May 13, 2021

CHEN | A STEM Look Into the Opinion Section

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This past year, jonna.write() (pronounced “jonna dot write”) has become another persona for me. It stands for my inner diva that nitpicks on the computer science curriculum and sasses ignorant misogynists on LinkedIn. I have always sprinkled my writing here and there in high school newspapers and personal blogs, but having my own space on the Cornell Daily Sun’s pages gave me a whole other platform of readers to reach — a new territory to conquer.

Even from when I initially applied to be a columnist, I knew that I wanted to center my op-eds around technology and engineering at Cornell — a field that I was incredibly familiar with, as a Computer Science major with a kick for journalism. Over the summer, I was obsessed with watching Marques Brownlee break down the Apple ecosystem and Mayuko Inoue explain why burnout is so common in tech. When it came to issues in tech and society both in and out of Cornell, I knew I had thoughts. So, I applied for my own biweekly space on the Daily Sun, writing in my application that “I can bring a unique perspective to how tech mixes in with our everyday lives, what the possible effects are, why we should care and the everyday grievances of computer science students to those who have never stepped foot in Gates Hall”.

9 months and 10 columns later, I’ve been able to get my own inside look at the Daily Sun’s Opinion section. There’s been highs and lows, pushed back deadlines and random email responses to my writing, but my experience writing for the Sun is something that will forever be unique to my sophomore year. 

From the very first Zoom meeting in August, I was an engineering student in a sea of humanities students. Columnist meetings were not dissimilar to my first-year writing seminars. These people read and wrote everyday whereas my daily assignments were mainly problem sets and coding. Pitch meetings were swarmed with ideas about Cornell student issues that bounced off the walls and garnered valuable advice, resources and potential questions to be answered in writing. When it came my turn, I rambled off a few fetus columns about artificial intelligence and data privacy and was met with supportive attempts for subtle nods and blank stares. I was worried that this disinterest would extend to my final columns once they were publicized on Facebook and printed in ink. In my mind, it checked out: students in the College of Engineering and the School of Computing and Information Science — part of my target audience — seemed less interested in keeping up with Cornell publications and more concerned with snooping around Reddit for the easiest electives to take or craziest Ed discussion occurrences. 

Beyond a questionable misalignment of audiences, the consistent biweekly deadline proved tough to meet. At the beginning of the school year, I came in with a batch of fresh ideas and a renewed work ethic, always turning in my drafts at least a week before they were due with extra time to spare for edits. Fast forward to second semester when my finite list of prepared ideas had been running dry for a while — no matter the circumstance, you would always find me every other Saturday night attempting to write 800 words on an empty Google document, just praying that they would make sense together (sorry Opinion editors) for the Sunday midday deadline. In the rush, my short-term foresight would forget that my brain dump would eventually be available to be read on the Internet or in permanent ink — until a friend would send my column link back to me the next morning. In a Google document shared with only a handful of people, it was easy to overlook the fact that the words I typed would soon be publicly available and near impossible to take down.

Regardless of all the stressful Saturday nights, my column was still my safe space on this publication for me to fill with whatever I wanted every other week. I became a better writer, with consistent feedback and resources to go to if I ever needed to bounce ideas off of someone or I needed more direction in my perspective. I was constantly challenged to flush out my thoughts about the world, to think deeper about why I felt a certain way and research which facts could be used to back up my viewpoint. 

I shouldn’t have worried about my reach or doubted the Daily Sun’s reach either. My team members for my Intro to Game Architecture course and fellow E-Board members for Women in Computing at Cornell loved resharing and boosting the links to my columns as soon as they came out. Even my ode to Duffield somehow reached my sister, who works in the Bay Area and has been out of school for five years, via her coworker. A junior from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln emailed me a four-paragraph response to my “Stop Catfishing Computer Science Majorspiece offering a separate angle from his personal experiences. My words were getting somewhere. Someone was reading. That was all that mattered.

While I liked trying to offer a different angle of certain issues, it comforted me that my opinions weren’t completely unique and were held by many other students. After my “Reversing the Women in STEM Card” column (aka my post-reading-infuriating-LinkedIn-post 970-word rant) went live, a photo of the article being reshared by a friend’s mutual with the caption “Guess how many times I’ve been told ‘you don’t look like an engineer’” was texted to me. I had some inkling before, but it was then that I understood how I was able to represent a part of Cornell that wasn’t commonly shown in this publication, and dive into the tech perspective of the school. 

Having my column came with a lot of other firsts as well, like doing my first video interview, getting a Cornell Sun email and having my face printed in a physical newspaper. Challenging myself to write ~800 words every other week was a glorified writing exercise and a happy contrast to my problem sets. I’m grateful for the audience I’ve been able to reach and the voices I’ve been able to represent. Rest assured, while jonna.write() may not be live next year, Jonna will most definitely still be writing.

Jonna Chen is a sophomore in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected]. jonna.write() runs every other Monday this semester.