By Blake Rasmussen '05
Much more than an internship program, Cornell Fellows is a coveted experience that launches Cornell students into careers and graduate study.
The first Cornell Fellowship may very well have taken place way back in 1979, when Dean Riesen ’79 spent three months as an intern at Rockwell Collins.
Now, 28 years later, the Cornell Fellows program has already placed, paid for, and supervised 60 students over the past two years in positions all around the country, ranging from environmental research at the University of South Carolina to business analysis at Target Corporation to a software engineer at, yes, Rockwell Collins.
The Cornell Fellows program, now in its third full year, is a fully funded internship program designed to get Cornell students off campus and into the real world. Students spend anywhere from a month to three months working on a “tangible and substantial project” for their site, often sponsored by a Cornell alum. This can mean anything from research for a thesis to designing a Web site to facilitate the needs of a business. Students receive a $1,000-$1,400 stipend per block from the Fellows program to offset costs.
“Cornell Fellows apply the liberal arts to the world,” says RJ Holmes ’99, director of Career Engagement Programs, in paraphrasing Riesen. “Students have a pretty significant opportunity to make a noteworthy contribution to the organization. They’re able to create a more holistic picture, and they’re able to make something pretty tangible come to life.”
The idea grew out of Riesen’s internship that he credits with launching his career. When he was elected to the Cornell Board of Trustees, Riesen was able to translate his experience into the program Cornellians enjoy today, partially because he was willing to help fund the program’s launch.
Others saw the potential for such a program as well.
“It’s nice to see something that you’ve believed in for so long come to fruition. I knew the promise of this 20 years ago, this kind of placement,” said Professor Rob Sutherland, who now teaches politics part time to allow him to direct the Cornell Fellows program.
Program quickly reaches potential
Fresh out of Cornell and with his Rockwell internship behind him, Riesen, now a Phoenix-based property developer, got a job that required an M.B.A. So far, Cornell Fellowships have been just as overwhelmingly positive as Riesen’s internship.
Parker Reynolds ’07 was the very first Cornell Fellow in February 2005, when he became the Small Fellow in Theatre Management at the Creede Repertory Theatre in Creede, Colo. He traveled across the country helping to cast the summer season, then was hired as an actor for the summer.
Target Corporation Fellow Aaron Reykdal ’06 was among the first batch of fellows in the summer of 2005 when he spent three months working on human resources projects. After completing his fellowship, Reykdal was offered a full-time job in a coveted position at Target a year before he completed his degree.
“It was just a great opportunity to take some of my project and leadership skills and promote them to the real world,” said Reykdal. “I got that corporate feel, and figured out this is how I need to prepare myself professionally.” Reykdal’s experience was so positive that in addition to accepting a position himself, he strongly recommended the Target experience to Brittany Roth ’07, who became a Target Corporation Fellow a year later and raved about the higher level of the Fellowship program.
Roth, who had a previous internship experience, said, “The Target one was a lot more challenging. The one in [Washington] D.C. was clerical work, making copies and office work. This experience was a hundred times better.”
Like Reykdal, Roth was offered a full-time position a year before she graduated.
Outside the corporate world, other Cornell Fellows had similar experiences. Danielle Bowen ’07 worked at the Translational Genomic Research Institute in Phoenix doing diabetes and obesity research, looking for genetic factors that would make people more susceptible to those conditions. As the Dorr Fellow in Genomics, her fellowship was sponsored by Dr. Larry Dorr ’63 and arranged by Candice Nulsen ’95, T-Gen’s scientific education and outreach coordinator.
“I got to learn in labs that are more high tech than Cornell’s. I guess I realized how quickly the field is progressing,” said Bowen, who majored in mathematics and biology and was awarded a national Goldwater Scholarship. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity.”
Financing and organization are two of the most appealing aspects of the program for Cornellians. Not only do students receive a stipend, their on-site mentors work directly with Holmes and Sutherland, giving them a go-between while preparing for the fellowship as well as a readily available resource to help with housing and transportation.
“The fellowship was really well organized for me,” said Bowen. “They covered my expenses and organized everything for me.”