'I've learned what it means to be a conscientious scientist'

Cisco Espinosa

Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Bayonne, N.J.

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

While I thought I had entered Cornell with a fair appreciation for all variety of studies from STEM, to humanities, to the arts, I learned that my idea of appreciation was originally based on the idea that they were distinct. Here I came to realize that the lines that I thought divided intellectual endeavors were very blurry and fluid. While learning how to conceptualize and express proteins in my research lab, I came to understand the importance of artistic rendition in the visualization of my work which happens at an imperceptible scale but which can be envisioned through sophisticated programs made by people who understand the intricacy in this overlap of study. Understanding the power of interdisciplinary work has changed the way I interact with all of my studies and my world view. 

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

man in lab coat

Aside from the great pride I feel as a teaching assistant remembering the "glowing lightbulb" moments in which my students suddenly grasped a difficult topic after my 20th or so explanation, I am quite proud of my research experiences. In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I participated in the CHAMPS program in the departments of chemistry and physics. This research set the foundation for me in terms of how I would approach working in any lab in the future both in terms of my personal organization and my ability to ask for help and collaborate with others. The following summer, I was fortunate enough to participate in the STaRS Program at Boston University (remotely due to Covid) where I met a wonderful mentor and learned about the importance of gathering information about a field and potential research topic before beginning a project. Having this understanding and a strong sense of what was missing, I was able to engage in the research to the extent of bringing it to publication, and in doing so, I contributed to the advancement of knowledge required to screen and diagnose patients with lung cancer efficiently across socio-economic barriers. These experiences brought me to my home lab here at Cornell working in the chemistry department with Professor Nozomi Ando. My time in her lab has taught me exactly how I want every lab research experience to be. From the friendly and collaborative environment to the meticulous eye for detail, I've learned what it means to be a conscientious scientist in work that can benefit from diverse interdisciplinary perspectives.  

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

My Cornell education and life have been changed for the better by Professor Stephen Lee. I first met him during the Pre-freshman Summer Program in my chemistry class where he gave my first Cornell lecture, which started, "The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst./ Are full of passionate intensity." This quote by William Butler Yeats served as a call to action to us in that room, and it defined how I would approach both my time at Cornell and the world beyond here. Professor Lee called upon us to take up the mantle of responsibility as the rising generation of scientists, doctors, politicians, lawyers, writers and whatever else we sought to become. He instilled in us the understanding that now was the time to learn, to grow and to understand the world so that we could fulfill our destinies in righting the many injustices and afflictions that the world faces. Setting up our education in this context made every decision more important, and it made my curiosity and thirst for knowledge stronger than I knew it could be. With his mentorship, I've come to be a logical, thoughtful and inspired person. Beyond the chemistry, physics, math and everything else that people think of when they hear about a chemistry class, Dr. Lee taught us how to be people who care for others and learn with the intent of making the world a better place in whatever capacity we can. 

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

Go do it! Whatever club sign up, event, seminar or performance you can find that interests you, go to it, engage and enjoy. It's sometimes easy to be jaded by the amount of time we spend studying and working everyday, and to think that there is no more time able to be allocated to anything beyond classes, work and sleep. However, now is one of the few moments in your life that you'll have all of these opportunities. It is unlikely that you'll have the time or access later on to be able to engage with cinematographers from around the world presenting their movies on-campus, listen to brilliant scientists discuss their ideas or attend something as chaotic as Slope Day. 


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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