Overland Park, KS
Why did you choose Cornell?
I didn't — at least, not at first. Toward the end of my second year of high school, I realized I didn't want to do another two years of that. I wanted to go to college early — I was eager to throw myself into bigger challenges and work on real problems. So I called the University of Kansas (less than an hour from my hometown), told the Honors Program what I wanted to do, and they said sure — just drop out of high school, get the GED, and enroll at KU. So I did. (My parents love that I'm a high school dropout.) As I went into my second year at KU, I knew it was time for another change. I had done an internship in the Bay Area, which had me seriously considering dropping out and joining a startup. But I met two Cornell students who were brilliant engineers and interesting people, so I decided to transfer to Cornell instead.
What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
The class I took with Professor Annetta Alexandridis, Ancient Art in Upstate New York. It ended up being just three students. I was the only undergraduate — and an engineer, at that. Prof. Alexandridis understood that I had very little domain knowledge; encouraged me to use and share my non-expert, non-standard mode of thinking; and was generally welcoming and supportive of me, effectively soothing my fears. At the same time, Prof. Alexandridis challenged me more than any professor ever has. She expected me to think clearly and critically, questioned me until I could either justify my argument or realize I had to abandon it, and pushed me until my work was of higher quality than I could have ever imagined. Prof. Alexandridis is one of the best things about Cornell.
How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?
When I came to Cornell, I had a very narrow idea of what I was going to do — I was studying computer science and physics, I was going to go to graduate school, and my end goal was industry research. By the time I left Cornell, I switched out physics for history of art; I discovered a love for improvising on the piano; and I made friendships that profoundly impacted me. Looking back now, it's funny how it worked out — I transferred to Cornell seeking greater academic and professional challenges, but the most important lessons I learned were personal in nature. I found that I could appreciate and make art, and that work isn't everything, as I once thought it was. In short, if Cornell taught me one thing, it was how to live a fuller, warmer life.