As I write this first column for Cornell Alumni Magazine, I am packing up office and home in California for the cross-country move to Ithaca. I will soon become an engaged member of Cornell’s academic community and spend much of the summer exploring the natural beauty of Ithaca and the surrounding region.
These past nine months since I was named as the thirteenth president have been a whirlwind of activity. I have used the time to learn more about Cornell and to meet some of the faculty, students, and alumni who contribute to its stature as one of the world’s foremost research universities.
The faculty are the heart of any great university, and Cornell’s faculty members are among the very best. In visits to the Ithaca campus, Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell Tech, and Architecture, Art, and Planning’s program in Rome, I’ve met faculty members who are not only working at the forefront of their fields, but also are collaborating across departments, colleges, and campuses in creative and powerful ways. Their dedication to their students is palpable as they work to transmit ideas effectively to the next generation of leaders.
One example of interdisciplinary work is precision medicine and genomics, an area in which Cornell is already a leader. Dr. Mark Rubin, director of the Institute for Precision Medicine at Weill Cornell, was one of a select group of experts invited to the White House in January, when President Obama called on Congress to approve funding to help scientists learn how to tailor treatments to patients’ individual genes. While much of Cornell’s work in this area is being done at the Medical College, our efforts also draw on expertise at Cornell Tech and in the colleges of engineering, veterinary medicine, arts and sciences, and human ecology, and elsewhere on the Ithaca campus. Among my goals as president will be to ensure robust support for the faculty working in critical areas and to establish more connections across our campuses so that even broader and deeper collaborations can flourish.
I am eager to become a full-time Cornellian.
At the President’s Circle dinner in New York City last January, the assembled guests and I had the opportunity to meet Rachel Harmon ’15, Cornell’s newest Rhodes Scholar, whose dedication to social justice in this country and internationally has been nurtured and strengthened by her experience in Ithaca. I will have her in mind when, as one of my first official duties of the fall semester, I welcome Cornell’s newest undergraduates—the Class of 2019. I have no doubt that, like Rachel and so many other Cornell students, they will accomplish great things during their Cornell years and long afterwards.
The Class of 2019 is likely to have record numbers and percentages of underrepresented minority students, women, international students, and legacies, making it the most diverse class in our history. In addition, the percentage of the class who are first-generation college students will remain at around 13 percent. Enrolling first-year students reside in forty-eight U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, as well as in forty-six other countries. They were chosen from among 41,904 applicants, the second-largest number in our history, and I look forward to welcoming them to campus in August.
The University’s 150th birthday celebrations in Los Angeles and San Francisco, in which I took part, brought home to me why Cornell alumni have a reputation nationally for being among the most engaged. Part pep rally, part variety show, part TED Talk, the events also captured the essence of Cornell’s “Big Idea”—the durability of the University’s fundamental values and the ambition of each new generation to discover, create, and contribute.
Throughout this first year I’ll be meeting as many of you as I can, and I invite you to come back to campus September 17–19 for Homecoming Weekend and my inauguration. Among the many events and celebrations, I’m especially looking forward to a discussion of inequality and democratic institutions—a topic related to my own research and teaching—in which some of Cornell’s “otherwise thinking” professors will explore this topic from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Their insights will give our students and alumni much to think about as we enter the presidential campaign season.
I am eager to become a full-time Cornellian. Even the infamous Ithaca winters, which I experienced in January and February, have a magical charm. I appreciate the opportunity to share my perspectives about Cornell through this regular column–and I look forward to learning from you.