Alumnus, Fellow a perfect match

For many alumni, sponsoring a Cornell Fellow is simply a way to give back to their alma mater, a way to support a program they believe in.

For John Dean ’58 it was much more than that. It was a return to academia. It was a reconnection with Cornell. And, maybe above all, it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Dean met Alyssa Borowske ’07 in February 2007 when he came to Cornell to visit friends. While there, geology Professor Ben Greenstein introduced the two because of their shared interest in environmental sustainability.

Dean, a retired University of South Carolina professor of marine science, said that as soon as the two met “there was an instant connection. Her interest was sustainability and the University of South Carolina had been working on that.”

“So I said ‘why don’t we have her come down here?’”

Out of that 90-minute conversation, the two developed the Dean Fellow in Environmental Studies, a fellowship plan that would take Borowske to the University of South Carolina to work on her thesis on campus sustainability. Borowske could do research unhindered by classes, and Dean would introduce her to as many researchers in the field as they could get their hands on.

“She was very active in picking brains,” said Dean. “I’d suggest someone to talk to and, ‘bam,’ there she’d go and pick their brain.”

When Borowske wasn’t questioning other experts, she was questioning Dean.

“Some of the best and most productive times were conversations we had around the dinner table or riding in the car, and a lot of great ideas for my thesis came out of those conversations,” said Borowske, who also learned of her Fulbright Scholarship while on her fellowship. “Dr. Dean and I clicked well, which meant successful brainstorming sessions.”

“It just went on like that for the whole time,” added Dean. “It was just a joyous experience. For a retired professor, this is a great reminder of why you did what you did.”

Conversations were plentiful, as Dean invited Borowske to live in his home during her fellowship, with his wife, Robin, and their dog.

"She and my dog got along very well," he said. "She charms everyone."

Dean said he plans to continue to support the Fellows program. "I couldn't ask for a better experience," he said. "She's clearly going to be a very special person in the field."