This summer, 101 students in the College of Arts and Sciences will take part in groundbreaking research on campus with 61 faculty as part of the Nexus Scholars Program.
For many of these students, this will be their first research opportunity and they’ll work on projects with faculty across the college – in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics. Nearly 320 students applied for the positions.
The program, which is supported entirely by philanthropy, is in its second year. Many of last year’s Nexus Scholars stayed on to work this year with their professors and several have had papers published or presented at academic conferences.
“The Nexus Scholars Program reinforces the fundamental connection between our research and education missions, enabling our students to benefit from and contribute to Cornell’s vibrant scholarly enterprise,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We are thrilled to be able to double cohort size to 101 students, expanding opportunities for exploration and discovery beyond the classroom.”
Last summer, Clarisa Cristobal Estrada ’25 worked with Professor Mariana Federica Wolfner in molecular biology and genetics (A&S). Estrada continued working in the lab this year and, in February, presented her research into the reproductive processes of Drosophila (fruit flies) at the Annual Drosophila Research Conference. She also presented her work at “Developmental Biology New York,” a research conference for undergrads from across the state hosted by Ithaca College.
This summer, Reshma Niraula ’26 and Quinn Tonole ’24 will study the genetics and evolution of cricket song with Kerry Shaw, professor of neurobiology and behavior (A&S).
“When looking through the list of different projects that Nexus offers, I was immediately enthralled by Professor Shaw's work,” Niraula said. “I’m curious as to how genetic variations in song can lead to an increase in mating and reproduction.”
This will be Niraula’s first research experience, though she’s known since she started at Cornell that research would be an important part of her education.
“Doing research forces one to think creatively,” she said. “After receiving training for my research, I will be the one responsible for creating procedures and approaching the experiment with my own creativity. It’s a lot of trial and error, and I believe that's the best way for me to challenge and enhance my academic skills.”
Shaw also hosted a Nexus Scholar last summer, Milani Aviles ’25, who stayed on to work this year in her lab.
“I feel thrilled to be a part of this program,” Shaw said. “It’s a way to connect to undergrads and especially during the summer, when they are able to devote their time to research without having the other responsibilities they have during the semester.”
Liz Grosul ’24 and Stacey Na ’26 will spend the summer studying ecofascist movements with Chloe Ahmann, assistant professor of anthropology (A&S).
The students will create a bibliography of scholarly research on far-right environmentalisms and a media library cataloguing what reporters, bloggers and social media posts have said about ecofascists. They will also search for information in historical papers from Theodore Roosevelt that are housed on microfilm in the Cornell University Library’s archives.
Na is interested in the intersection of the literary arts and the natural sciences in the forms of environmental humanities and policy and governance; she’s looking forward to this interdisciplinary work.
“The description of Professor Ahmann’s research project made me reflect on the concept of utopias in the context of environmentalism and sustainability and what the notion of sustainability is, subjectively to others, and objectively, if there is a definitive definition,” she said.
Ahmann is studying ecofascism through history, showing that the ideology, which countenances eugenic violence in the name of restoring spoiled nature, has existed from the foundation of the country.
“Ecofascism is not some spectacular new thing that is happening ‘over there.’ As an ideology, it is foundational to the United States,” Ahmann said. “You can see it in the early conservation movement – with its deep investments in eugenics – and of course in the genocidal environmentalism of the U.S. settler state.”
Grosul said she is looking forward to delving into Ahmann’s work.
“We live in a world fraught with violence, racism, and hate, all of which need to be vigorously studied and understood to the very core in order to protect marginalized groups and prevent human atrocities,” she said. “To me, this is a big part of what Professor Ahmann is working on and something I want to be a part of.”
Supported by a $7,000 stipend, Nexus Scholars take part in professional development workshops, career exploration events and have the chance to be part of a cohort from throughout the college who are passionate about learning.
“I am not sure what a career in my interests would look like, for they are very diverse and interdisciplinary, and wanted to see the paths I could go down in the future,” said Na, who is looking forward to these other opportunities.
The paid research opportunities are a benefit for students who can’t afford to accept unpaid summer research experiences. The program also helps faculty to reach a broader group of potential research assistants than the students they teach.
Students were chosen based on their interest in research, their ability to work collaboratively and their potential to contribute to their chosen project. The program is made possible through a number of alumni gifts, including from Stephen Mong ’92, MBA ’02 and Laura Mong.