Learning Where You Live course empowers students

During Wonder Women, a Learning Where You Live course for North Campus residents, participants engaged in weekly discussions with guest speakers over personal definitions of success, decision making and identity building.

First-year student Emily Robinson ’23 found herself continually inspired.

“I decided to join this course because I thought it would be really empowering to meet different women from different fields,” Robinson said. “I really appreciate how real the women were about their experiences.”

Held in faculty-in-residence apartments, the fall class was led by professors Lori Leonard from Development Sociology and Noliwe Rooks of Africana Studies, and associate professor Dawn Schrader in the Department of Communication.

 From left to right; Dawn Schrader, Noliwe Rooks, Lori Leonard

“There’s something special about having a class hosted by women about women. It opens up a community,” Rooks said. “By listening to the different journeys of these various women, the points of convergence as well as divergence, we can all grow.”

The course was initiated by Leonard and has been taught by Leonard and Rooks since its inception in 2017 with Schrader joining the team this fall. Notable guest speakers over the years have included New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Cornell University’s previous chief of police, Kathy Zoner. In its third year, Wonder Women remains popular among first-year students. 

The setup is casual as students sit on couches while listening to their featured guest – the “wonder woman” of the week. Speakers navigate through their stories before opening the session up to a discussion. Topics such as work-life balance, overcoming the common obstacles women endure in the workforce and self-confidence are explored.

 Students sitting on couch listening to a conversation.

“One of the main goals of the class is for students to rethink failure and success,” Leonard said “People have a lot of preconceived notions about what those are, and I think those ideas begin to get scrambled in a class like this. Success is not an endpoint and so many of our speakers have demonstrated that.”

Participants note that the course has encouraged them to reimagine their own life paths.

“The most surprising thing I learned from all the different speakers is that there is no such thing as one linear path to success,” Julia Allen ’23 said. “The course changed how I think about my future. It made me realize that success has many definitions as all of us live different lives.”

A recurring question tackled throughout the session is – what does it mean to be a wonder woman? Not only does the course shape how students define a “wonder woman,” but it reframes how guest speakers view themselves as well.

 Students sitting on couch listening to a conversation.

“When I was first invited to speak, I thought - am I a wonder woman? And as I thought about it more, I realized I’m a very self-made person,” said Mia Pancaldo, a clinical psychologist in Ithaca and the final guest speaker for the semester.

In Pancaldo’s talk, she stressed the importance of seeking mentors.

“We live in a very self-centered world and community is falling apart,” she said. “But there really are people out there who will support students to get them where they want to be.”

Leonard, Rooks and Schrader said they hope that the students will build lasting relationships through the connections made throughout the course, and that they will continue to be active listeners and inquirers during their time at Cornell and beyond.

“What I hope students will realize is that they can love learning for learning’s sake and that learning can take place anywhere – not just within a classroom, but in someone’s living room,” Schrader said. “Learning can come from anyone, not just professors but from speakers and from engaging with each other.”

 Class photo.

Amaris Janel Henderson is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.

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