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Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

November 30, 2016

CORNELL CLOSE-UPS | Cook House Dean Fosters Out-of-Classroom Connections

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Students not able to go home for Thanksgiving have always been able to find a place at her table. Now in her first year as House Dean of Alice Cook House, Prof. Shorna Allred, natural resources, continues hosting students at her apartment, often accommodating up to 40 at a time.

After returning from sabbatical last semester, Allred said she and her family were looking to live in a vibrant community, where they could regularly interact with students outside of teaching.

“I’m really passionate about engaged learning for students and how important out-of-the-classroom experiences are for students,” she said, adding that she has tried to dedicate her career to creating those experiences for students. “This was another way for me to continue that passion of mine and continue engaging with students informally, outside of the classroom.”

However, Allred’s decision to live next to hundreds of undergraduates was not just for herself. She explained that it was a family decision, incorporating strong input from her husband and with a lot of thought as to how the change would affect her six-year-old son.

In the end, her family decided the move was the right choice, which Allred partially attributed to her and her husband’s southern upbringing.

“We thought it would be something positive, not only for me and my career, but also [my family] would gain a lot of value from talking to students and interacting with students,” she said.

After several months in the position, the Allred family has enjoyed being surrounded by a sea of undergraduate friends. In addition to interacting with “smart, ambitious, fun” and diverse students, she said her son has also gotten the chance to join in on campus activism.

The Friday after the election, Allred said she and her son participated in the walkout so “[her son] could see students having their voices heard.”

While other professors might not enjoy having a wall-thin barrier between themselves and their students, Allred said she takes advantage of the close proximity to further her relationships with students. However, this is not the only way she minimizes traditional obstacles.

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In the Department of Natural Resources, Allred’s research combines humanities with hard sciences by examining how climate change affects different cultures, and the resiliency that different cultures display after major natural disasters.

Allred said working at Cornell — which was one of the first institutions to create a research unit focusing on social science aspects of the environment — is her dream job.

During her sabbatical, Allred said she and her family lived in Thailand, where she examined how catastrophic flooding impacted communities and how the role of organizations, such as the government, changed as a result — an interdisciplinary approach she said she views as increasingly important.

“We need more disciplines working together because the issues facing society today are complex, and they require the expertise of multiple disciplines working on them together,” she said.

Allred’s work in Southeast Asia did not stop there. She started the Global Citizenship and Sustainability Program several years ago to give students “community-based research experience in Southeast Asia.”

Through the program, Allred brings Cornellians to the region to learn research skills, as well as develop general leadership ability, including teamwork and engagement.

Allred pointed out that the program is “not just privileged students at Cornell going abroad,” but rather stresses an exchange and makes an effort to bring students from places such as Thailand to study at Cornell.

Allred’s work fits with one of her strong beliefs, that students have agency. She said she hopes students realize they have control over how they make a difference in the world.

“I study resiliency and I think it also applies to individuals,” she said. “I hope students see what it is to be a resilient individual, what it means to cope with adversity and defeat, but to do so in a way that you’re always learning from it.”

This belief, Allred said, has been especially strong in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.

“My faith is in the young leaders of tomorrow that can make the world a better place, but it’s not just about opposing the system, it’s about being the system,” she said. “You will be the leaders of tomorrow.”

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