The Cornell in Washington program has successfully avoided COVID-19 spread so far, allowing students to spend an enriching semester in D.C.

Al Drago / The New York Times

The Cornell in Washington program has successfully avoided COVID-19 spread so far, allowing students to spend an enriching semester in D.C.

October 9, 2020

Cornell in Washington Continues Fall Program with No COVID-19 Infections

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As the months fly by, the Cornell in Washington program has trumped the odds for the fall semester of the program so far. Similar to the Ithaca campus, the program has a robust testing program and more than half way into the semester, Cornell in Washington has reported zero active COVID-19 cases.

To ensure that the program is safe, every student in Cornell’s Wolpe Center is tested twice a week, and the samples are shipped to Cornell, where they are then processed. Faculty and staff also get tested once a week.

According to program director Prof. David Pelletier, nutritional sciences, there have been no COVID-19 infections so far.

With a smaller community, he had higher hopes for the program’s success as it would be easier to manage compared to a larger campus.

“Our hope was that it could still be a very meaningful program … despite having to have these modifications, and I think we’re achieving that,” Pelletier said.

Echoing Pelletier, Ben Feldman ’22 believes that the program’s continuous testing  has helped him feel more safe in the building.

He added that the center’s policy to prevent unauthorized individuals from entering the building has made him feel more secure.

Feldman, who has found the program to be a success, noted how he has been more productive, but has faced some difficulties along the way.

The online transition made it difficult for him to better manage his time, Feldman said. While the Cornell in Washington program typically does not allow students to participate in activities and organizational commitments in the Ithaca campus, students are now allowed to partake in Ithaca campus activities since everything is online.

“There’s no excuse anymore for not being involved on campus when a great number of students are also not on campus, but just at home,” Feldman said.

While about half of classes and internships have moved online, according to Feldman, students have still been able to gather and spend time together.

Students in the program often plan events together — whether that be watching parties for the presidential debates, Shabbat dinners or trips to the zoo.

“It has been really exciting to see us come together and even stronger as a group of 21 of us, even despite the circumstances,” Feldman said.

Addison Rodriguez ’21 agreed, adding that everyone in the building keeps one another accountable while still prioritizing “just fun little activities” every week.

However, both Rodriguez and Feldman noted that there has been a lack of networking, professional development opportunities, since it is more difficult to interact with someone online compared to simply stepping into their office.

To make up for the lack of networking opportunities, Cornell in Washington staff has tried to hold group activities over Zoom, while also sending messages about potential opportunities in D.C.

Pelletier doesn’t foresee that the operation of the program will change in the spring semester as the program has been progressing smoothly. However, he hopes that there will be more in-person classes and internships for the spring semester, but that will depend on the conditions in Washington.