A Bright Idea (page 2)

The reading groups are among the most unique opportunities the Berry Center provides. For instance, some reading groups are actually led by President Garner himself. The students meet and discuss a preselected book, some of which have included Freakonomics; The White Man’s Burden; One Economics, Many Recipes; and Nudge.

“I love being able to analyze Stephen Levitt’s Freakonomics with President Garner,” said Maggie Rudick ’08 when she was a member of the Berry Center’s very first reading group. “It’s exciting to meet in President Garner’s home and to get to test Katrina’s new pound cake recipes too.”

The reading groups came with other bonuses. For example, students in the Freakonomics group traveled to Chicago, funded by the Berry Center, to meet with the book’s author, Steven D. Levitt. The group who read Nudge was similarly able to meet and discuss the book with University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler, one of the book’s authors.

Relationships like those, forged by the Berry Center, impact the entire campus. Thaler, for example, delivered the Roe Howard Freedom Lecture on May 14, 2009.

The Berry Center often brings distinguished speakers to the Hilltop. Visitors have included former Congressman and 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer, Nobel Laureate in economics Robert Solow, and Kevin Murphy, one of the country’s leading economists. Murphy’s visit, especially, sparked quite a bit of interest.

“It was cool having Murphy here, seeing as how he’s probably the smartest person I’ve been around,” said senior Ben Sebers. No offense intended to Cornell faculty, for sure, since Kevin Murphy is likely the smartest person many people have been around. That’s just the caliber of talent the Berry Center brings in these days.

“I have a huge academic crush on Kevin Murphy. There were jokes that I would faint when I saw him,” said Saunders, her eyes widening as she stressed the word “huge.”

While not every visitor gets fans quite as fervent as Saunders, the personal connections they forge with students do leave them with academic admirers who often find their education enriched by just a few hours with the visitors.

“I remember talking with David Klaus ’67 from the World Bank for like an hour,” said junior Brittany Atchison. “That was awesome.”

Making the experience

While much of the Berry Center’s work is focused on bringing opportunities to campus, a great deal of effort is expended getting students off campus and into experiential programs, primarily in the form of active, engaging internships. Senior art major Matt Smith, for example, was in charge of creative marketing for Amazing Edibles in Chicago during a monthlong internship. While there he created several mailing pieces and took a number of photographs of food preparation for owner Andrea Herrera ’85.

Several internships have placed students directly on a career path. Caitlin Ewing ’08 interned at both Openworld, Inc. in Belize and the Santa Clara University Global Social Benefit Incubator, two globally minded institutions looking to further social and economic change. Ewing is now an independent contractor working for Green Power and Flow — two other globally minded institutions looking to further social and economic change.

“The Berry Center is really what made my college career. It made my experience at Cornell what it was,” said Ewing. “The Berry Center was by far the most important part of my college career.”

Atchison echoed her sentiment, “My internship my freshman year, funded by the Berry Center, was paramount in helping me decide what I wanted to do.”

Additionally, the Berry Center sponsors student research, attendance at academic conferences, distinguished visitors, preparation courses for graduate school and standardized tests, and classes that travel offcampus or otherwise need funding to decrease the burden on students.

This entire package is wrapped together by the efforts of many, but most of the day-to-day work is thanks to Monica Davis Lyons ’02, part coordinator, part teacher, part cheerleader.

“It’s gotten to the point where, anything I need—a job or whatever—I go to Monica,” said Curran.

“A student will say, ‘I want to do this,’ and Monica will say, ‘OK, let’s figure out how we can make this happen,’” said Atchison.

Just as often, Lyons will come to students with ideas. It was Lyons, for example, who first brought up the blueberry farm trip with Saunders and Curran and told them they should apply for it.

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