Student life: After class

By Amanda Garris Ph.D. ‘04
periodiCALS, Vol. 6, Issue 2, 2016

Daniel AbaraohaDaniel Abaraoha ‘18

Applied Economics & Management
If you pass Daniel Abaraoha on the Ag Quad and he’s looking down, he’s not downcast—he’s likely studying your footwear. Abaraoha is a shoe-in for most entrepreneurial undergrad. His first line of sneakers, designed from his sketches and manufactured to his specifications, launched this year under the brand Vita Shoes. Nigerian-born and Texas-raised, Abaraoha has been passionate about sneakers for as long as he can remember. By junior high, he was investigating the anatomy of his favorite shoes.

“I started by trying to figure out what was making my sneakers feel so good and what was making my sneakers look the way they look,” Abaraoha explained. “With this first design, I think we’ve got a higher quality, affordable athletic casual shoe.”

Part of what makes these sneakers feel so good to Abaraoha is not only the fit, style and affordability: A portion of the sales from each pair benefits the Austin Street Homeless Shelter in his hometown. In the future, he hopes to expand his philanthropic efforts. And as someone who has successfully launched a business as an undergrad, he has advice for other would-be entrepreneurs.

“Sometimes as young people we fail to do because we think we are not sufficient enough to go forth,” Abaraoha observed. “It is possible to do while you are a student—and it is worth the sleep deprivation. Don’t hold back.”

Erika AxeErika Axe ‘18

Environmental & Sustainability Sciences
In the midst of applying to colleges, Erika Axe was pleasantly surprised by a checkbox on the Cornell form. For ethnicity, mixed race was an option.

“We live in a world where everybody wants categories,” said Axe, whose mother is Japanese and whose father is Caucasian. “And sometimes it’s hard to be the mixed person. Where do I fit in? When I visit Japan, people tell me I’m not Japanese enough to be considered Japanese, but then growing up in New Jersey, I wasn’t considered white.”

Now, as co-president of the group Mixed at Cornell, Axe is working with Katie Dao, Eng. ’17, and others to create a community for students who identify as multiracial, multiethnic or multicultural. It’s a fast-growing demographic, currently 6.9 percent of the adult U.S. population. Axe noted that one of the defining characteristics of their membership is the diversity of their backgrounds and the uniqueness of their experiences. 

“We have a lot of really interesting mixes in the organization. And while it can be so cool to have these very unique parts of you, the more unique you are the harder it is to find people who are exactly like you,” Axe said. “We need to find a place that we belong and show that being biracial can be its own category.” 

Mixed received Cornell’s James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony in March. The funding will support their main events, the biennial Blend Conference and, this fall, their second Cornell Hapa Book of photo booth portraits and reflections on being mixed. 

“The last book was really great, because even people who may not have time to be part of yet another student organization could take time for a picture,” Axe said. “It really showed the wide range of people around campus who are mixed.”

Nicolas GlynosNicolas Glynos ‘18

Plant Sciences
A muddy jungle excursion, data analysis training, ferry boat rides to an island research site, and plant samples stashed in plastic bags for sweltering rides to Panama City by bus. In other words, just a typical week of summer internship for transfer student Nicolas Glynos, pictured far right.

Glynos, who transferred to Cornell in spring semester 2016—or “winter semester” as he quickly learned to call it—followed a path from Americorps to Glacier National Park before enrolling at Flathead Valley Community College in Montana. His appetite for research and love of plant science led him to Cornell, and with one semester under his belt, he earned a coveted spot on a Smithsonian Research Experience for Undergraduates in Panama. There, he studied how heavy-metal toxicity affects rain forest tree growth and reproduction, including biomass, disease symptoms, stress and nutrition. His data was solid enough to be the basis of a soon-to-be submitted publication, and he also garnered lessons in endurance, autonomy and self-reliance. 

“It was really a great learning experience—a full-on 24/7 job but also a really cool cultural experience,” he said. “In the end it was intense. I was commuting with my samples from the greenhouse in Gamboa to the lab in Panama City, three to four hours round trip—and working 12 hours a day in the lab. I had to figure it out and make it happen, and that was a great challenge.”