Kevin Coughlin: 'Have the humility to realize that you don't know yourself as well as you think you do.'

April 10, 2017

Kevin Coughlin

Economics & Spanish

Westport, CT

What is your main extracurricular activity? Why is it important to you?

My main extracurricular activity has been my involvement in my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. Beta is where I found my home at Cornell and it provided me with my closest friendships as well as my most meaningful philanthropy and leadership experiences during my four years. Being in Beta has allowed me to run philanthropy events and volunteer in communities that I never would have been able to touch otherwise, and being president of a 70-person fraternity gave me unparalleled lessons in leadership.

What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?

It's not a specific accomplishment that I'm proud of, but rather being able to find balance during my time at Cornell. Too many students get siphoned into one community or one pursuit during their four years, but balance is very possible, particularly within the College of Arts & Sciences where a multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach to education is an explicit priority. Majoring in economics helped me to accomplish my internship and career goals; majoring in Spanish helped me to accomplish my academic goals of learning a language and studying abroad; and my extracurricular involvement in Greek life and the music community has led to meaningful experiences regarding friendship, philanthropy, leadership and music. I'm very proud not only that I was able to do a little bit of everything, but especially that I was able to accomplish my goals in these areas, as well.

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

Even before coming to Cornell, I had heard that Introduction to Psychology was a must-take course, so I enrolled in it for my first semester. I had never taken a psychology class before, and after a few weeks, it became the most interesting course I had ever taken because it opened my mind up to how we think and why we are the way that we are. Because the course was comprehensively divided by topic and each topic was covered with what I thought was a lot of depth, I unfortunately came to the naive and arrogant conclusion that I had learned more or less everything that there was to know about the field of psychology. Yes, after one introductory course. But due to an amazing conversation with my parents, who brought me back down to earth, I realized that even though I knew more than I did before, there was a much larger amount that I didn't know. My knowledge has constantly been growing at Cornell, but my own awareness of holes and flaws in my knowledge has been increasing at an even quicker rate. On one hand, I am more knowledgable and intellectually confident than I ever have been, because I have learned so much each semester. But at the same time, I am also more open to alternative perspectives and explanations than I've ever been, because I’ve come to realize how much more there is to discover below my superficial knowledge. Pursuing knowledge while recognizing your flaws, misconceptions and intellectual gaps is inspiring, motivating and humbling all at once.

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

Be humble. Have the humility to recognize that you aren't going to do as well at Cornell as you did in high school, (and if you do do well, you can always do better, and you can always learn more). Have the humility to recognize that this is probably the first time you've been surrounded by so many people who are smarter than you and who think so differently from you. Have the humility to realize that there is way more to learn about any subject than you can possibly imagine — you're no expert yet. Have the humility to realize that you don't know yourself as well as you think you do, so you should pursue coursework and extracurriculars that give you intellectual discomfort. Also: study abroad, and take Wines.


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