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By Sasha Endo and Annalisa Raymer
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

As Cornell employees and students work together in lifelong learning partnerships with the Community Learning and Service Partnership (CLASP), a wealth of accomplishments and comradery builds up over the semester. Traditionally, this treasure trove of learning and collegiality is toasted with a closing celebration. After a year of being unable to hold the event for public health reasons, CLASP celebrated once again on December 8, 2021.

Although masks obscured faces, delighted laughter and animated speech expressed the smiles and energy in the room. Modifications to the format, such as a smaller guest list, masking and forgoing a festive meal, did little to dampen spirits of those connected with CLASP, a participatory adult learning program designed to create and support one-on-one mutual learning partnerships of Cornell employees and students.

The celebration featured a public recognition of achievements, visual snapshots and short presentations of three self-directed learning projects. Cornell employees, students and instructors in CLASP-affiliated courses all took part, including Building Care associate directors Hazel Hall and Cynthia Lockwood, Cornell Dining senior manager of training and development Brandon Fortenberry, and lifelong learners and co-educators from the Open Doors English program.

Kicking things off, Cornell Dining employee Garry Gale and student Sharon Hsu ‘23 (Engineering) shared Mandarin phrases Garry learned in CLASP. The pair described their strategy for inviting diners who speak the language to exchange a greeting with Garry as they enter the Risley Dining Hall.

Student and employee pairs shared features of their learning partnerships, and many credited their meetings together as weekly highpoints amidst the challenges and stresses of the fall semester.

Mazell Maye, Jr. (Dining) expressed that starting to work at Cornell this August was a great opportunity to learn new job skills such as real cooking, and that CLASP has been a big support in that learning process.

Monifa Morgan-Bell (Global Development) and Danika Cho ’22 (Arts and Sciences) focused on statistics in their learning partnership.

“It is so important to take advantage of learning opportunities such as these, since they don’t always present themselves in every setting,” Morgan-Bell said.

Three students — Libby Willkomm ’23 (ILR), Blaine McCollum ’23 (Dyson) and Sharon Hsu ’23 — presented self-directed learning projects in wellness, financial investment market study and art, respectively. Independent study student Anika Bajpai received kudos and flowers in recognition of her three semesters as a CLASP learning partner.

The event also marked a transition for one of the CLASP staff members. Responsible for planning much of the celebration was Sue Barry, program coordinator for CLASP, who retired from Cornell on December 9. For the past four years, Sue was instrumental in organizing behind-the-scenes work at CLASP, from accounts to websites. Sue also encouraged the personal and career growth of participants and colleagues at CLASP. 

“Sue helped me to identify my goals and outline my skills in a way that made me feel inspired again,” said Jennifer Matthewson, quality assurance coordinator at the Cornell Facilities and Campus Services Department of Building Care, who met with Sue weekly in Spring 2018 while participating in CLASP as a UAW Building Care employee. “Sue truly is the reason I was able to regain my balance and find the confidence to continue to reach for my career goals. Since working with Sue I have developed my career further than I ever thought possible.” 

This sentiment was echoed by Justyne Castrenze and Holly Jackson, Cornell Building Care employees who interned with Sue in the CLASP office.

“Before working with CLASP, I had very little experience with computer resources and was uneducated about anything to do with lifelong learning,” said Castrenze.

“Sue changed that for me probably more than she could ever know and what a patient and wonderful teacher I was blessed to work with.”

Jackson shared her appreciation and well wishes for Sue: “As she begins her new chapter, I hope she knows not only the positive impacts she had on this program but the support and kindness that she extended to others is truly special and means so much.”

Funded by University Human Resources and housed in the Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, CLASP has united students and employees for over 30 years in mutual learning partnerships, promoting lifelong learning and increasing access to educational opportunities. Learn more about how Cornell employees and students can get involved in CLASP.


Annalisa Raymer is director of CLASP and senior lecturer in the Department of Global Development, and Sasha Endo is program liaison of CLASP.

Header image: Pinchas (Pinny) Kreizel ’22 (Agricultural sciences) and Mazell Maye Jr. (Dining) work on a food safety assignment in their mutual student-employee learning partnership in CLASP. Photo provided.

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