Jessica Houle ’08 working with as YOURS participant as an undergrad.

Founded by Undergrads, Service Groups Are Still Going Strong

Meet some alums whose good works—from youth outreach to food drives—are being continued by a new generation

“Bear Hugs” celebrates heartwarming stories of Cornellians on the Hill and around the world. Have an idea? Email us at!

By Lindsay Lennon

“I didn’t want to come to Cornell and stay in a bubble,” recalls Arts & Sciences alum Fatema Gunja Sumar ’01. “I really wanted to be part of the community—and there were a lot of ways we could connect our knowledge and shared humanity with Tompkins County.”

Sumar is just one of numerous Cornellians over the decades who have seen a need in the Ithaca area—and took it upon themselves to fill it by forming a student organization or program to provide a vital service.

Here’s a sampling of groups and efforts that were launched by undergrads years or even decades ago—and are still going strong today.

Translator Interpreter Program (TIP)

Sumar learned through local media that many Ithaca-area residents whose first language was not English were struggling to communicate in emergency situations—particularly those involving interactions with police, firefighters, and medical workers.

In 2000, she worked with Joyce Muchan ’97 at the Cornell Public Service Center (now the Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, which houses all the programs mentioned in this story) and various language professors to address the issue.

Fatema Gunja Sumar
Fatema Gunja Sumar ’01

They brainstormed how students could volunteer as interpreters and translators for community agencies and compiled a list of major service organizations—from schools and food pantries to police, fire, and ambulance services—as well as faculty who could certify a student’s fluency.

The program, known as TIP, holds the distinction of being the oldest and largest faculty-certified, student-run translation and interpretation program in the U.S.

Youth Outreach Undergraduates Reshaping Success (YOURS)

Jessica Houle
Jessica Houle ’08

Jessica Houle ’08 spent most of her childhood in a mobile home park in Dryden—just miles from the Hill—and vividly remembers feeling shame and embarrassment about it. “I didn’t want my school friends to know where I lived, especially as a teenager,” says Houle. “I felt very judged.”

While attending Cornell, Houle briefly moved back in with her father to save money. Returning to the environment where she spent 10 years, and seeing the kids who now resided there, flooded her with memories of “not feeling proud of where I lived.”

She sought to change that for the next generation by starting YOURS, a program providing afterschool programming and mentorship for kids living in Dryden mobile home parks.

Through a partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, YOURS offers daily themed programming—like Monday Makers, Tech Tuesday, and Wellness Wednesday—with the goal of inspiring children to develop self-esteem and life skills, become leaders, and pursue their academic and professional goals.

Encouraging Young Engineers and Scientists (EYES)

When Jamila Cutliff Hokanson ’99 noticed how few students of color were majoring in STEM fields on the Hill, she sought to address the issue on a wider scale.

“I was probably one of two African Americans in materials science and engineering, and I was curious why there weren’t more,” she recalls. “I was fortunate to grow up in a school system that had a lot of resources, and I wanted to bring that to the schools locally and provide access to exploring engineering concepts and themes in fun, creative ways.”

Jamila Cutliff Hokanson
Jamila Cutliff Hokanson ’99

Hokanson started EYES to inspire Ithaca-area elementary- and middle-schoolers to embrace STEM education—tapping Big Red undergrads and grad students to share their passion for their fields of study.

‘Big Red Bucks’ Food Drive

George Hornedo
George Hornedo ’13

It’s not uncommon for students to have unused campus dining funds remaining in their Big Red Bucks accounts at the end of each semester.

Teaming up with friend Alex Bores ’13, George Hornedo ’13 tapped that resource by launching an annual food drive.

Bores and Hornedo devised the drive through Cornell Hunger Relief, a student-run program that partners with local organizations to address food insecurity in Tompkins County.

It encourages students to use their leftover Bucks to purchase nonperishable goods, which are donated to food drives. The most recent effort, in May 2023, garnered 4,500 pounds of comestibles for local partners focused on food insecurity.

“I didn’t necessarily anticipate that this would be something that would continue,” says Hornedo. “It’s been incredible to see that it has had a lasting impact—not just on the school, but, more importantly, on the larger community.”

Top: Jessica Houle ’08 working with a YOURS participant as an undergrad. (All images provided; Sumar photo courtesy of the Center for International Development at Harvard University)

Published February 1, 2024


  1. Susan H Murphy, Class of 1973

    I had the good fortune to be Vice President of Student and Academic Services while each of these programs was created. The generosity of our students to use their time and talents with the community to address a need and to create such lasting impacts was inspiring then and continues to be now. These stories, and many others, define Cornell and what it means to be a Cornellian. Thank you Fatima, Jessica, Jamila, George and Alex…and the staff of the Public Service Center, especially Joyce Muchan. You left a legacy! It is wonderful to have your work highlighted.

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