'I've learned to try to ask questions of everyone all the time'

Micaela Carroll

College Scholar
Washington, D.C.

What are the most valuable skills you gained from your Arts & Sciences education?

1. Never take a text or author for granted.
2. Take the time to be thoughtful about work and play, not just blindly doing and going all the time.
3. So many good things have happened just because I asked. I've learned to try to ask questions of everyone all the time.

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

One of my proudest accomplishments at Cornell was founding a self-defense-oriented section of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) club. While I enjoyed training at the regular club, I soon realized that I was the only woman who showed up consistently for practice. I thought that a class centered around self-defense with more structure would help women stay on the mat, and give them a stronger sense of community. I led the class for almost three semesters before the pandemic hit, and in that time we practically doubled the size of the BJJ club. People loved the community and learning about how to defend themselves.

I'm also very proud of my thesis, which explored how people learn series of movements. The project allowed me to integrate my personal and academic interests, and to learn more about a process that I've done many times for martial arts, dance and outdoor activities: learning new series of movements. I even produced a novel finding, so I'm very excited about that.

student with hat

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell? What have you discovered about yourself?

I've made many discoveries at Cornell, but two main ones come to mind. In high school, I was very work-oriented. I had friends, but I never quite found my social footing. In the past two years in particular, I've found people I love and care about here that have completely changed my experience. I am a happier and healthier person because of them. I think I'm much more person-oriented than I was before. The people make the place.

The second big change was not becoming a classics major, which was a big part of why I came here. My high school's strengths were in the humanities, so that's what I thought I was best at, and that science and math could not be for me. Three years later, I'm going on to work at a lab at the NIH. I've realized that I'm not inherently better or worse at different subjects or skills. I'm better at the ones I've practiced.

Where do you dream to be in 10 years?

Teaching and helping other people are two guaranteed ways to have meaning in my life, so I want to keep doing those. Whether that's teaching neuroscience to university students, Brazilian jiu jitsu to people who need help, or outdoor skills to children who've never been in a forest before, that's what I hope to be doing.

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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Micaela Carroll