Meet Lorelei Meidenbauer ’22, whose passion for affordable housing and social justice in the U.S. is helping create a flourishing world. From supporting rural schools in New York State through grant writing to biking across the country with Bike & Build, Lorelei seeks to make an impact in the classroom and in real world communities. Learn how Lorelei’s studies in the Department of Global Development have inspired her career path with equity at its core.
What has been your favorite class in Global Development?
My favorite class by far was DSOC 4940: Show Me the Money, led by Gretchen Rymarchyk and John Sipple. In this course, we worked in small teams to write grants for school districts in rural New York State. Each week, we met within a small team of three classmates and our two school officials to work to write our grant for the school district. Our second class of the week was composed of a series of guest speakers, who all had fascinating work to share on the education system and grant writing within New York State.
It was definitely one of the most challenging courses in that the work we did had definitive, real world consequences. I learned so much not only about the intricate process of grant writing, but the complexities that go along with trying to create positive change. It was a tremendous learning opportunity for me, particularly in leadership. We were required to facilitate meetings with our school district team members each week, and while I’ve been engaged with other similar projects, I was very grateful for the opportunity to work directly with school professionals and do our best to help them succeed. I would encourage anyone that has the opportunity to either take this class or another Engaged Cornell course to absolutely do so!
You’re a passionate advocate for affordable housing. Tell us about your enthusiasm for this topic and how you’ve been involved.
While at Cornell, I’ve gotten involved with the non-profit Bike & Build, which is a group dedicated to engaging with the affordable housing cause through cycling. It’s an incredible organization; since its inception in 2003, Bike & Build has raised over $6.6 million and donated over 255,000 volunteer hours, which translates to nearly 30 years of volunteer support.
After my freshman year at Cornell I participated in a Bike & Build summer. I completed an affordable housing curriculum, volunteered for over 15 hours with a local affordable housing non-profit, and interviewed both a non-profit worker in the affordable housing space and a future home recipient. I completed this process here in Ithaca, and learned so much about how the housing crisis impacts not only our community, but every community across the U.S.
Then, I biked my way across the country on the Northern Route, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Bellingham, Washington. Along the way, my team and I raised over $136,000 and volunteered on 15 different build sites at various stages of the home-building process. Throughout the journey I learned time and time again that homelessness and the lack of affordable housing is not a result of any sort of personal failure, but is a systemic, societal issue. Dramatic policy changes are needed to end this affordable housing crisis and to create an equitable system with justice at its center.
I am hoping to raise awareness of this issue here within the Cornell community, and I am dedicated to continuing to advocate for affordable housing going forward. I’m doing this in a variety of ways. The past few months I had the incredible opportunity to serve as Bike & Build’s social media intern, working both to support the organization internally and share their mission to as many people as possible. Next summer after graduating, I am incredibly excited to be biking again, this time on the Central cross-country route. I was selected to be one of the Trip Leaders helping to facilitate, organize and create the same overwhelmingly positive learning experience for my fellow riders that I had. I’m actually currently in the process of fundraising for the cause!
Photos from the field
You changed your major from one in engineering to studying diverse aspects of development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Why did you choose this path of study?
Ultimately, the reason that I switched career paths from Engineering is because of my experience with Bike & Build. I realized that my path was not in Engineering at all. In my future career, I seek to engage, empathize and listen to people with the goal of working to create widespread change for a more equitable society. That trip served as the catalyst behind my determination to work to create a more equitable world. Through what I learned as a part of the Department of Global Development, engaging directly in the complex challenges of public policy is a great way to accomplish meaningful, lasting impact. Quite honestly, I have absolutely no idea where my future career will take me, but I have no doubt that I will be working to create change and serve the public.
What are some of your favorite or most impactful memories of your time at Cornell so far?
I have lots of great memories of my time at Cornell, though I think the most impactful ones are just how passionate the teaching staff at Cornell is. I’ve been really lucky to have had so many amazing professors over the years that are so excited about what they’re teaching.
That energy is infectious, and has definitely helped me to dream big and work hard. A lot of what I hope to accomplish in the future is cross-disciplinary, and I love that through my time here at Cornell, especially in the Department of Global Development, I’ve been encouraged and supported to take advantage of the wide-ranging skills and opportunities I have, even if they’re in another unit. That in and of itself is a huge strength that the Department has; by encouraging and supporting students like me, whose interests are not strictly limited to one field or discipline and allowing those skills to thrive and flourish has absolutely transformed my Cornell experience.
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