By Rob Montana and Kristy Montana
ITHACA – When summer inches closer to Labor Day, the City of Ithaca prepares for its annual doubling of its population – the return of students to Cornell University and Ithaca College.
That took place the weekend of Aug. 20, with classes resuming on both campuses last week. Visits to both institutions offered similar views – students returning to campus expertly navigating about, while newcomers took a little more effort to get where they were going.
Manoly Sisavanh, a Fulbright scholar from Laos, is pursuing her master’s degree in international development at Cornell. This is her first year at Cornell, which she called “her dream university.”
“It has a specialty in natural resource management,” she said. “Besides world-class academic knowledge, I want to make connections while I’m here. Cornell has diverse students with diverse backgrounds and knowledge of the field.”
While she’s in Ithaca, Sisavanh is hoping to find out: “What I shouldn’t miss being a Cornell student.”
Another international student at Cornell, Kofi Gyan hails from slightly closer – Canada. His undergraduate work was completed at the University of Ottawa and now he is at CU pursuing a graduate degree in computational biology and medicine.
“It leaves a lot of options,” Gyan said when asked what he will do with that degree. “It prepares you for the business world or the academic world.”
As for what prompted him to come south to Cornell, he said the opportunity to move outside his comfort zone.
“I was trying to decide between here and another place, and the other one seemed a little more familiar and a little more of a safer choice,” Gyan said. “Cornell was pushing into the unknown, and so I chose the path less taken.”
While on East Hill, he is hoping to meet a lot of people and “broaden my perspective.”
“I want to get more of a glimpse of the world, aside from academics,” Gyan said, noting he wants to know, “Where are some of the favorite places to go and things to see here?”
Justin Hall, a junior from Connecticut, is a pre-med student preparing to have a more focused experience in his third year at Cornell.
“I’ll be transitioning toward moving on to applying to med school and taking the MCATs,” he said. “This year will be more looking ahead to the future than in past years.”
Hall said Cornell newcomers should find ways to take advantage of opportunities on campus.
“Definitely get involved early,” he said. “The longer you’re involved in organizations, the more it will benefit you.
“Also, time management is the most important thing for success at Cornell,” Hall added.
Nicole Biatowas, a first year graduate student at Ithaca College from Shelton, Conn., said she’s found the Ithaca (city) community to be welcoming thus far.
“I hope to gain new perspective and new knowledge this semester,” she said, noting she picked IC for it’s occupational therapy program.
Part of that knowledge includes a question she has for returning students: “Where is the best place in Ithaca to de-stress from school work?”
Deanna Orfanos, also a first year grad student at IC, was surprised she wound up attending a grad school so far from her home of Queens.
“The staff is so friendly and very welcoming,” she said of her experience since her arrival in Ithaca. “Everyone on campus seems so willing to interact, and Ithaca – it’s a happy place.
“I think I’ll gain a lot from all the people here,” Orfanos added. “The population seems to be a nice diverse mix of really friendly people willing to interact.”
Though temperatures were in the 80s last week, she had her mind on winter when asked what she’d like to know from those who have already experienced that here.
“What’s the best thing to do in winter for fun?” Orfanos said. “How do people spend their time in Ithaca in the winter?”
Ryley MacKay, a sophomore from Burlington, Vt., said IC had been her top choice since early in her high school career.
“Ithaca is very similar to where I grew up and I like that,” she said. “Its vibe is chill, relaxed, kinda happy, especially the downtown area.”
Being a returning student means MacKay already knows how she fits in on campus.
“I have clubs and organizations I’m a part of, and that gives me a foot up in what I’m doing,” she said.
As for advice for newcomers, MacKay was quick: “Don’t wear the lanyard around your neck.”
While MacKay liked Ithaca for its similarities to her hometown, sophomore Shannon Crutchfield was attracted to town for its differences from her hometown of Brooklyn.
“I’m from a big city and I wanted something smaller and different from where I grew up. The city is so busy – all the cars, all the people,” she said. “I needed something different. Ithaca has actual trees, and grass.
“It’s a friendlier feel,” Crutchfield added. “I didn’t know what I wanted until I had it.”
One difference between this year and last for Crutchfield is that she already has a circle of friends on campus.
“It’s OK to take time to meet friends,” she said, offering that advice to incoming freshmen. “Don’t cling to the first people you meet – you’ll meet your group.”
Another returning sophomore, TJ Kaiser, hails from Aspen, Colo., and appreciates the more intimate setting of Ithaca College compared to other colleges he was considering. He’s planning to be more involved in activities this year.
“I know what my options are, so I can get my hands deep into it,” Kaiser said. “There will never be a dull moment.
“Get a whole wide view of everything,” he said when asked what advice he had for new students. “Try everything, even if you think you might not like it – you never know when you might fall in love with something.”
Morgan Brunson, a sophomore from Tinton Falls, N.J., said it will be a different experience this year as a returning student because she knows more things this year.
“How things work and run, and actually knowing what I’m getting into,” she said. “It’s good to know what to expect and how to do things.”
Brunson advocates for new students to try new things.
“It might be scary to step outside of your comfort zone, but it’s worth it,” she said. “For me, it started with trying new foods I didn’t have at home, then trying new activities.
“It’s a slow building up of trying new things,” Brunson added, “and I’ll continue that this year.”
A junior from New York City, Brian Colon has a couple of years of experience under his belt at Ithaca College and is an RA. He said he’s used to seeing change each year, especially in himself.
“I change every single school year,” Colon said. “It’s amazing how fast I can change. It scares me – a good scary – but holy moly. My goal this year is to procrastinate less.”
Since he’s used to change, Colon advises new students not to swim upstream against that current.
“Don’t fight change,” he said. “It’s already happening. Don’t go against it, don’t fight it.”
Meghan Lyons-Dunckel, a sophomore from Newton, Mass., is preparing to tackle a new major – sports media, her fifth one – on South Hill this school year.
“I’m so happy they (IC) has given me the opportunity to explore and do that,” she said. “Not many schools do that. I also have a minor this semester – education – for the first time.
As someone who has changed her mind on her major five times in a little more than a year, Lyons-Dunckel has had to learn how to relax, which is her advice for incoming students.
“As hard as it may be, relax. Everything will be OK,” she said. “I came in last year freaking out – it’s college! But you have to think: Everything will be perfect. And if it’s not, you can do something about it. You’re in charge.”