Extraordinary campaign

Redefines Cornell education

By Beth DeBoom

It all began with something we at home sometimes call a honey-do list, those onerous and inevitable fixes for our nests that multiply and attach barnacle-like to our pocketbooks and defy any notion of predictability—especially when old buildings are involved.

Outwardly the picture of health, a historic showcase of red brick, weathered stone and welcoming porches, in some corners of Cornell College the insides were beginning to resemble trampled doormats. College insiders knew this was a list that would take more than honey to fix.

But while peering into the potential black hole of fixes, some undaunted alumni also saw opportunity. Using the creative and critical thinking that Cornell instilled in their brains once upon a time, they began to craft extraordinary opportunities of an academic kind.

Thus, the Extraordinary Opportunities Campaign was born.

While scaffolding and sawdust covered the campus, the Berry Center, Dimensions, and other campaign-inspired academic programs were born, offering eager students block-length or longer learning experiences unique in the academic world.

As One Course At A Time's offerings multiplied, the honey-do list was whittled down.

King Chapel's iconic peaks, shaped by 56-foot long trusses, hand milled and heaved overland from a mill in Clinton, were now nearly 130 years old and shrunken with age. Like a wool cap run through a drier, the roof's span was, in some places, falling short of protecting outside walls from water. And that's the short explanation.

The rooms on the list? There were many, in some cases adding up to entire buildings. Pfeiffer Hall, a classic when it opened in 1930, was now in need of entirely new mechanical systems, and a fresh floor plan, including classroom space, and a design that could compete with today's residence hall trends.

The Commons, its orange carpet a living room to students, had been freshened a bit not long ago. But still, it carried overtones of a Brady Bunch house, and the family it housed was only getting bigger. With a year of record enrollment and plans to grow, the 1960s town center of campus was going to need an overhaul. 

In Old Sem, more of the same. Things were getting a little too cozy for optimal functioning. The alumni and college advancement staff moved into a renovated Rood House, now the Paul K. Scott Alumni Center, opening up space for more student services. The former Wade House Admission Center had two interview rooms. More than two interviews at once, and Vice President of Enrollment Jonathan Stroud had to give up his office. Now the Luce Admission Center, the renovated and expanded admission headquarters offers a more appropriate all-important first impression.

Building academic advantages

Such was the list of what had to be done. But looming just as high as King Chapel's towers was a desire "to leverage the college's distinctiveness," said then-president Les Garner, referring to the college's distinctive One Course At A Time block plan. 

A campus can be so beautiful, so modern, so full of flat panel TVs and organic cafeteria food that it can make young hearts swoon. But don't underestimate the savvy of young people (and their parents who are paying the bills) in an increasingly competitive world of higher education. For the serious students, the ones Cornell attracts, academic ingenuity and life-changing opportunities are still revered for the lifetime of doors they will open. Programs like the Berry Center, Dimensions, and the Fellows program, brain children of the Extraordinary Opportunities Campaign, are Cornell's foothold from this day forward. 

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