November 5, 2003

Student Interest in Public Service Surges at C.U.

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Although volunteerism on East Hill has increased recently, fewer Cornell students are choosing a public service career path. To rectify this trend, the Cornell Urban Scholars Program, launched in 2002, encourages students to seek careers in the non-profit sectors and in public service.

“There’s been this huge tsunami wave of interest in public service and service learning. Lots of students are doing community work here in Ithaca,” said Prof. Kenneth Reardon, city and regional planning, and co-director of CUSP.

With CUSP, Cornellians spend part of the spring semester and their summer working in non-profit organizations and local government agencies in New York City. The program is described as rigorous and highly selective. In the past three years, over 250 undergraduates have applied for CUSP’s summer internship program — with only 24 students chosen each semester.

Urban Scholars are chosen based on their interest in public service, record of progressive engagement in the community, demonstration of academic and field research and ability to articulate why an internship that is academically based in New York City meets their own personal goals and objectives, according to Reardon. “This isn’t for everyone,” he added.

Involvement with CUSP is more than just a learning experience though, it is a chance to make a difference in the real world.

“We would like them to make an impact on the community, and [have them] engage with very complex organization and incorporate what they learn at Cornell to an experience that exposes them to complex problems and practical problems in the real world,” said Leonardo Vargas-Mendez, Public Service Center director and co-director of CUSP.

Reardon said that the essence of the program is a public service internship, but it is also specifically focused on encouraging students to think about the causal factors of social inequality.

“There’s a sinking number of students who are actively engaged in old fashion policy reform, and organizing politics that really address the causes of social inequality. [We want] to encourage people to think about careers, but also to challenge them to think more critically of more causal factors and how we might be able to think of policies to reduce the distance between the haves and the have-nots