A Chemist-Poet Enjoys the Beauty of New York, on Campus and Off

When he’s not in the lab, Kevin Fleshman might be at the Met Cloisters or eating dim sum in Chinatown.

Eve Glasberg
March 01, 2024

Notebook is a Columbia News series that highlights just some of the many fascinating students who study at our University. 

Back in high school, Kevin Fleshman, not a fan of chemistry, had a goal of applying to medical school eventually. Once in college, he planned on getting his chem requirement out of the way early, but, much to his surprise, he enjoyed the class—so much so that he switched gears and landed in a chemistry doctoral program here at Columbia. In his down time, Kevin writes poetry and explores the city.

When are you graduating from Columbia? From what school, and what is your degree?

I am expected to graduate with my PhD in chemistry in the fall of 2028. My focus for this degree is on materials chemistry.

What was your path to pursuing a doctorate in chemistry?

It was truly a journey. Upon graduating from high school in 2019, I enrolled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, intending to study neuroscience. My plan was to use a neuroscience degree to prepare for medical school, and eventually go that route. With this in mind, I enrolled in an intro-to-chemistry course my first year of undergrad in the hope of getting it out of the way. My experience with chemistry in high school was egregious, so I didn’t expect to enjoy the class.

Despite this, I ended up loving the course, and understanding a lot more than I did in high school. I continued taking chemistry courses to prepare for the MCAT. In my sophomore year, I decided to switch my major to chemistry. From that point on, I began investing my time in the subject, and pursuing research in chemistry in tandem with my Africana Studies classes. Eventually, during my senior year, I decided to apply to chemistry PhD programs, which led me to Columbia. 

Is poetry a big part of your life? Has any of your work been published?

Poetry is an integral part of my life. It is my favorite form of therapy, but also my favorite hobby. In times of happiness and sadness, I get the urge to write poetic pieces. The spaces I occupy also play a huge role in my writing process, and often, it is the location that urges me to write a poem. The spontaneous urges I feel to create verse and prose pieces have led to a cache of poems written in various notebooks and in the notes app on my phone. I haven’t published any pieces, but I plan on doing so in the future. 

Furthermore, I am indebted to the poets before me, such as Claude McKay, Emily Dickinson, Angelina Weld Grimké, and Phillis Wheatley, who have inspired me and my writing process. Some of my favorite poems are Grimké’s Tenebris, Harlem Sweeties and I, Too by Langston Hughes, I Want to Die While You Love Me by Georgia Douglas Johnson, and I felt a Funeral in my Brain by Emily Dickinson. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I have no clue what I will be up to post-graduation, but I have a feeling I’ll either take the academia route to pursue a professorial role, or the industrial route. I suppose my remaining time in my Columbia program will help with fleshing out my career goals. Although I’m not certain what I want to do right after graduation, I do have a plan to start a ceramic/yoga studio well in the future. 

What is special about studying at Columbia, and in New York?

Many things. The first is that I am a part of an amazing lab, the Roy Lab, where I get the opportunity to learn from leaders in the field of materials chemistry. I am also fortunate because here at Columbia we have many cool instruments used to study materials, such as a single crystal x-ray diffractometer (SCXRD), a powder x-ray diffractometer (PXRD), and a physical property measurement system (PPMS). The rigor at the University is unparalleled, and, although it is difficult, I am happy that I will be a well-suited chemist upon graduating.

Studying here comes with many other perks, including beautiful scenery on campus and a beautiful city at the periphery. On tough days, a walk through campus or the city brings me great peace, simply from what is around me. I also love the fact that I am surrounded by many things to do and many places to eat! 

Any suggestions for enjoying the city?

New York is a great place to explore. My favorite hobby is running in Riverside Park along the Hudson River. It’s incredibly scenic, especially at sunset and sunrise. I enjoy going as well to the Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights. There are plenty of medieval and Gothic artifacts to see, but my favorite parts of the museum are the terraces that overlook the Hudson and the beautiful courtyards. The Met Cloisters is reminiscent of one of my favorite museums back home in California, the Getty Villa Museum in Pacific Palisades.

As an avid foodie, one of my favorite places to eat delicious dim sum on a grad student budget is Nom Wah Tea Parlor. The Chinatown location has been around since 1920, and once you eat there, you know why the place has lasted for more than a century. Another hobby of mine is attending comedy shows. I’ve been to a few venues, and while I don’t have a specific recommendation, I would suggest attending comedy shows around the city. There are plenty to choose from, and you never know what you’re going to get.

Finally, I recommend walking around different neighborhoods in the city. New York is saturated with activities, so occasionally, getting lost and stumbling across something new is nice!