Donahoo pursuing a career in law

Finding the strength to stand up for herself and others was just one of the unexpected takeaways Sylvia Donahoo ’16 gained during her time at Cornell College—a takeaway that she will need when she attends William & Mary Law School in the fall.

Sylvia Donahoo
Sylvia Donahoo ’16 will attend William & Mary Law School in the fall.

An international relations and philosophy double-major from Colorado Springs, Colorado, Donahoo credits Professor of Politics David Yamanishi with pushing her to analyze, think more critically, and to draw her own conclusions. Those lessons were bolstered by her study abroad trip to the Bahamas where Donahoo studied primary historical documents.

Donahoo had the opportunity to see politics in action during her senior year, when Iowa received extra attention from presidential hopefuls before the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus—she attended speeches from the several politicians who visited Cornell’s campus.

Invaluable lessons also came through her work as a Writing Studio consultant. As a consultant, Donahoo worked closely with Laura Farmer, Writing Studio director, who pushed Donahoo to be a leader, mentor, and better writer. Donahoo also presented at two conferences through the Writing Studio.

Q: What Cornell experiences prepared you for law school?
A: The One Course At A Time system most definitely prepared me for the intensity of law school. The amount of writing and research that went into both of my majors—and my liberal arts education as a whole—have prepared me for almost anything that I aspire to do. My time at the Writing Studio and in tutoring have given me active listening, writing, mediation, and communications skills that will serve me well as a law student and as a lawyer.

Q: How did One Course At A Time impact your education?
A: One Course At A Time has shown me the enormous amount of focus and drive I have. This method of learning is most definitely not for everyone, but when it works for you, you truly can accomplish things you never dreamed of. Looking back, I am amazed at what I have learned and what I have accomplished, and much of what is on that list could never have been done on the semester plan.

Q: Who was your Cornell mentor?
A: I don’t know that I could narrow it down to one person, but I can narrow it down to two: David Yamanishi and Laura Farmer have both been tremendously influential during my time here. Professor Yamanishi pushed me to work harder than I ever believed that I could. He showed me new ways to think about situations and pushed me to analyze, think more critically, and to draw my own conclusions. Because of his mentorship and guidance, I have produced research and work of which I previously never would have believed myself capable. Laura Farmer, the Director of the Cornell Writing Studio, has been more than just a boss to me. Not only is she a wonderful example of a human being, but she has pushed me to be a leader, a mentor, and a better writer. Because of her, I have gained enormous amounts of confidence in my abilities as a writer and as a leader. I am proud and truly blessed to have spent three years working with her.

Q: How did Cornell change you?
A: Cornell has given me the strength to stand up for myself, for others, and for what I believe in. Before coming here, I had strong opinions, but I mostly kept them to myself. Now, I have the ability to speak up and share my opinions.

Q: What is your biggest academic accomplishment?
A: I lived through International Political Economy with David Yamanishi.

Q: What do you most value about your Cornell education?
A: I ask this question of alumni frequently, and I am embarrassed to say that I am going to give the answer that I hear most often: I value the connections I have made on this campus. I look back on the relationships that I formed with my peers, and with professors and faculty members, with a great deal of esteem. I formed lifelong friendships here, and there will always be room in my life for the people I have met here at Cornell.

Q: Favorite study spot?
A: There is a table on the first floor of the library where I go to study. It is right outside of the Writing Studio, which means that I can always pop in and ask for help. There is a conveniently located outlet for my laptop. It is right around the corner from the bathroom. There is a vending machine just across the room so I can grab a study snack or a drink. And I have several friends who regularly pass through the area, so I can take a break if I feel the need. Furthermore, the library is usually open late, so I can study for hours uninterrupted.

Q: What surprised you most about your time at Cornell?
A: Cornell is a tiny campus, with a small student body. So imagine my surprise when we were visited by the President of the United States my first year! Not only that, but this past year, prior to the Iowa caucus, we were visited by several presidential candidates. As person highly invested in politics, this was quite exciting for me.

Q: Did you study abroad?
A: I studied abroad in the Bahamas (conveniently, this was in December). My classmates and I studied the history of slavery in the context of the natural environment. In other words, we studied how the geology and climate played a part in the slave revolt that occurred in the Bahamas, as well as how it had affected the events leading up to said revolt. That particular area was chosen because it is the only one that had the ruins of a plantation from which there was a documentation of the revolt and the events prior to it—in the form of the plantation owner’s diary.

Q: What would you tell a prospective student about Cornell?
A: I would say that Cornell is a beautiful place. I truly value every second of my time here, even the ones spent crying over textbooks, because this college really has changed my life, and changed me as a person. Looking back, Cornell has made me into a more confident, more learned, more critical person, and that is what separates Cornell from other schools.