Finding your calling at Cornell

The journey from high school to college and then through college amid Covid was anything but smooth for the Class of 2024. But thanks to persistence, tenacity and help from advisors and faculty, they’re thrilled to be headed off to various adventures. Three members of the Arts & Sciences graduating class sat down with us to talk about their journeys and offer some advice for incoming students about taking advantage of the resources that Cornell offers.

Jesse Kapstad ‘24, Abhyuday Atal ’24 and Aja'nae Hall-Callaway ‘24 have wildly different interests, but all took advantage of numerous opportunities at Cornell and in the Ithaca community and jumped in with both feet during their time here.

“Your work is going to be either classified into a job, a career or a calling, and Cornell is the place where you find that calling,” said Kapstad, who majored in government and economics and is headed to Boston for a government consulting position with KPMG. “It’s a function of your professors, your classes, your friends, your experiences that you have here. I don’t think there’s a place out there that builds it as well as Cornell does.”

person standing
Patrick Shanahan Kapstad

Kapstad started as a first-year spring admit in the spring of 2020 but was sent home a few months later when the pandemic began. He decided to take the fall of 2020 off and return in the spring of 2021. Starting out as a government major, he began taking economics classes and found those to be fascinating, as well, especially classes in behavioral economics.

“Behavioral economists use the idea of framing, that you can look at a container of yogurt as either 20 percent fat or 80 percent fat-free, depending on the way things are presented and your perception,” Kapstad said. “This translates so clearly into the real world, how people perceive things based on how you present them.”

Along with playing on the rugby team, Kapstad joined the Varna Volunteer Fire Department as a firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT).

“I used my academic advisor, Ray Kim, as a sounding board, meeting two to three times a semester just to ask him if I was on the right track,” Kapstad said. “He gave me pointed advice that was helpful, told me to take classes that I liked and pushed me to leverage my experiences in extracurriculars to make myself a better applicant for jobs.”

Kim also helped connect Kapstad to Arts & Sciences Career Development, where he won a Summer Experience Grant to help pay for his living expenses during a summer internship in Washington, D.C. with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s office.

“It really affirmed my interest in government to have that time,” Kapstad said.

The pandemic also interrupted the Cornell journey for Atal, who entered as a first-year student in 2018, but took two years off when the pandemic struck to explore internships in coding, business and product management.

person standing
Patrick Shanahan Atal

Back on campus in 2023, he decided he enjoyed a mixture of computer science, math and business so he added a business minor and will be headed for a job in Capitol One’s Washington, D.C. office after graduation.

“With every new class, I was getting even more and more passionate and enthusiastic about CS,” he said. “The CS core curriculum takes you in so many different directions – you get the coding basics, but you also learn the theory behind it.”

Since Atal took a couple of years off, he said A&S Career Development was an incredible help to him as he explored career paths.

“I  was debating whether I wanted to pursue something in academia or in business and Jen Maclaughlin helped me to refine my goals to industry,” Atal said about the career development director, who then helped him prepare his resume and prepare for interviews. “I thought I’d missed the deadline for the job I now have, but Jen sent me the link and said it was still open.”

Maclaughlin was one of the first people he called when he found out about his job offer.

Hall-Callaway, an Asian studies major, started in the fall of 2020 interested in languages and creating a language learning app — she chose Cornell because she could study Korean, Thai and computer science. During her first years here, she also explored Cornell’s entrepreneurship resources.

“I knew I wanted to study something with languages and culture, but I was also interested in computer science. I liked the flexibility because I didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” she said. "I chose Asian studies so I could focus on the cultural and historical aspect I wanted the app to have."

person standing
Patrick Shanahan Hall-Callaway

As a sophomore, Hall-Callaway was chosen as a Nexus Scholar, allowing her to stay on campus for the summer and do research in linguistics. “I loved the program that  I worked on, but I realized I did not want a career in linguistics,” she said. “I really appreciate I was able to take that summer to realize this, rather than during a semester or even after college, when I would have had to start all over again.”

Hall-Callaway has been a resident advisor since her sophomore year and has enjoyed the leadership skills she’s gained from that experience. She’s still job hunting, so she’s stayed in close contact with staff in the career and advising offices.

“I use my meetings with my advising dean as a way to get back on track and sometimes we just talk about random things,” she said. “He knows me as a person, so he can help guide me, whether I want to talk about what I’m interested in or how I can study abroad or what research project I should get into.”

Hall-Callaway said she's particularly grateful for her study abroad experiences in South Korea and Cambodia, as she wants to pursue a career in international relations. 

All three students say they’re leaving Cornell with a suitcase full of memories and a group of good friends they think they’ll have forever.

“One of my favorite things to see is when there’s a hint of sunshine in the spring and everyone runs to the slope,” Atal said. “It warms the soul.”

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three people standing in Klarman Atrium
Patrick Shanahan From left, seniors Jesse Kapstad ‘24, Aja'nae Hall-Callaway ‘24 and Abhyuday Atal ’24 have wildly different interests, but all took advantage of numerous opportunities at Cornell.