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Jessica Mandel

Meet Jessica Mandel

Hometown: Bayside, NY
College: Human Ecology
Major: Human Development
Year: 2024

“There's no prescriptive way of going through college. And we're all kind of sold this idea that we need to check all these boxes to feel accomplished. But after spending a summer here in Ithaca, I realized that I didn't need to check all of those boxes. I'm much happier figuring out how to forge my own path. I think there's enough to do here that your experience can be very individualized. And I think I'm more satisfied with my experience getting to do things that I want and less of what I think that I should do.”

Jessica Mandel (HE, Human Development) is a junior Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholar (RCPRS) who has done well to create valuable experiences and happy memories during her time at Cornell. In addition to being selected as a Rawlings Scholar, Jessica’s decision to come to Cornell was based on her interests in neuroscience and music, and she felt that the campus was an environment that would provide her with plenty of resources and opportunities. When she’s not working in a lab or playing music with the Cornell Symphony Orchestra, Jessica serves on the executive board of the Global Tea Club as an outreach chair. She is a peer mentor for EARS, a resident advisor for Mews and Loving House, and she has worked as a nursing assistant at Cayuga Medical Center. She shared that her involvement doesn’t feel like “work”, as she has developed close relationships with her Principal Investigator (PI) and graduate students, adding that they have become to be more like a family. “We have community dinners, and we have talks on subjects like how to apply to internships. I feel like my PI and the grad students take a lot of actions to foster a sense of community so that it feels less like work and more like helping us to collectively grow.”

As a Rawlings Scholar, Jessica truly embodies the program’s mission of research and discovery. She was able to engage in research under a faculty mentor by the spring semester of her freshman year. She also appreciates the sense of communal support that RCPRS provides. She mentioned that by networking with other RCPRS students, it has opened her mind to the possibilities of research and what that looks like across a variety of disciplines, admitting that research doesn’t have to be considered something that is cold or clinical in nature. “There are so many ways to look at research and I've really appreciated that community because, I think when I came to college, I associated research to being in an isolated lab environment. So being a part of Rawlings made me think about the people that are involved in the ‘behind the scenes’ of research, and not just the end-product of what they are working on.”

Jessica is rather intentional about maintaining a healthy balance of work, school, and social activities, which seems to have added value to her time at Cornell. She recognized early into her Cornell career that it was important for her to not wait for experiences to happen to her, she had to make them happen. She talked about making the decision to change labs and how it was a scary moment because of the work that she had invested in, but the transition to a new lab would broaden her research skills and abilities. Based on this experience, Jessica advises that when it comes down to clubs or other activities, underclassmen should consider what limited time they have as Cornell students and to be deliberate about what they want to do, rather than think about the things they should do.

From playing in the symphony, to conducting lab research and still finding time to engage in club activities, Jessica has made lasting memories for herself and continues to seek opportunities for personal growth. Her positive attitude is infectious which has helped her to foster many rich, deep connections and communities on campus, resulting in an incredible appreciation for Cornell and Ithaca!