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College of Arts and Sciences

Music, language, gaming help students during time away from campus

By: Kathy Hovis
A&S Communications
May 14, 2020

While they’d all rather be on campus with their friends celebrating the last days of the semester, students have found fun and challenging ways to make the best of their situation of remote learning.

During the summer, James Robertson ’21 normally spends his evenings singing and playing piano in various New Jersey restaurants and BBQ joints. This spring, he’s moved his gigs outside, treating his Berkeley Heights, N.J. neighbors to weekend outdoor concerts from his deck, which he also streams live on Facebook and Instagram.

“It’s been super helpful for me mentally to play more music, which is something that helps me destress, “ he said. “And I also know that a lot of people are pretty dismayed right now. It’s hard to stay positive and I think my performing helps people.”

With a repertoire heavy on 70s and 80s music, with newer pop songs mixed in, Robertson said his sets have a broad appeal.

Robertson at the piano
Robertson during a past performance at Woodies Drive-in in Shop Bottom, N.J.
In a recent concert, he gave a shout out to his grandma listening live from Queens, healthcare workers across the country and Cornell friends from The Chordials, his a cappella group.

“I didn’t realize how many of my friends would tune in, but they were there and staying on. I think because people are so bored,” Robertson said with a laugh. He’s publicized the concerts on his town’s Facebook page and his first one had 1,000 views.

Although he took last weekend off to study for finals, Robertson said he plans to continue the concerts through the summer, although he does have an internship in asset management that will also keep him busy.

To tune in or make requests, visit Robertson’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Elena Wanvig Dot ’23, is using her time away from campus to learn German. In a country with four national languages, she has always wanted to speak German “well enough to be able to travel to Bern and at least buy a loaf of bread at a bakery.” Residents of her canton (a region similar to a state in the U.S.) speak French.

“My favorite study spot at Cornell is the A.D. White Library in Uris. As a study break, I liked to pick up a random German book from the stacks and try to read a page or so (though I didn't normally get past a few sentences and it was always with the help of Google Translate),” she said. “I realized this wasn't the most effective way to learn a language so once I was in quarantine I knew that I wanted to start learning it properly.”

Wanvig Dot said her language project has helped build a sort of routine outside classes. “Many of my friends here speak German so it's also been fun to surprise them with what I've learned,” she said. “I think it will be nice to leave quarantine knowing that I will have made use of this unique circumstance.”

Another group of students missing campus are working together recreate it online for current students and prospective students alike.

The Arts Quad recreated in Minecraft
The Arts Quad recreated in Minecraft
The Cornell Craft community is building the entire Cornell campus in Minecraft. They hope the site allows people to play the game together, as well as discover parts of campus they might not know.

“Our builders are very meticulous, using 1:1 building scales on a map generated using topographical data downloaded from the NYS website,” said Brandon Axelrod ‘21, one of the project leads. “They also coordinate heavily to ensure that each building on campus is faithfully reconstructed and located in the correct spot.”

Baker Laboratory
Baker Laboratory
With five main builders and a number of collaborating builders, the site has been visited by more than 200 alumni and friends. Much of the arts and engineering quads have been finished, as well as the buildings around Lynah Rink, but there is still lots of work to be done on the CALS Quad, Ives and east campus. The builders are working first on building exteriors, and then filling in interiors, nature and roadways.

“The Minecraft Server has been a point of connection for many of us during this pandemic,” said Jesse Potts ‘21, another project lead. “This effort to rebuild the campus offers an all-too-rare opportunity for students across various courses of study to meet one another. We have even already given a few mock tours to pre-freshman wanting to check out campus during the build.”

The Johnson Museum
The Johnson Museum