Updates from across Cornell
Over the past year and a half, despite the energy and attention necessarily directed toward the pandemic, Cornell has continued to move forward in our mission of teaching, research, and engagement. As we settle into the Ithaca autumn, I am writing to share some updates from across our remarkable community.
The pandemic notwithstanding, our faculty continue to excel in their teaching and research. Seven members of faculty have recently been elected to the prestigious academies, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the National Academy of Engineering; and the National Academy of Sciences, in recognition of achievements at the highest level. Four assistant professors have received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Awards for their research in artificial intelligence, sustainable energy, and digitization in manufacturing. And ten members of faculty have received Stephen H. Weiss Awards this semester, honoring their excellence in undergraduate teaching.
Across disciplines, our faculty are being recognized for exceptional contributions to their fields. Valzhyna Mort, assistant professor of literatures in English in the College of Arts and Sciences, has won the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize in the international category for her 2020 book, Music for the Dead and Resurrected. Mary Beth Norton, Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and Mary Donlon Alger Professor Emerita of American History in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded the George Washington Prize for her book, 1774: The Long Year of Revolution. Kaushik Basu, professor of economics and the Carl Marks Professor of International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, has received the 2021 Humboldt Research Award for economics. And Scott Emr, Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of 1956 Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics and Director of the Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology, was awarded the very prestigious Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine this past summer for the landmark discovery of the Endosomal Sorting Complexes Required for Transport (ESCRT) Pathway.
A new undergraduate minor in moral psychology, approved by the faculty in July, will be open to students across Cornell from the spring semester; it will offer interdisciplinary engagement with moral psychology theory and research, as well as hands-on experience applying moral psychology to practical ethical issues. This is just one of many instances of our faculty’s continual updating and advancing of the educational programs we provide. And our faculty’s grant proposal and award numbers were outstanding over the past year, with nearly $1 billion in grants awarded across all three campuses in FY21. While this number is only one metric of faculty success, it is an important metric that reflects truly impressive achievements.
“To do the greatest good”
Cornell has been fortunate to have benefited recently from the transformational philanthropy of our alumni. Last month, we celebrated the launch of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy—a new school within Cornell that had been an aspiration for decades, and is now a reality thanks to the generosity of Jeb E. Brooks, MBA ’70, and his wife, Cherie Wendelken, together with the Brooks Family Foundation. The Cornell Brooks School allows us to centralize and share the policy expertise we have across Cornell—elevating the profile of that work while pursuing our land-grant mission of knowledge for a public purpose.
We also recently announced the naming of the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, in honor of a $50 million gift from Peter Nolan ’80, MBA ’82, and Stephanie Nolan ’84. I’m especially delighted that this gift will be directed entirely to student affordability, providing access to the world’s most innovative hospitality education to generations of future industry leaders.
As you already know, last December, the Faculty of Computing and Information Science (CIS) became the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, thanks to the generosity of Ann S. Bowers ’59. I’m delighted to share that we are moving forward with plans for a new building for the college, supported by her gift and by a newly announced gift of $10 million made by Cornell alumni and Wayfair cofounders Niraj Shah ’95 and Steve Conine ’95.
And just last week, we formally launched our new comprehensive philanthropic campaign, with the goal of raising $5 billion across our three campuses, through engagement with 200,000 alumni. The campaign aims to support our academic mission in all its aspects, with a particular emphasis on strengthening student affordability—part of the commitment Ezra Cornell made 156 years ago, when he founded this university “to do the greatest good.”
A community of belonging
Being an institution for “any person” is part of our Cornell identity and an ongoing priority for us in every aspect of our work. Through Belonging at Cornell, our reimagined, evidence-based diversity and inclusion framework, we have made significant progress through student, faculty, staff, and university- and college-wide initiatives to make Cornell truly a community where every member feels they belong and are valued. Our colleges and schools have developed and implemented meaningful initiatives to diversify our faculty; our Public Safety Advisory Committee has issued recommendations for change (PDF) that we are acting on; and across the Ithaca campus, our colleges and schools are working to plan educational programs for students that address issues of racial justice. These are just a few examples; I encourage you to explore the enormous range of our work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to stay connected through the Belonging at Cornell newsletter.
Ultimately, the responsibility for being a community of belonging is one that belongs to every one of us. Our personal commitment to understand issues of inequity and injustice—and to act on what we learn—is the only way we can bring about change. Here at Cornell, that might mean learning about our new Community Response Team and why we established it; taking the time to delve deeply into an Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) experience, or a staff training course on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Cornell; or reading, widely and thoughtfully, about people and topics that are new to us.
Living and learning together
After so many months of remote work and hybrid instruction, it’s wonderful to again be on a campus that is busy, active, and full of life, and it’s been equally wonderful to again spend time at Cornell Tech and at Weill Cornell Medicine. Here in Ithaca, the first two residences of our North Campus Residential Expansion, Toni Morrison Hall and Ganędagǫ: Hall, are now occupied, and I was delighted to be able to welcome members of the Class of 2025 to such beautiful new accommodations. It’s also been fantastic to once again be able to cheer on the Big Red, which is back in full force after more than 600 days away from competition.
And as we continue at Cornell to address large social issues, it is particularly rewarding to be recognized for our commitment to sustainability: Cornell placed fourth out of 312 rated schools on the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools ranking, which evaluates four-year colleges and universities using objective measures of operational sustainability across dimensions such as energy, air and climate, transportation, and engagement.
Across our campuses, our community is doing exciting things, and although we’re all still dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, we’re teaching and we’re learning, we’re conducting ground-breaking research, we’re focusing on ways to be ever more welcoming and inclusive, and we’re enjoying being with one another. I am so glad to be here with you, and to be a part of this exceptional Cornell community.
Martha E. Pollack