Over 50 students and faculty gathered to celebrate campus-wide service learning initiatives at Cornell’s fourth annual Community Engagement Showcase Monday evening.
The two-hour event included a display of projects and posters as well as an awards ceremony. Projects showcased at the event covered a wide spectrum of engagement from within the Cornell community to internationally based projects.
Mai-Lee Picard ’16 — student ambassador for Cornell’s Engaged Learning and Research — organized the event and received the Community Engagement Student Trailblazer award.
Picard noted the diversity of projects and the overall development of the showcase in its four-year history.
“This might sound cliché, but they do get more impressive each year,” Picard said. “Everyone is interested in a different issue and it’s all somehow interrelated.”
Gabrielle Hickmon ’16 — a student ambassador, public service scholar and featured speaker at the showcase — also received the Community Engagement Student Trailblazer award.
Hickmon, who is also a Sun columnist, said the showcase recognized people “who are often not spoken about or recognized.”
“I feel like at Cornell we talk so much about finance and law and more traditional fields, and the showcase really works to speak truth to and give light to work that’s outside of that realm but is just as important,” Hickmon said.
Aditi Pai ’16, an ELR student ambassador, added that the showcase gave people the space to share their service experience with the Cornell community.
“[The event tries] to show what the students did during some of their trips and what impact they made, but also how this trip impacted them, what they learned about the different cultures and communities that they participated in, and basically what they can take away from that and share with other Cornell students,” Pai said.
The event also featured a keynote address by Cal Walker, the Cornell University outreach liaison in the office of community relations and a recipient of the Community Engagement Trailblazer award.
“I have seen a lot of engagement between the University and our broader community, and I am continuously greatly encouraged that folks are committed to working together to make our local community a better place,” Walker said in his keynote address. “We are an activist community.”
Walker discussed the importance of building mutual relationships with community partners, saying this “symbiotic relationship” in community engagement is “absolutely essential.”
“This is all relational and needs to be characterized by respectful two-way communication,” Walker said of the community involvement.
Khalafalla Khalafalla ’17 said, for him, this engagement came in the form of breaking down local barriers between Cornell and the Ithaca community with his project, the Men of Color Conference, which connects young men of color — high school and college students — with Fortune 500 companies and other career opportunities.
“The reality is that Cornell is so detached from their day to day lives,” Khalafalla said. “We’re trying to break that down. We integrate ourselves within the community to show the community youth that there are people that they can look up to.”
Hickmon also stressed the importance of community engagement in her own life and in the broader community.
“Cornell and the world needs more students, faculty and staff like us; more people who believe that everyone has knowledge to bring to the table; more people who are culturally aware and actually able to work across difference,” she said. “Community engagement has changed my academic trajectory and it has changed my life.”