'I am confident that teaching others made me who I am today'

Jose Maria U. Tapia

Economics and Statistical Science
Silver Spring, Md

Why did you choose Cornell?

When I was choosing colleges, I knew I wanted to study a subject close to economics and statistics. What I found was that the Cornell economics program was a very well rounded program, having courses cross listed with ILR, PAM, American Studies, and more. As a result, I was drawn to the economics program, which was very unique compared to the other colleges I was considering at the time, which had economics courses only in the economics department. Likewise, I knew I wanted to study a more quantitative subject to supplement my economics education, and like the economics program, the statistical sciences program was very flexible, having courses cross listed with many more departments, like in the engineering school. The combination of those two subjects really reflected the "Any person, any study" part of Cornell. However, while the flexible programs were great, I was really impressed with Cornell's commitment to fostering a community of belonging. I saw how at Cornell there were plenty of opportunities to find my niche, like taking a Filipino Martial Arts PE class, which brought me closer to my Filipino heritage, and Cornell having a Tagalog class allowed me to advance my knowledge of my native language, which was very unique.

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

My main extracurricular activity would be my teaching positions, as a tutor for the economics department or an Undergrad Teaching Assistant (TA) in the stats department. Being a tutor or TA allows me to look at classes differently. As a tutor I can connect better with the students, from many different classes, and that experience helped me see how connected the courses are in the economics department. Likewise, TA’s tend to be under-appreciated regarding their work, and as a student I never understood the patience and determination required to be a great TA. To be a great TA, it’s more than just going to the class and teaching, it’s having the ability to read the students facial expressions, communicate with them clearly, and be empathetic to their struggles, because I was once in their shoes. These teaching positions are really important to me because I learn from them. I learn as much from teaching others as I did in the classroom, maybe even more. The ability to be a good communicator, to be emotionally intelligent, and to be an inspiration to others to learn more about the subject are valuable skills in the workforce. I am confident that teaching others made me who I am today. 

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

I will always treasure the commencement ceremonies I participated in as a volunteer. During the summers, after I finished my exams, I stayed at Cornell a few more weeks to volunteer in commencement 2018 and commencement 2019. They were joyous occasions. On Saturdays, for the Senior Convocation, I would help set up at Schoellkopf Field, and assisted with all the guests when they were finding their seats. On Sundays, the commencement, I would walk the students from the Arts Quad to Schoellkopf Field. It was nice to see faculty and staff clapping for the seniors as they walked to Schoellkopf Field, and heartwarming to see the seniors hug each other for their commencement, waiting to start a new chapter. 

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of, either inside the classroom or otherwise?

I am most proud of being a part of the Office of the Dean of Students in the Student Development Diversity Initiatives (now known as MSL&E). In my time there I helped organize the 1vy-G conference at Cornell University. I helped with the logistics and planning, while also learning other software to speed up the planning like Tableau for data visualization purposes. It was such an honor to have participated in the 1vy-G conference. 

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

It’s nice to have a plan; as a matter of fact, I encourage it. However, you need to be flexible. When I started, I, and many students from Cornell, would have never imagined that a pandemic would have happened. During my time at Cornell, I had planned to take certain classes, but I never had the chance. I planned on certain internships, but I went another direction. It’s nice to imagine that our journeys will be linear, but more likely than not, our journeys will be filled with many curve balls. Be ready to wing it, and make the most of the situation: learn, adapt, and overcome.

Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2021.

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Jose Maria U. Tapia