September 17, 2013

Cornellian Earns Congressional Award

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While most Cornell students are primarily occupied with their schoolwork, Natalie Domeisen ’15 spent the last four years juggling community service, piano-playing and competitive swimming — earning Congress’ most esteemed award for Americans aged 14 to 23 years old for her efforts.

Domeisen received the Congressional Gold Medal Award at an award ceremony on Capitol Hill in June. There, Domeisen — a human biology, health and society major in the College of Human Ecology — had the opportunity to meet a number of influential government officials, including Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.

“It was definitely a really exciting day,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of really exciting people and better understand the goings-on of Congress.”

The Congressional Award was established in 1979 and aims “to recognize initiative, achievement, and service in young people,” according to its website.

The Gold Congressional Award is the highest of six levels of congressional awards for youth and requires 400 hours of volunteer public service, 200 hours of personal development, 200 hours of physical fitness and four consecutive overnight expeditions, according to the award’s website.

Over the last four years, Domeisen volunteered for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, played piano for the Piano Guild of America, swam for Cornell’s swimming and diving team and completed a five-day hike in the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania.

She said she was inspired to run fundraising events and volunteer for the Multiple Sclerosis Association in her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa., because she knows many people who suffer from the disease. “It’s something very close to my heart,” she said.

The organization’s emphasis on physical therapy also resonated with her, Domeisen said. “[The MSAA] really promotes physical activity in their fundraisers because they’re very into promoting health and activity in rehabilitation, and I’m very passionate about that too, being an athlete and living a very active lifestyle,” she said. “I’ve seen people recover through hydrotherapy and being in the pool.”

A longtime swimmer and musician, Domeisen said completing many of the requirement for the award came naturally to her.

However, fulfilling the overnight expedition criteria through a five-day hike “was definitely something I would not have done otherwise,” she said. “That was definitely out of my comfort zone,” Domeisen said.

Domeisen also said that she spent more time playing the piano in the process of competing for the Gold Congressional Award.

“I’ve played piano my whole life,” she said. “But during the years I spent pursuing the award, I set much higher goals for myself.”

Domeisen also said that despite the prestigious nature of the award, she felt uncomfortable about the publicity that accompanied winning it. Some of her closest friends did not even know that she was pursuing the award.

“My friends knew I had these passions, but did not know too much about the award,” she said. “I like to keep things private. It’s about helping other people.”

Domeisen said she has no intention of cutting back from her demanding extracurricular schedule now that she has won the award.

“It’s nice to be back and into the normal routine of life at Cornell,” Domeisen said, adding that she would not stop volunteering, swimming and playing piano.

The only difference, she said, is that that she no longer has to log and submit her hours.