The Berry Center: Amplifying the Benefits of a Cornell Education
A Presidential White Paper
Addressed to the Cornell College family
from Leslie H. Garner Jr.
“Cornell's Berry Center provides a learning experience that is virtually impossible to replicate at other colleges. It offers an outstanding and dedicated faculty, complemented by interaction with business leaders and distinguished alumni, incorporated into a rigorous liberal arts curriculum. When appropriate, a course can be taught anywhere around the world. The overall result is graduates that are exceptionally well prepared to be outstanding leaders around the world economy.”
Jim McWethy ’65, Trustee and Chair, Berry Center Advisory Board
Many Cornellians have found that their four-year investment in education on the Hilltop has produced excellent returns, and a number of them have been working with us recently to see how we can extend and amplify the benefits of a Cornell education for careers focused on the economic lives of communities, the country, and the world. Our new Berry Center for Economics, Business, and Public Policy, embedded in the departments of economics and business and politics and with connections to other departments and programs, is the result of this collaboration.
Leaders in business, government, and nonprofit organizations play an enormous role in shaping society. The question for Cornell has been how to magnify the college’s traditional strengths—particularly in teaching economic theory and analysis, political and organizational processes, and effective communication skills—in order to give Cornell students the foundations for success and leadership in these fields. We want to nurture fundamental values and an ethical stance in our students, following John Wesley’s notion that an education which transforms individual lives can help individuals transform society. We believe that skillful application of economic analysis is fundamental to effective decision-making in business and public policy, and we have been looking for the best configuration of other curricular and experiential opportunities in order to help students understand the connections between theory and practice.
We think we’ve found the combination. Over 18 months a planning committee of faculty and alumni, led by Jim McWethy ’65, defined the Center’s mission and program components. Last fall we announced a gift of $5 million from Jim to endow the Center, which he named for his grandfather, Lester Berry, founder of Berry Bearing Co.
In the curriculum, economics and business faculty have added coursework which focuses on the applications of economics to practical problems in business, community development, and government decision-making. They’ve added finance courses that apply analytic tools of economics and accounting to a firm’s financial value. The Center’s support of a technology classroom has enabled many courses to use real data in real time for exercises and projects relating to decisions and outcomes. The politics faculty have added coursework in public policy and expanded offerings related to ethics in governing and policy formation. The key is to consciously help students make explicit connections between studying these topics and applying what they learn to the complicated situations they find outside the classroom.
As exciting as these classroom developments are, it is the experiential component of the program which makes the Berry Center so distinctive.
Visiting scholars and practitioners
The Center’s Visiting Scholars and Practitioners Program brings experienced practitioners and notable figures in business and policy work to campus for classes, public talks, informal conversation, and social engagement with students and faculty. Seeing how successful individuals approach problems and handle difficult situations, and how their professional lives develop, has great educational value. Trustees John Smith ’71, president and CEO of CRST International Inc., and Jim Hoffman, retired president of Alliant Energy Resources, provided practical insight to several economics classes. Cillian Ryan, an economist at the University of Birmingham (England), lectured and visited classes, giving the campus a European perspective on global issues.
An internship program with the goal of serving every student who wants hands-on experience in business, government, or nonprofit organizations is sending students to local, national, and international placements tailored to suit individual students’ needs. These internships extend classroom learning to the real world and supply opportunities for students to contribute their energies and skills to problems with real outcomes, to learn from supervisors and mentors in these organizations, and to begin to build resumes which will be of value in their professional development. Senior Jeff Winter says his internship at Merrill Lynch in the Chicago area gave him precisely the first-hand exposure to markets that he wanted. He was assigned many tasks in the area of financial services, including investment proposals for high net worth individuals, portfolio analyses for prospective clients, and marketing plans for new retirement products.
An off-campus study program is taking classes to centers of economic and policy activity, starting with Chicago and Washington, D. C., and with planning under way for international sites and additional domestic locations. The Berry Center is providing support for student-centered scholarship and travel, including a trip for four students to a World Bank conference, and for one student to conduct research in Belize. With the One Course At A Time calendar, our students have the opportunity to acquire knowledge in the most appropriate setting. So next year, Professor Santhi Hejeebu will take students in a new course on the history of entrepreneurship to Chicago for four days to study the Pullman Company. The students will receive guided site visits to the Illinois Railway Museum and the Historic Pullman Town, and will be treated to guest speakers knowledgeable about the era. They will also delve into original Pullman Company documents at Chicago’s Newberry Library, one of the world’s finest research libraries.
Support for helping students find relevant summer experiences, in research, in internships, or in jobs, is being coordinated by the Berry Center. Many students do not think of summer as a time for moving their education and professional preparation forward; we wish to assist those who want to combine a break from the classroom with interesting opportunities for growth. Junior Kristin Willard describes a “life-changing experience” last summer working for a brokerage house in Uruguay, where she was asked to design a PowerPoint marketing presentation in English that showcased the company’s services. English major Alison Scharmota spent last summer with Professor Hejeebu researching labor markets of the 18 th-century East India Company and says she gained a great deal of confidence in her ability to do research.
Symposiums and speakers
A symposium/speakers series will fund guests ranging from highly accomplished senior academics and professionals to the young and promising. The Berry Center will hold its first symposium this month, featuring the University of Chicago’s Becker Fellows Emily Oster and Jesse Shapiro—ranked by the New York Times among the 13 young economists doing the most impressive work on real-world problems. Earlier this year the Center brought to campus Massachusetts Institute of Technology Nobel laureate Robert Solow, a major figure in macroeconomics and the field of economic growth.
Preparation for graduate study
The Berry Center seeks to motivate student interest in graduate school, particularly MBA programs, and provides support in all aspects of career planning and graduate school admissions. The Berry Center’s director, economics and business Professor A’amer Farooqi, took 10 students on a Chicago MBA day-trip. The students arrived in the Chicago loop in time for a luncheon event with business leaders from around the city. The event was hosted by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and featured several of their distinguished faculty speaking about the global economy. The students then toured the Graduate School of Business and met with an admissions representative. In addition, 20 Cornell students met earlier this year with a representative of the University of Iowa Tippie School of Management, whose MBA program consistently ranks as one of the top 25 in the country among public schools. We have had promising discussions with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business about further collaborations.
Both the curricular and experiential aspects of the Berry Center require faculty and staff time and effort. The Kemper Foundation of Chicago provided a $35,000 grant in early 2006 to support the Berry Center. This initial investment allowed Cornell to hire a coordinator and begin aggressively developing the program. The Berry Center endowment supports a new public policy faculty position shared by the economics and business and politics departments, as well as the staff coordinator.
From conducting research abroad to learning first-hand from experienced practitioners visiting the Hilltop, the Berry Center has opened a door to truly extraordinary opportunities now available to economics, business, and public policy students. Through these students the Center will benefit society by providing leaders who can shape business, government, and nonprofit sectors. If you work in economics, business, or public policy and would like to be involved with the Berry Center, please let us know. I look forward to hearing from you.