While Cornell will not announce its fall semester plans until July, the Cornell in Washington program has already decided to reduce program capacity to facilitate social distancing.
To reduce the risk of infection, students will not share rooms, slashing the number of participants in half from 44 to 22. Program administrators are left with the difficult decision of deciding which already-accepted students will not be able to attend, while those who can face the challenge of finding internships and worry the fall program could be disrupted if another outbreak emerges.
CIW allows students to work, take classes and explore Washington D.C. According to program director Prof. David Pelletier, nutritional sciences, program administrators decided to allocate the 22 remaining spots between the 30 accepted applicants by determining which students had demonstrated serious interest in attending the program.
Students who had signed a memorandum of understanding and registered for CIW classes before May 4 were placed on a priority list. The memorandum of understanding, while not binding, is meant to ensure students intend to participate in the program. To retain their spot on the list, they originally had to submit a $500 dollar housing deposit by June 5, but the deadline has been pushed to July 1.
Pelletier said four students on the priority list declined to stay in the program, opening up spaces for students on the waitlist, while more students applied past the original deadline. As of June 17, 22 students were on the priority list and five students were on the waitlist.
Some students, like Youssef Aziz ’22, decided that in the case of virtual classes or an adapted semester, they would rather be in Ithaca if classes became remote, with a broader range of courses offered.
When Matt Block ’21 was accepted to the Cornell in Washington program, he was excited to build on coursework he had taken for his government major with practical experience. But he too has left the program, concerned that he would be unable to find an internship required to remain eligible and receive a housing deposit refund.
“If I pay the $500 and they say, ‘never mind, we aren’t even having Cornell in Washington,’ I would get a refund,” Block said. “However, if I don’t have an internship, I could have a problem.”
According to Pelletier, the program would only refund the housing deposit if CIW could not run an in-person program. CIW staff are helping students search for internships, sharing opportunities with students every week and offering assistance with cover letters and resumes.
Despite the potential challenge of finding work, many students decided to stay in the program. Addison Rodriguez ’21 applied to CIW in large part because she wanted to be in Washington during the 2020 election. She does not have an internship yet, but is applying to more opportunities over the course of the summer.
Rodriguez feels she would be safer at CIW than she would be at Cornell’s Ithaca campus, citing the program’s small enrollment size and Washington’s healthcare system.
“There are only going to be 22 of us, we are going to be separated and our classes will be between five and 22. It won’t be a Cornell class with 400 people sitting and breathing together,” Rodriguez said. “There are more opportunities to social distance here, and to limit the risk of catching COVID. There is also probably a larger healthcare system in D.C. than in Ithaca.”
According to Pelletier, the Cornell Wolpe Center, the building that houses CIW, is large enough to facilitate physically distanced but in-person classwork. Once the University announces its plan for the Ithaca campus, Cornell will ask faculty if they are willing to teach in person. The CIW program will comply with all external health regulations from the Cornell administration and the Washington D.C. government, and students are expected to follow the guidelines their D.C. internships require.
Even with these precautions, nothing is certain as administrators and faculty plan an academic program during a pandemic.
“If there is a resurgence of cases in D.C. during the fall, we may have to place more restrictive measures [on the program], depending on what D.C. guidelines say and what the University says,” Pelletier said. “Everyone is holding their breath as we go into the fall, hoping there is not going to be another surge.”