Adjusting to Cornell and life as an undergraduate student can be incredibly challenging. To make this transition easier for future students, we invited Aerin Mann ‘25 to reflect on her first two years in the Global Development major. Aerin shares with us her tips and tricks for making the most of the Global Development undergraduate experience.
1. Make the most of the faculty in Global Development.
Global Development has a robust network of impressive faculty, all excited to share their experiences with undergraduate students. Finding opportunities and making the campus feel smaller can be incredibly challenging—getting to know your professor, whether introducing yourself during office hours or setting up a coffee chat, is a great way to learn more about ways to be involved and expand your interests and knowledge. When I was in my first year, I made office-hour appointments with a few different faculty members and gained a research mentor at the end! As you continue your undergraduate journey, being able to turn to faculty when looking for internships and research opportunities or talking through course concepts can make your experience smoother and richer.
2. Learn about concentrations in the major.
Global Development has three concentrations to focus your development studies: social & economic development, agriculture & food systems, and environment & development. When you first get to Cornell, looking at classes can be overwhelming. Thinking about what concentration interests you and taking a class that falls within that concentration is a great way to work towards your Global Development major requirements and figure out what development challenges you are most interested in. I was initially interested in social and economic development until I took GDEV 3150: Climate Change and Global Development. That is when I realized that environmental development is the area of study I find most interesting.
3. Get involved in the major.
Global Development has an incredibly vibrant student body, filled with undergrads, Master’s students, Ph.D. students, and international fellows (such as the Humphrey Fellows). The Global Development Student Advisory Board is a club that any student in the major can join. It is a place for us as students to voice our questions, concerns, or desires for changes and programs within the major. Board members serve as resources for new students and help put current students in contact with alumni to learn more about career fields. It is a great place to advocate for yourself and your education, and gain leadership at Cornell as an underclassman!
4. Learn from your peers by going to TAD-POLE!
Global Development’s Student Advisory Board leads an event series each semester called Theoretical and Applied Development - Presentations on Learning and Experiences (TADPOLE), which brings the GDEV community together to learn more about each other’s experiences and expertise while having a good time with pizza and informal conversations. The monthly presentations are followed by casual discussions to get to know the speakers. They are a great place to learn about research opportunities and engaged learning experiences (domestic and international) and make new connections in the major. Check out last semester’s line-up, and stay tuned for upcoming speakers!
5. Attend Global Development seminars.
Global Development also has two seminar series (Perspectives in Global Development and Critical Development Studies) that expose you to development practitioners and academics outside of Cornell — be sure to check them out. As a GDEV major, you are required to take the Perspectives series for credit at least one semester (while you’re in the class be sure to sign up for the post-seminar lunches with the speaker!). The series is open to the public (in-person and via Zoom), so even if you’re not taking the class that semester, it is a great chance to meet accomplished development professionals.
6. Try new classes outside of your comfort zone!
Global Development has a very flexible curriculum and credit requirement to help students take classes beyond what is required. My most significant piece of advice is to take advantage of that flexibility. Take a language course, minor in art, and learn about animals, history, or business. Be bold in trying new things and embrace how they seem unfamiliar! During my first semester at Cornell, I took an exciting Buddhist philosophy class that I continue to reference as I talk about development theory. I never thought I would find a connection between Buddhism and Global Development, but as I learn more, I constantly draw connections.
As an undergraduate, this is the time to try new things and get out of your comfort zone. It is okay to fail and to challenge yourself, and it is encouraged that you push yourself past your preconceived beliefs.
7. Prepare for your engaged learning requirement early.
As an undergraduate in Global Development, every student must complete an 8-week-long internship and three 1-credit courses that help you prepare and reflect on your internship. As a first-year student, it can feel overwhelming to think ahead about internship opportunities or future career paths. To ease some of that future anxiety, learn about engaged learning experiences and internships as early as possible. Some summer applications open as early as September of the year prior, while others don’t get submitted until April! Know that the application process varies for each experience, and prepare accordingly. You can check out some fantastic opportunities that GDEV students have really enjoyed, such as the Lund Fellows Program and CALS Global Fellows, or the Laidlaw Scholars Program.
8. Engaged learning isn’t just a requirement; it is a philosophy.
While there is an official requirement in the major, engaged learning is also much more than that. Whether it is through on-campus courses like Just Food, faculty-led study trips, or mentored research experience, there are countless ways to bring your formal education out of the classroom and into the community. Get to know Julie Ficarra and Heidi Mouillesseaux-Kunzman, who head the engaged learning opportunities for GDEV students (both of their offices are in the Student Hub!).
9. Visit the Student Hub often.
One of my saving graces as a first year in the major was studying and relaxing in the Global Development Student Hub, located at B75 of Mann Library (See what it looks like in this CALS reel!). Working collaboratively with my classmates, checking in with my professors, and grabbing a free cup of coffee on busy days helped make adjusting to Cornell a little bit easier. :)
10. Stay connected with your peer mentor.
Every Global Development undergrad is assigned a peer mentor for the first semester of their first year. When I was a freshman, I felt embarrassed or weird reaching out to an older student, and I wish I had because they may have been able to warn me against the ridiculously hard Chemistry class I signed up for. Reach out to your mentor! They want to help you and can provide better insight about classes, the social scene, and any other Cornell Global Development question you may be wondering about!
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