'I volunteered as a study hall tutor for the Cornell Prison Education Program'

Celia Shapiro

Government and American Studies
Bethesda, Md.

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

person with flowers

I am fortunate to have been involved in many extracurricular activities throughout my time at Cornell, but one of my favorites has been volunteering as a study hall tutor for the Cornell Prison Education Program. I assist students at Elmira Correctional Facility with Spanish and sociology to help them pursue Associate's degrees from Corning Community College during their incarceration. This has been such a valuable experience, as I have learned so much outside of the classroom on prisons and the criminal justice system. Additionally, I have forged meaningful relationships with students and faculty involved in the program that I would not have otherwise met. This is such a unique and special program at Cornell, and I encourage students in any major at Cornell to pursue it.

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 completing my honors thesis in government on the politics of choice in federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. I have participated in political science research throughout my entire undergraduate experience, and I'm proud to have culminated this experience through an individual research project that I designed, researched and wrote on my own. Since my sophomore year, I have been a research assistant in the Gender and Security Sector Lab led by Professor Sabrina Karim. In this role, I have worked on several projects which provided the necessary and valuable skills to perform my own research. Especially having undergone most of my Cornell career during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was validating to apply this experience to my political science research to combine my lived and learned experiences throughout college. Additionally, I also studied in Copenhagen, Denmark during my spring semester junior year. I am thrilled that I was able to both study abroad and complete the government honors program as an upperclassman.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?

person with hat near a canal

Professor Sabrina Karim has been an incredible mentor and role model throughout my Cornell education. After joining her research lab my sophomore year, I have learned so much from her about political science, post-graduate career opportunities, and graduate school. She also taught my government major seminar, Politics of Policing, where I was able to apply my research in her lab on Cameroon's security forces to my academic projects. In addition to learning from her in class, lab meetings, and office hours, she has set up professionalization seminars each semester for students to learn more about post-graduate paths in law, research, non-profits, and politics. These have been incredibly valuable conversations that have informed my decisions as I plan for my next career moves.

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

If I were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, it would be to put yourself out of your comfort zone and focus on increasing your knowledge and capacity over creating the perfect resume or GPA. There is so much pressure on perfection in a high-performing environment like Cornell, but there is also so much opportunity for growth and personal development that I have found much more valuable. Even in the hard and uncomfortable moments, through tough assignments and internship rejections, you will learn so much about yourself and develop the resilience to tackle the next paper and interview.


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 2023.

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Celia Shapiro