Voting is open February 1-29 (closing February 29, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. EST) for Cornell alumni to elect two new members to the Cornell University Board of Trustees. Four candidates are endorsed by the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations: Beth Anderson ’80; Ariel E. Belen JD ’81; E. Eric Elmore ’86, JD ’89; and Doug Mitarotonda ’02, MEng ’03, MA ’07, PhD ’09.
We asked the candidates to respond to a few questions.
What inspired you to choose Cornell?
Beth Anderson: Education had always been an important aspect of my family’s values, so I wanted a university that would challenge me academically. But, as an 18 year-old, I had no definite ideas of what career I wanted to pursue or how I wanted to focus my college studies, so a university with a broad range of offerings that I could explore was very important to me. And, having grown up in the city of Rochester and having gone to a large urban high school, I knew I wanted to attend a university with students and faculty who had a wide range of different backgrounds and areas of interest. Those three criteria led me to Cornell, and the physical beauty of the campus sealed the deal.
Ariel Belen: I was attracted to Cornell Law School and Cornell University because, back in 1981 and still today, the Law School is one of the preeminent centers of legal scholarship and training in the world. In addition to the high quality of its faculty, the Law School had a concentration program in international law, which I found to be of great interest, as well as clinical programs in civil legal services and prisoner legal services, which were very appealing to me.
These programs ultimately inspired me to become a public defender after graduation. I also pursued the concentration in international law and obtained a JD with a specialization in international legal affairs. This academic experience has helped me greatly in my current career as an international mediator and arbitrator.
I was also inspired to attend Cornell because of its historic commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Eric Elmore: Although I was unfamiliar with many elite schools, I was aware of Cornell. I knew it had a reputation for outstanding academics and as an idyllic, college-town environment in upstate New York. It was very important for me to attend the best school that I could, to give me the best opportunities in life. I am the first of my immediate family to attend college.
My mom raised my brother, sister, and me on a fixed income in South Jamaica, Queens. Throughout my upbringing, she stressed the importance of attending college. Even though I applied to a few colleges in New York City, I really wanted to get away from home to attend college in a non-urban environment and with a diverse student body. Also, I knew that I could get additional financial aid from New York State if I attended a college in the state.
Cornell was the perfect choice. It was an Ivy League school with an outstanding academic reputation. The student body was extremely diverse ethnically, socioeconomically, and geographically. Cornell was far enough away from home that I felt independent, but close enough that I could get back home easily, when necessary. I applied to Cornell even though my high school guidance counselor thought I was aiming too high. I followed my dreams and was accepted.
Doug Mitarotonda: As I considered different universities, I knew that I enjoyed many academic interests in high school and wasn’t ready to narrow in on one focus area. When I toured Cornell during a campus visit, I was struck by the thickness of the course catalogue and knew that it was a school that would allow me to explore different fields of study. I came home so impressed that I applied early decision. Over the next decade, that thick course catalogue translated into my gaining a true liberal arts education and degrees in fields as diverse as math, Asian studies, computer science, and economics.
What one person or class influenced you most during your time as a student?
Belen: The class that most influenced me during my time as a student was the evidence course taught by Professor Irving Younger. In studying the law of evidence, I came to appreciate how the law strives for a balance between the search for objective truth in an adversarial court system and the need to protect the constitutional rights and privacy interests of litigants. This is a delicate balance that has played out daily for me in my career as a litigator, judge, arbitrator, and mediator.
Professor Younger had been a trial lawyer and a judge earlier in his career. He had both a profound academic knowledge of the law as well as the ability to communicate complex legal doctrines in a logical and easily understandable way. He inspired me to become both a trial lawyer and a judge.
Elmore: “The Nature, Functions, and Limits of Law” in the Government Department of the College of Arts & Sciences influenced me most. A team of outstanding Cornell Law School professors collaborated to teach this stimulating class. It was a general education survey course on law and society, which discussed law and social change and the limits of law. This class enlightened me on how the law could be used to improve the plight of people of color and other disadvantaged communities. While there were certainly other classes and people that influenced me as well, this class led me to attend Cornell Law School and affirmed my decision to become a lawyer, so I could become an agent of change.
Mitarotonda: It’s impossible to pick just one! Like many Cornellians, I was fortunate enough to have incredible mentors invest in me and guide me during my time at Cornell and beyond. One of my favorite memories of a mentor was when Professor Graeme Bailey spent an entire winter break teaching me a math course via independent study, so that I could fulfill my dream of studying abroad in Nepal and still graduate on time. He also recognized early on that economics could leverage my skills and interests in both technical and social sciences, and he encouraged me to explore that field of study, even though he himself was a math and computer science professor.
Professor Bailey was just one amazing person who influenced me during my time at Cornell. Professor Richard Schuler, Professor Kathryn March MA ’75, PhD ’79, Arts & Sciences Dean of Freshmen Ken Gabbard, Vice President Susan Murphy ’73, PhD ’94, and Board of Trustee Members Carolyn Neuman ’64 and John Alexander ’74, MBA ’76 are just some of the other people who shaped me.
Anderson: I was lucky enough to take several small classes with Professor Frederick Marcham PhD ’26, of the history department. He taught classes that covered the history and literature of specific periods in Great Britain. But, what I remember more than what he taught me about Tennyson was the morning he asked how many birds I’d heard on my way to campus, and the walk we took around the arts quad on a gorgeous spring day when he pointed out different branch structures on the blossoming trees. Those lessons about listening and looking have stuck with me for 40+ years. He was also generous about supporting me when I wrote a letter to the editor of the Cornell Alumni Magazine (then edited by his son, John Marcham ’50) in which I questioned the second-class coverage of women’s sports.
Outside of class, what was your favorite part of your Cornell experience?
Elmore: My favorite experience at Cornell, outside of the classroom, was participating in the Big Red Marching Band. This experience allowed me to interact with band members from different backgrounds. In the Big Red Band, I embraced many of the rich Cornell traditions. I learned and sang with my fellow bandmates many of the great Cornell songs including, “Alma Mater,” “Give My Regards to Davy,” and “Evening Song.” I enjoyed traveling to the different Ivy League schools with the football team to perform. I especially enjoyed when the band traveled to New York City for the Cornell versus Columbia game and the Sy Katz ’31 Parade. I still enjoy returning to Cornell for Homecoming and performing with other band alumni and current Big Red Band members on the field during halftime.
Mitarotonda: The breadth of non-academic opportunities available outside of the classroom at Cornell is astounding and served as a great complement to my academic studies. There truly is something for everyone at Cornell. As an undergraduate, I was proud to put on the Big Red “C” to represent Cornell at track and cross-country races and fondly remember singing “Alma Mater” after the Heps every season.
I was also deeply involved in campus life through environmental groups (e.g., the Solar Decathlon) and campus governance (e.g., Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Cornell Board of Trustees), and I voiced my opinion writing for The Cornell Daily Sun. That I could pursue such diverse activities during my time on campus is a testament to Cornell’s ability to inspire and educate well-rounded students with many different interests.
While I’m grateful for having the opportunity to participate in such varied activities, my favorite part of my Cornell experience was meeting my wife Rachel (Reichenbach MS ’07, PhD ’10), and getting married in the Duffield Hall atrium!
Anderson: I was very active in athletics at Cornell. I loved practicing and competing alongside teammates who gave me the opportunity to form friendships across colleges and majors. It was also exciting to put on the Cornell uniform to represent the Big Red against other universities. These were the early days of Title IX, and there were more opportunities for women than there had been in the past, but much more progress to be made. As an active leader in the Women’s Athletic Association, I had the chance to work with Athletic Director Dick Schultz and Alumni Affairs to generate awareness of women’s teams and to advocate for better equipment, facilities, and opportunities for women.
Belen: Outside of class, I enjoyed Cornell’s beautiful campus, Ithaca, and the entire Finger Lakes region. Having grown up in Brooklyn, my time at Cornell was my first prolonged exposure to the beauty of upstate New York. This experience helped to spark my great interest in hiking, gardening, and birding. I also enjoyed the camaraderie of my Cornell classmates who came from all over the world. I have maintained many of these friendships to this day.
What motivates you to serve as a volunteer?
Mitarotonda: Gratitude, more than anything, is what motivates me to volunteer. While I have worked hard to build a successful life for myself, I know I have not gotten here alone. There are countless people who have, with their selflessness, paved the way for me and helped me along my journey, and it is important to me that I continue to pass it forward. There are also structural barriers that limit opportunities for certain groups of people, and, using my relative privilege, I’m interested in breaking down those barriers.
One way of doing this that has been particularly meaningful to me is by encouraging underrepresented high school students to attend summer classes at Cornell through the Ivy League Connection. I would value the opportunity to volunteer on the Cornell Board of Trustees to build on my existing volunteerism with Cornell and continue to create ways for others, directly and indirectly, to benefit from a life-changing experience at Cornell.
Anderson: For me, one of the best aspects of volunteering for Cornell is the way it has expanded my Cornell circle, introducing me to Cornellians I would have never otherwise met. Together, we share an interest in giving back to the university and engaging others—students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents, and non-Cornellians. Whether it is sharing information about Cornell with the outside world, raising money for the university, or offering ideas or advice to those in the Cornell community, I am happy to serve in any way that furthers Cornell’s mission.
Belen: I am motivated to be a Cornell volunteer because of all that Cornell has given to me. I have been blessed in my life with incredible friendships, relationships, and opportunities for which I am forever grateful. I am a strong believer in paying it forward, so, throughout my career, I have mentored hundreds of students and young attorneys. This is something I continue to do. Young attorneys who are interested in alternative dispute resolution shadow me at work.
My most recent volunteer effort came several years ago when I was invited to serve on the board of advisors of the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. Through the support and hands-on involvement of Laurie and Martin Scheinman ’75, MS ’76, I have seen the institute expand its academic and clinical programs in alternative dispute resolution, which has been extremely gratifying. I am also currently volunteering in an effort spearheaded by the institute’s director of conflict programs, Katrina Nobles, to bring restorative justice principles into the New York City student suspension process, which is in critical need of reform. This is a direct effort to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately impacts minority communities.
Elmore: The desire to assist people, as people have assisted me, motivates me to serve as a volunteer. I recall struggling as an underclassman at Cornell. Certain rigorous classes required in the College of Arts & Sciences overwhelmed me. I remember two of my older fraternity brothers counseling me on where I could get tutoring assistance. I also remember in my freshman dorm, that program administrators encouraged me to seek either academic assistance or emotional support whenever I needed. They also told me that the most successful students at Cornell were the ones who worked together. I have carried those experiences well beyond my college days.
In the last thirty years, I have continued to serve Cornell and my local community. As a Cornell volunteer, I am proud of creating a scholarship to help underrepresented students attend Cornell Law School. As a volunteer in my community, I am especially proud of helping to establish the IUL Smithville School Museum and Education Center, in Montgomery County, Maryland, which provides mentoring and tutoring for local students. My hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “Everybody can be great . . . because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. . . . You only need a heart full of grace. Soul generated by love.” I hope I possess such a heart and soul.