Elected to the Cornell University Board of Trustees in spring 2022, Dr. Deborah J. Arrindell ’79 and Kimberly Nicole Dowdell ’06 began their four-year terms of service on July 1. They recently shared their hopes and expectations as alumni-elected trustees.
What will your primary focus be as you enter your first term as a trustee?
Dr. Deborah J. Arrindell ’79: During my first term as trustee, my focus will be learning all I can about how to become a trustee, and, in my role, how I can do the greatest good. There is a tremendous learning curve that I need to navigate in order to become a functioning member of the board.
Kimberly Nicole Dowdell ’06: As I embark upon my first term as a Cornell trustee, I’m looking forward to absorbing as much information as I can in order to be well informed when making decisions alongside my fellow board members in the years to come. In the beginning, my primary focus will be on listening and asking questions. I will actively participate in my committees and attend meetings hosted by other committees as often as I can to round out my experience. As an architect, I’m keenly interested in Cornell’s built environment, across all campuses. I am also interested in supporting efforts to make our university as economically accessible as possible to admitted students who would not be able to afford a Cornell education without financial aid.
What part of your service do you expect will be the most challenging and the most rewarding?
Arrindell: The most challenging part of being a board member is learning how complex Cornell is and what the role of a board member is in relationship to working with President Pollack and the rest of the Cornell organization. Also, it will be challenging understanding the priorities that need to be addressed in order to keep moving Cornell forward. The most rewarding part of my experience on the board will be getting to interact with a host of individuals (students, faculty, employees) who make Cornell great.
Dowdell: The answers are actually the same for this two-part question, and that is “the unexpected.” While I wasn’t on the board when the pandemic struck, I know that it was a major challenge to develop a course of action with very limited information about COVID-19. As an alumna, I was very proud of how Cornell successfully navigated those circumstances and rose to the occasion with a strong focus on safety, science, preserving the educational experience, and protecting the Cornell community overall. That unexpected set of challenges yielded positive results that were derived from the best that Cornell has to offer, across the entire community. While I don’t know what exactly we’ll encounter as a board while I am in service, I do have a profound amount of respect for my fellow board members and the Cornell administration, giving me comfort in knowing that we will secure a strong future for the university, no matter what surfaces under our watch.
How has your past experience with Cornell helped you prepare for this role?
Arrindell: I have worked in academia and the corporate environment. I think my experience from both of those environments will serve me well, especially when it comes to trying to understand the big picture with issues, thinking strategically, appreciating viewpoints from various stakeholders (students, faculty, employees), and preparing the organization for the future.
Dowdell: I was invited to serve as an advisory council member for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) in 2010, where I served until 2017. That opportunity was incredibly helpful in giving me exposure to the inner workings of my college and the university as a whole. More than a decade later, I’m delighted to serve on the Cornell University Board of Trustees, where I will take the lessons learned from AAP as well as my time with the Cornell University Council and President’s Council of Cornell Women to support the entire Cornell community. I also served on the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations, which allowed me to have a window into what the board was all about, and what would be expected of an alumni-elected trustee. Those experiences combined provide a wonderful foundation on which to build my engagement as a Cornell trustee.
What excites you about the future of Cornell?
Arrindell: I truly believe that Cornell owns the future. The resources that we have at our disposal, such as faculty and students, our vision/mission, and the fundamental belief that we should use our Cornell education to do the greatest good, puts us at the forefront of solving global problems.
Dowdell: I’m very excited about the continued raising of the bar at Cornell, from generation to generation. Cornell students today are really quite remarkable, indicating that our university and alumni community will only grow stronger over time. The Ithaca campus has developed significantly since my time as a student, and I’m delighted to see our growing presence in New York City, from Weill Cornell Medicine to Cornell Tech and the Gensler Family AAP NYC Center, among other program spaces, in addition to the Cornell Club. As a Midwesterner, I look forward to heightened connectivity with other parts of the U.S. and the world in the future. There is a lot of student talent to tap into across the globe, and I am looking forward to seeing Cornell positioned as a top destination for that talent, with a special focus on diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion. The most diverse organizations are proven to be the strongest performers, so as Cornell becomes more diverse over time, we will continue to grow as a force for doing the greatest good well into the future.