Cornell provides many opportunities for undergraduate students to experience a variety of fields and perspectives, truly fulfilling Ezra Cornell’s famous goal of “any person … any study.”
During three years of writing the undergraduate research feature for Connecting with Cornell, I met and interacted with engaging, brilliant students who demonstrated extraordinary character and commitment to their study. The diversity of students and research gave me a chance to learn about topics such as high-energy physics, behavioral and medical entomology, environmental policy, cancer research, nutrition, and psychology. This experience, along with my double major in biology and society and Spanish, provided a rewarding undergraduate experience.
My last undergraduate research article for Connecting with Cornell features undergraduates Jah Chaisangmongkon ’09, Brandi Jackson ’10, and Alex Latzka ’10, who take an interdisciplinary approach to undergraduate research.
When asked about her major at Cornell, Jah Chaisangmongkon gives an answer that often surprises people. With a double major in physics and psychology, Chaisangmongkon has spent her undergraduate experience exploring two seemingly divergent courses of study. She conducted undergraduate research simultaneously in two labs, with James C. Seámus Davis, Physics, and Vivian Zayas, Psychology. She explains, “Both majors represent a means of education to discover the truth of nature. Physics helps me understand the truth of the outside world, whereas psychology helps me understand the truth of the inside world—that of the human mind. I love how, together, they help give me a complete picture.” Chaisangmongkon came to Cornell from Thailand with a scholarship to study physics and nanoscale science. As an enrolling student, Chaisangmongkon was impressed with the diversity of people and areas of study at Cornell, compared to other American universities. She appreciates that a student’s academic path at Cornell is not restricted to the core curriculum. “Cornell’s curriculum is flexible. You can design your own unique path and determine your own future,” she says. “It’s easy to explore your true interests deeply and in an interdisciplinary way.”
Science and society have intertwined throughout Brandi Jackson’s research. In the first year of her human development major, Jackson studied international agriculture and rural development, with a focus on nutrition. She conducted an independent study on the effects of malnutrition and disease on African family structure. While learning about the social effects of malnutrition, especially prevalent in developing nations, she grew to appreciate the importance of having a background in biology when advising on nutritional problems. With plans to become a doctor, Jackson was eager to get involved with the biological research needed to advance the social understanding of nutrition. She has been working since the beginning of her sophomore year in the lab of Marie Caudill, Nutritional Sciences.
Alex Latzka, a natural resources major, was excited about choosing Cornell because of its great reputation and faculty in natural resources and conservation. He explains, “I knew that I would be well prepared to go on to law school, graduate school, or into the job market. Cornell provides many opportunities to learn, have fun, and get involved in interesting activities.”
Latzka began his study at Cornell with a research project with Stephen Morreale, a senior research associate in natural resources, studying the impact of environmental management techniques—specifically water drawdowns—on the behavior of snapping turtles. Both Morreale and Latzka, however, became interested in climate change research.
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