Lee Melvin, Cornell University, Answers Six Questions

I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study. Cornell University's motto

Founded in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University has been called "the first American university." The tradition of egalitarianism reflected in its motto -- Cornell began as a non-sectarian and coeducational institution, admitting students regardless of race, sex or religion -- continues today with the school's diverse student population of more than 14,0000 undergraduates, representing every state and 120 countries.

A research university organized into seven undergraduate (and four graduate) colleges, Cornell is also one of two private land-grant universities in the country, dedicated to its land-grant mission of outreach and public service. It established the first four-year programs of hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine and awarded the world's first journalism degree and the nation's first doctorates in electrical and industrial engineering.

Located among the rolling valleys of New York's Finger Lakes region, Cornell's 745-acre central campus sits atop a hill overlooking the town of Ithaca and the 38-mile long Cayuga Lake. Bounded by two gorges, Fall Creek and Cascadilla, the university is also adjacent to the 2,800-acre Cornell Plantations, an arboretum and botanical garden.  (The school has additional satellite professional and graduate colleges in New York City and Qatar.)

The campus is host to 922 student organizations -- from Absolute A Capella, Ballroom Dance, and Gymnastics to Quidditch, Judo, Table Tennis, and the Venture Capital Club. The university also has an active Greek life -- with 64 sorority and fraternity chapters. The NCAA Division I Cornellians hold national championships in ice hockey, lacrosse, polo, rowing, track and field and wrestling. And in addition to the Big Red varsity teams, Cornell offers hundreds of club sports and intramural teams -- including windsurfing, hockey, bowling, soccer, and golf.  Known for its cohesive student body and active alumni network, Cornell is also known for its superior dining service -- perhaps because of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

Forty-one Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with Cornell as faculty or alumni and it is the only university with three female unshared Nobel Prize winners -- Pearl Buck, Barbara McClintock, and Toni Morrison. Other influential alumni include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stanford University founding president David Starr Jordan, novelist Thomas Pynchon, Staples founder Myra Hart, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, designer of the Empire State Building Richmond Shreve, and football legend Glenn "Pop" Warner. 

Join Lee Melvin, Cornell's Associate Vice Provost for Enrollment, here to learn more about the future of Cornell University, its admissions process, and his favorite place on campus.


What is the future direction of Cornell University?

Cornell University is a private land grant institution located in Ithaca, NY. We celebrate our unique position in the Ivy League as the original “Opportunity University”, enrolling over 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the largest student enrollment in the Ivy’s. Our strategic plan calls for an increase in the size and quality of faculty to ensure we retain a commitment to excellence in teaching, research, and service. Cornell also recognizes and embraces diversity from everywhere around the globe and seeks to increase enrollment of underserved and underrepresented populations.  Each fall we enroll over 3100 freshmen and 570 transfer students with the goal of reflecting both domestic and international influence. Our time-tested motto of “Any Person, Any Study” guides us in delivering an outstanding education to the next generation of world leaders.   


How do you read applications? Does every application get read by the admission office at Cornell?

Cornell will receive over 38,000 applications to enroll 3,182 students in the class of 2017, thus leading to a highly selective admissions process. Applicants are required to apply to one of the seven colleges/schools, where faculty and staff make final admissions decisions. We have two rounds of admission decisions, early (December) and regular (March), and each applicant is reviewed at least once and sometimes three or four times during the committee selection process. Depending on the Cornell college/school you apply to, an interview may be required. The admissions review process at Cornell is an intense, stressful, and rewarding privilege for the members of the selection committees, who take their responsibility very seriously.


What is your favorite thing about Cornell?

Cornell sits on top of a hill in upstate New York with breathtaking views of the wonders of nature. My daily walk on campus leads me to many beautiful places. One of them, very close to the bell tower, where you can stop on the overlook and take in a picturesque view of rolling hills, historical buildings, with the backdrop of the perfect shade of blue on the lakes, is one my favorite spots on campus. I truly enjoy taking long walks to reflect on how I can continue to make a positive difference in this world. I discovered at Cornell, you only need to walk a short distance to find yourself in the serenity of nature, surrounded by massive trees and beautiful gorges waiting for you on daily basis. When in this natural setting, I seek to clear my thoughts and realign my happiness to the center of my being. At Cornell, I have discovered several locations around campus to realize this experience.   


With so much in the news about diversity and affirmative action, can you tell us about a time in college when you had an “aha” diversity moment – a time when being in a diverse environment yourself taught you something valuable?

Who brings diversity to the environment? Is it the African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American or Native American student in predominately white institutions? Is it the gay or lesbian applicant, a person from an under-enrolling region of the country, an international citizen, a legacy connection, a first-generation in college and low-income person, the child of a person from the top 1%, a female in science and engineering or a person with a learning or physical challenge that adds to the diversity of the student body? Count me in on a number of these categories, and I believe I would bring a wealth of diversity to most environments.

Enacting the spirit of affirmative action in college admissions and enrollment allows me to support and advocate for a wide variety of interests for Cornell University. My “aha” diversity moment was revealed to me when I found myself arguing for applicants with adequate financial means and privilege along the side of applicants with fewer financial and social advantages. The beauty of my situation is that I could apply affirmative action to any of the groups listed above, as they were all qualified within our academic metrics for admissions. Unfortunately, I am limited to granting access to a few in every cycle, each of whom, I am certain, will add diversity of our student body.          


What are the college admission-related issues that you have been thinking about lately?

My role at Cornell allows me to focus on enrollment and financial aid issues. I find myself thinking immensely about how students and families make financial decisions to fund the price of obtaining a bachelor's degree. We now have calculators on our websites to better inform families about the estimated cost of attending our institutions. My hope is that our prospective students will continue to educate themselves on the language used in higher education to make informed and logical financial decisions. Yes, being admitted to a great, even prestigious, college is important, but so is being able to afford the price of education for that institution. 


What keeps you up at night?

In my role, you could find yourself worrying about a myriad of opportunities to keep you up at night. There are several over a 10-month period where it could be difficult for me to get a full seven hours of sleep.  The first are early and regular decisions release dates.  I am always nervous that the system will crash, but I have faith in our staff to fix any problems that may arise during this process. The second opportunity is the added stress of making sure the correct admissions decisions are delivered to the right applicants, especially when you have over 38,000 people logging in over a period of 20 minutes to retrieve their decisions. The third opportunity is the May 1 enrollment deposit date, as I nervously contemplate if I admitted too many or too few students, all of them with excellent credentials, to meet our enrollment goals. The fourth and final opportunity is move-in day: although I am not responsible for this process, I find myself concerned that we have over or under-enrolled the freshman and transfer classes. Fortunately, I do sleep my full seven hours most nights, allowing for the opportunity of interesting and often humorous dreams about student enrollment at Cornell.  






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