Alumni trustee election 2019: Meet the candidates

The candidates endorsed by the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations for 2019: Roderick Gong-Wah Chu MBA ’71; Cynthia A. Cuffie ’74; Terrance N. Horner Jr. ’92, PhD ’98, and Lorette Simon Gross ’89, MBA ’90.

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Voting is open February 1-28 (closing February 28 at 5 p.m. EST) for Cornell alumni to elect two new members of the Cornell University Board of Trustees. Four candidates are endorsed by the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations: Roderick Gong-Wah Chu MBA ’71; Cynthia A. Cuffie ’74; Terrance N. Horner Jr. ’92, PhD ’98; and Lorette Simon Gross ’89, MBA ’90.

Here, they share insight into their connections to Cornell.

Why did you choose Cornell?

Cynthia Cuffie: As a Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network member, I’ve met many prospective students over the years. The reasons I chose Cornell are similar to what I’ve heard from this diverse group of students. In high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew it would involve the sciences. Cornell presented me with a number of scientific fields that I hadn’t considered, which was exciting. When I visited the Ithaca campus, there was a serenity, yet liveliness on campus. I loved that the libraries were so varied and responsive to different types of study needs (and moods!) I went to a magnet high school in Newark, New Jersey. While it provided an excellent opportunity to excel academically, it felt small. I looked forward to attending Cornell and meeting students with different interests and backgrounds, but I worried about getting lost. I was reassured when my mother and I visited campus; we met encouraging African-American students and administrative staff. I felt like I would not be alone while having a familiar community that cared. Choosing Cornell was my first major step towards diversifying my personal community with a safety net while pursuing challenging academic studies.

Terry Horner: Cornell has been in my imagination since I was a boy in western New York. When I was eight, my family took a road trip to drop my mom and sister at Ithaca College for violin camp. Before heading home, my dad drove us up the other hill to Cornell. My dad said, “this is Cornell,” and I thought, “this place is amazing!” Years later, my high school girlfriend’s father (a loyal engineering alumnus) shared stories about Cornell while he tutored us in calculus. My fascination with Cornell grew, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Cornell and academic challenges became associated in my mind. Then, my sister’s boyfriend decided to attend Cornell, and she was allowed to visit if I chaperoned. We stayed in his room, and I attended my first Hangovers concert with his friends. Those weekends opened my eyes to the richness and rigor of Cornell student life, and I was hooked. At the time, I didn’t know I would live my freshman year in Cascadilla Hall or sing in the Hangovers, but by the time I was ready to apply for college, I had made up my mind—it was Cornell or bust!

Lorette Simon Gross: In the summer of 1984, between my junior and senior year of high school at Horace Mann in the Bronx, I attended Cornell’s summer session. I took a creative writing class as well as one in computer programming. Computers were going to be the next big thing! The machine was as large as the classroom. Not only was I inspired by the classes but I also fell in love with Cornell. All aspects appealed to me—living on west campus in the U-Halls, dining at Noyes and climbing Libe slope. I wanted in! Fast forward one year later and there I was, a freshman living on West Campus. Several of my summer program classmates were also freshmen, so it felt like home. I applied to The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) as a Communication major. As a land grant school, CALS afforded me the opportunity to pursue a pre-professional course with in-state tuition while also taking full advantage of Cornell’s other schools such as the College of Arts and Sciences (art history) and The School of Hotel Administration (wines). I was so impressed with the breadth and depth of classes offered. It is unique to Cornell.

Roderick Chu: Cornell wasn’t my first choice. Cornell was my immigrant father’s choice in his youth, having come from an agricultural village in China. He applied and was admitted to Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences—his dream—but even with his GI Bill benefits, couldn’t afford to attend.

I applied to college at age 15 and I guess I resented the parental pressure I felt on choosing a college. I applied to Cornell, but wasn’t admitted and attended the University of Michigan instead in honors math. I spent much of my time in extracurricular activities. Through those activities, I learned that I enjoyed working with people, so in my senior year, I decided to pursue an MBA rather than a PhD in physics.

I was admitted to Cornell and Michigan business schools and chose Cornell for a few reasons. I had outgrown my earlier rebelliousness and recognized the virtues of attending Cornell; my professors at Michigan advised me to switch schools, as life had become too familiar and easy for me in Ann Arbor; and Cornell’s small MBA class size was attractive, enabling me to develop the personal relationships I had come to cherish at Michigan. It was clearly a wise choice.

What one person or class influenced you most at Cornell?

Horner: Although many people and classes influenced me at Cornell, one person—Virginia Utermohlen MD—made all the difference. I first met Dr. U as a high-school junior. At that time, prospective students could attend information sessions in each college, and I wanted to study biomedical engineering and become a physician. However, I mistakenly ended up in Martha Van Renssalaer Hall that October day, a long way from the engineering quad! Dr. U captivated me with her talk about the Biology and Society major and Human Ecology’s interdisciplinary approach to studying the human condition, and she changed the course of my studies, my career, and my life. She was my faculty advisor, and she encouraged me to switch into the nutrition major. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, Dr. U nurtured my curiosity in the classroom and laboratory, taught me to be patient and compassionate with others, and showed me that the unexpected path is often the most rewarding. Most important to my adult life, I learned that solving many problems—health or otherwise—requires a careful balancing of competing interests in order to help improve conditions for individuals and society.

Simon Gross: The class that most influenced me was a public relations class in the CALS Communication department. We did a case study on the Tylenol poisoning scare and how the company handled this crisis. It was fascinating and taught me creative thinking in the face of a tragic situation. In the case, with no suspect to blame, the public could have turned on Tylenol’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson. Instead, because the company pulled all of its products from stores and warned consumers not to take Tylenol, it emerged as a sympathetic victim. Taking a huge financial hit but putting customer safety above profits was the perfect strategy. I have thought of this case often, as it provided me with critical thinking skills that have guided me during my career and throughout my life. This class was influential in my applying to Cornell’s five-year bachelors/MBA program with the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. There, I developed my interest in marketing. I thrived in an environment of collaboration and group projects. I was recruited to my first position in advertising in New York City (my dream job) from an on-campus interview. I will be forever indebted to Cornell for setting me on my career path.

Chu: My Cornell professor, advisor, mentor, and friend Joe Thomas – the recently retired dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management, and interim dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. Joe helped me to treat my studies seriously, resulting in honors on my MBA degree. Joe advised me to pursue a career in management consulting, in the tough job market of the recession of 1971, which led to my career at Andersen Consulting (now known as Accenture). For over a decade, I got to return to Cornell twice annually recruiting new staff for my firm. During each of those visits, I strengthened my relationship with Joe and other faculty, seeking their advice on my career and sharing my views on how my Cornell education had prepared me—or not—for the realities I faced in the world. That life-long relationship with Joe was further extended by visits for Reunions, the Trustee-Council Annual Meeting, other campus events, and our get-togethers in NYC for the opera, the Cornell Asian Alumni Association annual banquet, or wherever we might find ourselves. Joe foresaw that we would become lifelong friends—and I’ve been the grateful beneficiary.

Cuffie: Dr. Daniels, professor of biochemistry, had the greatest influence on me during my time at Cornell. Coming after the confidence-buster, organic chemistry, biochemistry seemed daunting. However, Dr. Daniels was an outstanding lecturer and during her office hours she knew how to challenge me and to bring concepts to life without being intimidating or condescending. That class with Dr. Daniels boosted my confidence and was instrumental in providing an academic turning point for me at Cornell. I went from surviving to thriving.

 

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

Chu: I chose Cornell for its diversity of learning opportunities—anchored in close relationships with the faculty and my fellow students. I knew that learning transcended classroom experiences and I was attracted to learn from the diverse backgrounds of my fellow classmates and faculty, with whom we quickly developed first-name relationships. I should note that I didn’t join a fraternity during my undergraduate years at Michigan. But at Cornell, a group of about 30 of us from my MBA class quickly formed a Wednesday night beer-drinking group at the house of two of our classmates.

This group continued for all four of our MBA semesters. We gathered, drank, and solved the world’s problems at Randy and Tom’s “round house” in the woods just south of the Boxcar. Our faculty were astute enough not to schedule any classes on Thursday mornings from our 2nd semester onwards. With spouses, it was quite a diverse gathering. Of course, we frequented our favorite bars—the Chapter House, Fall Creek House, Haunt, Boxcar—but never missed our Wednesday nights together. I cherish the close relationships I have maintained with many of my classmates, even as life changes have kept moving us physically farther apart.

Cuffie: Cornell offered so many experiences, I could tap into my passions and discover new ones easily. I grew up playing the organ in a Baptist church. I loved that Willard Straight Hall had a Hammond organ that I could play whenever I wanted. Through music, I had the opportunity to join others and share my talents with the local community church. I learned later in life that the inventor, Laurens Hammond, Class of 1916, was a Cornellian! I loved the beauty of the campus and especially enjoyed sitting and enjoying a meal overlooking Beebe Lake or riding my bike in the fall and spring on East Campus. It seemed like I was in another world! The physical education opportunities were life-changing for me. From swimming to figure skating, I experienced things at a level I had never experienced before. For example, I grew up going to town pools and the beach with family, but the infamous Cornell swim test led to me take my swimming skills to another level. Not only do I enjoy swimming to this day, I made that a priority for my children at a very early age so that they would also be able to enjoy the water safely.

Horner: Joining the Cornell University Glee Club and the Hangovers and meeting such a diverse group of young men with different backgrounds, interests, colleges, and class years was undoubtedly my most formative experience at Cornell. Between the two groups, we rehearsed together four nights a week, performed together in collaboration with the young women of the Cornell University Chorus, and traveled together to sing with other college groups and for Cornell alumni across the United States, and overseas. The Glee Club and Hangovers exposed me to Cornell alumni and their devotion to the university. Professor Thomas Sokol, music director for thirty-eight years, was a role model who created a singular ensemble from many voices and taught us how to behave like adults. As president of Cornell’s oldest student-run organization, I learned to lead a team of volunteers and sustain the legacy of that organization. To this day, my closest friendships are still those formed around rehearsals in Sage Chapel and Lincoln Hall, and we renew our bonds whenever we sing the “Cornell Evening Song” and the “Alma Mater.” I’m forever grateful to my freshman roommate, Todd Stern ’92, for taking me along to auditions on our first day at Cornell!

Simon Gross: Cornell is where I grew my roots and wings and honed my leadership skills. My favorite parts of my Cornell experience were two different activities. First, I am grateful to have found a group of intelligent, strong and vibrant women in my sorority Alpha Epsilon Phi. I would be remiss not to give a shout-out to all of my friends whom I met at Cornell. But Alpha Epsilon Phi gave me the opportunity to mentor freshmen, have a voice on campus, do community service, and play a leadership role. Second, as an orientation counselor (and later supervisor), I would cut my summer break short to return to Cornell one week early. I couldn’t wait to get back to campus. There, we would assist the new students to their dorms, helping them carry their belongings. I found such joy welcoming the first-year students and their parents. There was a mixture of excitement and trepidation in their eyes. I would try to alleviate any fears by offering a smile and warm advice. First impressions are lasting and these touchpoints are key to one’s college experience, not only for the new students but also for the student volunteers and leaders.

 

What calls you to volunteer service?

Simon Gross: “A life is not important except for the impact it has on others.” Jackie Robinson’s quote has inspired my volunteer service, particularly in education and healthcare. In August 2011, Cornell President David Skorton published an op-ed in the New York Times calling to end fraternity hazing after a fraternity death. I contacted President Skorton’s office and offered funding for programming that would shift the paradigm and educate students to prevent such tragedies. This led to my supporting and naming a fellowship at the Cornell Health Center. This served to reduce alcohol-related risks and worked with the leaders of the Greek system offering peer to peer support. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1995, I became involved with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. In my almost 20-year affiliation, I have helped either start or build the breast center, the lung institute and the simulation center, being part of a team raising tens of millions of dollars for the hospital. I have had the pleasure to serve as campaign co-chair for my 25th and 30th Cornell Reunions and to serve on the Communication department board, advising faculty and students. I am passionate about Cornell and look forward to further service at my beloved alma mater.

Chu: I’ve been blessed to have had an unusually broad, yet deep variety of experiences. Together, they have given me perspectives that many in any particular field might find unusual. Connecting disparate dots has become one of my fortes. Although I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving in a number of leadership roles on the state and national level, I’ve come to realize that the solution to most of the problems we face today—and the development of opportunities that are before us—will not come from those on the state or national level, but mainly from those in our local communities. The political polarization we live with today is just too fierce. We each live in our own communities of interest in which we cannot expect that others will do it for us. We each must take responsibility for improving the lives of our neighbors as well as ourselves. My Cornell education prepared me well for the opportunities with which I was presented. But it’s not just “From whom much is given, much is expected.” Indeed, as I’ve learned from so many of my fellow Cornell alumni, there’s great joy and satisfaction derived from sharing and serving.

Cuffie: Gratitude, altruism, and a desire to make an impact are reasons I feel called to volunteer service. I’ve served a number of organizations over the years, including Cornell. I have always been discerning about where I spend my discretionary time and resources to maximize my impact. I enjoy helping people, whether students, faculty or staff. I have done this throughout the years and I would like to continue doing so with greater impact as an alumni-elected trustee. I’ve prioritized Cornell because it changed my life. It exposed me to people, experiences, and knowledge that prepared me for future challenges, and it provided a firm foundation for me to begin building a legacy that I will be able to pass onto my daughters and the Cornellians who come after me. While I have hopefully enriched the Cornell experience for others and embodied the spirit of “one Cornell” through my volunteer service, I know that my life has also been enriched by the privilege of serving.

Horner: A few months ago, I was asked to talk with Cornell in Washington students about my career in public and volunteer service. I asked them to imagine their time as Cornell alumni lasting far longer than their time as students. It’s clear that Cornell students are preparing to lead engaged, meaningful lives, and they inspired me. To quote William Arthur Ward, “[there are] three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others.” I am drawn to public and volunteer service because I care about improving the human condition. Cornell taught me to imagine better outcomes and gave me tools to achieve them for others. I am drawn to public and volunteer service because I dare through a sense of civic duty to my country and university. Cornell trained me in graduate school thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health, and my career is devoted to giving back by improving government and by serving the university. Most significantly, I am drawn to public and volunteer service to share with others. I have learned so much by working with volunteers, sharing with others a heartfelt story, a smile, and a common purpose.

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