'I'm part of a wonderful, caring, supportive community for the rest of my life'

Bella Somoza

Biological Sciences and History
Portland, Ore.

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

I am a tutor, a study group leader for genetics in the Biology Scholars Program, a student advisor for the Office of Undergraduate Biology and an ambassador for the College of Arts & Sciences. Even though these are all technically different extracurriculars and programs, I lump them together because they have the same goal: to interact with and teach potential or current Cornellians. Staying connected to Cornell and students in different grades is really important to me, and I love being able to pass on the knowledge I have gained here to other students to help them on their journeys at Cornell. Teaching is really important to me because I feel like I learn just as much from my students and peers as they do from me, and I truly value interpersonal relationships. I’m a pretty extroverted person, so I love the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories and perspectives!

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

In March 2020 when Cornell announced that all students were expected to leave campus by the end of the weekend because of the emerging pandemic, students scrambled to finish their assignments, pack up their belongings and find rides home. It was a really hectic and uncertain period of time, but that weekend, students still found a way to say goodbye to their friends and loved ones on campus. I remember sitting on Libe Slope that Saturday evening, surrounded by my closest friends and hundreds of other students celebrating their last nights together by watching the sun set. We ate dinner, laughed, shared stories and jokes and said how much we loved each other. Even though I didn’t know the majority of the people on the slope, it felt like the Cornell community was coming together one last time before heading our separate ways for who knew how long. My friends and I felt connected to everyone on the campus. We made new friends and acquaintances that night as we shared our food and drinks because of this shared experience of fearing the unknown. That was the moment I realized that being a Cornell student means more than just receiving an education at an Ivy League institution – it means being part of a wonderful, caring, supportive community for the rest of your life.

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of?

woman holding bird

I’ve done a lot at Cornell, but the thing I am most proud of is my honors thesis for the biological sciences honors program! For the past three years, I have been working in Dr. Maren Vitousek’s lab, researching the role of the gut microbiota diversity in tree swallow nestling stress tolerance and fitness. I wrote and received grants from the College of Arts & Sciences and Lab of Ornithology to fund my thesis, and then I collected data, analyzed the data, and turned it into a 46-page manuscript – easily one of the hardest things I have ever done at Cornell! I have never done anything like it, and I truly poured my heart into it. I never would have done it without my graduate mentor Jennifer Houtz. My academic work prepared me to understand the theory behind my work, but my honors thesis taught me the practical skills I needed to pursue a career in research. It also prepared me for some of the less-glamorous challenges I’ll run into as a graduate student (like inconclusive results, trouble-shooting assays, finding funding, etc.)!


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 2022.

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