February 19, 2023

CHOUNG | Giving Back

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As Cornell students, we have a duty to our community. It lies beyond achieving a perfect 4.0, receiving job offers from prestigious firms and infiltrating Wall Street with our finely-honed minds that initially entered college with hopes of changing the world. I have seen too many students fall into the finance pipeline and claim they are working to exit the industry for better, more productive jobs in the future. 

As students, possibilities stand in front of us — the chance to change someone’s life and to do something that is bigger than ourselves. The resources available to us as Cornell students are not to be taken for granted. I encourage you to think broadly about how you can impact your community, whether here in Ithaca or in your hometown. 

I came to Cornell knowing that I wanted to involve myself with both the Cornell and Ithaca community. I was able to run my own community service project in high school and — dare I say it — it changed the trajectory of my life. While my project taught me direct hard skills that I was able to apply elsewhere in my life, it also gave me a sense of purpose that lay outside of academics or personal achievements. 

Up to that point, my entire life was structured around school. There was a certain path that most students in my area followed that consisted of taking as many AP classes as possible, receiving a high SAT score and attending a prestigious university. Not many strayed away from this path, and it became familiar to follow it. You had the guidance of older students who started on this path before you, and your experiences could help guide future students. 

Yet, my project was my first glimpse into the idea that there was more to life than this standardized path everyone was expected to follow. My project’s purpose was to bring together senior citizens living in low income independent housing and help transition them out of the pandemic. I was able to host events where different senior centers were able to gather and reconnect after losing contact with all their loved ones for over a year. It was a wonderful reminder of the beauty of human connection and the experiences that all connect us. It affirmed my passion for working directly with my community and I was able to find a community at Cornell that supported my exact goals. 

Service organizations exist on campus to give back to the community. The Einhorn Center for Community Engagement is the umbrella organization for most student organizations focused on community engagement on the local, national and international levels. Students can choose between 23 different student-run programs that focus on various issues in both the Ithaca and Cornell community, such as tutoring K-12 students in Ithaca or building a voting culture right on campus. 

If you are interested in building specific skills necessary for community engagement with a more traditional method, the Einhorn Center offers courses and engaged research opportunities for students to develop skills and earn certificates in leadership. Community-engaged learning offers a unique opportunity to directly apply the hard and soft skills you learn both inside and outside the classroom to real-world situations. Working collaboratively with community members creates an educational experience that allows both parties to learn from each other. 

While pre-existing opportunities with established organizations are available, you can also bring on a fresh perspective and create your own community service project through the Community Partnership Funding Board. The Community Partnership Funding Board, or CPFB, is the first student-run grant board in the United States and has a long history tied to the greater Ithaca community and many Cornell organizations you may be familiar with. Students are granted up to $2,500 to implement grassroots community action projects that fight against societal inequalities or issues affecting local communities. CPFB aims to evaluate grant applications based on their five pillars of social responsibility: Student management, partnership, education and evaluation. We seek grants that uphold our pillars and make a positive impact on local or national communities. 

Projects don’t have to be based in Ithaca as well; some projects have even made it out to California. Some notable examples of past projects include the Translator Interpreter Program, or TIP, which created an emergency language database, and FACES, a project that spreads greater awareness of epilepsy. All in all, it’s a great experience to directly apply your Cornell education to the community and take away real-life experience you won’t get elsewhere. 

Applications are due on Friday, Feb. 24, at 5 p.m. Applications can be accessed through CPFB’s website.

Please email [email protected] if you have any questions. I encourage you all to take advantage of this opportunity and impact your community. Whether you create your own community service project, join the board of a student-run organization or even just spend a day volunteering, I hope you take a moment to appreciate the importance of giving back to your community. 

Adin Choung is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at [email protected]. A Dinner is Served runs every other Sunday this semester.