'I've made it my mission to increase and support minorities in academia'

Marisabel Cabrera

San Juan, Puerto Rico

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

Learning how to articulate and communicate my work, no matter how complex, in a manner that is accessible and engaging to anyone. I learned that my work as a student, researcher, and eventually as a linguist, becomes a thousand times more valuable and impactful if an astrophysicist, a baker, a medical practitioner, or even a child is able to understand what you do and its importance to you personally and in this world. 

person playing piano

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

Although we're a small community at Cornell, the Puerto Rican Students Association has been my most impactful extracurricular. Having such a small and tight-knit community on campus was especially important during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria back home in Puerto Rico while I was a freshman. This fun and loving community of students served as my support system during this time. Through the organization, we collected supplies around campus to send to Puerto Rico, and we even collaborated with the administration to bring 65 students from universities in Puerto Rico to study here for a semester. 

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

I went to Cornell's Lab of Ornithology once for a concert my second year at Cornell. It was one of the few concerts that was in a different campus location from your classic Barnes Hall, Sage Chapel and Anabel Taylor Chapel venues for concerts. I was blissfully lost within the beauty and refinement of the quartet's music and the scenery, only to look to my left and find three of the biggest and fattest squirrels I've seen in my life doing extreme gymnastics to eat from the bird-feeders. Around halfway through the concert, they succeeded. This only happens far above Cayuga's waters. 

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

The accomplishment I'm most proud of is being part of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program. This fellowship has connected me with incredibly talented and impactful students and mentors both at Cornell and beyond. Before I became a fellow, I never considered that a graduate education and a life in academia was even a possibility for me. Since then, I've made it my life's mission to increase the representation and support of minorities in academia. 

Where do you dream to be in 10 years?

In 10 years, I hope to be a researcher and educator at a research institution, fostering interdisciplinary investigations and collaborations between speaker populations, linguists and industry. I also dream of taking time to travel abroad to do fieldwork and documentation on endangered languages. I also hope to be an excellent cook, a strong climber and avid language learner, and hope that the current place I'm at, wherever that may be, always feels like home.

How has your Cornell education and experience prepared you to deal with the challenges and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic?

I think my education has made me realize that this pandemic can become the greatest act of kindness, solidarity and actionable social good that a lot of us will either give or receive, directly or indirectly, in our lifetime. Of course, these acts will be experienced very differently across socioeconomic levels, so it has also allowed me to keep my privilege in check, and kindly and respectfully remind others around me to do the same. 

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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Marisabel Cabrera