Halloween at the Johnson Museum

2014_0954_024.jpgby Kathy Xu

Surrealism, magic, and wonder oh my! With First Year Parent’s weekend falling on a very festive Halloween at Cornell, there are many events both parents and students alike can participate in. One in particular that is sure to astound is exploring the ever expanding collection at the Johnson Museum.

With the largest collection of Asian art in all of NY State, excluding the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Johnson Museum offers a wonderful experience to its over 8,000 annual visitors. With 35,000 + pieces of art in its continually growing permanent collection, and over 10 special exhibitions per year, the Johnson Museum definitely has something for everyone.

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Current temporary exhibits include Jie Boundaries, and Surrealism and Magic; both captivate audiences through innovative ways.

On Halloween Cornell’s very own Undergraduate docents were able to provide students and their families a brief 1-hour tour that showcased some of the museum’s prowess. As a new member of the docent team, I was thrilled to give my first inclusive tour on Halloween.

In keeping with the Halloween theme, I began my tour with the Surrealism and Magic exhibition, particularly highlighting certain pieces that relate to the supernatural. Pieces of interest included Tarot cards, manifestos, and the like. My personal favorite, Melusine and the Great Transparents, showcases the combination of mythology and realistic aspects of the United States landscape. Museum3Especially enthralling is the actual process in which the artist created this particular piece of artwork. The painter, Kurt Seligmann projected images and forms of cracked glass, then traced the intricate patterns to create the twisted and tornado like shapes within the painting. When I first saw the piece, the tornado like figures immediately reminded me of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy is sucked away by the tornado into the magical world of Oz. In a way the Johnson Museum itself transports visitors to the magical world of art.

I could only show so much to the visitors in the 1-hour period of time, however each individual showed genuine interest in the museum and wanted to explore more of its contents. With the limited time, I made sure to cover each floor, ending the tour on the fifth floor. I advise anyone who visits the Johnson Museum to go to the fifth floor which not only houses the Asian art collection, but also includes a beautiful view of the surrounding campus. Visitors are always amazed.

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Besides these specialized events, the Johnson Museum offers both students and the public various resources throughout the regular academic session. Interested in making origami and how mere folds of a piece of paper can transform a 2-dimnsional sheet into a 3-dimensional work of art? Are you curious about the intricate mastery of shadow puppetry? If so, check out Workshop Wednesdays where students can partake in creating these wonderful crafts. Ever wondered what it’s like to stay a night at the museum? How about attending the Johnson’s After Hours, filled with performances, tours, and other activities? Most importantly these workshops and events are free; so if you are a current, prospective, or future student I wholeheartedly encourage all of you to enjoy everything the Johnson Museum and Cornell University has to offer!

I’ll see you at the Johnson Museum!

 

 

Chimpanzees, Homo sapiens, Daffodils and More

by Stacy Ndlovu

I suppose something most of us never think about is that geneticists have found that we – humans – are 98 percent chimpanzee. Granted, there are also some geneticists who have done research with results that challenge this statistic. But that’s just the beauty of science, isn’t it? In our pursuit of knowledge about the world around us, we can challenge scientific discoveries.

By now you are probably thinking I’m a science whiz – probably a Bio major. Why else would you be reading about chimpanzees? Well, I am a double major in Government and French. I care about humanitarianism, international politics and diplomacy. However, as a student in the College of Arts and Sciences I have to fulfill the Physical and Biological Sciences (PBS) and Mathematics and Quantitive Reasoning (MQR) requirement. Since my freshman year, this requirement has been a source of great anxiety for me, so I put it off for as long as I could. But as a first semester junior, I could no longer put it off.

As I was searching through the approved courses for a class that fulfilled a PBS requirement, I came across a very interesting title: The Natural History of Chimpanzees and the Origin of Politics. It seemed almost too good to be true: a biological anthropology class that was somehow related to politics? When I read the course description, I was sold:

“… [T]he class will focus on our now extensive knowledge of chimpanzees derived from many ongoing, long-term field studies. Topics of particular interest include socialization, alliance formation and cooperation, aggression within and between the sexes, reconciliation, the maintenance of traditions, tool use, nutritional ecology and social organization, territorial behavior, and the importance of kin networks. The question of whether apes should have rights will also be explored.”

This course seemed to encompass everything I cared about – the causes of war, the advocacy for human rights and fostering cooperation and understanding between people. Furthermore, it would help enhance my knowledge of primate behavior – I had always heard that chimpanzees are our closest ancestors and I finally had the chance to find whether this was true or not!  And so, I added it to my schedule for Fall 2014.

Now that I am two and half months into this class, I have not been disappointed. The professor is engaging, passionate and very helpful.  The material is absolutely fascinating. A friend asked me why it matters to learn about our connection to other organisms. My answer – through this class I’ve learned that it is that connection that makes us care to conserve the habitat of chimpanzees. Once we see the humanity in everything, we start to care.  It’s a gem of a class taught by a gem of a professor.

PS. You may also find it interesting that we are 35% daffodil!

Writing in the Majors: An Exploration across Disciplines

2014_0954_014_select.jpgby Julia Montejo ’17

Like most freshmen, I came to Cornell with one major in mind, yet before orientation week ended, I was already set on not pursuing my original major. I knew I wanted something interdisciplinary, a major that would integrate my passions for policy, social studies, and environmental science. After some deep digging, I decided to explore the idea of majoring in Biology and Society. While I was extremely excited to start my sophomore year with an actual intended major, I was also a bit nervous—I was taking two biology classes at once while having taken a full year break from science courses.

On the first day of BIOEE 1610: Ecology and the Environment, our professor introduced us to Chris Dalton, the Writing in the Majors TA. Writing in the Majors (WIM), Chris explained, was an opportunity to explore the course material through a writing intensive section. Writing in the Majors is a program coordinated by the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, which states on its website that the program is “based on the premise that language and learning are vitally connected in every field.” WIM provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to use writing in many different courses across different levels of their curriculum. This course option for Ecology and the Environment immediately sounded appealing to me: I love writing and I am very passionate about science education and communication. I took the opportunity to fill out an application for the WIM section, and I was ecstatic when I received an email saying I would be enrolled in it.

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My trepidations about being in biology courses at Cornell diminished the first time I went to my WIM section. First, Chris explained that our version of the course would have extra assignments and more readings, but we were being evaluated more on the content of our writing assignments than our tests. We would be engaging in discussions and looking at ecological and environmental questions from a scientific lens, but we would be given the opportunity to look into how these connect to social and political issues and our own lives.

Only half of the semester has gone by, but I have already been impacted by Writing in the Majors and have grown immensely as a science communicator. In class, we take part in lively discussions and debates, present on our perspectives on scientific papers, and work through course concepts we find interesting in groups. The highlight of the course, in my opinion, is our class blogs. Throughout the course, we work on written assignments that explore what we have learned in lecture. For example, we were tasked with answering the question “Should Humans Eat More Bugs?” by using concepts like carrying capacity and trophic efficiency. I developed my essay by writing about my experiences eating insects while growing up in Guatemala. Likewise, every student engages their own personal experiences while explaining course concepts, and then posts them to their personal class blog. We peer edit and comment on one another’s work, both to improve our understanding of scientific concepts and to improve our writing.

WIM Sample Blog Post

This course has embodied what it is to have an integrated, well-rounded education. When I enrolled in Ecology and the Environment, I expected to learn about species interactions and calculations for predicting population growth. While learning these concepts and more, I have also learned how to be a better writer, think critically, and connect ecological concepts to other fields, like economics and policy. I have questioned the production efficiency of an insect not just in the terms of ecology, but also in respect to how their high production efficiency can impact a whole culture’s nutrition. Writing in the Majors has strengthened my passion for an interdisciplinary examination of the environment, and has solidified my pursuit of a Biology and Society major. It has helped me discuss important ecological concepts with my peers, in majors ranging from government to biological sciences, and I have been able to learn from all of their unique perspectives. I have gained strengths in writing about scientific concept in a way that is interesting for the general public. More importantly, I have learned that one of the most valuable things about a Cornell education is that we are taught even as early as our introductory courses that the issues in our world are not compartmentalized to the boxes of academic disciplines. Rather, the pressing issues we face are best examined, and resolved, by connecting the dots and embracing the thoughts of many disciplines and perspectives.

 

Bill Gates and his Visit to Cornell

by Lisa Liu, ’15

On October 1, 2014 Bill Gates came to Cornell University to give a speech and answer student questions about the future of higher education. When you hear the name Bill Gates, a whole string of words comes to mind. Successful. Innovative. Philanthropic. During the conversation, Gates highlighted his philanthropic work and tailored the conversation to reflect his vision of the future. Philanthropy, by service to others, garners support to address and solve some of the largest issues facing the world today. During the conversation Gates discussed the initiatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focusing on two areas: global healthcare and the U.S. education system.

Bill Gates talks to President David Skorton.

Bill Gates talks to President David Skorton.

When Gates first wondered what the biggest philanthropic effort to pursue globally was, he concluded that certain aspects of healthcare is the “greatest injustice,” and therefore the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seeks to eradicate and provide more accessible treatment for certain diseases. The next most pertinent task of the foundation is to address the problems that U.S. K-12 schools face as well as issues in higher education. In Gates’ words, education and health problems are connected because they are two gigantic sectors of the economy where the market mechanism does not really apply. In other words, it is hard to place a value on being healthy or educated.

In this conversation about philanthropy and his vision of the future, it is evident that Gates makes giving back the core of his success. Gates donated $25 million to build Gates Hall for information technology studies on Cornell’s campus, which demonstrates his commitment to developing young minds to reflect needs in the Age of Technology.

In addition to discussing these two topics, Gates also provided valuable life advice about what it means to be successful and his road to success:

  1. Someone asked what is the best advice Gates has for the “next Bill Gates.” He jokingly responded, “Well, you have to think of something that I didn’t think of.” Examining his statement speaks to what he believes is important to success: an entrepreneurial spirit, thinking outside of the box, and exploring uncharted territory—as well as the drive to make your dream become reality. This is true about Cornell, which has a working space called PopShop through a partnership with the Ithaca community to develop entrepreneurial ideas.

    The recently-completed Gates Hall now houses the departments of Computer and Information Science.

    The recently-completed Gates Hall now houses the departments of Computer and Information Science.

  2. While discussing the future of higher education, Gates noted that although information has been digitalized and therefore become more accessible, the problems with education have not diminished, and if nothing else, have only taken on different forms. He said, “Education isn’t about the knowledge being available; very few just sit down and read a book.” What I took away from this point was that intellectual inquiry paired with passion to learn about something new goes a long way for being successful.
  3. A student asked what students and universities could do to actually have meaningful international contributions instead of just having a cultural exchange that doesn’t always have a tangible impact. Gates responded by emphasizing that a meaningful international experience is one that engages in both directions, that an international experience can pay back socially by turning the person with that experience into a thoughtful advocate who volunteers and makes a difference. Cornell has many international engagement programs, which range from spring break trips through Alternative Breaks to study abroad and more.

Last but not least, Gates discussed what he did to stay motivated and focused to become successful. His basic advice is to pick a topic that you like and to be comfortable with reading and learning new things. He said, “Work on something that you love and where there’s a sense of progress”—because with genuine interest, curiosity about the world, and dedication to your own pursuits, anything is possible.

Reflections from a Cornell Senior

by Lauren Avery, ’15

For many of you reading this, college graduation may seem too far away to worry about. If you’re still a prospective student, you’re looking forward to enjoying the thrill of being independent in a new place, and if you’re a current student, you feel like you will be a student forever.

I’ve felt this way for all four of my undergraduate years, and even as a senior, graduation was never on my radar. I’m currently studying abroad in Beijing, and trying all of the different varieties of dumplings has been enough to keep me occupied for much of the semester. Recently, though, my mom was discussing my family’s travel arrangements in Ithaca during commencement weekend.

“This time next year,” she said, “you’ll be out in the real world! How exciting!”

A view of Libe Slope

A view of Libe Slope

That moment was when the reality of my impending graduation hit me, and I can’t say I’m ready for it. I can’t fathom saying goodbye to Cornell, and the term “real world” gives me the shivers. What on earth should I do after I graduate?

To me, the only options for post-graduation activities were finding a job or going to graduate school. From there, graduate school was broken down into law school, business school, getting a Master’s degree, or getting a Ph.D. What path should I choose? What does my undergraduate degree from Cornell prepare me for? Would each choice determine what I did for a career for the rest of my life?

The answer, thankfully, is no. In the job market, lateral movement within one field and complete jumps into different fields are possible. As for graduate school, while it is true that you should be fairly comfortable with being a doctor if you go to medical school or with being a lawyer if you go to law school, the boundaries are not as rigid as you might think. Individuals from all academic backgrounds can pursue rewarding careers in academia and in research.

Still, deciding upon a path after graduation is not the same as being an undergraduate student. Think about when you decided on an undergraduate major, or, if you have not yet declared, think about how you chose your intended field of study. If you’ve done your research, you know that changing majors at Cornell is not only easy and common, but expected. I myself have gone unofficially through four completely different majors. As an undergraduate, you are not expected to know definitively what you want to study, and that’s okay. One of the main purposes of your undergraduate career is to allow you to explore many academic opportunities and find what makes you happiest. One of my favorite things about Cornell is that undergrads can take courses in whatever field draws their eye, from cognitive psychology to Quechua.

Cornell's Arts Quad, the home of the College of Arts and Sciences

Cornell’s Arts Quad, the home of the College of Arts and Sciences

Once you are graduating, though, the expectations are slightly different. Having chosen a field of study at your undergraduate institution and studied it thoroughly for anywhere between two and four years, most employers and graduate schools expect you to have somewhat of a better sense of what you want to do. In job interviews, this manifests itself in the ubiquitous “where do you see yourself in five years?” question, and for graduate school applications, it forms your Statement of Purpose.

“How will I know what to answer when they ask me what I want to do?” you might ask.

You’ll know. Trust me, you will. You might not know exactly what law firm you want to work at or which corporation offers the best benefits, but all of those semesters as an undergraduate you spent exploring, learning, and maturing will point you in a direction. It might be unexpected or completely different from how you started as an eager young freshman, but you’ll have direction. You’ll have a sense of what you want to do, and, more importantly, why.

For me, since I had declared my CAPS major, I had always had a vision of me being a professor, discussing Chinese-American relations from a podium in a lecture hall filled with students. The more I researched possible options for me post-graduation, the more academia seemed to suit me. As someone who could happily be a student forever, graduate school made me more and more excited. I decided to apply to a few doctoral programs, and I should hear back in a few months. If you had told my freshman year self, still seriously considering being a pre-med Astronomy major, that I would graduate as a CAPS student, go on to earn my Ph.D., and be happy about these choices, I wouldn’t have believed it.

The reason that I am sharing my experience on the A&S Ambassadors Blog is to urge you to start thinking, right now, about where you see yourself in 5, 10, and 15 years. Don’t be unwilling to change this goal over the course of your undergraduate career because you will grow and develop as a student, but just begin to think. As an undergraduate, there are so many resources and people available to support you and guide you through the process, but you are the only one who can choose what makes you happy.

As you know from undergraduate applications, planning the next chapter of your life takes a great deal of hard work and diligent preparation. It’s never too early to start thinking about what makes you happy, not what makes your parents happy or what makes you the most money. Before you know it, you’ll be wearing a cap and gown at your convocation. As you reflect on your undergraduate experience and everything you saw, did, and learned, you’ll want to be able to look to the future not with certainty, but with confidence about the adventures that lay ahead. This confidence about being ready for the “real world” is what makes your precious undergraduate years so valuable, and even if it feels farther away than you can comprehend, you’ll get there, I promise.

How to Balance? A Guide to On-Campus Jobs

chwangby Christina Hwang

Coming into college, I knew that I wanted to get an on-campus job in order to maintain the work-life balance I had always had in high school, and be able to support myself for splurges like bagels, froyo and the always necessary cappuccino. My job at the Cornell Annual Fund has been more than just an after-class destination; it has allowed me to meet new people and talk to alumni from all over the world. In addition, it taught me interview skills that I used to get a summer internship!

When searching for an on campus job, you gain the opportunity to learn about things you’re passionate about. Something that I looked for when browsing around the different on-campus jobs was an organization that would allow me to interact directly with the university. Being a double-legacy, I felt like I had been talking about Cornell since I was able to speak. I knew I was comfortable talking about my time at Cornell and how passionate I am about the education I’m receiving, and the school environment I am in. I also love talking about anything and everything; therefore I wanted a job with a lot of communication. The best option for me was a caller at The Cornell Annual Fund.

The Cornell Annual Fund gains financial support from alumni who wish to give back to their alma mater. As a student caller, I am calling alumni from across the country and talking to them about their past Cornell experience and telling them a little more about mine: my major, things I’m involved with on campus, and the classes I’m taking. At first, the experience was nerve-wracking, just like any new job can be. I was calling alumni of all ages to get the typical “gift” and hoping to convince them that their support is more than just a donation.

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Every gift given to the Annual Fund is different from Cornell’s endowment in that it is used right away for any campus need. Whether it be support of the Cornell Abroad program, library acquisitions or debate team clubs- Cornell Annual Fund covers it all. Once I got used to the task of talking to alumni, I truly enjoyed going to work twice a week. I was able to remind them about Homecomings, reunions, and concerts, new building constructions- and even big news like the incoming President Elizabeth Garrett. I was able to get everything I wanted out of this job and all its incredible perks. I loved meeting other Cornell callers from every inch of campus. I knew they also wanted to make connections, find new friends, and learn communication skills that will allow them to talk to any kind of person in the future- and that was nice to know.

In my interview for my summer internship, my interviewer asked me about my Cornell Annual Fund job experience and I was able to tell him about all the meaningful conversations I have had with alumni, and how it has made me appreciate every part of the university. I ended up getting the job and he approached me after the interview saying that he had also worked at the Annual Fund at his university and appreciated someone else having pride for their school.

Jobs on campus can play as much of a role in your Cornell experience as you want them to be, and if you’re lucky, like me, you’ll find a job that feels just right: fulfills your passions, allows you to meet new people and exposes you to a new area you weren’t familiar with. These are all signs that this is the job that you should be accepting, and if communication is key for you like it is for me, an application to the Cornell Annual Fund is the perfect start!

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Poetry as an Experience

by Prerana Chatty

On the surface, I’m your typical biology major premed. Like almost every other biology major, I took general chemistry, introductory physiology and cell biology my freshman year, organic chemistry my sophomore year, and am currently taking physics and biochemistry during my junior year. I have spent far too many nights at Olin Library working on problem sets, practicing mechanisms, and memorizing pathways (needless to say, I have become very well-acquainted with Libe Café, Olin’s coffeeshop).

However, there’s one class on my roster this semester that doesn’t fit the typical premed schedule – intermediate verse writing.

I have loved writing for nearly as long as I can remember. When I came to Cornell, I was fairly certain that I wanted to study science, but choosing to major in biology felt like letting one of my two passions ‘win.’ I felt an intellectual tug-of-war between science and writing and hoped to find a way to incorporate both interests into my education. Luckily, Arts and Sciences’ liberal arts requirements forced me, in a way, to reach outside the ‘comfort zone’ of my major – and I am so glad that it did.

I chose to enroll in “Intermediate Verse Writing” after I took “Introduction to Creative Writing” as a sophomore. Although I was well acquainted with fiction, this introductory creative writing course exposed me to poetry in a novel and exciting way. I fell in love with combinations of words, lines, and sentences and the power that words have to make us feel. As the semester ended, I spoke to my teacher about taking upper level creative writing courses and she suggested I take intermediate verse writing to cultivate the poetry seed that had been planted in my brain. I couldn’t be happier that I did.

When I walked into class for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. My teacher, Lyrae, is an absolutely incredible poet whose anthology has been nominated for the National Book Award. She commanded the room when she walked into it and I was mesmerized by her love of poetry and words, and even more than that, her genuine desire to help us become poets. She warned us that the class would be challenging and time-intensive (in addition to our readings, we write three poems a week – so it lived up to the expectations she set), but that it would undoubtedly improve our writing. Halfway through the class, I feel that she was right.

lyrae

The class dynamic is unique – conversation is free flowing, animated, and enthralling. We all feel that 50 minutes twice a week isn’t enough. There are only nine students in the class, so we have all gotten to know each other intimately and personally. Lyrae asked us to form workshop groups and meet regularly to discuss each other’s work. Originally, I was nervous about this. I was concerned that I was the only bio major in a class filled with English majors who were way more advanced at poetry than I could ever aspire to be. I was timid both in class and in my workshop group because I was convinced that being so far out of my comfort zone wasn’t working. Speaking with Lyrae and with my workshop group members showed me that I was wrong. The students in the class have such diverse majors, interests, and experiences. Sharing our learning processes as we get to know each other’s (and our own) writing has been incredibly rewarding. I have gained newfound respect and confidence about my poetry and learned far more than I expected to.

I had always been told that a liberal arts education was valuable, but until I took “Intermediate Verse Writing,” I didn’t really understand why. I now realize that the lessons I’ve learned by writing poetry will carry me in life even when I become a physician. The ability to direct words in order to convey a specific meaning has shaped my decisional thinking. My positive interactions with my peers and with my professor, who is obviously far more experienced in this subject area than I am, have taught me the importance of confidence, patience, and to a certain extent, resilience. Drawing on the human experience for subject matter has reminded me of the importance of compassion, kindness, and virtue, traits that will undoubtedly craft my persona as I enter a medical profession. And of course, my mind and my heart have both been challenged.

For me, poetry is more than words. It’s truly an experience.

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A New Side of Medicine

by Teresa Xu

“Complementary and alternative medicine,“ or, better yet, “integrative medicine:” What do these terms mean to you? Well, before this summer, the only term that would’ve come to mind would’ve been “alternative medicine” I couldn’t have told you about all the different modalities included under integrative medicine, nor was I aware that things like yoga and tai chi were considered medical modalities.

Let me begin by taking you back to this past spring semester, early January, when it seemed that everyone already had a summer internship secured. I still didn’t have anything significant lined up for the coming summer, but I knew I wanted to be home in Portland, OR. As a pre-med student, there always seemed to be that obligation to intern in health care related fields, but, more importantly, I knew that whatever I did had to be meaningful to me as an individual. On that note, let me diverge and impart this piece of advice that I always live by: don’t pick opportunities because you feel like you “have to” or “should”, but rather pick them because you’ll be excited to speak about them later on.

I was always particularly interested in the prevention aspect of medicine. I wanted to know how to enhance current health, prevent disease, and prolong future health. If there is one line that I’ll never forget from my internship at the National College of Natural medicine, it’s this: “integrative medicine can bridge that gap, that last 10%, between feeling good and feeling great”. This internship, located in Portland, OR (a hot spot for integrative medicine practice and development!), was divided between classes in integrative medicine and lab based research on breast cancer.

Acupuncture, traditional vs. Classical Chinese medicine, ayruvedic medicine, herbs and botanicals, and hydrotherapy were only a few of the many topics that I learned about during the integrative classes offered. For lack of a better phrase, I felt like my mind was blown every single day. All of these medical modalities were things that you’d rarely find in a traditional hospital or allopathic medicine setting. However, integrative medicine opened my eyes to a whole new world of ways to prevent, treat, and cure illnesses, but using all natural methods.

Now when I say “all natural”, I am referring to relieving pain using the purest form of herbs that are found in the wild. I’m talking about seeping echinacea flowers in tea rather than consuming bottles of Emergen-C when you’re trying to prevent a cold. I’m talking about using peat to relieve osteoarthritis pain without ibuprofen or Advil. I’m talking about using food as medicine, and enhancing the immune system by sprinkling turmeric in every dish.

Many of you may be reading this and quite confused about what I’m talking about. I don’t blame you, but I do implore you to do some research into integrative medicine yourself, especially if you’re a non-believer of what you think is “alternative medicine”.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that nearly all, if not all, of the artificial medications you’ve taken have a parallel in nature. Every little ache and pain that you couldn’t explain over the years has an integrative medicine modality that can relieve it, or one that can explain it. I visited a naturopathic doctor this summer as part of my internship, and they spent 2.5 hours with me as I went through every ache, pain, or concern I’ve ever had. They made connections between much of what I was saying, and I finally understood the most important philosophy behind integrative medicine: to look at the body as a whole and to explain conditions by tracing their path through this whole being.

If you were looking for an exact definition of what integrative medicine was, I’m sorry to disappoint you by ending this here. There is no one definition that could possibly encompass all that integrative medicine has to offer, but just consider this one last fact that sheds light on its potential for future health care: naturopathic medicine students at the National College of Natural Medicine are required to take a full class on nutrition while the average MD student gets about 30 hours.

Meeting Professors 101

by Sami Briggs

Cornell has an endless number of outstanding qualities that make it the phenomenal institution that it is, not least of which is its professors. I have had the privilege of taking classes taught by dynamic professors who piqued my interest in their subject matters, which proved incredibly helpful when choosing my majors and concentrations. Forming a bond with your professors is not only useful for when you are applying to internships and/or graduate school and need references and recommendations, but it also affords you the opportunity to speak with truly fascinating individuals; no two professors arrived at their current position in the same way, they all have stories to tell, and they all have insights about the practical application of your major.

That being said, bonding with professors is often easier said than done, especially when some classes – at the introductory level particularly – can be quite large. Professors constantly invite students to come to their office hours even if it is just to chat, but how does one fit that into a day that is already filled with commitments? Like so many of my peers, I have experienced the dilemma that is wanting to bond with a professor that I admire, but not knowing how to actually go about doing that. I like to think that I have been successful with several professors, and I am here to share some of my wisdoms.

Libe Cafe, located inside Olin Library in the Arts Quad, is a popular location for the Cornell community to talk, meet, and work.

Libe Cafe, located inside Olin Library in the Arts Quad, is a popular location for the Cornell community to talk, meet, and work.

  1. Speak up in class. Professors are scholars who choose to teach because they want to form relationships with the young minds in their classes, but oftentimes it is impossible for them to really know all of their students because they simply have too many; so, stand out! If your class is discussion-based, participate in that discussion, and if your class is lecture-based, ask questions. Then when you see your professor in Libe Café between classes, the professor will recognize you, and you can start to get to know one another on a more personal level.
  2. Arrive a little early. Professors generally arrive a little early to organize their materials, set up their presentations, and oftentimes battle technology a little bit, so if you don’t have time in your schedule to attend office hours, take advantage of this time. Sit closer to the front, ask them a question about the last assignment, share an idea you had while reading last night, commiserate over the chilly weather, anything! Another benefit to this method is that there are other students filling in around you to join in the conversation, so if you tend to be shy, you can be at ease.
  3. Try to get into their discussion section. Most classes at Cornell are lecture-based, with sections meeting once a week to discuss the week’s material. These sections are generally led by the course’s TAs (teaching assistants), but oftentimes the professor will lead one of these sections – try to get into that discussion schedule, if possible. This way the professor can get to know you as a student on a deeper level, and you have even more opportunities for pre- and post-class conversation. If this discussion doesn’t fit into your schedule, though, don’t worry! The TAs themselves are very helpful and interesting as well!
  4. Go to their office hours! Although I have just finished espousing all of the alternative methods of getting to know your professors, if you indeed have a question about the material or want to discuss an upcoming assignment, by all means, make the time to visit them in their offices. Use the excuse of having a question about your research paper to ask them about their research, bring up a discussion from the previous class and share your thoughts, and remember: your professor wants to chat with you and hear your opinions.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know one professor in particular, and I am very thankful for it. Not only does he always offer useful advice regarding assignments and college life in general, but also in times of stress, it is comforting to know that I have an ally. I once arrived to class after a very busy few days and a challenging midterm, and he could tell that I was quieter than usual. He asked to make sure I was okay, and I answered that it was just stress. Then after the following class, he asked again to make sure that I was feeling better. It’s the little things that can make the biggest difference, and his concern helped me remember that there are always people around campus who care about your well being and want to help when they can. All you have to do is find them!

On Proofs and Critical Theory

by Solomon Maina

As a Computer Science major in the college of Arts and Sciences I always get asked “Why aren’t you in engineering?” to which my answer is always “Liberal arts!”

Indeed, it was the liberal arts approach to education that attracted me to the College of Arts and Sciences when I applied to Cornell, and so far, it looks like it was a good decision. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of my liberal arts classes but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to describe just two such classes, drawn two fairly different fields of enquiry: Prove It! offered in the Math department, and Introduction to Critical Theory offered in the German Studies department.

Prove It! was a class that I took partly because I could take it (something which students in the College of Arts and Sciences have more freedom to do), and partly because I like math, and people who like math should know how to prove things. I thought that the professor did a very good job of encouraging creative thinking that was clear and structured at the same time by using perfectly chosen examples from a wide variety of fields in mathematics. We were also encouraged to share proofs that we had done in problem sets and/or make presentations on particularly interesting proofs that we had seen, which made the class interactive and hence more fun. By the end of the class, even though I couldn’t claim to have the oracle power of being able to prove or disprove the truth of any mathematical statement, I felt very satisfied to have taken that course, and I had a new appreciation for the creativity of mathematicians.

Introduction to Critical Theory was another class that I really, really liked. I took the class mostly on account of the very positive experience I had had in my writing seminar “Marx, Nietzsche and Freud,” and Critical Theory seemed like a natural extension of this course. It also fulfilled my Literature and the Arts (LA-AS) requirement. I found the readings for Critical Theory to be extremely interesting and very well-paced as well: not too much, not too little and carefully chosen.

But if the readings were interesting, then the in class discussions can only be described as magic. Often times it felt like I was in a movie where some other-worldly philosophical discussion was taking place, and being in the midst of such stimulating discussions made for a truly memorable course. Interestingly enough, Critical Theory is also the class that I find had the most rigorous grading: essay comments from the grader regularly topped a page and were very incisive. Much like in the course Prove It!, the importance of clarity of thought could not be understated in Critical Theory, and it certainly felt that we weren’t just having fun discussions; we were being engaged to think about important issues, and at a very high level, which made the class very gratifying in retrospect.

I have taken other classes which were as memorable as these two, and if there is something that stands out in all of them is that I was engaged at a high level in whatever it is that I was studying at the time. What’s special about the College of Arts and Sciences is that it gives students the opportunity to be engaged in this way, but in many different fields of enquiry, be it Mathematics, German Studies, or Computer Science.