Alumni Engagement 2018

Giving Back: In Their Own Words

By Jeannette Little

We often hear stories of individuals or groups “giving back” to their communities or to a cause that is important to them.  Reasons vary from person to person, based on their unique experiences and interactions with individuals and organizations.  The CEE Update production team decided to reach out to three alumni who serve on the school’s advisory council to ask them why they have decided to give back.  Below, verbatim are their answers to some of the questions asked.

Kristin Barbato  B.S. 1994 Founder, Build Edison, Veronica  O. Davis  M.Eng. 2003  Partner and Principal  Planning Manager, Nspiregreen, LLC, JAMES McCormick  B.S. 2005, M.Eng. 2006 Senior Project Manager,  Hunter Roberts  Construction Company

Can you talk about your current work and any current projects that you are working on?

KB: After years working in corporations and government, I’m branching out as an entrepreneur! My new company, Build Edison, helps cleantech companies commercialize and scale their technologies faster with customers, advisory and financing. Maybe we can help the engineers at Cornell as they tackle new technologies in the built environment and start companies of their own.

VOD: I co-own Nspiregreen , LLC, with my friend Chanceé Lundy. Nspiregreen is a planning and design studio located in Washington, D.C. We specialize in multimodal transportation, community planning, and climate/resiliency planning. I oversee our transportation and urban planning projects. For example, I was the principal-in-charge for Vision Zero Action Plan for the District of Columbia and Alexandria, Virginia. Vision Zero is about reducing the number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero.

JM: I’m currently the senior project manager building the graduate hotel on Cornell’s Tech Campus in NYC.  It’s very fulfilling to be building a structure which will help Cornell reach its goal of being a world leader in the tech / entrepreneur graduate school sector.

When you received the invitation to serve on the school’s advisory council, what was your initial reaction?

KB: I was so shocked and honored! The advisory board at my college? Wow! Then, it hit me…geez, I’m old. But after all those initial thoughts, it became clear that this was going to be a great way to help continue the CEE programs with the perspective of my professional years.

VOD: My initial reaction was what did I get myself into. However, I saw it as an opportunity to help the school continue to excel as well as increase the enrollment by underrepresented minorities (Black, Latino, Native American).

JM: Pride.  I’m thrilled that my opinions and experiences are valuable to Cornell University.  The advisory board gives the faculty an additional source of information to understand if the curriculum and overall CEE experience is still relevant in the professional world.  I was also excited to be included in the group with other outstanding engineers and interact with them throughout the weekend.

Why do you give of your time, talent and resources to the school?

KB: I give my time and efforts because I want to see Cornell’s programs continue to be relevant and shape progress in our fields. This is part of our legacy.

VOD: I give back because it is something my parents and grandparents instilled in me. I give to CEE, because the experience prepared me for the workforce and for life. I want others, particularly, underrepresented minorities to have the opportunities that I had while at Cornell. Ezra Cornell founded the university because he wanted a place “where any person can find instruction in any study.” I want others, particularly, underrepresented minorities to have the opportunities that I had while at Cornell.

JM: The same answer as for the previous question.

If you were to offer advice to graduating (undergrads and grads) students entering the workforce, what would you say?

KB: Three statements of advice:

1)  Take a course or two that is not related to your major but satisfies some crazy curiosity you have. It’s fun trying something different and Cornell has so many options. (“I would found an institution...”)

2)  Engage with real-world professionals either in a job or a project. They can also provide guidance on what types of study is relevant to your interest.

3)  Enjoy the area surrounding Cornell! The campus is beautiful and in the middle of amazing natural terrain. That is after all what we are doing as civil engineers, be part of our environment!

VOD: Find mentors. My mentors have helped me grow as a person and as a professional. Two of my mentors have been in my life for most of my professional career.

JM: Aside from working hard, focus on listening and asking questions.  Seek opportunities to collaborate on things outside of your main job.  The more you do this, the faster your perspective will widen, which makes for fast career growth and a more fulfilling life.

While students at Cornell, Barbato  first felt “overwhelmed by Cornell,” but quickly adapted as she met other “extraordinary” and “impressive” students. She combined her ease for math and science and an interest in design to settle on the desire to design structures, therefore obtaining her degree in structural engineering.

Davis came to Cornell to receive a Masters of  Regional Planning (M.R.P.) and a law degree, however, she soon changed course once she discovered CEE’s  M.Eng. program and obtained the M.Eng. and M.R.P. degrees at the same time.  She credits the M.Eng. program for giving her a “strong foundation for becoming an engineer and a business owner.”

With all three, their academic lives and career paths are different.  CEE is grateful to its alumni and friends who share their time, knowledge and resources to support the school. Their engagement, and yours, not only enriches the school, but as McCormick said, provides a sense of “pride” in knowing that one’s “opinions and experiences are valuable to Cornell University.” Involvement is a good thing.  Get connected. Become engaged with CEE.