Big Red STEM Day: High School Students Discover a World of Opportunity


Anasia Brewster (left) and Alondra Vences (right), students at the High School of Sports Management in Brooklyn, learn how to use electroplating to make a silver penny and a copper nickel, while Cornell University graduate student Arianna Gagnon (center), watches on. The activity was part of Big Red STEM Day, hosted Nov. 5 at Weill Cornell Medicine. Photo credit: Studio Brooke

While other New York City high school students might have spent the first Saturday in November playing Pokémon GO, a group of their peers were creating their own games using a JavaScript-based code that doesn’t require any prior programming knowledge. Part of the first annual Big Red STEM Day, it was just one of the workshop activities designed to expose high school students from communities underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to educational and career opportunities in those fields.

Held on the Weill Cornell Medicine campus, Big Red STEM Day is a collaborative effort run by students, faculty and staff from across Cornell campuses and the New York City Department of Education. While Cornell Tech representatives taught student attendees to create their own Pokémon GO games and SnapChat filters, graduate and undergraduate students from Cornell University showed teens how to use electroplating to make a silver penny and a copper nickel. Medical and biomedical PhD students taught them how to use staining methods to differentiate bacteria from soil, yogurt and even their mouths, and a Cornell Cooperative Extension associate engaged them in cartography and mapping activities to create their own collaborative design for a neighborhood park.

High school students collaborate on Big Red STEM Day

“Being here today really opened my eyes to the world of science and technology,” said Tamia Phoenix, a junior at Excelsior Preparatory High School in Queens. She was one of 60 students from 10 high schools across Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx to attend the daylong event. Her classmate, Maurice Watson, said, “We got to choose two activities for the day: one that we were potentially interested in for a career and one workshop we may have never considered.”

Organizers hope that attending the college-level STEM program prompts the students to pursue higher education in science and medicine.

“Exposure to STEM is critical for high school students,” said Dr. Marcus Lambert, director of diversity and student services at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and a STEM Day discussion panel moderator. “It’s that spark, the discovery of what science and technology have to offer them in the future.”

Not only did Big Red STEM Day immerse the high school students in problem-solving and community-building STEM exercises, but it also allowed high school students to network with faculty and undergraduate, graduate and medical students.

Fatou Waggeh

“The collaboration among Cornell campuses and the Cooperative Extension office enabled the research that’s being conducted by faculty and graduate students on campus to be translated into an educational opportunity for the underrepresented youth in New York City,” Dr. Lambert said.

Dr. Jennifer Tiffany, executive director of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City programs, was encouraged by the students’ enthusiasm. “We saw a tremendous response from the students,” she said. “There was so much intensity in their questions, a real interest in expanding their knowledge of STEM.”

 The New York City Department of Education urged students to encourage their friends to consider studying STEM courses in college and pursue careers in these fields. “These students will feed the field of research for science, technology and medicine,” Dr. Tiffany added. “They are the future.

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Martha E. Pollack, Provost at Michigan, Named 14th President


Martha E. Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, will become the 14th president of Cornell University April 17, 2017. Photo provided.

The Cornell University Board of Trustees today unanimously elected Martha E. Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, Cornell’s 14th president. Pollack will assume the presidency April 17, 2017.

The board’s vote followed the selection of Pollack by a Presidential Search Committee that was formed in April 2016 following the death on March 6 of President Elizabeth Garrett. Hunter R. Rawlings III, who has served as Cornell’s interim president since April 25, will remain in his current role through April 16, 2017.

“I am humbled and honored to have been elected to lead this great university,” Pollack said. “As a private university with a public mission, Cornell is the embodiment of my own deeply held belief in the ability of knowledge to improve the human condition. I can’t wait to get started, and I look forward to meeting and working with Cornell’s outstanding faculty, students, staff and alumni in Ithaca, New York City and around the globe.”

“I am delighted to welcome Martha Pollack as Cornell’s next president,” said Robert S. Harrison ’76, chairman of the board of trustees. “She is the perfect person to take the helm of Cornell at this important moment in our history. She has successfully managed a comparably complex institution and is a bold thinker who will inspire our faculty and students in Ithaca and across all of our campuses; her academic background in computer science will serve us extremely well as we open the Cornell Tech Roosevelt Island campus next year; and her familiarity with the issues facing academic medicine will be invaluable as we continue to grow Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.”

Pollack was appointed to her current position at the University of Michigan in 2013. As the university’s chief academic officer and chief budget officer, she is responsible for the academic enterprise, which serves more than 43,000 students with over 16,000 faculty and staff, has annual operating revenues of $3.4 billion, and includes 19 schools and colleges, a number of freestanding research units, libraries and museums, and an array of academic support units. She also oversees the academic programs, ensuring that they maintain the highest level of quality and a persistent commitment to diversity and equity, and that the university’s administrative functions are aligned with its academic mission.

Prior to becoming provost, Pollack served the University of Michigan as vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, dean of the School of Information, and associate chair for computer science and engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She has been on the faculty at Michigan since 2000.

At Cornell, Pollack will have tenured appointments in the Departments of Computer Science and Information Science. She currently serves on the Steering Committee of the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, the academic partnership between Cornell and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology at Cornell Tech.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Computing Machinery and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), Pollack’s research has been in the area of artificial intelligence, where she has published widely on topics including automated planning, natural-language processing, temporal reasoning and constraint satisfaction. A particular focus of her work has been the design of intelligent technology to assist people with cognitive impairment, a topic on which she testified before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Aging. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Intel, DARPA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

In addition to receiving a number of awards for her research, she has been honored for her professional service, for example, with the University of Michigan’s Sarah Goddard Power Award in recognition of her efforts to increase the representation of and climate for women and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering. She has served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, as president of AAAI, as a member of the Advisory Committee for the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Division, and as a member of the board of directors of the Computing Research Association.

Before joining the University of Michigan, Pollack was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the technical staff at SRI International. Pollack received her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, completing a self-designed interdisciplinary major in linguistics. She earned her M.S.E. and Ph.D. degrees in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania.

She has been married for 32 years to Ken Gottschlich, an engineer and jazz musician by training. They have two grown children, Anna and Nicholas.

“The search committee set out to find a bold and strategic leader who would engage the entire Cornell community in furthering the university’s core mission,” said Jan Rock Zubrow ’77, chairman of the Executive Committee of the board of trustees and of the Presidential Search Committee. “In Martha Pollack, we have found that person, and more. Recognized for her collaborative leadership style, she is uniquely qualified to bring together Cornell’s outstanding colleges, schools and campuses to elevate and align the entirety of our great university.”

Zubrow led a search committee of 19 individuals representing a cross-section of Cornell constituencies, including trustees, faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, employees, senior administrators, and alumni. The committee was advised by two former board chairs and a former chair of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers.

“I congratulate Jan Rock Zubrow and the search committee for their outstanding choice of Martha Pollack as Cornell’s 14th president,” said Rawlings. “As president of the Association of American Universities, I had an opportunity to work with Martha. She will be a great president, and her hands-on knowledge of Cornell Tech will help to solidify the growing collaborations and synergies among Cornell’s upstate and downstate campuses. I look forward to working with her over the coming months on a smooth transition.”

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Research Project to Combat Superbugs, Antibiotic Resistance


By Syl Kacapyr

Researchers from the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering and Weill Cornell Medicine are teaming up to learn more about antibiotic resistance in neutropenic patients — individuals with low levels of infection-fighting white blood cells, such as those with leukemia.

The research project is funded with a $500,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is leading a national initiative to combat drug-resistant organisms, sometimes referred to as "superbugs."

Leukemia patients produce abnormal white blood cells, resulting in fewer cells that are able to ward off harmful bacteria that can cause infections. Treatments such as chemotherapy and hematopoietic stem cell transplants further compromise the immune system. This forces patients to rely heavily on antibiotics to fight infection and sepsis, according to Dr. Ilana Brito, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and co-investigator of the project.

"They remain hospitalized for about one month and are therefore highly susceptible to hospital-acquired antibiotic-resistant infections, such as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which can be life-threatening," Dr. Brito said.

Those patients can then carry the drug-resistant bacteria and spread it to other people, especially those who have a disrupted microbiome. CRE is one of the most concerning antibiotic infections that is transmitted. A 2013 study found that most patients hospitalized because of CRE received it from either a long-term care facility or another hospital.

Dr. Brito and co-investigator Dr. Michael Satlin of Weill Cornell Medicine's Transplantation-Oncology Infectious Diseases Program in the Division of Infectious Diseases, will examine antibiotic-resistance genes in neutropenic patients, changes in their microbiomes and their susceptibility to infection.

"Most of the infections in these patients are from gut bacteria," said Dr. Satlin, an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. "This project will allow us to understand how genes that confer resistance to important antibiotics spread among gut bacteria and proliferate in the setting of antibiotic exposures. A better understanding of resistance in the gut microbiome of these patients, and the effect that antibiotics have, could lead to new strategies for preventing and treating infections in this vulnerable patient population."

Dr. Satlin's previous work examined the growing threat of multidrug-resistant infections, including CRE infections in organ transplant recipients and patients with hematologic malignancies. Dr. Brito has studied the mobile genes that play a role in the human microbiome and can transfer between organisms. Earlier this year she published a first-of-its-kind study of native Fijian islanders, producing the first metagenomic view of the microbiome in the developing world.

To help scientists learn more about antibiotic resistance and the human microbiome, the U.S. Congress appropriated $160 million in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget to fund related research. The call for solutions reached the world stage in September when members of the United Nations General Assembly formally committed to fighting antimicrobial resistance together.

"To protect people, their microbiomes and the effectiveness of antibiotics, this project is an example of applied research that has the potential to produce innovative public health approaches to better combat antibiotic resistance," said Clifford McDonald, associate director of science for the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.

A version of this story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.

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Grant Launches Center on the Physics of Cancer Metabolism


By Syl Kacapyr

The mechanisms controlling how breast cancer develops, spreads to other parts of the body and responds to therapy remain poorly understood, but researchers from the Cornell University College of Engineering and Weill Cornell Medicine hope to change that through the Center on the Physics of Cancer Metabolism — a new multi-institutional translational research unit to be established with a National Cancer Institute grant.

On Aug. 25 New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer announced first-year funding for the center of $1.9 million. The grant could total $9.3 million over five years.

Dr. Lewis C. Cantley

Dr. Lewis C. Cantley. Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

Led by Dr. Claudia Fischbach-Teschl, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University, and Dr. Lewis Cantley, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, other partners include researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of California, San Francisco. The partnership will also foster collaborations across the Ithaca campus among researchers from the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The goal of the center is to combine the strengths of different interdisciplinary research groups to gain unprecedented understanding of the biological and physical mechanisms regulating how tumors function and metastasize, or spread, in the human body's microenvironment.

Dr. Cantley's expertise in cancer metabolism, which has led to several breakthroughs in the field, dovetail with Dr. Fischbach-Teschl's acumen in engineering of cancer models to enable the team to explore tumor development, progression and metastasis from a completely new perspective. Complemented by other investigators' expertise in micro- and nanofabrication, imaging and computational approaches, they can monitor and predict tumor metabolism and cell migration, and test drugs or other therapies in a patient-specific manner.

"The physical scientists in Ithaca are bringing technologies that don't exist here at Weill Cornell Medicine," Dr. Cantley said.

Dr. Fischbach-Teschl said teams in Ithaca will also benefit from access to patient samples and clinical knowledge that will be provided by Weill Cornell Medicine and other partners. The ultimate goal, she said, is to develop new therapeutic approaches to breast cancer, and eventually other types such as prostate and pancreatic cancer.

"Doing validation studies with patient-derived cells is always the end goal and we've done that, but we haven't done it as extensively because the resources are not there," Dr. Fischbach-Teschl added.

The center will focus on three main research areas over the next five years: the mechanisms that regulate tumor metabolism and how obesity affects the process; how membrane-surrounded vesicles produced by tumor cells affect their behavior; and the physical and metabolic constraints influencing tumor cell migration.

It will also provide an opportunity for next-generation scientists to receive unique interdisciplinary training, Dr. Fischbach-Teschl said.

"Students and postdocs in Ithaca are going to be trained in applying oncology principles to their engineering-focused study of cancer, and clinical trainees in New York City are getting exposed to the technologies and ideas that we develop here," she said.

Patients will benefit in another way as well: The inclusion of a patient advocacy component will link researchers directly to cancer patients and survivors to share emerging information about the disease with the people it is affecting. And adding the perspectives of patients will inform research approaches, ultimately leading to a more complete understanding of the disease.

"There's an opportunity to understand how to prevent metastasis from occurring, but even if we don't cure cancer, we're going to learn a lot from each other," Dr. Cantley said.

This story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.

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Mapping the Qatari Genome May Herald New Era of Precision Medicine


Qatar now has its own population-specific genome resource after researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York and Qatar mapped the genomes of more than 1,000 Qatari nationals. This resource gives scientists a powerful reference tool that will facilitate efforts to identify genetic variations that cause serious and distressing conditions such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy among the local population.

"This study is the first step in the development of precision medicine in Qatar," said co-senior author Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman of Genetic Medicine and the Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. "Our genes decide how we respond to our environment and our risk for disease, and the variations in our genes are different for each population. With this initial description of the Qatari genome as a basis, and with future refinements to be made by the Qatari Genome Project, we now have the basis for defining the genetic risk of the Qatari population for disease, and how Qataris will respond to medical therapies."The new resource, published June 30 in Human Genome Variation, will also help doctors treating Qatari nationals to more effectively practice precision medicine, which involves analyzing a patient's genome in order to more effectively predict, diagnose and treat disease. A better understanding of the subtle variations in Qatari genomes will help researchers discover how certain ancestral genetic traits interact with environmental factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking to cause disease.

The project's completion is an important milestone in a new phase of genetic research, which has progressed from mapping the entire human genome — first achieved in 2003 after 13 years of investigation — to focusing on specific populations to identify correlations between shared heritage and susceptibility to particular diseases. This project is considered the most significant resource of genetic variants in any Arab population to date.

For the study, the research team — which comprised scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), Weill Cornell Medicine, Sidra Medical and Research Center, Hamad Medical Corporation and Cornell University — gathered de-identified samples from more than 1,000 Qatari nationals who received care at Hamad Medical Corporation clinics. The scientists then used the advanced computing technology in the lab of the WCM-Q Genomics Core to analyze and map the genomes of each patient.

The scientists had previously identified three broad genomic groups within the Qatari population. The first group encompasses Bedouins, the second is a Persian or South Asian mixture, and the third comprises Qataris with sub-Saharan African heritage. In the latest study, supported by Qatar Foundation and Qatar National Research Fund, scientists achieved a higher resolution of ancestry. For example, individuals of Persian ancestry can now be distinguished from individuals of South Asian ancestry. This genetic diversity is important to recognize and understand as each group is likely to be susceptible to different conditions and react to environmental hazards in different ways, the investigators said.

Until now, researchers have usually attempted to identify disease-causing genetic variations by using powerful computers to compare the genomes of affected people with a global genome resource and searching for telltale differences between the two. Unfortunately, comparing the genomes of Qatari nationals with the global genome is problematic because the computer identifies tiny variations that may appear rare relative to the global genome average but are in fact very common among individuals of similar ancestries to the affected patient.

"One of the reasons genetics is complicated is that, in the genomes of every population we look at, we find millions of mutations, yet most of these do not actually cause disease - they appear to be harmless," said lead author Dr. Khalid Fakhro, an investigator at Sidra Medical and Research Center and an assistant professor in the Department of Genetic Medicine at WCM-Q. "So when a person with disease shows up in the clinic, it is more difficult than people imagine to identify the few potentially harmful mutations in a sea of mostly harmless variation."

The new population-specific resource mitigates this problem for Qatari nationals by providing a Qatari-specific genome resource, compiled from more than 1,000 Qataris whose families have enjoyed good health for at least three generations.

"Because many of the same harmless mutations are shared by members of the same population, using a population-specific resource makes it easier to identify abnormal mutations in the genome that do cause disease," Dr. Fakhro said. "Specifically, if we find a mutation shared by patients but it has never been observed in more than 1,000 ethnically-matched controls, we have higher confidence in its possible pathogenicity."

Given the shared heritage of Qatar's population with people in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the new Qatar Genome reference could also benefit patients across the region.

"This research has proven to be extremely exciting and worthwhile, not only for the new discoveries we have made but because there is great potential for clinical applications that will benefit patients in Qatar and the wider region," Dr. Crystal said. "We are very grateful for the support provided by Qatar National Research Fund and Qatar Foundation, without which this research could not have been undertaken."

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Nursing Home Residents Commonly Abused by Their Neighbors


Twenty percent of people living in nursing homes are abused by other residents, Weill Cornell Medicine researchers report.

"We were very surprised by the prevalence of aggression," said senior author Dr. Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University and a professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, who published the findings June 13 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. "We thought it would be common, but we did not anticipate that one in five people would be involved in a resident-to-resident incident."

In addition to the physical injuries that can result from these abusive incidents, "the emotional toll that can result from being victimized incessantly can be overwhelming," said lead author Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine and the Irene F. and I. Roy Psaty Distinguished Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Dr. Mark Lachs

Dr. Mark Lachs. Photo credit: A. Kinloch.

The researchers and their colleagues at Cornell University and the Research Division of Hebrew Home at Riverdale, evaluated 2,011 residents in 10 nursing home facilities during a one-month period. Of those individuals, 407, or 20.2 percent, had experienced a least one resident-to-resident incident of mistreatment.

Nine percent of victims experienced verbal abuse. Some 5 percent encountered physical abuse, and less than 1 percent sexual abuse. Another 5 percent suffered "other" types of abuse such as invasion of privacy and menacing gestures.

The most common types of verbal aggression were screaming at another resident and using foul language. Physical aggression most often included hitting and pushing. Going into another resident's room without permission and taking or touching another person's property were common examples of invasion of privacy.

A major risk factor for aggression was cognitive impairment, said Dr. Pillemer, who is also director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell. "You have people who would otherwise not be violent but who have serious aggressive episodes," he said.

People who were younger and more physically active, meaning they were able to wander into other residents' rooms, were more likely to be involved in an abusive incident, Dr. Pillemer said.

Crowding in common spaces such as hallways and lounges also increased risk. Conflict also occurred more frequently in the winter months, presumably when patients had limited space to interact indoors, and in nursing homes with lower staffing levels, said Dr. Lachs, who is also a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

 The first steps toward addressing the problem are improving staff awareness and developing clear protocols for dealing with aggression among residents, Dr. Pillemer said. Individualized care is also important. Some people who are at greater risk of becoming aggressors may need more supervision than others.

One obstacle to addressing this form of aggression is that regulatory agencies and lay media have traditionally focused on physical abuse of residents by staff. "This certainly occurs, and we should have zero tolerance for it," Dr. Lachs said. "But this study suggests that one is much more likely to experience physical or verbal harm from another resident than from a staff member."

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Cornell University Forms Search Committee for New Weill Cornell Medicine Dean


Cornell University has formed a committee to search for a new Weill Cornell Medicine dean and provost for medical affairs. Co-chaired by Cornell University Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers Chairman Jessica Bibliowicz, the committee is tasked with selecting the institution's next leader, who will take the reins during a period of unprecedented growth.

The new dean will succeed Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, who announced in February that she would be leaving Weill Cornell Medicine to lead the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The search committee comprises 19 members who have a deep and comprehensive understanding of Weill Cornell Medicine’s commitment to enhancing human health by providing exemplary and individualized patient care, making groundbreaking biomedical discoveries, and educating generations of exceptional doctors and scientists. In addition to Rawlings and Bibliowicz, the committee includes board members from Cornell and Weill Cornell Medicine, senior administrators, faculty, alumni and students, as well as NewYork-Presbyterian leadership:

  • Robert Appel, vice chair of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Dr. Avery August, chair of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. David Blumenthal, clinical professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Lewis Cantley, Meyer Director of the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Steven Corwin, president and chief executive officer of NewYork-Presbyterian
  • Dr. Deborah Estrin, professor of computer science at Cornell Tech and professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Barbara Friedman, vice chair of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Robert Harrison, chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees
  • Dr. Barbara Hempstead, senior associate dean for education at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Gary Koretzky, dean of the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and vice dean for research at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Michael Kotlikoff, provost of Cornell University
  • Raul Martinez-McFaline, M.D.-Ph.D. student in the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program and Weill Cornell Medicine student overseer
  • Edward Meyer, member of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Dr. Carl Nathan, chairman of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Timothy O’Neill, member of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Dr. Gene Resnick, past president of the Weill Cornell Medical College Alumni Association Board of Directors
  • Dr. Michael G. Stewart, vice dean and the E. Darracott Vaughan Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine

Dr. Augustine Choi, the Weill Chairman of the Weill Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and physician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, was named interim dean effective June 1. Glimcher will continue as an adviser at Weill Cornell Medicine through Aug. 31.

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Hunter Rawlings to Take Helm as Interim President April 25


By Karen Walters

Hunter R. Rawlings III, Cornell president emeritus and professor emeritus of classics, has been appointed interim president effective April 25, Cornell University Board of Trustees Chairman Robert S. Harrison '76 announced March 24.

An international search for the university's 14th president will begin in the coming months, and Rawlings will serve in an interim capacity until that person assumes the office.

Rawlings served as Cornell's 10th president from 1995 to 2003. This is the second time he has accepted the position of interim president; he previously took the helm in 2005-06 following the resignation of Jeffrey Lehman.

"Cornell University is indeed fortunate that Hunter has agreed to step forward once again to lead through a time of transition," said Harrison. "The board's unanimous vote is evidence of the respect for his leadership at Cornell and as one of the nation's premier advocates for higher education." Rawlings has served as president of the Association of American Universities since 2011 and last year had announced he would be stepping down in May 2016.

Harrison thanked Provost Michael Kotlikoff, who has been serving as acting president since Feb. 19, when President Elizabeth Garrett underwent surgery. Garrett, the university's 13th and first female president, died March 6 from colon cancer after eight months in office.

"Mike's leadership and steady hand during what has been an unprecedented and challenging time for Cornell has been nothing short of exceptional," Harrison said.

"President Garrett built a strong leadership team, and we have set an ambitious agenda," Kotlikoff said. "I look forward to working with Hunter, who knows Cornell so well and is so highly regarded by the faculty. His inspired leadership and experience make him the perfect choice."

"It is an honor to once again be called to help lead this great institution," Rawlings said. "There is much momentum around Beth's vision, and I will work with Mike, the leadership team, deans, faculty, students and staff across our campuses to continue building the university's strengths around those priorities."

As Cornell's 10th president, Rawlings renewed the university's emphasis on undergraduate teaching and worked with the faculty to identify strategic scientific priorities. His initiatives included: promoting student diversity and Cornell's need-blind admissions policy; launching the Residential Initiative, which resulted in the transformation of North Campus into a living and learning community for freshmen and new West Campus residential colleges; establishing the undergraduate Cornell Presidential Research Scholars program, which was renamed in his honor; setting strategic goals for life sciences and engineering, as well as humanities and social sciences; and strengthening Weill Cornell Medicine.

Among his accomplishments as interim president, Rawlings traveled to China to inaugurate an academic exchange between Tsinghua University and the College of Engineering, to finalize with Peking University arrangements for the Beijing portion of Cornell's new undergraduate major in China and Asia Pacific Studies, and to cultivate opportunities for new relationships and exchange programs.

Before coming to Cornell, Rawlings served as president of the University of Iowa. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, he received his doctorate from Princeton University in 1970 and is a 1966 graduate of Haverford College. He is married to Elizabeth Trapnell Rawlings, a freelance translator of scholarly works from French to English. The couple has four children.

Karen Walters is the senior director of the Cornell Chronicle.

A version of this story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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Recalling Garrett as a 'Force of Nature with a Stunning Smile'


By Blaine Friedlander

At venerable Bailey Hall, where the walls echo a century of concerts and educational lectures, more than 1,000 Cornellians reflected on the life and legacy of President Elizabeth Garrett at a moving memorial gathering March 17.

Garrett died March 6 at age 52 after battling colon cancer.

In an hourlong ceremony at the packed auditorium, Robert S. Harrison '76, chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, explained how Garrett first made an impression on him: "When she walked into the room, the energy level soared."

For the initial interview with Cornell's Presidential Search Committee, Harrison said, Garrett "turned the two hours of Q-and-A into a virtuoso demonstration of deep familiarity with Cornell. ... It felt like she was interviewing us — a remarkably self-confident, substantive and impressive performance. We were all wowed."

Harrison recalled that when he offered Garrett the presidency, "Beth accepted the offer and instantly became a proud Cornellian … She voraciously read books by Cornell faculty members … She regularly amazed everyone around her by how much she could pack into every single day. … True to style, she arrived in Ithaca completely prepared for the weather — with a Canada Goose coat."

Garrett was infectiously optimistic, Harrison said, recalling her saying she would beat the cancer and be back soon. "Beth Garrett never gave up. She impacted all of us. She was a close friend and a remarkable human being — destined for greatness — whose life was cut tragically short."

Pausing, Harrison said, "This is an extraordinary loss for Cornell and for the world, but I believe that her energy and spirit will continue to guide us, from far above Cayuga's waters. Farewell, Beth. We will miss you."

'Beth Breathed Life Into Everything Around Her'

Bailey Hall's stage was simply adorned with Garrett's photograph on an easel, a lectern, plants and choral group risers.

Among those attending the memorial were Garrett's husband, Andrei Marmor, Cornell's Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Philosophy and Law; Laura Gruntmeir, her sister; New York State Lt. Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul; Cornell President Emeritus Hunter Rawlings; Harold Tanner, chairman emeritus of the board of trustees; and Kent Fuchs, president of the University of Florida and former Cornell provost.

Glee Club performs "Amazing Grace"

The Glee Club performs "Amazing Grace." Robert Barker/University Photograph

The Cornell University Chorus began the afternoon's program with "The Road Home," a solemn, modern, stirring piece, followed by readings from Garrett's speeches and messages by the leaders of Cornell's shared governance groups, and personal reflections.

Graduate student trustee Annie O'Toole, J.D. '16, a member of the Presidential Search Committee, spoke of Garrett's lasting influence. "Her example reminds me that the greatest success is found when one follows one's passions. Beth was driven. She may be the hardest working person I've ever met," she said. "To me she was always the most prepared, the most engaged, most enthusiastic person in every room. She inspired me to put forth my best effort in every endeavor."

Mark Weinberger, global chairman and CEO of EY, a longtime friend, said: "There are some people in this world that suck oxygen out of a room when they enter it. And there are some that breathe life into it. And Beth breathed life into everything around her."

Weinberger described Garrett as brilliant, fearless, tenacious, passionate, kind, a role model and friend, whose "path led from Oklahoma City to the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court, from the United States Senate to the roles of the highest levels of government, academia and public policy. And it led her to become an educator and inspire students around the world. Teaching was really Beth's DNA."

Remarking on Garrett's energetic personality, Weinberger said: "Beth always seemed to be in a hurry. People always marveled at how tireless she was, how she worked while others were sleeping. … But it wasn't just her incredible energy that made Beth amazing, it was what she did with it. … Beth so wanted to make a difference in this world, to have a lasting impact on others. And only now in hindsight do I realize why Beth was in such a hurry to do it. She somehow knew things in advance that others didn't. In her way-too-short life, Beth Garrett made an indelible difference on so many lives."

'A Great Road Ahead'

Dr. Orli R. Etingin, professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, attended Garrett during her illness.

Dr. Etingin spoke about how Garrett was "an awesome woman, a scholar, a true leader and a visionary." But she was also down-to-earth and liked ordinary things, such as ice cream and watching the television show "Scandal."

Michael Kotlikoff speaks at memorial for Elizabeth Garrett

Provost and Acting President Michael Kotlikoff speaks at the memorial gathering for President Elizabeth Garrett. Robert Barker/University Photography

Throughout her treatment, Garrett kept her upbeat manner. "On the day she went home from the hospital, after five weeks, which turned out to be her last day, I asked Beth what she wanted to do most when she got home," Dr. Etingin said. "Would she want to sit in her sunny spot in the living room or do something special? And she replied to me, she wanted to do her taxes," as the audience gave an appreciative laugh. "And she said with her great dazzling, big grin, 'Orli, you've forgotten, I'm a tax attorney.'"

Dr. Etingin concluded: "On that last night when Beth and Andrei knew it was the end, I came to their home to help her out of the pain. And she pulled me close and gave me a message to give all of you in the Cornell community. She said, 'Please, Orli, please, tell them, be sure to tell them that I think they're great, that there are important things in store for them. I am so proud of everyone, and I know that they'll be fine. There's a great road ahead for Cornell.'"

'Affirm Beth's Aspirations'

Michael Kotlikoff, provost and acting president, said: "Beth's decisiveness and her high standards, combined with her professional achievements and her bold vision for Cornell, convinced me to say yes when I joined her in Day Hall. With her infectious enthusiasm and stunning smile, this connected and savvy Oklahoman was a great, great fit for Cornell — the down-to-earth and democratic Ivy. We quickly formed a special bond. … Very shortly we were finishing each other's sentences."

Music and Medicine program; memorial gathering for Garrett

Weill Cornell Medicine’s Music and Medicine program performs during a memorial gathering for President Garrett. Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

He continued: "We are grateful for what she accomplished, humbled by her courage, moved and motivated by her vision. Let us remember her by the ways in which she touched us: That stunning smile and that passion for scholarship, for the academy. Let us affirm Beth's aspirations for Cornell and honor her by our commitment to them."

The Glee Club performed "Amazing Grace" and then was joined by the Cornell Chorus for the singing of the alma mater.

'One of the Great Leaders in Cornell History'

Cornellians in New York City joined in the celebration of Garrett's life and legacy with a gathering at Weill Cornell Medicine prior to the memorial event in Baily Hall, which was live-streamed. Students, physicians, instructors and scientists were among the nearly 200 who attended the ceremony at a solemn Uris Auditorium, as well as the Weill Cornell Medicine doctors who cared for President Garrett in her final days.

"Not only was she one of the great leaders in Cornell history," said Jessica Bibliowicz '81, chairman of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers, "but I'm quite confident that if she had more time she would have been one of the great leaders in university history."

Bibliowicz noted that despite Garrett's short tenure as Cornell's leader, she made tremendous strides to bridge the Ithaca and New York campuses, including Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech. And she made a lasting impact on students, who signed a get-well card for her, and on Bibliowicz, who recalled their many hour-long conversations about everything from university initiatives to social culture.

Memorial for President Garrett

Cornellians in New York City attend a memorial gathering for President Elizabeth Garrett on March 17. Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

"At the end of the day, that's why I say Cornell University lost its 13th president, but like so many of you in this room I lost a friend," Bibliowicz said.

Student Overseer for the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers Raul McFaline-Martinez relayed poignant memories of President Garrett, whom he said always looked "visibly excited" to be leading the university.

"Personally, I've never met an institutional leader who was so genuinely interested in the realities of student life," he said. "I don't know how she made the time to be available to listen to all of our issues."

Blaine Friedlander is a senior science editor for the Cornell Chronicle. Timothy Malcolm, a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine, also contributed to this report.

A version of this story first appeared on the Cornell Chronicle.

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President Elizabeth Garrett Dies of Colon Cancer at Age 52


By Joe Wilensky

Cornell University President Elizabeth Garrett died March 6 from colon cancer. She was 52.

"Our president, colleague and friend, Elizabeth Garrett, passed away late last evening after a brave battle with colon cancer," Robert S. Harrison '76, chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, said in a message sent to the university community March 7. "There are few words to express the enormity of this loss.

"Beth was simply a remarkable human being — a vibrant and passionate leader who devoted her life to the pursuit of knowledge and public service and had a profound, positive impact on the many lives that she touched. In this regard, she was the quintessential Cornellian. From the moment I met her during the presidential search, it was clear to me that she had the intellect, energy and vision not only to lead Cornell, but to be one of the greatest presidents in our 150-year history. While Beth's tenure as president has tragically been cut short, her efforts over the last eight months have set the university on a path toward continued excellence. She will leave a lasting legacy on our beloved institution and will be terribly missed."

Garrett is the first Cornell president to die while in office. She began her tenure as the 13th president July 1, 2015, during the university's sesquicentennial year. Her inauguration on Sept. 18 as Cornell's first female president was a celebratory milestone, and she already had made a striking impact on the university.

"Beth was an inspiring and visionary leader who continually raised the bar for all of us at Cornell as we charted the university's future together," said Michael Kotlikoff, acting president and Cornell provost. "Her greatest legacy will be for this generation of Cornellians — faculty, students and staff — to build on Beth's fearless dedication to discovery and learning, and her incredible energy to make her vision for Cornell University's future a reality."

Kotlikoff continued, "We are all deeply saddened by her passing, and I extend my profound condolences to her husband, Andrei Marmor, to her family, and to the community of thousands and thousands of Cornellians, here in Ithaca and around the country and the world."

Garrett first shared her cancer diagnosis with the Cornell community Feb. 8 in a statement. She underwent surgery Feb. 19, naming Kotlikoff acting president. On Feb. 22 it was announced that she had been released from intensive care and would continue treatment. 

Priorities Shared at Inauguration

During her inaugural address, "The Road to Ithaka: Full of Adventure, Full of Discovery ... The Marvelous Journey," Sept. 18, 2015, Garrett likened Cornell University to a state of mind and a spirit of lifetime journey, repeatedly returning to the text of C.P. Cavafy's poem about Ulysses' journey home. She stressed the importance of the faculty as the foundation of the university; students as partners in the voyage of discovery and making a difference in the world; and the growing Cornell Tech campus in New York City that gives it something no other leading American university has — an established home in a quintessential college town and also a substantial footprint in an international urban center.

Elizabeth Garrett

President Elizabeth Garrett at her inauguration on Sept. 18, 2015 Photo credit: Robert Barker/University Photography

She described how she planned for the university to focus, in the upcoming months, more intensely on both the residential undergraduate experience and on defining, as a community, the shared intellectual experience all Cornell students should encounter.

In her first State of the University Address the following month, Garrett highlighted the continuing growth of Cornell's global footprint and listed her top priorities for the university: attracting and retaining top faculty; increasing government research funding, corporate strategic partnerships and philanthropic support for research and creative work; investing in key academic areas that have broad impact; enhancing the student learning and living experience; and broadly increasing cross-campus connections.

She added that Cornell was on track to hire 80-100 new faculty in the 2015-16 academic year and described the university's upcoming strategic planning process and how it will inform decisions about where to invest at the university level. Some areas already were apparent, Garrett said, identifying sustainability and energy, the visual and performing arts, materials science and engineering, and entrepreneurship.

She also described how existing and new academic initiatives, for graduate and professional students as well as undergraduates, already were improving the Cornell student experience, from new degree programs to global learning opportunities and the Engaged Cornell initiative.

Concluding her State of the University Address, Garrett quoted Cornell's third president, Jacob Gould Schurman, who said Cornell is "at once realistic and idealistic ... always in quest of something better." She challenged the audience, "as both idealists and realists," to build on the "visionary purpose" of Ezra Cornell and Andrew D. White and, together, "take Cornell to an even higher level of excellence and global influence."

Among her initiatives was the creation, announced this January, of an integrated Cornell College of Business that will comprise the university's three accredited business schools. Established by the board of trustees, the process of how the college will be created and structured began over the past two months through meetings and forums with stakeholders.

Elizabeth Garrett at 2015 Farm 2 Fork dinner

President Elizabeth Garrett chats with students at the 2015 Farm 2 Fork dinner Photo credit: Jason Koski/University Photography

Garrett's Career Before Cornell

Garrett was appointed to the provost and senior vice president position at USC in October 2010. As the university's second-ranking officer, she oversaw the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences as well as the Keck School of Medicine of USC and 16 other professional schools, in addition to numerous divisions. She also was involved in the Keck Medical Center of USC and sat on the health systems board overseeing three hospitals and 18 clinical practices.

At USC, she was the Frances R. and John J. Duggan Professor of Law, Political Science, Finance and Business Economics, and Public Policy; she had served previously as USC's vice president for academic planning and budget.

Garrett's primary scholarly interests included legislative process, the design of democratic institutions, the federal budget process and tax policy. She was the author of more than 50 articles, book chapters and essays, and is co-author of the nation's most influential casebook on legislation and statutory interpretation.

In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush appointed her to serve on the nine-member bipartisan Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. From 2009 to 2013, she served as one of five commissioners on the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's independent political oversight agency, and was a co-chair of its Subcommittee on the Political Reform Act and Internet Political Activity.

Before joining the faculty of USC, she was a professor of law at the University of Chicago, where she also served as deputy dean for academic affairs. She received her B.A. in history with special distinction from the University of Oklahoma and her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. Before entering academics, Garrett served as budget and tax counsel and legislative director for Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.) and clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joe Wilensky is managing editor of Ezra magazine.

A version of this story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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