While getting into Cornell alone is an impressive accomplishment, there are a number of students who stand out at this Ivy League institution.
These 19 students are building schools, companies, and new technologies that are shaping the future.
Whether it’s in fashion, philanthropy, tech, or sports, students at “Big Red” are doing some really big things.
Class of 2017
Jayakumar had an untraditional gap year after high school, visiting 15 countries in pursuit of the International Chess Master title. Previously ranked No. 2 in the U.S. Juniors circuit, he solidified his status as a global threat when he defeated former World Championship candidate and Grand Master, Ivan Sokolov.
Now ranked No. 5 in his age group, Jayakumar maintains a FIDE rating (the chess world's mathematical system for ranking tournament players) of 2386, just 14 points shy of gaining International Master status. Since entering Cornell, where he studies environmental engineering, he has put tournaments on hold.
His training never stops, although it has been refocused. While he still analyses top games and researches new opening trends, Jayakumar primarily teaches the game to others in and outside the Cornell community -- a strategy that has cemented his own knowledge of chess fundamentals.
This summer he plans to travel to South India to install solar panels on top of village roofs, and compete in chess tournaments to bring him closer to the coveted title. Jayakumar is pursuing a career in the design and implementation of clean energy systems.
Ahmed Elsamadisi develops algorithms to teach robots to navigate land and tell when someone's lying.
Class of 2014
Elsamadisi is a project leader at Cornell's Autonomous Systems Laboratory, working to make robots smarter.
In his second year, Elsamadisi created an algorithm to help a robot localise itself, essentially preventing it from bumping into things. Later, he applied it to the design of a robotic system that gives campus tours by using a rolling Segway that can read QR code-like tags around campus to navigate and play auditory recordings along the way. The system can also adjust its behaviour depending on what it encounters, like a group of students walking by.
Now Elsamadisi is teaching robots to tell when someone is lying. The robot is tasked with finding a unique object on campus by playing '20 Questions' with humans. It sends a text message to the players, asking Yes/No questions about the object's location, and learns which humans are telling the truth and which aren't. The robot usually finds the item in its location in fewer than 10 questions.
Elsamadisi, a mechanical engineering major, wrote the data fusion algorithm, the controls, and the server that managed sending and receiving text messages.
After graduation he will work with WeWork, a co-working space for startups, on an 'Internet of things' endeavour: to make smart buildings.
Ali Hamed went from sleeping in Starbucks to investing in more than a dozen new companies this year.
Class of 2014
Hamed co-founded CoVenture, a firm that builds software for early-stage startups in exchange for equity. After sealing $US500,000 of its own funding in a jaw-dropping six weeks, CoVenture plans to partner with and invest in 15 companies this year.
CoVenture worked with six startups in 2013, all of which managed to raise additional capital. They also collectively gained revenues of around $US10 million after working with Hamed and his team.
Hamed employs about 40 developers and designers (all of whom are full-time professionals, not students) to create solutions for companies with non-technical founders and big ideas.
For Hamed, who originally went to Cornell to play baseball, it was a bumpy ride to success. After an injury forced him to quit sports, he taught himself to code. He moved nearly full-time to New York City to launch CoVenture, and for seven months was basically homeless as he alternated between couch-surfing with friends and living and sleeping in Starbucks or Union Square Park.
Now in his last semester at Cornell, Hamed spends half the week in Ithaca and half the week at his New York City office. (Thankfully, he's made enough from CoVenture to now afford an apartment.) He plans to focus on running his business after graduation.
Amy Zhao manipulates the body's own cellular mechanisms to produce cancer-fighting treatments with fewer side effects.
Class of 2014
Amy Zhao started down a pre-veterinary track until the experience of working in a lab drew her from puppies to porphyrins, or chemical compounds in the body. Her research involves manipulating one of the best-known porphyrins, heme, to allow for novel cancer treatments.
Traditional chemotherapy and radiation can induce severe side effects such as anemia and hair loss, while photodynamic therapy, a new treatment type, only targets cancer cells. It works by providing the patient with a drug that causes the tumour to become sensitive to light. Then, by exposing the area to light, the cancer cells die without damaging the normal tissue.
Photodynamic therapy is currently in use, but is not perfect and has limited applications. Zhao spends five to eight hours a day in the lab, researching how to use existing mechanisms in the body, like porphyrins, to fine-tune the method of treating skin and colon cancers.
In her spare time Zhao takes salsa dance lessons and horseback riding lessons, and is president of the Cornell Pre-Veterinary Society. Her post-graduation plans keep her in Cornell's Department of Animal Science as a doctoral candidate continuing her undergraduate work.
Class of 2015
At the Sochi Olympics, the US women's hockey team looked to be cruising to a gold medal, leading Canada 2-0 late in the third period. With little more than three minutes left in the game, first-time Olympian -- and Cornell student -- Brianne Jenner mounted a historic comeback -- halving the deficit with a shot that deflected off of another player's knee and over the goalie into the net.
Thanks to Jenner, Canada tied it up with a second goal and cinched the team's fourth Olympic win in overtime.
Hailing from Oakville, Ontario, Jenner began training for the Olympics in the Great White North last May. As the Games approached, coaches slashed the team from 27 to 21, a gruelling elimination process. But Jenner says the months of training were worth the experience of walking through the tunnel at Opening Ceremonies and seeing so many Canadian flags in the stands.
Jenner has also played for the Big Red since her freshman year, leading the team with 35 goals and 35 assists in her junior season. Last year, she rallied Cornell's young team to win the ECAC Women's Hockey Championship, edging rival Harvard 2-1 in front of a home crowd.
A government major, Jenner wants to continue her athletic career, although there is no professional women's hockey league in the U.S. She has her sights set on the Canadian post-college team and graduate school for business or law.
Georgia Crowther leads the Cornell Mars Rover team and co-founded Cornell's first lab space for 3D printing and laser-cutting.
Class of 2014
Crowther oversees an interdisciplinary team of 40 engineering, science, and business undergraduate students, working together to build a mock rover for the University Rover Challenge.
The event brings students from across the country to The Mars Desert Research Station in southern Utah. This year, the rover must complete a certain number of tasks, such as traversing rough terrain with steep slopes and cliffs, and manipulating a complicated control panel by flipping switches, rotating levers, and screwing in pipe section.
Crowther keeps the team on schedule, evaluates the overall design, and tries to bring different sub-systems together to build a more cohesive rover. She's also worked closely on the rover's robotic claw and arm (which must deliver items to astronauts designated by GPS coordinates), its package storage system, and electronics core.
This semester Crowther also helped launch the Rapid Prototyping Lab, Cornell's first open space for 3-D printing and laser-cutting. She set up a variety of printers for student use and provides counsel to project teams, research labs, and individuals on the best way to prototype their projects.
After graduation, Crowther plans to join Social Bicycles, a New York City-based startup that's developing smart-bikes for bike-sharing systems.
Class of 2015
Montgomery discovered BugGuide.net, an online database for photographers and entomologists, when he was 12, and since then has contributed thousands of photos of as many bugs as he could find -- some of which may be entirely undiscovered species.
Last summer in Arizona, while interning at the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station, Montgomery was sweep-netting through grasses in an oak forest when he snatched up an unfamiliar bug. After speaking with experts and investigating the leafhopper -- a wedge-shaped insect known for its quick jumping -- he's confident the one he found is an entirely undocumented species. He's in the process of describing and naming it for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal.
Montgomery holds about 12 records, the industry's name for documenting a species' existence for the first time. New records are published in a reference book when the find is significant enough to warrant updating literature on the species. His records include a sap-feeding beetle, a pea-leaf weevil, and an invasive rove beetle, among others.
Montgomery, who has worked for the Lab of Ornithology and the Cornell University Insect Collection in the past, plans to focus on ecology and conservation research after graduation and pursue graduate studies.
Class of 2014
Batcheller collects footage and vocalisations of birds -- stocking Cornell's Macaulay Library with recordings of 12 species from Chile, Canada, Ecuador, and Peru.
Documenting these key attributes of the birds' life history allows us to learn about species identification, understand regional differences within species, and begin to know how they communicate with other members of their species.
The daughter of wildlife biologists, Batcheller has pursued every ornithological opportunity that has come her way: she's the co-captain of Cornell's World Series of Birding team and the co-founder of the Young Birders Network, a website that allows young birders to connect and learn while giving their adult advocates resources to encourage and support.
The highlight of her ornithology career has been spending two field seasons in Ecuador, studying the Reddish-winged Bare-eye and the Bicolored Antbird. The latter is a bird that stalks nomadic ants as they form armies and forage on the forest floor. Her studies give insight into how and why birds form flocks.
After graduation, Batcheller plans to research the effects of different agricultural systems on bird communities in Guatemala. She hopes to attend graduate school and may pursue a career in environmental education.
Jana Wilbricht makes it easier for Native Americans to get access to health information and other resources.
Class of 2014
People who live on Indian reservations sometimes lack access to electricity, cell service, and the Internet, making it difficult to get access to information. Jana Wilbricht is on a mission to correct that disparity and make it easy for Native Americans to get access to important health information.
Her honours thesis focuses on American Indians and their access to and use of online and mobile resources to find health information, but her ultimate goal is to take the intimidation out of technology. Wilbricht is currently working on a text messaging campaign, tailored to the Hopi population, to spread the word about diabetes prevention. Participants receive daily or weekly messages that encourage healthy eating and daily physical exercise, and give tips on prevention.
Wilbricht hopes to transform her honours thesis into policy recommendations for the Hopi Tribe and American Indian nations at large. She plans to pursue a doctorate in Communication Studies this fall.
Class of 2014
A four-year starting quarterback at Cornell, the 6'4' Mathews is a late-round pick or a top free agent, if he goes undrafted, in this year's NFL draft -- a rarity for an Ivy League player. At the combine in February, he asserted his presence on the field alongside college bigwigs like Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, and Teddy Bridgewater.
An Applied Economics and Management major, Mathews is a three-time captain for his team, beginning in his sophomore year, and the first sophomore captain in Cornell football history. He also holds 45 school and 17 Ivy League records, more than any other QB in Ivy League history.
With his pro day coming up at the end of March, Mathews recently spent eight weeks at Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, N.J., honing his skills under the mentorship of former NFL quarterback Chris Simms.
Mathews hopes to play football for as long as he can, and says he is strongly considering going back to school after that, though Sports Network also notes his 'Ivy League Intelligence' and suggests he would be a great choice for being a future coach.
Class of 2014
In response to years of fashion manufacturing being outsourced to countries overseas, Lee created her own brand, American Detail & Design, that uses laser cutting technology and 3D printing to allow customers to co-create their own clothing and accessories. Each piece is sold with the ability to function as a garment with multiple uses, giving the wearer ultimate control and value.
Lee has been sewing since she was 12 years old, and at Cornell she now focuses on the business aspects of her line as well. She has been responsible for the marketing and promotion of her products to her target customer, as well as developing a pricing strategy for the line.
American Detail & Design won the $US30,000 Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship from the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund this past January. She's currently designing nine outfits for her collection while working on her own technology-based fabric manipulation techniques like laser cutting and needle punching.
When she graduates in May, Lee plans to pursue her fashion career in New York City, continuing to design women's apparel that focuses on domestic manufacturing and sustainability, leading to less waste of materials in the fashion industry.
Class of 2015
Umoga spent the past summer leading construction on a medical clinic in Jeida, a small village outside Abuja, Nigeria, where he grew up.
His construction project was a continuation of a four-pronged plan to bring basic necessities to Jeida, including public toilets, a borehole, a school and, finally, a clinic. Umoga took a gap year after high school to work with the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria to oversee the instalment of two row blocks of public toilets despite no prior construction experience. While there he helped mobilize the village youths to help out with some of the labour; Umoga provided some of them with English lessons, and many became conversational in just two months.
Going into his junior year, Umoga went ahead with plans for the clinic. After securing more than $US10,000 in funding, Umoga returned to Jeida last summer to begin construction. As chief supervisor on the project, Umoga closely monitored the execution of each stage of construction, including managing the workers, purchasing materials, and conducting outreach to pro bono doctors and pharmacists.
The clinic served 113 individuals on its first day, and Umoga plans to continue taking yearly trips to the clinic with Cornell students interested in doing their field experience there. Umoga graduates in 2015, after which he plans to take another gap year before applying to medical school. Umoga hopes to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, and eventually provide services back in Nigeria.
Class of 2014
A musician as much as an engineer, Li used an assignment during his introductory electronics class to design and then build new musical instruments that combine elements of electronics, technology, and music to make sound.
Li has now completed three different musical instruments: His first is the Sabre, a cello-based instrument controlled by sensors on the fingers; the second is the FaderKeyboard, a piano of sliding knobs; and the most recent is the Aura, a glove-based musical instrument which allows the musician to 'hold' and play music with their bare hands by making different movements and gestures.
Li, who considers himself a shy person by nature, uses his new instruments to challenge himself to face his fears and perform concerts with them on campus. You can watch a video of Li playing the Aura here.
His next instrumental endeavour is called SoundSpace. Currently in the works, it's glove-based like the Aura, only it consists of many different instruments, including percussion which can be played by tapping on the body and other surfaces. Li is developing this instrument with other students and some faculty mentors, and will debut the project at a concert in May.
Li graduated in January but continues working on SoundSpace on campus and will walk with his class in May. He plans to launch a company to make SoundSpace accessible to a wide range of musicians when he leaves Cornell.
Ryan Radwanski provided free medical assistance in the Dominican Republic after serving for four years in the Marines in Afghanistan.
Class of 2016
After four years of active duty in the Marine Corps, including one deployment to Afghanistan, Radwanski developed a unique passion for health care in the Dominican Republic and traveled to the village of Catalina to provide pro bono medical services.
A neurobiology major, Radwanski joined Handfuls of Hope in February in the medical clinic they operate once a year out of a Catalina church. He took five days off from school to conduct intake with the patients and assisting the doctors and nurses in emergency cases, including stitching wounds and extracting teeth. Radwanski says serving in Afghanistan taught him to stay calm under pressure, which was key in the clinic.
He and his wife had previously traveled to Catalina with Handfuls of Hope in the summer of 2013 to build both a pre-K and a kindergarten from the foundation up. By the end of the summer, the school was ready to open for the next academic year.
Radwanski graduates in 2016, with plans to go to medical school and become a neurosurgeon. He hopes to return to the Dominican Republic both during and after medical school, and continue aiding people there.
Saramoira Shields created a YouTube video about maths that went viral and is screened in schools around the world.
Class of 2015
Shields created a short video about maths and posted it to YouTube in October, inciting an enormous response to the tune of almost 120,000 views.
Her video has been screened in classrooms around the world, from elementary school to college. One middle school teacher even collected his students' responses to the video and emailed them to her. Shields says her objective in creating the video was to make those who think they're just 'bad at maths' realise that, like anything else, it's a skill you can practice and improve. Shields also writes about maths on her popular blog, Mathematigal.
A trained actress, Shields has appeared on stage, in independent films, and had a major role on an episode of 'Law & Order.' And yes, the tattoo on her head is real, she tells BI.
Shields also works in an instrumentation lab in Cornell's astronomy department, and spent last summer designing the circuit board for the lab's spectrometer. Her work in the field of aerospace landed her an exclusive invitation to a NASA social event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to get a behind-the-scenes look at NASA's contributions to climate science.
Shields graduates with a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 2015; she hopes to continue making education outreach videos, and go on to work for NASA or another organisation in the aerospace industry.
Class of 2014
Before Cornell, Willard had already had a successful, six-year career in the restaurant industry when he co-founded Fernando's Grille in Hightstown, N.J., with a chef friend of his in 2010.
While simultaneously pursuing an associate's degree at his local community college, Willard, Chef Fernando, and Fernando's brother Marcello grew the restaurant from the ground up with minimal startup capital, eventually leading to its being ranked the #1 restaurant in Hightstown, N.J., on TripAdvisor. As the General Manager, Willard was responsible for all the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. When Hightstown was devastated by Hurricane Irene in 2011, Willard quickly organised a benefit dinner that brought in a full house of local city mayors, members of State Congress, and funds for relief efforts.
Off campus, Willard works at the local Frontenac Point Vineyard and Estate Winery and at The Loaves & Fishes of Tompkins County, a community kitchen in downtown Ithaca where he works with an all-volunteer team to produce meals for anywhere between 100 and 200 people in need.
Willard will be returning to the hospitality industry when he graduates to lead the food and beverage department at Lafayette Hotels in Bangor, Maine. Willard hopes to one day become one of the top restaurateurs in Maine while pursuing an MBA and PhD in service operations management, eventually returning to Cornell to teach and contribute his experience back to his alma mater.
Spenser Reed presents his published research on nutritional science at international conferences around the world.
Class of 2014
Reed is a federally funded researcher and three-time published author in peer-reviewed scientific journals on the topic of nutrigenomics -- the study of how diet relates to gene function.
Thanks to prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation and The Hunter Rawlings III Presidential Research Scholars Program, Reed has been able to conduct lab research alongside renowned scientists, examining ways to eradicate global deficiencies in certain nutrients, and improve analytical biomarkers to measure a person's zinc status.
Zinc is an essential micronutrient, yet zinc deficiency affects upwards of 3.5 billion people in both developed and undeveloped countries. Reed's study investigated a new, potentially more sensitive biological indicator of zinc status. He's presented his findings at scientific conferences throughout the U.S., including at the National Academies in D.C., as well as in Israel, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, and Brazil.
A long period of illness fuelled Reed's passion for health and medicine. During his high school years, his insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes, coupled with a rare debilitating thyroid disorder, kept him in and out of the emergency room. He was home schooled by tutors for three years, graduated with somewhat improved health, and enrolled in nearby St. Petersburg College, where he earned an associate's degree in molecular biology and genetics. USA Today named him among its list of the top 20 community college students in the country.
Dedicating his time at Cornell to research that holds personal meaning for him and his family makes the experience all the more unique, Reed says. His post-graduation plans include taking a year to wrap current research projects at Cornell, and then enrolling in medical school to study endocrinology or pediatrics.
Class of 2015
Talbot is the co-president of Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate (S.W.A.G.), a mentorship program started to address the poor graduation rate among black male students at Cornell.
He's seen 13.2% of S.W.A.G. students achieve the Dean's list, compared to the 11.5% overall rate for black men, and in the last academic year Talbot saw all S.W.A.G. seniors graduate with full-time jobs. Retention rates among black men have increased 10%; in 2008 the graduation rate of black male students at Cornell was 80.7%, and Talbot anticipates the number to be a lot higher because of S.W.A.G. when they are re-calculated.
S.W.A.G., which started with 30 mentor-mentee pairs, is now up to nearly 50 pairs -- about a third of the black men at Cornell. Talbot also engineered the start of a new 10-week S.W.A.G. Academy that includes several modules on topics important to helping black male students at Cornell succeed in and after college. Talbot teaches many of the modules himself.
Also involved on the fundraising side, Talbot has brought in more than $US30,000 in alumni donations to fuel the program. Talbot is determined to make Cornell's S.W.A.G. program a model of national success, and has started looking to expand SWAG to other colleges and even to high schools, starting with a local high school in Ithaca.
Talbot will be travelling to Zambia this summer with the Southern African Institute of Policy and Research to research global health- and labour-related topics. In the long-term, Talbot eventually aims to go to law school and become a New York City Supreme Court Justice.
Class of 2014
After a visit to the village of Bekondo, Cameroon, revealed how much farmers there suffer from the cost of agrochemicals and other materials they need to grow cocoa, Timothy Smith co-founded the Bekondo Foundation, an organic cocoa teaching and research farm. His goal with the foundation is to build a sustainable education center for the farmers and village, and provide a market for new, quality cocoa beans.
Smith sought guidance from the National Cocoa Board on export regulations and connections to successfully export to the U.S., established their first-year budget, hired interns, and is now raising capital to buy land, equip the farm, and pay the farmers a living wage. Through their recently-launched website,Smith and his team are developing and selling chocolate products and accepting donations to raise the initial capital.
Smith decided to leave his job in expatriate assignment management to go back to school and devote his life to community and international development. His volunteer work with the Green Teen Beacon, a community gardening program in Dutchess County, N.Y. sparked his interest in a more sustainable food system.
While Smith continues raising funds and putting the word out about the Bekondo Foundation as he finishes his degree, he plans to expand the growth of the farm to include coffee as well as cocoa, and possibly expand their education framework into other local regions that could benefit from the foundation's assistance.
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