forward to taking?

I look forward to taking the Science, Health, and Information Clinic with Professor Christopher Morten. I really admire the organizations the clinic pairs with, including Doctors for America and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and I’d love to learn from Professor Morten on the issues the clinic focuses on.

What extracurricular interests do you want to pursue while in law school? 

I recently took up drumming, and I’m looking to find (novice) bandmates in my 1L class! I hope to take advantage of this next semester to improve my skills and raise the level of the future band.