Students were the focus of the Trustee Council Annual Meeting (TCAM) Nov. 1-3 on the Ithaca campus. More than 650 of Cornell’s most engaged volunteers—members of the Cornell University Council and the Cornell University Board of Trustees—gathered to learn about and connect with students and, through this lens of the theme “Student Stories,” stay up to date on the state of the university.
The meeting gives trustees and Council members, who serve as ambassadors for Cornell, an annual update and inside look at the university. These alumni volunteers were excited to hear about the university from students themselves, said Laura Denbow, senior director of the Office of Volunteer Programs. She added that many personal connections started between alumni and students throughout the three days.
“I felt a story line,” she said. “Everyone wanted to contribute to the story. Everyone wanted the students to tell the stories.”
From beginning to end, students were in the spotlight. At the opening All-Council Lunch on Thursday, vice provosts Julia Thom-Levy (academic innovation), Katherine A. McComas PhD ’00 (engagement and land-grant affairs), and Lisa H. Nishii (undergraduate education) spoke about student academic experience and active learning. At the closing dinner on Friday, Council members and trustees heard about the student co-curricular experience from Ryan Lombardi, vice president of Student and Campus Life, and Vijay Pendakur, dean of students.
In between, alumni sat in on classes and mingled with first-year students at a networking reception on North Campus. They went on a student-led tour of Willard Straight Hall, and learned from students during sessions highlighting student projects, Engaged Cornell activities, and students’ international study experiences.
“I hope that the student stories touched hearts and personalized this student experience, perhaps as never before,” said Catherine Holmes MS ’85, associate director of volunteer connections.
The centerpiece of TCAM, the 68th joint annual meeting of trustees and Council members—reverberated with student stories. Nathan Connell ’01, chair of Cornell University Council and an accomplished physician, spoke of his struggles as a first-year student—he nearly transferred out.
“It took me a long time, but I managed to get back on the right path with the help of a new advisor, Ron Harris-Warrick, William T. Keeton Professor of biological sciences,” said Connell. “The guidance, friendship, and kindness he showed me made the difference between success and failure.”
Connell urged his fellow Council members and trustees to reflect on their own student experiences and their own connections to the Cornell community as they participated in the meeting’s events.
During her State of the University address, President Martha E. Pollack introduced a video about Amy Pantoja ’22, who, along with her family, experienced homelessness before coming to Cornell.
Council member Vicki Hartman ’78 said that coming up with and implementing the theme, “Student Stories,” was a collaboration between President Pollack, other administrators, and the TCAM Planning Committee, which she chairs this year.
“We’re delighted with how everything turned out,” she said. “I felt as if I learned a good deal about a lot of the new initiatives on campus.”
To Hartman, the tone-setting event of TCAM 2018 was “Making Cornell home,” a networking event in Donlon Hall on North Campus. Thursday evening, Council members and trustees got to know first year students. Everyone wore large nametags sharing hometown, major, first year residence hall, and career focus. Many students learned as much about alumni as alumni learned from students.
Amira Walia ’22 attended “Making Cornell home” because she wanted to hear from alumni about their career paths.
“As someone who is still figuring out what they want to do, it was great to hear from people who have done so many different things,” said Walia, who is interested in finance, marketing, and consulting. “Overall, it ended up being well worth my time, as I learned so much about Cornell and opportunities alumni have taken.”