'People want to help you find your path'

Raisa Kochmaruk

Environment and Sustainability
Bethlehem, Pa.

Why did you choose Cornell?

girl with hawk

My lifelong passion for nature, particularly the intersection of ecology and art, led me to Cornell as I searched for colleges. I’d heard about the prevalence of science illustration at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as I was growing up, so "finding my way" to Cornell at some point in my life became a dream. The undergraduate experience here gave me the opportunity to further my love of art and science at an early stage in life, and gain a thorough understanding of how science and art inform each other. The connections I’ve made at Cornell in the world of science illustration are priceless -— I don’t think there is any better institution to gain experience as an artist interested in ornithology. Once accepted to Cornell, my access to the research process, biological references, landscapes and guidance from artists and scientists made me even more thankful to have had the courage to apply.

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

Choosing the College of Arts & Sciences allowed me to pursue a burgeoning interest in philosophy, English, anthropology and art history while being trained in environmental science and my designed science communication concentration. I am particularly proud of having learned to relate ecology, ethics, and communication through media — a skill made possible by an Arts & Sciences background. The diverse classes, collaborations and projects I’ve gotten a taste of during my four years overlap with each other in surprising ways, and should be treated as pieces of a much larger puzzle. Put simply, intellectual curiosity and recognizing connections between the arts and the sciences are the most valuable skills I’ve learned at Cornell.

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

girl outdoors

Honestly, wandering the natural areas of Ithaca to garner inspiration for art and other projects has been the most valuable time I’ve spent at Cornell. This time is enriched by what I’ve learned in my courses, certainly, but also the knowledge of my friends, without which I would not have created or written half the things I did for work, final projects or otherwise. I encode what I’ve learned and have ideas while walking, running and exploring the immensely beautiful landscape around campus, and I will miss certain places dearly when it’s time to leave. It’s a gift to be so close to trails, water, forests, and people who know all about them.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

During the spring of my sophomore year, my environment and sustainability advisors featured some illustration work I’d done up to that point in an art show in their office. That event occurred when a lot of changes were occurring in my life, and the support I received that evening from my lab group, friends, peers and advisors gave me the courage to pursue art as a career. I remember the feeling of that evening even now, two years later, and I am endlessly grateful to Suzanne and Colleen for making it possible. 

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

girl drawing

I would tell an incoming student to surround themselves with passionate, genuine people, because that is the context in which lifelong connections are forged and opportunities open. People want to help you find your path. Look for any reason to talk to older students or professionals who are on a similar trajectory as you are, and find out how they got there. If you’re nervous, it means you care. Start writing down your ideas, keep a log of what you realize about yourself so you can see yourself become more mature and capable over time. Reflect frequently, list your goals often, find out why you really need each of them. Social goals are legitimate — the quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life. When in doubt, go for a long walk down Forest Home road, and you’ll figure out what you need to do.


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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Raisa Kochmaruk