Up close with Cornell alumni-elected trustee candidates

 
Each year, Cornell alumni elect two members of the Cornell University Board of Trustees. Voting in the 2017 election is open until May 2, noon EDT. This year, six candidates appear on the ballot. The four endorsed by the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations are: Sheila Wilson Allen '76, DVM '81; Jay W. Carter '71, MEN '72; Linda Marcelle Gadsby '88; and Kent G. Sheng '78. Two candidates joined the ballot by each filing a petition with 400 alumni signatures: Linda Copman '83 and Joseph Rowland '73.

 

Meet the candidates.

 

Why did you choose Cornell?

Sheila Wilson Allen: I chose Cornell because of the breadth of academic offerings in an institution with an excellent international reputation. I liked the combination of a strong liberal arts curriculum, yet also the options that a land grant institution provides, such as engineering and agriculture. I also loved Cornell’s location; the Finger Lakes region of New York is beautiful and I loved it there.

Jay Carter: As a high school student, I knew I wanted to be an engineer and have an opportunity to play football in college. Cornell offered me the opportunity to attend the best engineering college that included exposure to a liberal arts education, coupled with the chance to play football. While I did apply to other engineering schools, once I was accepted to Cornell there was no question where I would attend.

Linda Copman: I clearly remember the first time I came to campus. It was a brilliant day—blue skies, everyone outside playing Frisbee, and even the grown-ups were in a good mood. It was the kind of day that comes after a long stretch of grey skies and makes you fall in love with Cornell over and over again.

Linda Marcelle Gadsby: I was sold on Cornell after attending an admitted students weekend event. While I was happy to have been accepted, I was apprehensive about Cornell based on my own preconceived ideas of what an Ivy League school would be like. My fears began to dissipate once I arrived at Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City and began to meet other accepted students who were also taking the trip to Ithaca on Greyhound. To my surprise, I met a diverse group of kids that I could relate to, including fellow athletes, cheerleaders, first generation students, specialized high school attendees, and Bronx residents. Once I got to campus, I felt incredibly welcomed and comfortable. I was blown away by the beauty of the campus, as well as its size and the opportunity to constantly explore new places, along with the breadth of activities that the students were involved in.

Joseph Rowland: My high school adviser pushed me toward engineering due to my good grades and high test scores in mathematics and science. I had been offered a full scholarship to Clarkson University, which was known mainly for its engineering program. Cornell’s aid package was not as good because it included loans and a part-time job to make ends meet. However, I had an inkling that perhaps I was not destined to be an engineer. Cornell’s broad and highly regarded curriculum swayed me away from Clarkson.

Kent Sheng: I did not visit any colleges leading up to my applying. Maybe some of this was cultural. I applied to basically the same five schools as my sister had the year before. My sister went to Cornell and liked it. The next year so did I. Thirty-seven years later, we went from Maine to California and from Ohio to North Carolina visiting colleges for my son and daughter.

 

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

Sheng: Outside of the classroom, I lived two lives. I joined a fraternity. I was also active and became a leader in the Chinese Students Association (CSA). Both represented small enclaves within the big metropolis that Cornell seemed to me at the time. The fraternity broadened my horizons and brought home the concept of brotherhood and traditions like intramural sports, Homecoming, and Spring Weekend. With the CSA, I started as a freshman running the reel-to-reel projector for weekend movies and ended up as president. I need to add how transformative my time was with the Cornell Daily Sun. Nothing like a rigorous copy editor and a looming morning deadline to clear up fuzzy thinking. I know now how it made me better academically.

Allen: My favorite part of my Cornell experience outside of time spent on campus is the beauty of the surrounding region and the wonderful time I had exploring the outdoors with friends.

Carter: My favorite extracurricular experience was playing heavyweight freshman football and subsequently three years of playing lightweight football (150s). The 150s became my family, and coach Bob Cullen was a mentor to me from then until he passed away in 1996.

Copman: Without a doubt, it was the people! On my first day, I met an orange-haired girl riding her bike and singing Michael Jackson’s "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." This girl went on to found one of the most successful cycling tourism companies in the world. An outspoken young man in my Marxism class is now a feature writer for the New York Times. What a remarkable community!

Gadsby: By far, my favorite part of the Cornell experience has been the opportunity to get to know and work with a diverse group of people from all walks of life. Many of my best friends to this day are those who I met during my time at Cornell, beginning as an admitted student. Both as a student and later on as an alumna, the opportunity to work on causes, projects, and initiatives with amazingly talented students, alumni, faculty, administrators, and staff is what has made my Cornell experience tremendously fulfilling.

Rowland: There is no doubt that my friends were the best part of my Cornell experience. I was not an active participant in the myriad associations or activities offered to students. I declined opportunities to join two fraternities and soon dropped off the lacrosse team due to poor grades in the engineering school—my hunch was right on that! I did participate actively in the Vietnam War protests and student strikes. Several of the friendships I forged during those troubled days are still strong today and are a continuation of my Cornell experience.

 

What do you contribute to a team?

Gadsby: I am a results-focused leader, so I make sure at the outset that the group has a common understanding of the goals that we are trying to achieve. In addition, I favor consensus decision making, whenever possible, so I am the team member who ensures that everyone is participating and sharing their thoughts and opinions before we reach the decision making phase of our work. Because I am also very analytical and detail oriented, I make sure that all of the “i's” are dotted and “t's” crossed. While I tend to find myself in the role of leader quite often, I am also comfortable taking a back seat when appropriate.

Rowland: First, I try to be prepared in advance and have a good grasp of the issues facing the group. Second, I consider myself to be a good listener who endeavors to find common ground, even as I’m not shy about stating my considered views on any given topic. Third, I have no desire to dominate just for the sake of dominance. I consider myself something of a loner by nature, but when a situation calls for my engagement, I know how to be a team player. Finally, I employ common sense as a vehicle to find the appropriate way forward. In a constantly changing world where the past is not necessarily a good indicator of the future, an intuitive sense of direction is always useful and at times essential.

Sheng: I bring an analytical way of looking at what needs to be done. I try to combine this with patience and an appreciation for how things actually get done. I know how to work with others. If you want a good team outcome, invest time and energy and imagination, but not ego. Leading a team of volunteers means understanding individual team members, encouraging their strengths, and being mindful of the other demands that weigh upon them. In turn, a team would benefit from my experience having worn many hats as a “doer” and knowing that they can rely upon me to be accountable in a pretty heavy duty way.

Allen: I have worked in teams throughout my entire career. I enjoy the camaraderie of working with others. The sense of accomplishment when we achieve a goal together is much greater than when I work toward something alone.

Carter: I have been a part of a team my entire life. I believe I can be a team member or a team leader. In either role, I am committed to the team’s success by doing what I said I would do. I embrace diversity, seek input from all team members, and strive for continuous improvement of both myself and the team I am a part of.

Copman: In Hawaii, we have a word for the concept of righteousness, which is “pono.” Being pono means that you are in balance with yourself, with your team members, with the larger community, and with the natural world. This multi-dimensional perspective informs everything I do. As a team member, I seek to find the right balance of listening, of speaking, of weighing solutions, and of building consensus for action.

 

What one cause or issue would you most like to work on as a trustee, and why?

Carter: I would most like to work on increasing alumni engagement. The pillars of our university are great faculty and excellent students. I believe that alumni have done much and can do even more to help attract and retain the very best faculty while providing access and an enhanced experience to the most deserving students. I often hear alumni say somewhat cynically “all they want is money”; to which I reply: a gift is always nice, but there are so many other things alumni can do, ranging from CAAAN contact meetings with high school applicants to career advice to job networking. As a trustee, I would like to increase the number of engagement opportunities and match them to passionate alumni volunteers.

Copman: Sustainability. We need to be better stewards of our human resources, our natural resources, and our intellectual resources. There is a reservoir of goodwill, and we can either conserve and replenish this reservoir, or squander it. We have made too many shortsighted decisions, which threaten the health and wellbeing of our communities and our planet. Now is the time to embrace a more sustainable worldview.

Gadsby: The variety of challenges facing the university over the next several years is one of the things that I find exciting about the prospect of serving in the role of trustee. Having said that, youth are my passion, so I would definitely like to serve on the Committee on Student Life and work on initiatives focused on creating a more inclusive campus environment. Working on the "One Cornell" integration, specifically as it relates to the undergraduate student experience, would also be really exciting.

Rowland: Climate change and fossil fuel divestment drive my candidacy. I want to see that necessary resources are allocated in a timely fashion to ensure that the university meets its goal of carbon neutrality by 2035. Fiduciaries are bound to manage Cornell’s investments and finances in the best interests of the Cornell community. The trustees, as fiduciaries, should move ahead with a divestment strategy. They have rejected a divestment plan put forward by a supermajority of all of Cornell’s other governance bodies. As a trustee, I will bring forward a proposal that I believe will accommodate most of the stated objections to that plan. Divestment is the best investment.

Sheng: My area of interest would be student life. It is often a winding path from a Cornell acceptance letter to eventual academic, professional, and personal success. I believe so much of the growth students do at Cornell occurs outside the classroom. How can students make better decisions for themselves and earn their success at Cornell? I am interested in continuing the improvements in the living-learning environment, mentoring, and student wellbeing on campus.

Allen: I would like to focus on ensuring that finances are never an obstacle for someone who wants a Cornell education. Cornell has so much to offer, and I want to make sure no one is inhibited from attending Cornell because of affordability. I deeply believe in "any person, any study."

 

What calls you to volunteer service?

Copman: At the end of the day, what really matters are the things we do to help. If we don’t jump in to help, who will?

Gadsby: It is both my honor and obligation to give back to the institution that has played such an instrumental role in shaping the woman that I am today. Connecting with students and sharing lessons learned from my time on the Hill has been one of the most gratifying aspects of my service to Cornell. I also relish the opportunities I have had to play a role in creating institutional change on campus that benefits students—from working with admissions to establish processes that improve application completion to helping create a student-alumni mentoring program for students of color and provide grants to our women's athletics teams.

Rowland: Right now, it’s the problem of humanity’s carbon addiction and how quickly we must break it. I feel that we are at a unique turning point in history. We have an unprecedented level of scientific knowledge. Many of us enjoy a standard of living never before experienced or even dreamed of by previous generations. Yet multiple indicators show that many complex and, until recently, stable ecosystems are destabilizing due to excessive combustion of fossil fuels. This is one of many important issues to be considered and acted upon in the world today. I support and applaud everyone who labors to make the world a better place, wherever they may be.

Sheng: There is a little bit of idealism working here. Sometimes there are things you want to change, and you step up. Sometimes, there are things that others want to make better, that you can get behind and you step up. In the case of Cornell, I am motivated by appreciation for the opportunity this university gave me and a desire to be of service in areas where I can help make things better. Pursuing that with like-minded, enthusiastic folks is doubly energizing.

Allen: I have volunteered for many causes my entire career. There is nothing more fulfilling and rewarding than contributing my time and efforts to causes I am passionate about. I would love to do so on a broader scale for Cornell by being a trustee, and I would devote my energies to helping Cornell continue to be an outstanding institution in which to work and learn.

Carter: Volunteerism is in my DNA. My initial experiences and mind set were shaped by scouting with our mottos of “help other people at all times” and “do a good turn daily.” At Cornell, my experience with the 150’s demonstrated caring through alumni support and our part-time coaches who received minimal pay but gave of their time because of their desire to help young men mature through the game of football. I had my role models, so that upon graduating from Cornell I immediately did all that I could to support the 150’s. From there I became engaged in many other areas of Cornell. Along the way, I realized how much enjoyment I received from what I was doing and a belief that I was actually adding value to something much bigger than me. I believe that Cornell really does make the world a better place. Consequently, by me doing my little part, I, too, am helping to make the world a better place.

 
Learn more about the candidates and the voting process.

Six alumni running for trustee

Tags: Board of Trustees, Volunteering