Gwendolyn Kahler: 'Do what you really want to do'

Gwendolyn Kahler


Larchmont, NY

What is your main extracurricular activity--why is it important to you?

My main extracurricular activity is the Society for Natural Resources Conservation (SNRC), which is a student environmental club. I have been participating in the club since my first semester at Cornell, and I have had various leadership positions in the organization: secretary, PR coordinator, and outreach coordinator. I am very passionate about the environment, nature, sustainability and acting against climate change, so it is important for me to contribute to environmental activism and to help the earth and its inhabitants.

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

Choosing linguistics as my major. As an incoming undergraduate, I was undecided about my major because I genuinely enjoy and am interested in most academic subjects. In my first year, I decided to try a class in a subject that was completely unfamiliar to me and for which I did not know what to expect: linguistics. I found that linguistics is not only immensely enjoyable but also inherently fascinating, especially because as the study of language, the field explores a core facet of humanity and its everyday functioning. The discipline is both abstract and concrete, analytical and creative. Furthermore, linguistics appeals to me because it is highly interdisciplinary. The field incorporates numerous fields in the humanities, social sciences and STEM. Thus by pursuing linguistics as a major, I was able to explore many academic areas and utilize diverse skills and modes of thinking.

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

I have always been more comfortable within the humanities and social sciences – reading novels and other extensive texts. Therefore, taking four science classes as an undergraduate was beyond my “comfort zone.” Because I am passionate about environmentalism, all of the courses connected with current issues of climate change, sustainability and energy. Although understanding the material in these courses was challenging at times, learning about the science behind current environmental problems has helped me to become a more informed citizen in political matters. The courses also amplified my enthusiasm for activism, and I have incorporated the knowledge into action within an environmental club. These studies not only served as a rewarding challenge, but also have improved my functioning as an individual in society.

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

Do what you really want to do. Don’t make a choice about your experience (academic, professional, etc.) just because it seems like everyone else is making that choice.

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