Jennifer Heller ’92
Neither of my parents had college degrees. They both worked in sales/management positions, and money was often a struggle. I had little guidance about choosing a college; Cornell stuck out to me because of One Course At A Time. After visiting Cornell, I knew that I wanted to attend, and the aid package I got made it possible. At the awards dinner we had the spring prior to enrollment I met Sally Farrington-Clute, who would be my advisor and mentor. She, along with several other professors, shaped me in ways that ramify today.
In particular, Cornell taught me to think about things from different points of view and to embrace being unsure. I learned to ask questions and live in the “gray” areas, whereas high school was much more about performing and giving the right answers. It also helped me become more aware that I was living in a larger context—social structures impact me in ways I could not otherwise have realized. This was important, in particular, in becoming a feminist; it gave me a vocabulary and way of thinking about gendered experience in a way that allowed me to create change in myself and in the world around me (I hope, at least). It also taught me how to read closely, ask questions, and formulate research strategies—it built the skills that let me become an independent critical thinker (a truism, though I know that term is overused).
I think the key things that helped me develop along these lines are the One Course At A Time curriculum, which immerses you in one way of thought for a month, and the professors, who are dedicated to treating you as a person. They made me feel like they cared about my success, and they challenged me at every step.
As a professor myself (teaching English at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina), I draw on what I learned to develop substantive relationships with my students, respecting them for who they are while challenging them to grow. And in my everyday life, I am grateful to Cornell almost every day for making me who I am.