Exploring My Passion for Music at Cornell

This week, Ambassador Eric writes about music ensembles on campus.

By Eric Shen ’20 Physics, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Music majors

The music ensembles at Cornell are so numerous and diverse that you are bound to find one that suits you so long as you have the interest for it.

I’m part of the Chamber and Symphony orchestras, the Eastern Music Ensemble, chamber ensembles, and help my friends out with all the projects they have in store. As a string player, these are just a few of the possible groups to perform with. There’s even jazz combos, opera, ukelele club, African or Brazilian or Japanese percussion, choruses, a capella, a capella, and (I almost forgot) a capella.

The french horns with Grammy Award Winning trumpet player and A.D. White Professor, Wynton Marsalis before premiering his Blues Symphony at Bailey Hall.

Usually my days are filled with lecture after lecture after lab after lab, so by the time it’s all done, I’m more than ready for a change of pace. Music just really helps me unwind and it really helps that everyone else is coming in from a long day too. The ensembles here aren’t limited by major, so you’ll get to interact with students and faculty from countless backgrounds, all with a common passion.

The orchestras picking apples at Indian Creek Farms!

These groups have become my family in these past few years through all of the travels, performances, and time spent together. Because I have rigorous majors, it became difficult to study abroad, but I realized that music could take me around the world. I’ve been able to explore and perform in Argentina and Taiwan with the orchestra so far and am more than grateful to have seen these countries from the perspective of a musician. Next year, I’m set to conduct the Eastern Music Ensemble in New York City and perform with the Chamber Orchestra at a conference in Vancouver. Many of the ensembles travel around the state or country to compete and perform, and all of these experiences let us experience the stage as a professional while still pursuing the countless fields of studies outside of music. 

The Cornell Orchestras with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra after their combined performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Mahler Symphony No. 1!

My Favorite Resources on Campus

This week, Ambassador Ishi writes about some of her favorite resources on campus.

By Ishi Aron ’19, Biological Sciences major

Cornell has an abundance of resources on campus to help students with academics, career planning, and everything in between.

One of my favorite resources is the Learning Strategies Center (LSC), which offers supplemental courses, problem solving sessions, and daily office hours in conjunction with many of the large introductory courses at Cornell. Over the past four years, I have used the LSC several times per week for help with my general chemistry, organic chemistry, and introductory biology classes. The LSC’s resources have allowed me to build a strong foundation in my courses by helping me clarify fundamental concepts and identify gaps in my understanding. Their problem solving worksheets have been invaluable in ensuring that I develop a thorough and deep understanding of the material. I attribute much of my success in my intro classes to the LSC’s help.

CHEM 1058: An LSC Supplemental Course for Organic Chemistry

Another resource I’ve used and loved is Campus Activities, which provides free fun and de-stressing programs for students throughout the year. Some of my favorite programs are Procrastinate at the Straight and TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday), which offer activities such as tie-dying shirts, meeting and learning about birds of prey from the Cornell Raptor Program, massages, collaborative painting, laser tag, and a Late Night Breakfast from 10pm-midnight (among many more activities). Willard Straight Hall, the building home to Campus Activities, also offers free popcorn everyday with a choice of multiple sweet and savory toppings. Attending these events has been a great way for me to relax and spend time with friends as well as an opportunity to meet new people and learn more about the clubs and resources at Cornell.

Free Popcorn from Willard Straight Hall Resource Center

Why I Chose Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences

This week, Ambassador Eugene writes about how he made the decision to attend the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell.

By Eugene Kim ’21, Biological Sciences major

While applying to college, it never really occurred to me that the hardest part came after getting all your acceptances and rejections.

Average class size. Dorm life. Credentialed faculty. State-of-the-art facilities. The campus itself, and its geographic location. It seemed like every email, pamphlet, and webpage wanted to advertise their own set of “things you should consider” — which was really just code for what their school was good at, wasn’t it? — and it was hard not to get overwhelmed. For most schools, I couldn’t really afford a visit; I was in Wisconsin, and I had insisted on applying to farther, out-of-state schools. To visit several of them felt like a significant expenditure of time and money, and I wasn’t confident that seeing campuses in-person would help me narrow down my decision either.

Cornell’s Clock Tower

So there I was, faced with what could be the hardest multiple-choice question of my life, lamenting the fact that as a not-yet-18-year-old, this seemingly life-altering decision came barreling way too fast, inexplicably landing somewhere between “learning to drive a 2-ton metal machine” and “being allowed to contribute to American democracy.”

In the end, what I had to do was take a step back and think about what I wanted out of my college experience. It took way too long for me to realize this, but once I stopped comparing different schools relative to each other and trying to sort out the hundreds of what-ifs cropping up in my mind, the decision seemed to simplify.

The first thing that I realized but didn’t really want to admit was that I didn’t really know what I wanted to study. I didn’t have my heart set on a major, other than “science,” and even then I was somewhat flexible about that. College for me, then, was a chance to explore what I wanted to do, without feeling the time pressure of choosing a major immediately. Rushing into a course of study on a whim and then spending one or two valuable semesters trying to escape the pigeonhole was not exactly the college experience I had in mind.

At the same time, though, I didn’t want to have to compromise on depth for breadth. Sure, it may have seemed a bit like a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too kind of thing. But this was something I had always felt strongly about, and I had faith that there was an institution out there that had that careful balance. Wherever I ended up, I wanted to have the opportunities to delve deep into my choice of study and make the most out of my undergrad years. For me, a big part of that was doing research in a university lab, which I had been looking forward to while in high school.

After some more deliberation, I decided that these two points were what I should be prioritizing above all. Other miscellaneous items would have to come a distant third, as tiebreakers if necessary.

With new parameters held in mind, I began re-evaluating my options. The first point, flexibility in field of study, narrowed down my list considerably, and Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences already stood out as a top contender in that regard. When I took into consideration the second point, however, Cornell absolutely won out, offering cutting-edge research alongside award-winning faculty in a well-funded institution. So, as April came to a close, my mind was settled.

The beautiful view from the Arts Quad on Cornell’s campus

Of course, that’s not the end of that story. I spent most of my first year here just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was in correspondence with at least three different academic departments, and even briefly considered switching to a different college because of the options it presented. But at every step along the way, I found help, not only from the formal advising offices, but also from various professors and even other students. The Cornell community proved to be vibrant, intellectually stimulating, passionate, and supportive, which was one of the biggest clues that I had made the right decision.

Cornell proved itself beyond my expectations, with broad-range academic options, a dynamic and vigorous student body, honest and supportive staff, and a beautiful campus with plenty of greenery and its own waterfalls. In the end, if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Carol Tatkon Center: A Great Resource at Cornell

This week, Ambassador Meredith explains why the Carol Tatkon Center is such a useful resource for students at Cornell.

By Meredith Chagares ’19, History major

One of my favorite resources on campus is the Carol Tatkon Center located in Balch Hall on North Campus. “The Tat,” as it is nicknamed, offers free support services and resources for first-year students and is conveniently located on most first-year students’ way to and from campus. The Tat is staffed by upper-level students who share their experiences and advice, aiding in the transition to Cornell life. When I was a freshman, undecided about my major, I was unsure about which classes I should take to explore my main academic interests and to fulfill Cornell’s requirements. I walked into the Tat and a calm and friendly senior sat with me and discussed her opinions on what would be a good schedule based on my interests, her personal experience, and the experiences of her peers.


Study spaces within the Tatkon Center

The Tat allowed me to receive helpful advice just by walking in on my way home from class. The Tat offers free academic and personal support services such as tutoring for specific classes (such as chemistry, calculus, economics, and world languages), a writing center, drop-in counseling services, meditation, professional headshots, resume critique, student panels, career fairs, and study-skills and learning strategies tutorials. The Tat also hosts interesting speakers as well as fun events (such as holiday parties, study breaks, trivia, and “post prelim fun”). One of my favorite events at the Tat is Fun Fridays @ Tatkon, which offers games, snacks, and hot chocolate on Friday afternoons, allowing students to familiarize themselves with the Tat and to make new friends. The services offered by the Tat are important in student academic success and in maintaining personal and mental health. Events at the Tat are publicized through a weekly e-newsletter received automatically by all first-year students. The Tat is also a terrific study spot. It is open until 11:00 p.m. most days and offers various tables and group study rooms, as well as a café and printers.

The Carol Tatkon Center is a one-stop shop for support with classes, jobs, academics, and making new friends – a home-base for all first-year students! 

Here is a link to the Carol Tatkon Center’s website for more information and programming: https://ccengagement.cornell.edu/new-student-programs/tatkon-center-first-year-students 

A group of students standing outside of the Tatkon Center

Why Cornell? Ambassador Renee Answers…

This week, Renee explains why she chose Cornell, after a visit to campus in high school.

By Renee Girard ’20, Government, Law and Society and Public Policy major

I first walked onto Cornell’s campus as a high school sophomore. I knew I wanted to apply, but as a senior preparing my college applications, I decided to visit Cornell once more to ensure that Early Decision was right for me. As a high school junior, I became interested in philosophy and wrote a paper on the morality of drone use in warfare. Through my research on the ethical implications of this modern technology in combat, I had come across a Cornell Government Professor and her extensive work regarding this topic. I reached out and scheduled a meeting with the Professor, and following the College of Arts and Sciences information session, I made my way to White Hall to discuss her research with her. What was scheduled to be a twenty-minute discussion lasted a full hour.

I took this photo outside of the government building, White Hall, after my class on the American Presidency this year.

Leaving our meeting, I walked through the Arts Quad and experienced the palpable energy among students and faculty making their way to classes. While Cornell is a large university with diverse interests, the passion among students and faculty is a common factor that unites such a broad range of studies.

I had my heart set on the College of Arts and Sciences following my visit as a high school senior. Even as a prospective student, I had experienced first-hand the commitment the professors of the College of Arts and Sciences have to undergraduate students. I knew that if admitted to Cornell, I would be immersed in an incredible learning environment that would allow me to thrive as I pursued my various interests. As a current student, I know that I would like to apply my Cornell government degree to a career in public service. I knew that Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences was the only school that had the resources to offer me the opportunities and skills I need to succeed in my field.

Walking through the Arts Quad is always a nice break in between classes, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing color.

Why Cornell? Ambassador Vishal Answers…

With the regular decision deadline fast approaching, the A&S Ambassadors hope to make the application decision a bit easier for prospective students. Every Cornell student has a story. This week, Vishal tells us why he chose Cornell.

By Vishal Sundaram ’21, Chemistry and Chemical Biology major

By the spring of my final year of high school, I had envisioned many different lives for myself on many different college campuses. Such fantasies are standard practice for high school seniors – a student can’t help but think about how pivotal the next few months will be in directing the course of their future. With each college visit comes a flurry of what-ifs. What if this is my dorm? What if I have class here? What if I one day join the student group that runs this very information session for prospective students? (Update: I did!) Though these fantasies of mine ranged far and wide, not one of them accurately captured the route that I would eventually take – for, as crazy as it sounds, none of them included Cornell.

I took this photo of the slope from the top of the McGraw Clock Tower, during a Chimes Concert.

My application to Cornell was largely an after thought, a last-ditch “you-never-know” attempt to cover my bases and open my options. I assure you this was not because Cornell was lacking in any traits that I desired. Quite the contrary. It was a prestigious institution with a reputation for academic rigor located on a beautiful campus that was not too far from my home (Cleveland, OH). I lacked enthusiasm for the school because I’d never visited! I had not made the effort to visit Cornell before I applied. When decision time rolled around in March, however, it grew clearer to my family and me that Cornell could be my best fit school. Desperate to spark some excitement, my dad and I finally drove up to Ithaca to see what Cornell was all about. The Ithaca campus did not disappoint.

Photographs on websites and in brochures cannot begin to capture the beauty of this campus. Waterfalls, rolling hills, gorges, and greenery abound in such a way that helps students maintain sight of the big picture – a desirable quality in an academically rigorous university with busy and ambitious students.

My friends and I took a trip down to Ithaca Falls, in the fall of my freshman year.

I stayed the night with a friend from high school during my visit; and I was lucky enough to meet some of his friends and dorm-mates. In these peers I found friendly, genuine people who were passionate about what they did. Void of any “Ivy League snobbery” that one might expect to find, these people were humble and helpful. Some of these acquaintances became my friends and mentors.

During freshman orientation, my dad took this classic photo near the entrance to campus from Collegetown.

Having fallen in love with the campus and community spirit, my questions turned to the classes. While I knew about Cornell’s academic rigor, I was concerned about inflexibility in my coursework. But after talking to some students and doing some research of my own, I realized that my concerns were largely unfounded. My desired chemistry major offered plenty of room for elective coursework. I was told that the A&S distribution requirements are seldom burdensome and often very naturally fulfilled simply by taking classes you like!

All in all, I am very happy with the decision that I made and cannot imagine myself anywhere else. A beautiful campus, a fantastic community of friends and peers, and excellent academic flexibility have made for a complete package that is both fulfilling and inspiring.

Both Work and Fun: Watershed Conservation in Alaska

This week, Ambassador Tait Stevenson tells us how he spent his summer in Alaska, supporting watershed conservation with creativity. 

By Tait Stevenson ’20, Biological Sciences (Evolutionary Biology and Ecology Concentration)

My name is Tait Stevenson and I am a biological sciences major concentrating in ecology and evolutionary biology. I was lucky enough to get to spend this past summer in Alaska, as an invasive species intern for the Kenai Watershed Forum. The Kenai Watershed Forum is a non-profit organization with the goal of protecting the watersheds of the Kenai Peninsula through education, restoration, and research.

Getting ready for the Kenai River Festival! This annual community event, hosted in the town of Soldotna, includes numerous local musicians and vendors. It draws people from all over Alaska in celebration of the Kenai River and the community’s goal of protecting it.

Through the internship, I was able to gain a wide range of invaluable experiences relevant to what I’m studying; I learned management techniques for dealing with invasive plants and animals, assisted in hydrological research, helped in conducting wetland surveys, and engaged in various community outreach projects. I was able to gain some unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as visiting the Native Alaskan villages of Port Graham and Nanwalek, which are accessible only by boat or small plane. There, I helped to educate people on the invasive plants of their villages and the potential steps they could take to manage them.

I was able to do a ride along with an Alaska State Fish and Game warden on the Kenai River, in order to witness the law enforcement aspect of conservation.

While I was in Alaska, I lived in a yurt on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, outside of the town of Soldotna, though I traveled all over the Kenai Peninsula for various projects. On my time off of work, I soaked up as much of what Alaska had to offer as I possibly could by going on hiking, canoeing, fishing, and camping trips. I was able to witness incredible wildlife and experience the breathtaking landscapes.

A large part of my summer was spent doing surveys on various Kenai Peninsula lakes for an invasive, aquatic plant called elodea. I was also able to enjoy some incredible scenery while on the job.

In Alaska, I was able to apply the concepts I have been learning in classroom at Cornell to real world issues. This experience gave me a newfound perspective on the challenges faced in the area of conservation and how to overcome these challenges through creative solutions, such as community engagement.

I am excited to be back in Ithaca for another great semester. I can’t wait to see where Cornell takes me next!

Kidney Stone Research: A Blast in Birmingham

This week, Dean Kim takes us inside his summer experience as a medical research assistant.

By Dean Kim ’20, Chemistry and East Asian Studies

I spent this past summer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham conducting kidney-related research in the Department of Urology. Since my last blog, I have spent nine weeks in Birmingham, Alabama making amazing memories, conducting exciting research, and eating lots of fantastic food.

All the KURE students celebrated the experience at the UAB Summer Expo: (left to right) back row: Skip, Brian, Chava, Jillian; middle row: Shamyra, Ellen, Miles, me, Stephen, Jeff; front row: Viangkaeo, Meryl, Mary Claire, and Emile

I had an incredible time performing medical-related research in a lab for the first time in my life, as well as learning about everything from kidney physiology and pathology to diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases, during my weekly kidney cross-talk workshops. In lab, I studied the metabolism of glycolate to oxylate in human kidney proximal tubule cells using cell culture to determine how kidneys contribute to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones. (Fun-ish fact: around 1 in 10 people will get kidney stones in their lifetime!) Through this experience, I was able to explore my interest in the field of nephrology.

From left to right: Skip, Chava, Emile, me, and Meryl at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. Not pictured: the three samosas I just bought from a stand and ate.

On weekends, when I wasn’t in lab, I took time to explore the local area with other students in the program. We walked to the local Farmer’s Market, watched the Birmingham Barons play baseball at Regions Field, hiked at Red Mountain Park, and even visited the World of Coca-Cola, over the course of the summer. My trip wouldn’t have been complete, of course, if I didn’t eat copious amounts of Southern barbecue. My personal favorite barbecue restaurant was Dreamland BBQ.

My summer concluded with me giving a poster and oral presentation at UAB and then attending the Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic (KUH) Summer Undergraduate Research Conference in Boston, where I shared my research experiences with other undergraduate students across the country participating in similar research programs.

I presented my summer research at the UAB Summer Research Expo on the last day of the program!

The summer went by too quickly, but I’m making sure to stay in touch with the great friends I made this summer as well as my excellent mentor. I owe a huge thanks to the KURE Program for providing me this opportunity, as well as my mentor, Dr. Sonia Fargue, for introducing me to the world of medical research.


Summer Adventure Series: Ambassador Shoshana spent her Summer in Cape Town, South Africa

For October, we ask our ambassadors how they spent this past summer. This week Shoshana takes us across the ocean to her experience at Eventerprise, a startup where she developed her design skills.

By Shoshana Swell ’20, Information Science and Performing and Media Arts

My name is Shoshana Swell. I am a Junior in The College of Arts and Sciences, double majoring in Information Science and Performing and Arts. This past summer, I traveled 8,000 miles to live in Cape Town, South Africa. My time there was an experience I’ll treasure forever.

I have always been passionate about the intersection between visual storytelling and human-computer interaction to generate positive social change. I believe the best way to grow as an individual, creator, and as a student is to push yourself in unknown and new situations. This past summer, these interests led me on an adventure to Cape Town, South Africa.

Woodstock Cave, Cape Town

Mission 1: Find a way to get there
In February 2018, I found a job posting at a tech-startup called Eventerprise located in Cape Town, South Africa and accepted the offer to travel and work for this emerging company. After receiving the job, I had to find a means to gather money for travel and expenses. I applied for and was a recipient of the Summer Experience Grant. This grant helped fund my entire trip including airfare, accommodation, and food.

Mission 2: Blastoff to Cape Town
A week after I finished finals, I flew to my new home in Cape Town. I left with my passport, a suitcase, a housing agreement and not much else. Leaving the United States with no connections in Cape Town and many uncertainties, I embraced the new risks and explored the world beyond my comfort zone. Twenty-four hours later my plane landed; Cape Town International Airport welcomed me and my journey began.

Lion’s Head

Mission 3: Making Cape Town my new home
Cape Town, 8,000 miles from my New York home, at first, unsettled me. The realization that I’d be spending the next few months in a vastly different country hit me all at once. Quickly, though, my shock turned from excitement to elation.

I moved into a student-living space in Observatory — a small town outside of Cape Town —full of international interns and local students.  I built lifetime friendships with students now living full-time in Cape Town, and others who moved across the world to London and Singapore.

My friends and me at Observatory.

Mission 4: Internship
I worked as a User Experience and Videography Intern to solve problems through design, to improve the digital platform’s features and to enhance user experience. During my time there, I was the only American and was surrounded by international interns from various countries in Europe, Singapore and South Africa. I not only developed my design skills each day at work, I also learned about new cultures and distinct experiences.

Hard at work!

Outside of my internship, I attended local entrepreneurial events, such as the Amazon AWS Summit and an event about robotics in Africa. I learned about the intersection of AWS products and local innovators to generate products and new technology.

I also had the opportunity to explore innovative ideas to improve rider safety in Cape Town Ubers, by designing a new Uber safety feature. You can read more about my case study and research here.

I saved my badge as a souvenir.

Mission 5: Adventure
Some people like to walk around, but I like to dance! Check out my video I made dancing with new friends at all the places we visited in Cape Town.

Between dance moves, I went swimming with sharks! I went Great White Shark Cage Diving and made it out alive! While inside the cage, multiple Great White Sharks nearly brushed my cheek. I wasn’t scared, only exhilarated.

Great White Shark Cage Diving -Hermanus

South Africa is known for its shark filled waters. After being up close to one, I tried the odds in the open water. I found my favorite surf spot at Muizenberg Beach. One time, I was on a wave and spotted a seal ride it with me. I rented a board and a wet suit on the weekends and surfed (read: wiped out) a lot.

Another weekend, I traveled along the Garden Route. The Garden Route is a journey that stretches from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. With 12 friends, I packed up and headed on a five hour road trip outside of Cape Town. Along the way, we fed elephants and hung out with penguins!

I made animal friends, too!

Mission 6: The Future
My experience in Cape Town exceeded my every expectation. If you have the opportunity to travel 8,000 miles away from home during your time at Cornell, take the risk! As for the future, this summer I will be working at Facebook as a Product Design Intern. I look forward to exploring more of the Design industry in the years to come.

If you have any questions about my experience, or if you would like to learn more, reach out to me! ses372@cornell.edu

Arts & Sciences & Healthcare & Business

In our last post of the year, junior Zoee shares her excitement for a summer internship in healthcare consulting, not necessarily a position of her utmost expertise but one Arts and Sciences’ holistic education helped her attain. 

By Zoee D’Costa ’19, Biology & Society major, Psychology minor

Student taking photo of interview outfit

This is a picture from just before my first interview with the company. I was super excited to be wearing business formal clothes instead of my usual medical garb!

This summer I will be working in Chicago interning for a consulting company focusing on healthcare. While at first glance, business and finance might seem like dirty words to an idealistic pre-medical student with goals to serve communities across the world, they are concepts that are intertwined and dependent.

As a student versed in both the humanities and sciences, I have seen the value in the connection of fields. Studying Biology & Society in the College of Arts & Sciences has helped prepare me for an internship in business in invaluable ways. I have developed skills in critical thinking and problem solving across disciplines, and I’ve been given the opportunity to see how understanding trends in healthcare and biological science affect patients and communities. These skills have clearly helped me gain employment in a field that is different than my training because the skills are transferable and make me a holistic candidate.

Here is a photo from my final round of interviews with my company–they flew me out to Chicago to do a full day of problem solving, interviews and cases.

Furthermore, being exposed to so many contrasting ideas and fields in my undergraduate experience gave me the confidence to seek employment outside of my comfort area and be sure that I will find success in this field as well. Finally, combining business and health may seem strange but I think it is very important to try a wide variety of positions within the field before committing to a path so that you not only solidify your choices and lessen your regrets of opportunity costs, but also gain experience and knowledge that is applicable to a career in medicine. I am excited to learn about the business of healthcare and find out how to optimize practices so that I can bring that to my patients when I am a physician. Here’s to a great summer!