A Bright Idea (page 3)

“Monica is the ultimate networker. She knows about everyone and everything,” said Saunders. “She doesn’t sit back and wait for [students] to come to her.”

If Lyons is the persona of the Berry Center, Jim McWethy is the driving force behind it.

“A lot of the enthusiasm, vision, and drive to make this happen is Jim McWethy,” said Garner. “He deserves our deep appreciation.”


But what about those blueberries?

The Berry Center’s connection to a blueberry farm in Uruguay is like many of McWethy’s ventures: seemingly out of place, but so full of insight and purpose that the design appears far more planned than it may be in actuality. Through a series of coincidences, an investment manager named Tom Sleeter introduced McWethy to Pablo Sitjar and Frank Cherry, two of the key players at RenMax, a brokerage firm in Uruguay. Sleeter’s son had done an internship with RenMax, and McWethy picked up that this could be an opportunity for Cornell as well. From there, things developed.

“I thought the whole relationship could be a real good thing for Cornell, and vice versa,” said McWethy. “It’s really one of those things you just lean back and smile about.”

Once invested in RenMax figuratively, McWethy eventually moved to invest literally— in a blueberry farm Sitjar had recently moved to acquire. The Uruguay connection resulted directly in internships with RenMax for Kristin Willard ’08 and senior Vitaly Shmel’kin as well.

The internship, said Willard, was “the best thing I have ever done—I have learned so much about a different culture, about navigating the world, and about myself. I am so glad I made the nerve-wracking decision to take the plunge! Best decision I ever made!”

And it was Willard’s “best decision ever” and the subsequent follow-up internship by Shmel’kin that paved the way for Saunders, Curran, and the Garners to make their way to Uruguay in February 2009.

The purpose of the trip was to produce a case study on entrepreneurship in a developing economy, hopefully leading to insights in education levels, capital, workforces, cash flow, and anything else the small group could qualify, quantify, or observe.

Navigating the case study itself, on the other hand, was aided by Profess … er … President Garner. According to Curran, Garner served as a guide to researching and writing a case study, which neither Curran nor Saunders had ever written, and helped formulate what questions needed to be asked. “He’s so energetic and invested,” added Saunders. “Every morning he’d come down and say ‘so I’ve been thinking about this case study.’”

Garner was equally excited over the opportunity. “I loved it,” he said. “Teaching is my first love, and this sort of collaboration is something that’s special about Cornell.”

Some pretty wonderful things

The Berry Center hopes to offer more projects like the Uruguay trip, especially business case studies of entrepreneurial ventures, including some with social objectives. Garner sees this area as a nice fit for a liberal arts college. That also seems to be the mantra for the Berry Center’s future from all of its stakeholders: keep doing what they’re doing, but do more of it.

“The vision of the Berry Center, this has not changed,” said Farooqi. “We want to continue to do what we have done, but we want to increase the activity level and increase the quality.” Sebers, a graduating senior, is one of the last Berry Center devotees who remembers a time before the Berry Center. The class of 2010 is the first fully brought up with the Berry Center. But for those who can remember a time B.B.C. (Before the Berry Center), the changes have been astounding.

“I’ve seen a drastic increase in Berry Center activities in the last two years,” said Sebers.

“The Berry Center offers extraordinary opportunities for Cornell students. It has enhanced the college’s ability to attract students who are well suited to the academic rigor and special programs for study at Cornell,” said Jonathan Stroud, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission. “Initiatives like the Berry Center demonstrate that Cornell is a place of substance and of real opportunity, for both intellectual growth and pre-professional preparation.”

That doesn’t mean Garner, McWethy, Lyons, Farooqi, the Advisory Committee, or others involved in the center are ready to relax. Not even close. They all understand that, through all of the Berry Center’s success thus far, it’s still growing. To continue that growth, The Berry Center, which is currently funded almost entirely by McWethy, has one major need.

“We need to increase the endowment. Absolutely need to do that,” said McWethy. “It’s imperative. My vision is to have it endowed at a minimum of $10 million, preferably more. That would generate enough to do some pretty wonderful things.”

Both he and Garner agree that there are still wonderful things that can be done in the short- and the long-term.

“It takes a while to build a program,” said Garner. “And we still can do a couple things to make it distinctive and valuable, like integrating our strengths as a liberal arts school and our calendar in ways that are unique to us.”

“We have to keep on coming up with new ideas and new innovations,” added McWethy. “I want it to be something that really stands out as exceptional.”

For more information on visit the Berry Center Web site.

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