Cornell Alumni-Elected Trustee Candidates Up Close

 
Cornell is a special place for many reasons including this one: each year, alumni elect two members of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, a right and privilege few universities grant.

 

Voting in the 2016 alumni trustee election is open until April 21, noon EDT. Here, our four candidates share their personal Cornell stories and more. Meet Mustafa Abadan '82, MArch '84, Shane Dunn '07, Katrina James '96, and Pam Marrone '78.

Why did you choose Cornell? 

Katrina James: I applied to Cornell because it snows here. People laugh when I say that but I say no, I'm serious. I went to the public high school in Carteret, New Jersey. When I was applying to colleges, Cornell wasn't on the list. I did all my research myself and picked my college myself. I was the first in my family to go to college and graduate from college. There was one student [at my school] who had graduated the year before me who had come to Cornell. He came home from fall break and he talked about the fact that it had already snowed there and my ears perked up. I'm originally from a small town in England. Every day, my sister and I would walk to school across a huge field that many times of the year was snow-covered. I love snow. So, yes, Cornell got on the radar because of snow.

But because I was not so savvy about the college process, I didn't know Cornell was an Ivy League school. I didn't know what an Ivy League school was until I got admitted and one of my teachers said, my gosh, that's the Ivy League! And so I visited Cornell during what was minority-hosting weekend, and it just felt like the right place.

Pam Marrone: Cornell was the only school I applied for—early decision. The reason was the reputation of Cornell and its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and its world-class entomology department.

Mustafa Abadan: For me it was a very straightforward path. Early in my life, I was incredibly interested in the built environment, architecture, and the space between buildings—things like that. As my path through high school went through, I was pretty clearly focused on what I wanted to study. That made it easy to find institutions that would match that goal. Cornell has the number-one undergraduate program in the United States, recognized by the profession year after year. Since I've graduated from Cornell, it's been over 30 years, and that aspect of the Cornell architecture school has not changed. Cornell, in a very natural way, became my top choice, and I committed.

Shane Dunn: Cornell chose me! I grew up in rural Central New York and attended our local district school. When I was beginning to think about college, I did not have much "college knowledge" or many connections at home because my parents do not have bachelors' degrees. I was an ambitious teenager and had heard about Cornell, so I began to learn more about the university. After I visited between sophomore and junior years (visiting during the summer was a great idea!), I quickly realized Cornell was my dream school. Cornell was my "reach" school by far because I had less than stellar SAT scores. I was not accepted at first—I was chosen as a guaranteed transfer into CALS. So I attended Ithaca College for one year before transferring to Cornell. Being accepted to Cornell required a combination of hard work, ambition, and luck. The uncharacteristic experience I had being admitted to Cornell makes me all the more grateful to Cornell and is one of the reasons I am a committed alumnus.

Outside of class, what was your favorite part of your Cornell experience?

Pam Marrone: There are so many! The campus is so gorgeous, I spent a lot of time outdoors. Behind the Big Red Barn are beautiful gardens; one of them had a little fairy sprite sculpture with benches around it. Mick (my husband of 37.5 years; we met at Cornell) and I spent time talking in that garden—also, walking through Cornell Plantations, swimming in Cascadilla Gorge, walking the boardwalk at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, biking to Buttermilk Falls, and eating pancakes in Noyes Lodge (overlooking the falls) with Mick. Of course, I cannot forget all of us huddled around the one TV at Willard Straight Hall watching "Star Trek." But the most memorable of all my experiences was helping Dr. George Eickwort with his native bee experiments. There were many sites on campus where he found nests of ground-nesting native bees. My job as a work-study intern was to capture the bees and record if they were marked with blue, yellow, or red paint and document where they were and what they were doing. I also painted other bees for tracking. Campus security came by (with a bit of alarm) and asked me what I was doing. I told them, "Oh, I work for the entomology professor Dr. Eickwort doing bee research." They left me alone after that!

Shane Dunn: I spent a lot of time as a member of the public service community while a student. I worked many hours per week at the Cornell Public Service Center and was a leader of a few service clubs. I met great friends through the Public Service Center who were committed to making the world a better place. My favorite Cornell experience was serving as a Team Leader of the Pre-Orientation Service Trips (POST) program. POST introduced me to the wonderful, quirky city of Ithaca, which reinforced my belief that every great college or university must have a strong relationship with its host community. My POST family made Cornell feel a bit smaller, and my service work taught me critical leadership skills that I still rely on to this day.

Katrina James: I was a tour guide, and I think it's the best job on campus. (I used to say it was the best job ever until I began my current job at Harlem Children's Zone.) It was my job to walk around this beautiful campus and tell prospective students and visitors about what an amazing school Cornell is. And you paid me money for that? Life doesn't get any better than that.

Mustafa Abadan: That actually ties back to the classroom experience. The architects at Cornell spend an inordinate amount of time at their studios. You get to know an incredibly rich and diverse group of people. It really is similar in some ways to a community that builds around, for instance, a fraternity or a sorority.

Also, what was interesting in a college as small as the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning is the closeness of the faculty to the students. You run into them all the time, and you spend a lot of time with them in the studio. Over time, relationships can develop. I'm still friends with some of those faculty members on a social basis and in professional relationships. That, to me, is very special.

What do you contribute to a team?

Mustafa Abadan: As an architect working in a large practice, I'm in a constant relationship with people in a team environment where we're all collaborating with each other in one direction to create a project. My position in a role like that is providing leadership and experience, trying to push creativity.

My role in a team is to listen to others, to be sure voices are heard that bring different aspects of the conversation together and personally to evaluate my values against points that are on the table. Building consensus toward a common approach is what I think of myself bringing to a team. Interestingly enough, one of my other career choices before I committed myself to architecture was becoming a diplomat. Diplomacy requires all those skill sets: patience, conviction, and consensus building. I always try to bring a positive attitude to a team.

Katrina James: My enthusiasm and boundless energy, of course! I do try to be the cheerleader for a team, particularly before we start some large undertaking. I want to start off with a pep talk or some encouragement. I am very much a collaborative thinker. Even if ultimately the decision is mine as a leader of a team, I don't want to make that decision until I feel that all the stakeholders have had an opportunity to give their input, so making sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the process is an important thing to me. I think I am good at keeping a discussion on track. I run an efficient meeting.

Shane Dunn: Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am pretty enthusiastic. My natural enthusiasm tends to carry over into how I work in teams, as I firmly believe in appreciating the efforts of everyone I work with and want everyone to feel connected to a common goal. I believe in collaboration and in leveraging strengths to maximize participation in projects and on teams. I would say I am pretty collaborative and understanding of different styles. I'm a natural relationship builder so I really go out of my way to get to know people on my teams. I also like to have fun and bring a sense of humor to my teams.

Pam Marrone: I often find myself thrust into leading teams, but when I am a team member, it's asking questions (sometimes the ones no one will ask) and trying to see the bigger picture to bridge disparate views. I am also very analytical and can do deep dives of data, numbers, financials, etc. I make sure that decision making is backed up by good-quality information. Being able to have both the big-picture strategic view along with command of the details can be valuable in team settings. I also am a doer when individual contribution and hard work are required. I also prefer to develop open, honest, and candid team environments, where disagreements can be aired respectfully and constructively.

What calls you to volunteer service?

Shane Dunn: I came to Cornell with a commitment to service, as my mother worked at a variety of nonprofit community organizations when I was growing up. Attending Cornell reinforced my commitment to volunteer service; I am forever grateful for being accepted to such an esteemed, life-changing university. I have an obligation to use my education to make the world a better place and to create opportunities for deserving people. Seeking social justice has been a part of my personal narrative for a long time. I believe every life has value and everyone has the potential to give back. This ethic has driven me to a professional career in education and a volunteer career at Cornell where I am doing all I can to open the university's doors to more young people who may not initially believe they can get into or afford to attend Cornell.

Mustafa Abadan: I feel very fortunate and privileged to have had incredible opportunities throughout my life and therefore feel a great responsibility to give back to institutions and societies that have supported me and others. I have a personal commitment to education that stems from the fact that I was born into a family of academicians and grew up with the value system that emphasized the critical importance that an education can make a big difference in individual lives and support societal advancement. Throughout my life, I have shown a commitment to civic duty and helping others. Ultimately, it all comes back to making sure the opportunities and privileges I have found in my life are available to others through volunteer service and championing charitable causes. Volunteering for various causes small and large is also personally fulfilling and helps me to remain engaged with the communities I try to support.

Pam Marrone: My parents had a long history of volunteer service, so I grew up with that. Therefore, I always had volunteer service in my life. I feel it is important to give back; I have a lot of energy to contribute. Volunteering also gets you outside of yourself and outside of your day-to-day grind to see different perspectives, continue to learn, and apply skills from one arena to another.

Katrina James: I did volunteer work in high school, and that actually drew me to be a social work major. I see who I am as a professional and a person as a direct result of my Cornell education. The moment I got here, I was always active. I knew the moment I was leaving that I was going to give back because that was my sense of duty. I have a hard time saying "no" when people ask me to do things, but I love everything that I do. So for me, if I see that I can contribute to an organization and make it better and make the experience better for other alumni, then that's what I do. I get to meet new people and come up to campus. It's wonderful. It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun.

Tags: Volunteering, Board of Trustees