The Cornell Connection: Building Community During Your First Year At College

Pranav Vasishta (next to bear to the right) with Dyson classmates

Coming from a competitive high school of 2,000 students, building camaraderie and community was not a natural instinct for me. Thinking back to my first couple of years in college, I realize that the one thing that most helped me succeed was building relationships with my business school peers. Building a strong, supportive environment within my business school got me through homesickness, increasingly demanding classes, recruiting internships, and so much more. As you enter your first year in college or get used to being in-person, taking the initiative to connect with the people around you will not only help be rewarding but will help you achieve your goals as well.

CORNELL’S DYSON SCHOOL PROVIDES A TIGHT-KNIT, COMMUNITY-FOCUSED ENVIRONMENT

The Dyson School maintains small class sizes and an undergraduate population of under 800 students. The program offers one major, Applied Economics and Management or ‘AEM’. I remember walking to my first Dyson orientation event thinking I would be just another name tag sitting on a white foldable table. As I approached the event tent, I saw three advisors smiling and waving at me – one of them already knew my name from an email correspondence earlier in the summer. I walked in to find about 100 students eager to socialize. An hour later, I was walking to the dining hall with five other students having already met about 80% of my class. I remember thinking that there would never be another event at which my entire cohort would be under one roof.

A week later, I sat down at my first Cornell class, ‘AEM 2200 Business Management and Organizations’. As I looked around the room I saw all the classmates I’d met shuffling in behind me. The Dyson School creates specific programs to help its students build a strong sense of community. For the next three months, that class gave me the opportunity to learn and collaborate with the other 2023 Dyson graduates. Through numerous presentations, class discussions, and group assignments, the class forced me to learn about other’s habits and working styles called ‘AEM 1101 Design Your Dyson’ brought together students in a different setting. This program is geared towards challenging students to explore their opportunities outside of traditional career paths. Students are taught how to have prototyping conversations with peers, faculty, and alumni. I remember doing an exercise that posed an important question: ‘What is one non-business-related passion that you would like to explore during your time here at Cornell?’ I voiced my interests in travel journalism, and my peers were quick to help me find outlets to express that interest such as writing for the lifestyle column of the school paper. Part of how we were getting graded for the assignment was getting up and participating. I learned how to be vulnerable and support my classmates.

Pranav Vasishta (Left) with Dyson classmates

UTILIZING STUDENT AND CAREER SERVICES TO HELP DRIVE YOUR SUCCESS

As I entered my first year, I always heard “go to office hours” and “meet with your academic advisors to stay on track.” Although those two tips are helpful, I’d recommend any student who wants to build more meaningful relationships to do a little more. My advisor always reminds me that I am more than just a name on a roster. It’s comforting to have a member of administration whom I can chat with in the halls about my weekend and meet with between classes with any questions.

One of the most meaningful relationships I formed during my time in college was with our director of career management, Tim Pasto. Ever since our initial meeting, he insisted we converse on a first-name basis. As I took the initiative to meet with him more often, I started to notice our relationship become more informal. I could email him after hours and ask for advice about offers and just knock on his door and vent about a tough interview. As I continued to rely on him, he started connecting me with members of his MBA alumni network and actively helped me reach some of my career goals. For example, a couple of months ago, I was asking him for advice on preparing for consulting interviews and he immediately connected me with his network at the firm I interviewed at.

Yes, the smaller student body size of The Dyson School makes building this connection easier. Regardless, each student must take the initiative to create a relationship themselves. Here’s my advice: start off by introducing yourself to the member of faculty or administration – and talk about subjects beyond how to enroll in a class. Perhaps you may want to ask for recommendations for clubs or introduce yourself and where you’re from. Over time, keep them in the loop about any changes you may have about your academic or professional route. Pulling your mentors in on each step of your plans will send them a signal that you are open to guidance and are proactive. It is important to remember that your academic and career advisors want to see you succeed. Every interview or internship I received, Tim shared my excitement and remains enthusiastic to learn more about my experiences.

Pranav Vasishta (Left) volunteering at Dyson’s Big Red Barbecue

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH FRIENDS WHO MOTIVATE AND SUPPORT YOU

In my opinion, the best kinds of friends are the ones who can keep you focused on your goals while you also have fun together. My school has a mentorship program, Dyson Connects, which pairs upperclassmen with incoming freshmen to help them find a balance between their social and academic lives. If your school doesn’t have a set program, seek mentorship from your peers.

One of my friends at Dyson, Sadie, was in search of a mentor who would not only help her navigate classes and interviews but would also hang out with her on the weekends. Her drive to seek a ‘work hard, play hard bond’ with a Dyson peer-led her to create her own Dyson Family which she calls her ‘lin’. Her ‘lin’ informally inducts a new student into their family each year and each older member helps the younger member achieve their goals. Each member of that ‘lin’ has turned out to be a successful, happy, and contributing member to Cornell and beyond. Now, Sadie is a peer career advisor for Dyson Career Management and helps students get closer to their professional goals every day.

When you first enter college, take time out of your day to help a friend. I remember the first time I went to office hours to get help on a case study, my friend who had said he would also be there overslept and missed the session. Instead of withholding the tips and information I learned during the session, I made time to sit and show him what I learned from attending the meeting. Later that semester, I was having a busy week and that friend noticed I wasn’t at office hours and set up time with me to go over what he learned. Now the idea isn’t to do things for classmates to get something in return – stick your neck out and offer help; you will end up building a meaningful, working friendship.

The most important thing I can stress is if you want to build a community – you must take the initiative. Make the first step, be open with your mentors, and be helpful to your classmates. Put trust in this process and you too will find success.

BIO: Pranav is from Saint Louis, MO, and studies Applied Economics & Management at Cornell University, where he aspires to combine his analytical skills with his interest in strategy and problem-solving. His career interests include strategy consulting, corporate strategy, and business development. Previously, Pranav interned with Cigna Healthcare and T-Mobile in market strategy and development

At Cornell, Pranav is very involved within the extracurricular community. He is a Project Manager for an analytics-focused consulting group, a campus tour guide, and Vice President of Alumni Engagement for Dyson’s undergraduate business council. During his free time, he enjoys cooking, planning travel, and exploring new restaurants with friends. 

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