"Cornell students dream bigger dreams."

--Frank H.T. Rhodes, Cornell University Commencement, May 28, 1995

Monday, November 24, 2014

27. Leigh Ellen Baca

Manassas, Virginia · Arts and Sciences

Name at Cornell
Leigh Ellen Alford

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leighellen.baca

Tell us about what you're doing with your life.

I have been an at-home mother for the past 5 years. My husband, Michael, and I have been married for 15 years and are raising two wonderful children. My son is 5 and my daughter has just turned 3. I also serve as a Deacon and as chair of the mission ministry team at my church in Manassas. Before kids, I tried on several careers. I studied oceanography in graduate school, worked in poultry feed research, and was an assistant research scientist at a pharmaceutical company before I left science in favor of fostering family connections.

What was your favorite class at Cornell, or the one you found the most useful?

There were many which inspired my life's journey, but I think Functional Morphology with Dr. McLearn was my absolute favorite. We dissected almost everything in the animal kingdom (OK - maybe not everything), and it really cemented my love of life sciences. Functional Morphology was my "OH - This totally makes sense!" class. It was a bouncing off point that led me deeper into ecology and marine sciences. In addition to the academic challenges, the course fostered teamwork and collaborative learning, which are skills that have served me well since leaving CU.

What is your favorite memory of your time at Cornell?

My favorite memory of Cornell is from the blizzard of 1993. I lived in Balch and most of my friends lived in Cascadilla. A 'search team' of a couple friends made it up to North Campus to trapse back across campus with me so we could all go half crazy in the snow together.

And the meals! So many fun times were shared in the dining halls from Freshman year until we graduated.

What advice would you give to a student starting at Cornell this year?

My advice to anyone starting Cornell, or any university, is to stick it out. Everyone struggles with the changes in the first semester, and it is far too easy to give up and go home. My parents were wise enough to have me stay beyond my "please bring me home" panic. By the end of my freshman year, I couldn't imagine anyplace else. And be sure to enjoy the beauty of Ithaca! There is so much to do and see beyond the campus.

Monday, November 17, 2014

28. Vu Nguyen

Portland, Oregon · Engineering

Name at Cornell

Dominic Vu Nguyen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vunguyen7773

Tell us about what you're doing with your life.

I am married to Lee Murashige ('98) since 2004.  We have 2 great
kids, ages 3 and 6.  Since graduating from Cornell I've worked at Intel Corporation in various process integration and yield engineering roles.  More recently I've moved into technical supply chain management.  I'm proud to say I've been part of the microprocessor evolution for the past ~20 years.  When I started at Intel in 1995, we were making Pentium 90 MHz microchips.  Fast forward ~20 years and Intel now is featuring Core I7 3.9 GHz microchips.  Just a little faster, I'd say.

Additionally as a hobby, I have an online Fit Club where I help my friends, family, and colleagues stay healthy and fit.  I hold regular stadium cross-training workouts for my fellow desk jockeys and have gotten into doing obstacle races like Tough Mudder.  Please visit my Health and Fitness Facebook Community Page:  https://www.facebook.com/coachvu4u

Which Cornell classmates do you keep in touch with?

With Facebook quite a few!  In the past year or so I have seen  John Heitzman ('95), Andy Yang ('95), Anja Preylowski ('95), Mark Notarfrancesco ('95), Jonathon Barber ('96), Brian Montalto ('94), Jennifer Kim Um ('95).  I hope to see more at the Reunion!

What extracurricular activity or hobby from your time at Cornell was the most meaningful?

In my Junior year I started taking Tae Kwon Do as an elective.  I continued that post college to eventually get my 1st and 2nd degree blackbelt.  I made so many friends that I still keep in contact with from this TKD club.  I also learned a lot about balancing school work with staying healthy and active.  

What random or surprising encounters with Cornell or Cornellians have you experienced since you left?

I met my wife Lee (Cornell '98) shortly after she graduated from Cornell and started working at Intel.  There was a fire drill and all the employees reported to the Cafe area.  There I was introduced to Lee by my friend Mark Notarfrancesco's (Cornell '95) girlfriend/future wife Kelly.  We found out that we both had the same major and graduated 3 years apart.  The rest is history!

Monday, November 10, 2014

29. Michelle Knudsen

Brooklyn, New York · Arts and Sciences

Name at Cornell

Michelle (Mikki) Knudsen

Twitter: www.twitter.com/michelleknudsen
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michelleknudsen.author

Tell us about what you're doing with your life.

I'm the author of more than 40 books for children and teenagers, including the New York Times best-selling picture book LIBRARY LION. My newest book (September 2014) is the young adult novel EVIL LIBRARIAN—a funny, creepy, paranormal, musical-theater-horror-romance adventure, about which Kirkus said, “The spirit of Buffy is alive and kicking in this bloody debut for teens ... snappily narrated, tightly plotted and generally just right.” I also do some freelance editing and teach occasional writing classes.

What was your favorite class at Cornell, or the one you found the most useful?

I have very fond memories of many of my English seminars, especially the smaller ones that involved strange and interesting books I never would have come across on  my own. I learned a lot from both the essays and the class discussions. The English program in general was wonderful, and helped prepare me for my work as an editor and writer and for going on to get my MFA several years later.

What advice would you give to a student starting at Cornell this year?

Take advantage of as much of what Cornell has to offer as you can! It can be a little daunting at the start, but the more involved you are with both your classes and your extracurriculars, the more people you'll connect with and the more supported and fulfilled you'll feel throughout your Cornell experience. Also, invest in a really good pair of winter boots. I *still* have the boots I bought the summer before my freshman year (in 1991!) and they made walking across those icy bridges in the winter a lot less scary. :)

What extracurricular activity or hobby from your time at Cornell was the most meaningful?

Definitely all the student-run and community theater! My closest friends from Cornell were (and still are) those I met doing shows with Risley, Gateway, and the Cornell Savoyards.

Monday, November 3, 2014

30. Brian Smith

St. Louis, Missouri · Human Ecology


Tell us about what you're doing with your life.

After being diagnosed with Type I Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy in 2010, and ultimately unable to continue working, I am now a full-time stay-at-home dad and volunteer in my daughter’s first-grade classroom. Type I Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy is a degenerative neuromuscular disease.  It impacts all muscles–smooth and skeletal–and all systems in the body.  There is no treatment and no cure.  This is a relatively new disease and the research is still in the early stages.  My wife and I, along with other family and friends, have been become members of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (www.mda.org) and actively participate in fund raising, support group development and awareness programs in the St. Louis, Missouri area.

What is your favorite memory of your time at Cornell?

For me, Ithaca was mountain bike trails and East Shore Sailing on Shore Road.  

Midway through senior week, my father (may he rest in peace) arrived in Ithaca to spend some time and enjoy the campus.  We decided to get on our bikes and just ride.  Four hours later, we found ourselves in the parking lot of East Shore Sailing, renting a boat.  And, while the sailing and the grueling bike ride back up Gun Hill road were fun, the perfect way to end the day was over cold beers and hot pizza at The Nines.

What advice would you give to a student starting at Cornell this year?

Four years at Cornell is about so much more than academics and earning good grades.  College is just as much a social learning experience as an academic one.  Leaning to live and interact with people from many different backgrounds will provide you with life-long lessons that will serve you well in life after college, both personally and professionally. Whether you are more inclined to a faculty-sponsored wine and cheese, a fraternity party, or the bar scene in Collegetown, it is vitally important to include this social component as part your Cornell experience (just don’t forget to study as well).

How has your time at Cornell influenced you since you graduated?

The top-notch education you receive at Cornell means little in the real world.  In both the academic and professional arena, it is the name, prestige and reputation of Cornell University which enables one to get ahead.  On more than one occasion, I was told by recruiters and potential employers that I was invited in for an interview, and sometimes eventually hired, because I went to Cornell.  All other things being equal, and competing against many other similarly qualified candidates, the fact that I went to Cornell set me apart and gave me that special edge over the competition.