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Jing Jiang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

October 10, 2019

Inside Two of Cornell’s Biggest Classes: Wines and Oceanography

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With over 4,000 courses across 100 academic departments, Cornell seems to take the slogan  “any person, any study” quite literally. With such a variety to choose from, one might think that course selection popularity was evenly split. But when it comes to annual popularity, some courses tower above the rest — including BIOEE 1540: Introduction to Oceanography and HADM 4300: Introduction to Wines.

Both featured on the “161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do” list at #6 and #8, respectively, The Sun sat in on these classes to understand why students keep coming back for more.

Day Drinking 

An average of about 700 people each spring and fall semester get away with drinking alcohol during class — in this course, students are actually encouraged to imbibe. The only slaps on the wrist they receive are if they incorrectly categorize a Chardonnay as a Riesling.

It’s safe to say that Introduction to Wines has grasped the attention of a wide range of students from different schools at Cornell. The class is taught by SHA graduate, restaurateur, and amateur chocolatier Prof. Cheryl Stanley ’00, recipient of the School of Hotel Administration Ted Tang ’79 Dean’s Teaching Excellence Award. Stanley inherited the class from Prof. Stephen Mutkowski in 2014, who led the class for a total of 41 years.

HADM 4300: Introduction to Wines centers around “understanding the wine laws, regions and grape varietals of the world,” according to Stanley. Students learn about wine culture, geography and social etiquette and use a range of wines to demonstrate climate and location, giving students a taste of the world. Although the course is offered in the Hotel School, Stanley teaches students from every one of the seven undergraduate colleges. But she makes sure every student feels welcome in Statler.

“That’s why I start the class by relating wine to two majors at random in the seven undergraduate schools,” Stanley said.

Each semester, thousands of dollars are spent on wines and supplies for the class. Students get the chance to taste a wide variety of wines ranging in price and quality from fancy grape juice to five-star bubbly. Students pay a $30 course fee that includes a wine kit and wine glasses — perfect for in-class tasting.

“The student’s favorite wines vary,” Stanley said. “The Centine by Banfi, an Italian wine that we serve, is always a popular one because of the price point and it’s really good.”

The first course focused solely on wines was offered at Cornell in the 1950s. In the decades following, its popularity among students has soared, in large part due to its lasting legacy, and the “generations [of alumni] who keep talking about it,” said Stanley.

And though many of Cornell’s undergraduates haven’t yet reached 21, a New York State law protects the ingestion of alcohol for educational purposes at an accredited university — meaning that students of at least 18 years old can legally sip and swirl.

“Don’t wait until you’re 21 to take it, said Stanley. “You can take it as early as your first semester of your junior year.”

“I would highly recommend students considering taking Wines to take it because it’s going to give them a step up in life,” Stanley continued. “It’s just a life skill, being able to talk about wine; it’s helpful in job interviews, it’s helpful if you’re dealing with clients in your professional life and even with friends, and it’s kinda enjoyable.”

“This course has helped me develop a better understanding of the winemaking process,” said Alyssa Picariello ’20. “I would definitely recommend that other students enroll in this class! This course will improve your confidence in selecting wines and your knowledge of wine history and geography.”

“I enjoy that she breaks it up by region of the country or different countries of the world. She’s a really exciting and engaging lecturer,” said Kelsie Raucher ’20.

Adeline Lerner ’20, a food science major, said that her favorite part of the class is when Prof. Stanley connects the wine that they’re tasting to a recommended food pairing.

“She’ll just go like… some roasted asparagus over a bed of arugula, maybe on the side a little bit of candied ginger, like that would go great with the New York Riesling,” said Lerner. “It’s really fun and entertaining, which makes the time go by super fast.”

Motion of the Ocean

Prof. Bruce Monger thinks that he has “the best job in the world.”

Monger teaches BIOEE 1540: Introductory Oceanography, one of the largest classes at Cornell with over 1,000 students and 40 teaching assistants.

The class “started small.” said Monger, but then enrollment began to climb. “One hundred and thirty, then it was 230 then 330,” Monger said. “I went from a couple-hundred-seat room in Olin Hall to Call Auditorium in Kennedy Hall then that one filled up. Now I moved it to Bailey Hall and [I teach] a little over a thousand students.”

“Even though it’s a giant room you still give the impression that you’ve made this connection with us,” said Monger recalling what one of his students had told him.

Introduction to Oceanography covers the biological, geological, chemical and physical subdivisions of the study of oceans, examining the effects of global warming and current environmental threats such as overfishing and coastal pollution.

“After I give all of this information to the students, I ask them, so what are you going to do with this information?” Monger said.

“We don’t build universities just so you can get higher paying jobs. We build them so that you can be broadly educated and feed that knowledge back in. You’re the best and brightest this society can produce, and you owe something back,” Monger continued.

Monger recalls students telling him they were inspired by him to pursue different careers. In one instance, he recalls seeing a student in a bookstore who told him that Monger had inspired him to pursue a career in environmental law.

“Planting those little seeds, and inspiring students to want to act on the things that are the problems,” said Monger. “Those things are what make me feel like I have the best job in the world.”

Years of teaching experience have made Monger an expert lecturer in the subject.

“When I’m lecturing, I don’t have to keep track of the steps anymore and that means I get to dance up there, essentially with my ideas and my side stories … which bring a little bit more color to the lecture,” said Monger.

Monger is known for his passion to keep students civically engaged. In previous years, he has handed out voter registration forms, and personally brought them to the post office. He also assigns students to complete a letter to their respective government officials, arguing for environmental policy change.

“I think my favorite part of the class is the fact that he tries to push taking care of the planet and conserving the planet that gives so much to us,” said Colby Palmer ’23, a student in the class. “He wants us to understand that the planet is not something that we should be playing around with because we’re going into our sixth mass extinction.”

Introductory Oceanography and Intro to Wines share no common ground, yet both have been successful in attracting students across all schools and majors. Their ability to appeal to a broad audience plays a role in their high enrollment, as well as impactful stories told by students who have taken these courses. It looks like the 161 list still rings true.

Pre-enrollment for Spring semester courses kicks off on November 4, 2019.