What Are Cornell Students Learning?

Cornell's mission is to discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge; produce creative work; and promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community. Cornell also aims, through public service, to enhance the lives and livelihoods of our students, the people of New York, and others around the world.

Our faculty, students, alumni, and staff strive toward these objectives in a context of freedom with responsibility. We foster initiative, integrity, and excellence, in an environment of collegiality, civility, and responsible stewardship. As the land-grant university for the state of New York, we apply the results of our endeavors in service to our alumni, the community, the state, the nation, and the world.

Cornell University's colleges, schools, and other academic units offer more than 4,000 courses, 70 undergraduate majors, nearly 100 graduate fields of study, undergraduate and advanced degrees, and continuing education and outreach programs. Each of the fourteen colleges and schools defines its own academic programs; admits its own students; provides a faculty; and offers advising and support to its students.

Within this context of great diversity, a Cornell education comprises formal and informal learning experiences in the classroom, on campus, and beyond. Through the multiple dimensions of students' lives, Cornell provides an academic community that aims to help them achieve a variety of goals.

At the undergraduate level, how are the learning goals achieved within the colleges?

wine grapes

Students enrolled in the Sustainable and Organic Grape and Wine Production course apply what they learn in class through a student-run organic vineyard. They develop management plans and handle nearly every step in the process from planting to harvest and winemaking.

mockup of tech campus

Students in the Capstone Studio class in Landscape Architecture drafted designs for the exterior space at the university's new Cornell NYC Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

cup of ice cream

Paying tribute to the new Cornell NYC Tech campus, two groups of Cornell students enrolled in Science & Technology of Foods won a class ice cream contest worthy of a taste.

Butterfly eyes

Students learn to effectively communicate science through the Naturalist Outreach program, which sends undergraduate and graduate students to local classrooms and community groups to talk about the natural history, ecology, and behavior of animals and plants. The students have also produced a series of educational videos.

movie still

Through researching, directing and editing their original narrative scripts, students in documentary and advanced filmmaking classes gain new insights that not only allow them to focus on the interplay of dark and light, for example, but also lead them to connect with their subjects on a personal level.

a scene from Precious Little

To say goodbye to Cornell, two senior students made a five-minute video, showing Cornell as they experienced it. The tribute had 50,000 views in one day, touching many with the personal and universal message of goodbye and new beginnings.

This is video still

Demonstrating skill, considerable understanding of the art and craft of directing, the ability to work with professional actors, and a sense of responsibility and leadershipthat earned the respect of faculty and peers, Theatre Arts major Myles Kenyon Rowland '11 was selected to participate in the honors directing program.

kids playing in new school room

Professionalism, construction management skills, carpentry, and organizational and leadership skills were among the take-aways for a team of 31 second-year architecture students who built a 6,000 square-foot early childhood development center in Cosmo City, a new mixed-housing development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

lithography print

Five undergraduate art students will study abroad as recipients of the Bean Prize.

downtown owego flooded

A team of Cornell students helped a local community recover from the devastating effects of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee. Students in the Department of City and Regional Planning coordinated survey mapping systems to obtain information about residents' most pressing needs, helping organizers place volunteers more efficiently.

robot places cup in dish drainer

A final exercise in the course Robot Learning required students to figure out how to make robots move smoothly from room to room, avoid obstacles, people and pets. Teams of students connected computers to a standard industrial robot to manipulate objects that are not always the same size and shape or exactly in the same place.

robot picking up a box

BOOM, a showcase for student research and creativity using digital technologies, features research projects from Cornell undergraduate and master's degree students.

hotel students serve lunch

Problem solving, motivating teams, assigning work, and meeting deadlines are just a few of the skills students learn through the School of Hotel Administration's annual Hotel Ezra Cornell event for industry professionals.

Stephen Breedon, class of 2014

For Stephen Breedon, '14, every aspect of Cornell life connects him with new people and perspectives. As a student leader involved in the Student Assembly and [Hotel] Dean's Advisory Board, he thrives on the social, energetic atmosphere, relating classroom learning to the real world.

hands on keyboard

Students learn the theories of networked-based integrated marketing communication, and the practical application of strategies, tactics and technologies through a social media marketing course developed through a partnership between the School of Hotel Administration and Sabre Hospitality Solutions.

Establishment at Statler logo

Students in the Restaurant Management course run a restaurant that gives them the opportunity to combine their management, service, and creative skills to create a unique dining experience for guests.

Madmenhatten logo

Students enrolled in the Catering and Special Events Management class practiced their planning and execution skills while raising more than $27,000 for local and national charities.

african woman leaning against a blue house

Eight students enrolled in the Entrepreneurship and Empowerment program combined education in entrepreneurial skills with social activism, cultural immersion, and academic credit by spending the summer of 2012 working with business operators in South Africa.

design plan for the commons

For help designing the College of Human Ecology's newest community space, college leaders turned to a team of in-house experts: 10 senior interior design students in its Department of Design and Environmental Analysis.

drawings from the fiber science and apparel design studio

Eight undergraduates in the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design received scholarships for their work in fashion design and business. Each student designer was required to develop and market a clothing line for "tweens" for online flash fashion retailers hoping to create their own brands.

design plan for the commons

Students in Animation History and Practice create short films as a series of hands-on projects, incorporating lessons from the historical work studied.

campus meditation room

The collaboration between two courses in the College of Human Ecology prompts students to research, design and build spaces for the benefit of the community. Recently, students created a campus meditation room to help Cornellians de-stress.

Alex Bores class of 2013

The Cornell Forensics Society is ranked first among 800 teams internationally by the International Debate Education Association. Based in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the 100-student squad sent three teams of two to compete internationally.

Dana Lampert, Founder of Wiggio

eLab is a nonprofit Cornell-sponsored student-business accelerator that offers resources for student entrepreneurs. To better understand the theory and processes of groups and team behavior, students also enroll in Leading Teams, which features lectures and time with eLab mentors.

photo of fish in tank

Undergraduates like Kevin Gardner break new ground designing original experiments to investigate little-understood phenomena. He is studying how an electric fish's nervous system produces communication signals to defend its territory, fend off rivals, and court potential mates.

photo of student in new york

Working alongside professionals in New York City, architecture students like Katie Kasabalis learn how to balance the wishes of their clients while confronting landscapes that are vulnerable to the unpredictable consequences of global warming.

photo of students with rakes

The Art of Horticulture offers a reflective exploration into self, and the community of the classroom, by creatively engaging with the plant world. Class experiences, reflective writing and in-depth, independent final projects offer multiple opportunities for discovery and creative expression.

How are the learning goals achieved for graduate and professional students?

Shahnaz Shustari

Students in the Park Fellowship Program such as Shahnaz Shustari, MBA '08, make a significant commitment through a Service Leadership Project, which serves as capstone for leadership development, allowing students to practice leadership skills, integrate diverse disciplines, and develop an enduring commitment to public service.

dog licking vet student

Organized and run by Cornell veterinary students, Southside Healthy Pet Clinic offers subsidized care for dogs and cats. Supervised by advanced student mentors, volunteer veterinarians from the local community and college faculty, students serve as the primary clinicians, interacting with clients and examining patients.

student constructed plane

BOOM is a showcase for student research and creativity using digital technologies, featuring research projects from Cornell undergraduate and master's degree students.

photo of books

Learning at the Law School extends beyond the classroom, thanks to the Competitive Edge, a blog hosted by the Law Library. In online entries, librarians and faculty members discuss legal research and scholarship, share research tips, and acquaint students with the library's collections.

photo of horse on treadmill

During public events such as the Equine Treadmill demonstrations, veterinary students share what they've learned about how to use state-of the-art diagnostic equipment to understand the normal anatomy of the horse, as well as those conditions that influence equine performance.

photo of medical students in qatar

Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar, is changing the face of health care in the Middle East. Our world-class faculty members are sharing their expertise with a new generation of doctors—training students in cutting-edge facilities with access to the latest in medical information.

How are Cornell's learning goals achieved outside the classroom?

Cornell's Raas dance club performs traditional Indian dance

Students in the Minority Organization of Architecture, Art and Planningtraveled to Indiafor cultural immersion and field study at several sites. They met with planning professionals, architects, and artists, and studied water, transportation, and planning issues in Delhi as it prepared to host the Commonwealth Games.

CU Winds member Iona Machado '12 in a workshop for young musicians

Student members of the Cornell Wind Ensemble traveled to Costa Rica to share musical expertise with disadvantaged students, visiting eight schools, and performing 10 concerts in 11 days. They also donated 35 professional-quality instruments to advanced music students who could not afford their own.

Erika Hooker, class of 2013

Erika Hooker '13, who has a dual major in Communications and International Agriculture and Rural Development, speaks about how her semester abroad working and studying in Bordeaux, France deepened her Cornell experience.

working on the prototype house

After a year of research and design of housing, neighborhood plan, and edible landscaping, SosteNica and student members of Cornell University Sustainable Design are ready to build their prototype house in Nagarote, Nicaragua.

peace corps volunteer teaching

Since the agency was founded in 1961, 1,595 Cornell alumni have served in the Peace Corps, ranking no. 4 in producing Peace Corps volunteers among medium-sized colleges and universities nationwide.

Paedophryne amauensis, the world's smallest frog species, on a dime

When two Cornell undergraduates and a recent graduate went on a field research trip to Papua New Guinea in 2008, little did they know it would lead to entries in the Guinness Book of World Records and a groundbreaking research paper.

undergrad biology student in lab

Many biology undergraduates do research in faculty laboratories during the summer months. Listen to a sampling of them describing their work during the summer of 2011.

Mandela Steele-Dadzie

Students participating in the Cornell in Washington program combine practical work experience with university courses, and complete an original research project in the topic of their choice.

Benjamin Wie

Ben Wie '13 spent the past summer supervising an animal behavior research team which looked at learning and memory in mice.

Lance Collins

Research grant support for 20 Engineering students helps them recognize the connections between the material they are learning in the classroom and the technological innovations that transform our society and our world, preparing them to drive and lead these transformations.

Really cute kids

Students in the Global Health minor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations learn in the classroom, then experience the issues firsthand through a Global Service Learning program in southern India, with Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM).

Lindsay Serene surrounded by orioles

Lindsay Serene '12 examined patterns of genetic and phenotypic mixing using tissue samples collected from 701 orioles, to better understand evolutionary processes. She developed a strong skill set of molecular techniques, and learned valuable lessons (701!) on patience, organization, and attention to detail.

High Roaders atop Buffalo City Hall

Students from Cornell's ILR School spend two intensive months engaged in community service, civic participation, urban immersion, and research as part of a paid summer fellowship program, The High Road Runs Through the City.

Students volunteer at the Ithaca Children's Garden

One week before orientation, incoming Cornell freshmen and transfer students wasted no time building friendships, leadership skills and getting their hands dirty by participating in service activities throughout the local community.

Standing over a filtration stations

A stacked rapid sand filter installed in Tamara, Honduras and a water treatment plant principally designed by Cornell engineering students, currently under construction in Atima, are the latest projects of AguaClara, Cornell's internationally recognized small-scale water treatment design team that has been working in Honduras since 2005.

Student volunteers

More than 1,000 Cornell students demonstrated their commitment to the local community by volunteering in more than 49 nonprofit and volunteer organizations in the Ithaca area.

photo of student modeling clothes

Cornell's Design League Fashion Show, a premier student-run event, offers undergraduates with a passion for apparel design the chance to show off their original lines in a runway show that rivals those of New York City and Milan.

photo of hiking in mountains

Each year, more than 500 students from across the university study abroad—preparing them for the challenges of international citizenship in the 21st century.

photo of students doing construction

Through volunteering at the Cornell Public Service Center, students contribute to making the world a better place. Out in the community where theory and the real world intersect, they learn lessons never to be found in books.

Learning Goals for Undergraduate Education

Cornell graduates will:

  • Demonstrate disciplinary knowledge and its uses by developing a systematic and coherent understanding of an academic field of study including technical dimensions, integrating information, skills and experiences, and synthesizing ideas in original ways.
  • Apply analytical and critical thought to a body of knowledge; evaluate arguments; identify relevant assumptions or implications. Formulate coherent arguments, exhibiting alertness to the possibility that something could be done better than it has been done before, and that critical engagement with a problem to be solved may lead to a creative solution.
  • Express ideas clearly and persuasively orally and in writing; work, communicate, and engage effectively with others using media as appropriate; be able to use these skills to support consensus-building, collaboration, teamwork, and facilitating outcomes.
  • Demonstrate scientific and quantitative reasoning by understanding cause and effect relationships; defining problems; usingsymbolic thought; applying scientific principles, and solving problems with no single correct answer.
  • Direct their own learning; work independently; formulate learning goals, select, manage and reflect upon their learning; identify appropriate resources; take initiative; manage a projectthrough to completion; self-assess and seek additional information when needed.
  • Use information from a variety of sources strategically, appropriately and responsibly, uphold principles of academic integrity; access, and evaluate information from print and electronic sources.
  • Engage in the process of discovery or creation; demonstrate the ability to work productively, creatively, and artfully in a laboratory setting, studio, library, or fieldenvironment.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and awareness of different cultural practices, values, beliefs, and worldviews, and an understanding of their own cultural perspective; communicate effectively and respectfully with individuals from different backgrounds and across a multicultural society; demonstrate curiosity, flexibility, adaptability, and tolerance for ambiguity; investigate themselves and others as cultural beings, understanding the implied values and assumptions that underlie cultural norms and traditions.
  • Embrace moral and ethical values in conducting their lives; make judgments about the quality and value of ideas, theories, and information; promote honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility; formulate a position or argument about an ethical issue from multiple perspectives; use ethical practices in all work.
  • Take responsibility for their own behavior and well-being; direct their own activities toward the achievement of objectives, including goal setting, decision making, planning, scheduling, and time management; care for themselves responsibly; demonstrate awareness of themselves in relation to others.
  • Engage in their communities, demonstrating responsibility to a larger community or public; connect positively with and in communities of various sizes and composition through and outside the classroom; participate in community engagement or civic action to benefit the public good.