Every month since September, The Sun has chronicled the lives of 18 first-year students from the second floor of Mary Donlon Hall. Each month’s feature focused on key themes of freshman life, and also brought you an update (and for some, a reminder) of the ins and outs of freshman year at Cornell University. This will be the final installment in the Cornell 101 series.
To get into Cornell, they accumulated an impressive array of athletic, political, artistic and academic extracurricular activities. Once they got here, however, there seemed to be barely enough time for studying, socializing and sleeping.
Now, with a semester of college under their belts and a better idea of what the University has to offer, the freshmen have finally managed to shuffle their schedules around membership in one or two student organizations.
After losing his Student Assembly race last semester, Ron Zember has decided to go all the way: running for Student-elected Trustee, one of two student positions on the University Board of Trustees.
“Freshmen have won the position before,” he said, defending his decision to run this year, against older, more experienced candidates. “Since I have not gotten used to the way things usually go, I have many innovative ideas for the position. I am also the only Greek candidate, and the Greek community makes up nearly 40 percent of the school.”
Ron’s platform centers on eliminating temporary housing, which greatly inconvenienced him and Scott Seiler last semester (when they were moved around several times due to asbestos), and heightening campus security.
“The trustee really has to represent the entire school, rather than a small interest group,” he added. “I dislike the politics of the Student Assembly and University Assembly, and feel that I would serve the University better on the Board of Trustees, where there is less politics involved.”
Finding A Team
Former high school president and three-sport athlete Nick Quinn has decided to continue as an athlete rather than a politician at Cornell. He’s recently made it onto the football team, hoping to reclaim his glory days as a defensive end and offensive tackle.
“It’s pretty hard to get up for 7 a.m. lifts two days a week,” he admitted. “I still need to get in better shape. But all the guys are awesome and really supportive; it makes me feel like a real part of the team even though I only just started.”
When it comes to competitive physical activities, Jon Sterk and Ritu Daga prefer somewhat more graceful endeavors.
“I’ve gone to three competitions with the Ballroom Dance Team since September, but I haven’t won anything yet,” Jon said, who dances the cha-cha, rumba, waltz and foxtrot. “This weekend, we’re going to compete at Harvard.”
Meanwhile, Ritu auditioned and was accepted into a 10-person Sitara Indian dance group, which she heard about through the Society of India, and will be performing later this semester.
“In high school I was involved in swimming and tennis, too, but I had a lot more time than I do now,” she said.
Finding The Time
The Cornell University time crunch has prevented others from joining activities, despite their impressive high school memberships.
“We do a lot of stuff in high school but here we have so much studying, you can go out partying for maybe a few hours on a Friday or Saturday night but the rest of the time you’re studying,” Srinivas Rao said.
“My courses are really hard, so I don’t really want to be involved in anything. I guess the people who don’t study are either really smart or really stupid,” he added.
Despite these time management difficulties, Brooke Yakin has managed to accumulate several resume-building activities, in addition to pledging the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.
“I’ve been elected vice president of technology of the
Society of Women in Business and am joining the Cornell Entrepreneur Organization,” she explained. “I’m also pledging a co-ed professional business fraternity called Alpha Kappa Psi, so I’m a Kappa through and through!”
Kevin Gomez is equally committed to advancing his career through extracurricular activities, and has missed several days of school to attend engineering conferences all over the country.
“By being an active member of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, I can go to career conferences because they pick most of the cost for me,” he said, who hopes the events improve his chances of getting a summer internship.
“He misses classes to go to conferences all the time so he can get a bunch of free shit,” Vlad Muste said, rolling his eyes while explaining his roommate’s frequent absences. “He comes back with all these cups that say IBM on them and mirrors and things.”
Vlad can’t understand leaving campus for hours at a time for an extracurricular activity, especially since he is one of 75 Presidential Research Scholars, a position that keeps him in the lab for an extra 10 hours a week working on computational neuroscience.
“I work with albino rats,” he explained. “They’re very annoying. They poop, they bite, they pee all over the place.”
Because his scholarship money depends on the hours he spends working on his research, Vlad can’t cut back on his hours in the lab to make room for other activities. “I can’t possibly pledge with that going on,” he said. “I kind of feel like I’m missing out, and I like the social aspect of the Greek system, but I’m busy enough as it is, and I don’t want to spend my weekdays pledging.”
Indeed, with the exception of busy Brooke and Wes Walker, who remains an active member of the Glee Club and the Hangovers, the pledges have little time for other activities.
“Pledging is demanding but manageable,” Scott said. “Maybe I’ll expand my activities next year, but the fraternity keeps me busy for now.”
“I’m definitely busy, but I can make time for priorities,” Lindsey Giserman said, who is pledging the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority with her roommate, Kim Friedman. “I’m in the Undergraduate Nutrition Organization, and we have a few educational events coming up, since March is National Nutrition Month.”
“Pledging is very time consuming, but it’s worth it, because it’s fun,” Andy Welch said, while examining the red blotches on his arms. “I went to a foam party last night — Sigma Chi’s basement was full of foam, and I got rashes from it,” he explained.
Weekday dinners at the house, weekend parties and other mandatory pledging events don’t just mean less time for studying and extracurriculars — relationships with friends outside their houses can suffer, as well.
“I don’t see my friends who aren’t pledging with me much, but we’re still friends,” Andy said. “It’s just harder to keep in touch.”
“My boyfriend is pledging Beta [the Beta Theta Pi fraternity] so if we wanna go out together, we really have to plan ahead,” Kate Blosveren said. “It’s hard going out and him not being there, because that’s how it always was first semester. We have to work harder at being able to see each other.”
Finding The Fun
For the non-Greeks, particularly those who reveled in the fraternity social scene last semester, “going out” has become a very different experience.
“I don’t like it here anymore — it’s just so much work, it’s not fun anymore,” Art Klock said. “Everyone else is doing pledge shit and there’s nothing going on. I’m tired of going to Sigma Nu afterhours and calling that my weekend. Last semester I was going out all
the time and meeting all the brothers and everyone was excited about rushing.”
“Not being in a frat sort of puts a damper on my social life,” Nick agreed. “I love to party and it just makes it hard for me to do anything because of the invite-only mixers.”
Along with not being in the Greek system, Nick points to his commitment to the football team as a reason for his changed social habits.
“I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I think I’ve quit drinking,” he said. “I have to get in shape for football. Also, my tolerance has gotten so high over the last semester that it almost takes me a case of beer to get drunk. Then it takes me forever to even feel it, and I don’t like feeling that bloated.”
In addition to the obvious social perks, Jason Porter claims that fraternity membership has helped him academically.
“SAE really helps us study by setting up library hours and helping us find tutors to help us out in subjects we have problems with,” he said.
The other pledges fear, however, that the time commitment may be hurting their grades.
“Pledging is a tight fit; it doesn’t leave much free time for studying, and I don’t manage my free time very well,” Andy said. “I’m doing stuff around the house pretty much every night, it’s difficult, like cleaning the house.”
“I purposely took four classes because I thought pledging would take up a substantial amount if time,” Kate said. “So I planned ahead, it has made the workload less stressful.”
Despite his disappointment over not pledging this semester, Art admits he is now doing better academically by concentrating more on his work.
“I’m studying instead of just goofing off all the time,” he said. “My teachers are normal this semester — they know how to speak English — maybe Cornell could do something and make sure the freakin’ teachers speak English once in a while.”
Finding The Work
In addition to passing on pledging, the engineers of Cornell 101 hardly spend time on anything other than studying, due to their heavy workloads and daunting assignments.
“I come back from dinner at six, I sleep, I wake up and then I work,” Ritu said, who spends hours every day struggling with her computer science project. “It’s a pain; I don’t understand what we are doing. Also, I’m not working with a partner because I don’t want to rely on that; I might end up having them do the work and then I wouldn’t do well on the prelims. Working alone is kind of frustrating but at least you can work anytime you want to.”
“I’m doing my CS project with a partner, but he already knows how to do everything so we just check answers at the end,” Jung Lee said. “I’m working hard and goofing off less, too, so the two classes I’m retaking are a lot easier.”
Missing out on joining activities or just having fun is a hefty price to pay for good grades; not everyone is happy about the sacrifice.
“If I was in another school where the academics were a little less rigorous, I’d have time to do other stuff,” Sri said. “In the engineering school, there are so many people who don’t know how to have fun, period. They don’t even seem to enjoy what they’re doing. It starts to get really annoying after a while.”
After seriously considering transferring out of the College of Engineering, or even out of Cornell, Sri has decided to stick it out.
“When I start something, I like to stick with it until I finish — every school has something wrong with it, but you have to learn to live with what’s wrong with it,” he said.
Finding A Destination
The next major milestone for these freshmen will be their first Spring Break as college students.
Ron organized a trip for over a dozen people to Cancun months ago, thanks to a family friend in the travel business.
“You can’t just go on those packages; my friends went two years ago and they ended up with no flight home because the company went out of business,” he explained. “We are staying in a beautiful hotel on a beautiful beach, with only one intention — to have a good time.”
Nick’s mother, a stewardess, has snagged free airline tickets for his Spring Break adventure.
“I’m going to go with my friend Brad to his house in Arizona,” he said. “Then we’re going to go to his lake house the place where MTV did the Spring Break a couple of years ago for a couple of days, then to Las Vegas for a day or so, and then drive down to San Diego to meet up with some other people.”
The freshmen lacking in travel connections and ready cash are looking forward to road tripping during their break.
“I went to the Bahamas last year, which took a chunk out of my wallet, so instead of going to a glorious tropical island, I’m gonna visit my friends,” Kim said. “First stop will be Virginia Beach for a few days, then heading South to Emory to visit a few friends. Then we’re heading North to Duke to visit another friend til Saturday and finally we’re coming home. It’s gonna be hectic but a lot of fun.”
“I plan on relaxing at home, and perhaps visiting my friend who goes to Carnegie Mellon,” Ritu said. “Her break starts after mine, so we can go home together before I have to be back at school.”
“It’s too much money to fly home for just a week,” Sri said, who couldn’t see spending hundreds of dollars on a trip to Mississippi. “So I’m taking the bus to New York City and then a train to visit my uncle in Connecticut.”
With just Dragon Day, Spring Break and Slope Day left to experience, the freshmen can look back on their year and acknowledge how much their lives have changed since August.
“Looking back at the orientation issue, I must say that we all have developed as college students,” Ron said. “It would be a great idea in three years to have a special Cornell 101 issue, to see what things are like when we are at the end of our college experiences.”
“Being in Cornell 101 really opened up my life to a lot of different people and allowed them to learn about me and make fun of the stupid things I say,” Scott said.
“What I’m learning right now, if it can help other freshmen who are coming in and read it, then they can get an idea of what college life is like,” Sri said. “You’re a kid when you get here, but at the end of the first year, you’re not a kid anymore.”
This has been the final installment of Cornell 101. For all six parts of this series, visit www.cornelldailysun.com.
–Julia Macdonald contributed to this article.
Archived article by Nicole Neroulias