'My ability to explore was instrumental in forming my academic consciousness'   

Olivia Ochoa

Spanish & American Studies
Chicagoland, Ill.

What was your favorite class and why?  

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I think all of my favorite classes have to do with the engagement of our real life and world, and the tangible change my hands are capable of making. Learning about topics like immigration reform, anti-racism efforts and Latino resistance gave me building blocks toward a future career and passions. Professors like María Cristina García, Gerard Laurence Aching, Shannon Gleeson, Vanessa Gubbins and Edmundo Paz-Soldán undeniably formed and challenged my critical thinking skills, granting me the words to bring my beliefs to life.

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

My main extracurricular activity has been my co-presidency of the Translator Interpreter Program (TIP). Anyone who knows me knows just how important TIP is to me. We are a student-run program that certifies volunteers to serve in upstate New York, essentially providing translation and interpretation services to those who don't already have access to them. As a child of immigrants, the language barriers that my family faced defined my childhood, and now I get to take a part in breaking down those barriers for other people. My time with TIP has tested everything I thought I knew about myself, and lit a fire in my heart for language equity and access. There is a heavy burden placed on student leaders, and those trials and tribulations taught me invaluable lessons on leadership and resilience. It's granted me countless opportunities and connections within Ithaca and beyond, and reinforced just how meaningful it can be to engage with the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?         

The Cornell memory that I treasure the most is bittersweet. I'm a first-generation college student, and my first semester at Cornell was during the fall of 2020. Not exactly the ideal conditions to be the first in my family to move away from home for school, gain a whole new class perspective and deal with a worldwide pandemic. I remember one of the first days I was released from quarantine after arriving in Ithaca, I took a walk around all of campus, to the Arts Quad, the clock tower and down the Cascadilla gorge. I was taking loads of pictures, and I couldn't stop crying thinking about how lucky I was that this was my life. Mask on, of course! I think that was the first time I reckoned with all the struggles my family and I went through to get to that very place. Nowadays, I walk those same steps, sleep-deprived and worried about all the tasks on my to-do list. It's always grounding, and special, to remember and reflect on how much that same walk meant to me not so long ago. I'm excited to recreate that walk before leaving Ithaca, hopefully without the tears this time!

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

One of the most valuable skills I gained from my Arts & Sciences education was the ability to detect the danger of staying in one discipline. Intersectionality as a concept was something I had engaged with prior to coming to A&S, but my time in classes across disciplines all across the college helped me to see just how dangerous it is to stay in your own perspective and specialty, and how much the intersection of disciplines can aid in the critical thought needed to make our world a better place. I won't lie and tell you that my time suffering through introductory statistics prelims and game theory problem sets were my favorite times spent at Cornell, but my ability to explore throughout the college was so instrumental in the formation of my academic consciousness.     

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

One of the most fun things I've had the chance to do during my time at Cornell is work on a creative senior honors thesis with my advisor, Edmundo Paz-Soldán, in the Spanish department. I'm creating a collection of short stories all focused on the role of shame within the immigrant experience. With a focus on quotidian, everyday interactions and reactions, I explore all kinds of manifestations of shame. My stories vary from a frantic run to the grocery store to a widower struggling to pack up his kitchen, and is inspired by authors like Jennine Capó Crucet and Manuel Muñoz. All written in Spanish! It's been an incredible experience getting to work with Professor Paz-Soldán, and to exercise the creative muscles in my brain.

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 2024.

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Olivia Ochoa