Monthly Archives: April 2013

What does “Land Grant” Really Mean, and Why Should You Care?

Let me go out on a limb here and make a bold statement, which I’m guessing is true for the most part (but I could be wrong):

Most prospective students applying to Cornell University don’t know, or care about, what Cornell’s status as a land-grant university means, or how it applies to them.

But they should, especially if they’re applying to one of the statutory (New York State-funded) undergraduate colleges (Human Ecology, Industrial and Labor Relations, or Agriculture and Life Sciences). Here’s why.

Without going into too much history–I’ll leave that to Corey Earle in his “First American University” class–let me give a brief overview of Cornell’s past. The university was founded at a time when higher education was predominately sought by the entitled classes. Most universities educated only the most privileged, and taught exclusively elite subjects (today’s liberal arts offerings–think classics, literature, etc.). There just was no notion that education should be for all, nor that colleges should work towards the betterment of everyone in society. However, through the Morrill Act in the 1860’s, Cornell’s unique curriculum–which included “agriculture and mechanic arts [now engineering]” –was formulated to improve the lives of citizens by addressing the educational needs of those in New York State (which was, and still is, very agriculturally based). The main takeaway: since its’ founding, Cornell has maintained a rich tradition of partnering with New York State to benefit society.

Okay, you say, that’s great. The University has a conscience. But how will this really affect me, one lowly undergrad out of 13,000 at this fine place? You’d be surprised; it’s very, very fulfilling to know that many of the classes you’re taking (if you’re in CALS/HumEc/ILR) have a slant towards societal betterment.

  1. In a demography class I took, we discussed the theory behind population brain drain, then dove into rich examples of how exactly this is affecting upstate New York industries and towns–and what can be done about it.
  2. In Marketing Plan Development, a semester-long course that consists of creating a marketing plan for a struggling local organization, we spent the semester working directly with the New York State flower-growing industry, to help market and promote their goods. Isn’t that neat? At a top-ranked undergraduate business program, we’re not learning marketing theory to simply pad our wallets later on; it’s to help others. Because of these experiences with direct outreach to increase the economic vitality of the state, many students have developed a “give back” mentality. In fact, I know many professors in the Dyson School focus on subjects like agribusiness management and food marketing outreach in New York to do just that.
  3. In my fun entomology for non-majors class, we learned all about insect predators and the harm they do–then applied that knowledge to learn specifically about those that pose a threat to New York State.
  4. Fun fact: overall, Cornell has the highest acceptance rate in the Ivy League. Another fun fact: you won’t find many people here losing sleep over that. For an institution that exists to serve the people of the State, Cornell is proud to accept as many people as it can (as exemplified by the guaranteed transfer admission option given to some high school seniors, and transfer agreements from many NYS community colleges). It means that fit plays a role too–the ILR student with subpar SAT’s who’s shown devotion to advancing labor conditions, and the Viticulture & Enology applicant who has worked sweat and tears on his/her family’s vineyard to boost the state’s economy, both stand a better chance at getting in over a sterile 800-800-800 candidate with no passion or experience…or so I’m told.

To wrap up, let me make a plea to rising high school seniors: Look, I get it. Cornell’s an Ivy. It has top ranked programs, varied extracurricular activities, and 41 Nobel Laureates affiliated with the school. But if you apply for just those reasons, you’re missing out on one fundamentally unique aspect of the University–it’s storied past of creating “knowledge with a public purpose.” I implore you to consider this land-grant, “give-back” notion that’s present in much of the Cornell curriculum, if you’re trying to decide between universities. Oh, and don’t ever, ever discount Cornell by calling it a “public school” –though it’s technically still a private institution, having the public status (that reflects the university’s stewardship to the state) would probably be a badge of honor.

Four Habits of Excellent Professors

I’m almost a Cornell senior, so it’s safe to say that I’ve taken plenty of courses–large lectures, small seminars, and everything in between. Looking back over the classes I’ve taken, and the professors I’ve had, I’ve realized that there are some core things that I really appreciate in a professor. Let me highlight them by giving examples and anecdotes from my ~3 years here.

1. Be an engaging lecturer! There are many ways to accomplish this, depending on the field.

  • I’ll never forget in COMM 2450Communication and Technology when my Professor pulled up Omegle (a website which pairs you with random people to chat with, like ChatRoulette), and had a complete conversation with a stranger in front of a lecture hall…to illustrate the psychological dimensions of online conversations. I’m not sure the anonymous person we were chatting with on the other end believed the professor when he said he was talking to about ~150 people…
  • In my entomology class freshman year, the professor took us on a “field trip” across campus to a beehive, where he proceeded to grab a bee, and taste its bottom to determine its genus. That is how you know someone is an expert in their field.
  • Every time we finished a section in AEM statistics, the professor would blast loud music through the lecture hall speakers and make all 200 students in the room do the wave, like at large sporting events. You’d be surprised; for a group of students learning about hypothesis testing at 9:30 in the morning, people sure swung their arms nicely.
  • Last year, my management professor jumped on a table and made the entire audience chant the fundamental accounting equation repeatedly: “assets = liabilities + owners equity.”
  • In 3 different courses now, I’ve seen the Coke vs. Pepsi challenge taste be performed on students to illustrate the importance of product differentiation in business.

2. Put all the PowerPoint slides on BlackBoard. This is a minor point, but it rings true–it makes the difference between a frenzied lecture where you’re trying to copy everything down, and one where you can just relax and enjoy the professor’s lecture, knowing that the material is available online.

3. Show you care about students, and see them as more than a 7 digit ID number:

  • I had a professor last year that opened up class one day by saying that anyone who didn’t have plans for a Thanksgiving feast was more than welcome to join him and his family at their home.
  • I wrote to a professor regarding a concern and he wrote me back a 15 paragraph email, timestamped at 2:30am. Now that’s devotion.
4. Make it relevant. Maybe this one is personal to me, but I consider myself an applied person who likes to learn the “real-world” applications of what I’m doing. Here’re a few examples:
  • I didn’t fully appreciate what we were learning in ASTRO 1101 about stars, until the professor held a night gathering at Fuertes Observatory and explained to me in the darkness what I was looking at in the sky.
  • My business law professor, a practicing lawyer during the day, always tells us about the real world application to the cases we study, and gives us anecdotes from his daily life at work.
  • Learning marketing theory was fun, but it wasn’t until Marketing Plan Development–when we had to spend an entire semester forming a real life marketing plan for an organization that needed revitalization–that I was able to put what I learned into action. Plus, I now know more about the New York State floriculture industry than you can imagine.
Some of you might read this list and think that I’ve just had extraordinarily positive academic experiences. My response: damn right–because I don’t settle for less! Luckily, most of the Dyson School faculty is fantastic, my major gives me enough flexibility to choose different courses for requirements, and I have no problem switching my courses around after a week, if I find the professor or the material to be less than optimal. I urge you to do the same if you can!

Beginning the Final Push

Whoa, the time’s going by fast! I can’t believe it’s already mid-April. The weather’s getting warmer and the sky is getting bluer…and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer. (It’s hard to blame anyone but me for my workload, though, as I willingly signed up for 20 credits.)

Here are some updates from my life:

  • I’ve officially signed on for a summer internship in Manhattan–something I’m really excited about. I’ll be able to finally experience the city lifestyle, as I’ll be living in the city, taking the subway to work…and talking loudly into my Bluetooth headset as I walk briskly through midtown (isn’t that mandatory for every young urban professional?). In all seriousness, though, it’ll be interesting because the next few months I’ll be city hopping–NYC in May, and then Washington D.C. in the fall as I participate in the Cornell in Washington program. Coming from someone that spent his entire life in suburban Connecticut and rural upstate New York, I have to say that I’m excited for this transition!
  • I’m really trying to avoid the slump that many students feel this time of year, as they’re overworked and ready for the summer to come. It’s hard, though, because in many of my classes–e.g. business law and finance–it’s just the final that remains. In other classes, though, the work is still piling on; I have to do an industry analysis project for Strategic Pricing, grade plenty of assignments for business management, and knock off a few extra problem sets. These are all very time consuming!
  • As easy as it is to get swamped with work, I’m trying to remember the fact that it’s second semester of my junior year–and I should be having fun too. So, I’ve been enjoying myself in a few ways–going to a friend’s comedy show, enjoying my over-21 privileges at Ithaca’s…er…booming bar scene, etc. Also, being the pseudo-intellectual that I am, I’ve been attending talks from academics and big-name figures that I find interesting. (I heard MSNBC commentator S.E. Cupp speak the other day on media bias–it was very thought-provoking.)

Well, that’s about it for now. I’m off to go finish some work…