With an abundance of pre-professional fraternities and organizations at Cornell, it is easy for students with niche interests to feel out of place. Nevertheless, many low-membership clubs on campus give students with less dominant interests the opportunities to learn about specific topics and engage in fulfilling hobbies.
Clubs like the Cornell Chapter of the American Meteorological Society, Car Club at Cornell and Cornell Barbell Club provide supportive communities that foster inclusive environments, with the sole purpose of being educational, social and fun.
Cornell Weather Club hosts “forecast nights” that allow students to share research presentations on topics of interest. Outside of general body meetings, club members travel to major national and international meteorology conferences to learn about new industry research and developments, including the most prominent American Meteorological Society’s Annual Meeting.
Aidan Mahoney ’21, who graduated from Cornell with a B.S. in atmospheric science, was a co-president of the Weather Club. Visiting for the organization’s alumni weekend, Mahoney shared that he enjoyed Weather Club’s inclusive nature, with members coming from a diverse set of majors who come together to create a strong community feel.
“It’s really great what we do here in terms of the professional development, but then also building the camaraderie within the atmospheric science [majors] and even majors outside of the atmospheric science major,” Mahoney said.
He also noted that the Weather Club expanded his leadership abilities, which he now uses in his post-graduate education at the University of Miami and as an intern at the National Hurricane Center.
“Running the club and getting it through COVID-19 more or less intact certainly helped prepare me to be a leader in whatever role I have,” Mahoney said.
Callie Burns ’25 is an industrial and labor relations major who is a member of Weather Club. While the organization is not directly related to her major, Burns noted that she joined the Weather Club to explore her interest in environmental law.
Besides shared interest in the environment, Adam LaFontaine ’24 loves the unique, small community Weather Club has provided him.
“I like it [small] because you can create a more tight-knit group of people, otherwise in these other big organizations, you can’t really get a good community feel,” LaFontaine said.
Cornell Car Club was created in Spring 2022 by Shiv Kumar ’23. At their general body meetings, Kumar gives educational presentations on anything automotive related, including automotive engineering and the technical, mechanical and industrial aspects of cars.
After transferring to Cornell for his junior year, Kumar was surprised to see that Cornell did not have a car club on campus, and he was determined to create a one that welcomed newcomers.
“I thought a school like Cornell — with its caliber and diversity — should have a club oriented towards people who just have a genuine interest in automotive culture,” Kumar said.
Kumar has particularly enjoyed leading the Car Club as it fosters a supportive community of like-minded individuals.
“It’s always nice to see people in [general body meetings], teaching about aspects of cars and going to car meets — which are opportunities for automotive enthusiasts to view cars on display — and seeing a group of people together at the same time and place who share a similar interest in cars,” Kumar said. “It’s always really fulfilling to see and it keeps me going to keep this club up and running.”
Kumar also shares LaFontaine’s positive outlook on the club’s relatively small size, although he hopes that the club will expand in later years.
“Although it’s on the smaller side and I would like the club to be as large as [possible], I also like the aspect of it being more intimate,” Kumar said.
Burns, who is also a member of the Car Club, described how her passion for cars has expanded since joining the organization. She particularly loves the experience of driving and learning about automotive engineering.
“It’s so much fun when you sit into a car and it’s just this experience of driving fast, shifting gears and hearing how loud your car is,” Burns said. “It’s so interesting and so cool, and I’m so passionate about it.”
Another small club on campus is the Cornell Barbell Club, which provides a network of students committed to a fitness lifestyle, as well as weightlifting education, equipment, diet regimens and competitions.
According to Eliza Ryan ’24, Cornell Barbell Club dwindled in membership and retention during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was recently revived with the help of leaders like Ryan, Tom Sandford ’24 and Annie Podedworny grad.
Podedworny decided to join Barbell Club because of her previous experience with powerlifting — a form of competitive weightlifting — at her gym in New York City. There, she built close relationships with other powerlifters, which motivated her to help bring back the club.
“[At Cornell, I thought], ‘I want to build that [support] here,’” Podedworny said. “‘I want to work with Tom and other people and I want to make that community happen here.’”
Podedworny described that in rebuilding Barbell Club, it has transformed from a casual social club to a competitive club sport.
“It went from just saying ‘We’re lifting on Saturday,’ to me coming up to people and [asking them] ‘Do you want to sign up for this competition,’” Podedworny said.
Her experience in Barbell Club has also improved her interpersonal and leadership skills.
“I feel more comfortable coming up to new people and helping them get more accustomed to the gym,” Podedworny said. “It taught me a lot about getting a large group of people to do something which can be very hard.”
In addition to social development, Podedworny described Barbell Club’s ability to improve her lifestyle, as well as those of her Barbell peers.
“A lot of people benefit from structure like that — setting a goal and showing up every day for yourself,” Podedworny said. “[Through a fitness community,] people learn a lot about discipline and creating habits for themselves, which is super healthy.”
Ryan decided to join the Barbell Club when she and her boyfriend were searching for clubs during the pandemic. With previous experience lifting as a high school athlete, Ryan decided to pursue powerlifting exclusively.
“What’s good about the club is that we have some people who are super into the powerlifting sport or strongman [a weightlifting sport that encompasses various strength-based activities], and then we have people who just like to work out,” Ryan said.
Barbell Club has allowed Ryan to build intimate friendships that not only benefit her socially but also provide her with an accountable network of gym peers.
“All my friends are basically people in the club,” Ryan said. “It was a way for me to get to know other lifters, especially girls.”
In addition to the physical benefit of powerlifting that helped Ryan compete in three Strongwomen shows and recently bench her first squat, she also feels that Barbell Club has improved her mental health and motivation.
“It’s good to just get in there and exercise, and focus on something that’s not just school,” Ryan said. “Seeing my personal growth since I started my freshmen year… and then seeing other girls in the club bench 200 pounds is insane, so it’s something to look up to.”
Although these students enjoy the small, intimate nature of these clubs, they all recommended that more students continue joining them because of their positive experiences.
“[With] what [Barbell Club] has done for so many people and the friends it has given so many people, I would want that for everyone,” Podedworny said.
Sofia Principe is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].