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BETTEZ | What’s in a Freshman GPA?

The Cornell Engineering administration is under no illusion that first semester freshmen are under a large amount of stress and pressure. Thrown from all corners of the world into a notoriously difficult University environment, there are bound to be growing pains as they acclimate to their new lives. The administration provides them a large number of supplementary Academic Excellence Workshop classes, bar them from joining the competitive and time sinking project teams as fully fledged members and flood them with resources and opportunities to find their home and people on the vast campus. But despite precedent from other leading engineering schools, they’ve failed to eliminate the single greatest stressor to these bright-eyed freshmen: Their grades. By switching the first semester grading scheme to a S/U system, we can create a more equitable environment for students to acclimate to their new lives.

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BETTEZ | About That Freshmen Project Team Ban

This fall, Cornell has announced that freshmen will not be allowed to join engineering project teams.

In the introductory documents offered to project team leads this semester, among all the social distancing and COVID-related measures, was the phrase: “First-year students will not be allowed to join teams this fall.” My first reaction was sadness for the freshmen who will be barred from many of the opportunities for social connection that project teams offer and that coveted sense of belonging that freshmen are usually afforded. But then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend in April, in which she described how her well-regarded project team made the conscious decision to avoid recruiting freshmen, as they had realized it massively skews their demographics toward wealthy, white and Asian men. When trying to recruit through organizations like Under-Represented Minorities in Computing (URMC), they realized almost none of them made it onto their team as freshmen because they tended to lack the opportunities wealth buys which make a good project team candidate. They came to the realization that all of the College of Engineering project team leadership needs to come to: Recruitment for freshmen is based solely on their opportunities prior to Cornell, not the students themselves. Entering your freshman year at Cornell, the disparities between the opportunities afforded to different socioeconomic and racial groups begin glaring apparent.

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BETTEZ | Why Am I Here?

On today’s morning walk to stay sane, I strolled through campus from Collegetown, looping through the slope up to North and back down again. With a camera in hand, I snapped some of the first pictures I’ve ever taken of the slope completely empty. As I passed through the eerie silence of central campus I heard songbirds singing — a first in my nearly three years here. I realized that some of the engineering buildings hum like living things, betraying the immense amount of energy flowing through them. I realized that this probably wasn’t the first time the slope had been empty, or campus was quiet enough to hear the songbirds — I had always been too caught up in my busy life here to take a moment to notice them.

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BETTEZ | Forget the Public Policy School, Give Us a Design School

Here’s a scenario that has totally never happened to me before: you’ve had a long day of classes and you’re ready to finally head home to your apartment in Collegetown, when you find yourself pulling on a push door as you exit, say, Upson Hall. You feel like an idiot; you’re a junior and here you are, looking like a prospective student visiting campus for the first time. But what if I told you that’s not your fault? That, instead, you’ve fallen prey to one of the most common design errors: the Norman door. First coined in the 1988 novel The Design of Everyday Things, the Norman Door is the result of poor and conflicting design decisions that make it difficult to determine how to operate the door, often resulting in a reliance on signage, or allowing its users to feel like idiots every day.

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BETTEZ | ‘Parasite’ and the One-Inch Barrier

Regardless, the only thing we can do, as viewers, is to support. Give Old Boy by the same director as Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho, a try. You can’t go wrong with the other nominees of this year, like Honeyland or Pain and Glory. To ensure the enduring power and success of diverse films in the American consciousness, the best endorsement we can provide are our eyes and ears.

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BETTEZ | Why it’s Good Fewer White Men are Admitted into the College of Engineering

At the beginning of the fall semester, I wrote an article about the gender ratio in the engineering school, and the ways that Cornell’s College of Engineering could better create a more inclusive environment towards women. I received a lot of supportive feedback on the article, but I was particularly struck by the backlash. The comment section of the Facebook post  was filled with people who claimed that women, and as they inferred, people of color, were stealing valuable spots from white men who were more “deserving”; namely, they had better grades and more previous experience in engineering. They just couldn’t seem to comprehend why it’s genuinely necessary to have diversity in a field that literally shapes the world a vast majority of the population lives in. Even aside from the obvious ethical and moral necessity of student body diversity at a world-class university like Cornell, diversity is crucial for the future and success of the school.

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BETTEZ | The Quiet Classism in Engineering

As the add/drop period continues and students consider the classes they’ll dedicate their time and energy toward, an element to class selection weighs more heavily on some more than others: the hidden costs that are barriers to taking the classes. Classism is inextricable from the American collegiate system, for which there is little Cornell’s College of Engineering can do to dispel. But for the changes it is capable of, Cornell can do better to ensure that all students are capable of taking all classes within the College regardless of their background. Any student who earns a spot in the engineering school should be capable of taking any of its classes. The Ivy League university we attend surrounds us with such unusual wealth that it’s easy for the professors and administrators to forget that the perceived minor expenses of their classes aren’t just making an insignificant dent in the pocket of a Canada Goose or Supreme jacket.

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BETTEZ | Let’s Reconsider Our ENGRIs

If you spend enough time on the engineering quad, you’ll eventually hear some variation of this: “I was going to do [insert some engineering major], but then I took the ENGRI for it and it was awful.” The Introduction to Engineering classes, or ENGRIs (pronounced by sounding out each letter), that all engineering freshmen are required to take to explore a major are good for one thing: elimination. They come from a well-meaning place from the engineering administrators, who are aware that the rigid scheduling locks us securely into our majors before we can get a good sense of what they’ll be like. They attempt to let us explore majors we’re considering more before we fully commit to the years-long process of knocking out our flowcharts of requirements one by one. But the fact that we’re only supposed to take one of these classes can lead to some unfortunate consequences. It means that those fairly certain about their major, and those who like or feel neutral enough about their ENGRI, often end up choosing it because they’ve never known anything about the other majors.

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BETTEZ | So You Think You Want to Be a Doctor?

My small hometown’s emergency medical services was so understaffed that at one point they started training some high school kids to be certified EMTs. Throughout junior year, my classmates and I took night classes so that the next year we could carry pagers around school and respond to  ambulance calls during the day. We learned how to do CPR, identify a stroke, treat burn injuries — pretty much the worst cases of every scenario. But once we were on real calls, I started to realize how bloodthirsty we had become. Secretly and out loud to each other, we hoped for emergencies — and not just minor injuries that would get us out of class.