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.