There are few requirements for students at Cornell besides a freshman writing seminar, two P.E. classes and the swim test. And while I — like many other students — appreciate the flexibility and customization of the curricula for students here, I want to propose one additional, minor requirement.
While some may believe that there exists a tradeoff between taking college classes and pursuing more practical, professional experience, I believe we should have a university-wide requirement that bridges the divide between the two. This could take the form of a fieldwork requirement. Every student, regardless of which college they are in, must take a part-time or full-time internship during one of their eight semesters at Cornell that explores a potential professional field of interest.
For example, if you are a student in the College of Engineering, as I am, you could fulfill this requirement by spending a semester pursuing a software engineering or technical internship at a company of your choice. A student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences could spend some time working on a farm in Ithaca or in a research lab at another university altogether.
Indeed, many students already fulfill this requirement without there even being one. Recently, the popularity of receiving a college education has been declining. In fact, recent numbers demonstrate that college enrollment decreased by 3.5 percent last year, which is the largest one-year decline since 2011. I speculate that many young people have felt that the traditional, lecture-based education has grown increasingly irrelevant after the pandemic forced schooling to move online. Many students I know even took time off from college during the pandemic-imposed virtual learning to pursue internships or short-term jobs instead. One decided to drop out altogether and continue with the professional path she began during an internship last spring.
Some schools incorporate programs that go halfway by providing an institutional way to participate in internships, such as Cornell Engineering’s Co-op program, which allows students to stay enrolled “in absentia” at Cornell while also pursuing tech-related internships. However, creating a university-wide standard would demonstrate that Cornell is prioritizing the application of students’ studies, not just the studies themselves.
Some fields already recognize the significance of such a structure. I am currently pursuing the Dyson Business Minor for Engineers, and there is a requirement to take a capstone course that serves as more of an application of business practices. However, there’s a key component that’s amiss here: this is still a class. I feel that converting that class requirement into a part-time internship instead would make sure the same content is conveyed while providing students with more practical experience.
Thus, the uses for this kind of requirement are limitless. Similarly, so are the benefits. For instance, pushing a student to partake in a research lab when they may not have gone to such efforts otherwise could help them realize an interest in academia after all. It could also strengthen relationships between schools as well as between graduate and undergraduate students. Students would be on the lookout for any professional experience and professors, labs and companies would know to anticipate strong candidates on a regular basis.
In fact, Cornell could even potentially take on a more direct involvement with this kind of requirement should it be established. There could be opportunities for funding should students decide to spend their time at unconventional professional establishments, like in the theater or conducting research abroad.
Additionally, there could be an office or a resource that fosters the matching of students to opportunities — both supplying students with expanded professional opportunities and introducing a whole host of other parties to bright, innovative young people. Students participating in their own professional experiences would also strengthen the diversity and dialogue of the student body at large. Not only would they be exposed to the professional experience that they undertake to fulfill the requirement, but they would also surely exchange conversations with other students in wildly different fields.
As aforementioned, these kinds of professional experiences are already taking place. So, why not take a step into the future of college education and incorporate these professional experiences into student lives more effectively? If passing a swim test is a requirement to survive some of the more natural elements of our modern world, maybe this requirement could arm students with the necessary skills to survive the professional ones.
Somil Aggarwal (he/him) is a senior in the College of Engineering studying Computer Science. He can be reached at [email protected] print(“Somil”) runs every other Wednesday this semester.