Certificate program bolsters NYS public health workforce

Gen Meredith, center, associate director of the Cornell Public Health Program, works with colleagues Zoe Wakoff, right, and Katie Lesser, left, in Schurman Hall.
Gen Meredith, center, associate director of the Cornell Public Health Program, works with colleagues Zoe Wakoff, right, and Katie Lesser, left, in Schurman Hall.

As a registered nurse and director of patient services for the Chautauqua County Health Department in western New York, Wendy Douglas conducted case investigations and monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience laid bare the disparities public health departments are designed to address but not all workers are equipped to encounter.

“Very few of our health department’s employees have any public health background when they start working here, and it sometimes shows,” Douglas said. “For example, there can be a lack of understanding of health equity.”

The issue is nationwide in scale. On-the-job experience is the only source of public health training for most professionals in governmental agencies. Only 14% of those workers have received formal higher education in the field. To close the skills gap that is, in part, responsible for the profession’s decadeslong workforce decline, a team of Cornell faculty members and researchers – led by Gen Meredith, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Public and Ecosystem Health – partnered with eCornell to launch the university’s Public Health Essentials online certificate program.

Read more on the Chronicle.

eCornell joins the Guild & Team USA Learning Network to support athletes

Laptop user sitting in hammock on the beach

By Molly Israel

Through the Guild and Team USA Learning Network, eCornell will be the preferred provider of professional education for Team USA over the next five years. The collaboration is designed to connect Team USA athletes—including Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls—with eCornell’s professional certificate programs that can help them build new skills off the field and propel their careers beyond athletics.

eCornell’s flexible, online certificate programs are uniquely suited to support Team USA athletes. 43% of Team USA athletes report working full or part-time jobs while training and the average age at which a Team USA athlete ends their Olympic or Paralympic career is 28.

“eCornell is proud to collaborate with Guild to support Team USA athletes,” said Paul Krause, vice provost of external education and executive director of eCornell. “Our professional certificate programs blend Cornell’s impactful education with online flexibility, empowering athletes to forge new career paths and transition seamlessly to what’s next.”

Read more on the Cornell Chronicle.

Is It Time to Return to the Office?

Many Americans favor the flexibility that comes with working from home, a sentiment captured in recent surveys showing that more than two-thirds prefer remote work options, and nearly a third would willingly accept a lower salary to maintain this work style.

While introducing remote work or hybrid models can meet employee desires for greater autonomy, it raises concerns of potential disconnect, reduced team synergy and decreased retention rates. Employers are faced with the challenge of evolving a work environment that respects individual preferences and maintains the integrity and collaborative spirit of a cohesive workforce. Finding a balance is critical.

In a recent Keynote webcast, “Work from Wherever,” Nick Fabrizio, a distinguished senior lecturer at Cornell’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, shared his views on the return-to-office debate and key perspectives of both employees and employers.

What are the main causes for dissatisfaction among remote employees?

Fabrizio: “In a new Gallup survey, it’s stated that only 28% of workers feel connected with the organization and that is at an all-time low. Last year it was 32%. You would think that with a variety of different work arrangements, people would be really satisfied. But in terms of being connected with the organization, it’s not there. And that should be alarming to organizations.

People complain that they don’t really know what’s going on in the company. They know what’s going on with their projects and their responsibilities, but they often feel they are losing connection to the whole organization.”

Why do companies want employees back in the office?

Fabrizio: “There are a few things that are complicating this. One is the feeling of disconnectedness at work, one is retention and another one is losing bright young workers because there is no process for them to be evaluated, connected and advanced in the organization. Organizations feel like they can’t create those opportunities being disconnected.

A lot of these organizations now are paying a lot of money in real estate for empty offices. That can’t continue. Some industries are going to force people back because of that. While others are going to force workers back because they are working on recruitment and retention, and others will force people back because they have a hybrid arrangement strategy.”

How can remote leadership be practiced in virtual work environments?

Fabrizio: “As an organization, what you want to create is touchpoints. Managers must deliberately try to create connections so that remote workers can make connections with other people in the organization.

There are five or six different modes for us to communicate, and some workers are saying they feel overwhelmed by that. Organizations should pick one method and do that. It’s very hard even for the worker then to realize and look at a Teams meeting at 3 p.m., [a client Zoom meeting] at 2 p.m., something else happening at 4 p.m., so they start to feel disconnected because there’s so many different mediums to keep track of.”

How can employers encourage productivity among remote employees?

Fabrizio: “Certainly not more forced interactions, but I think it’s the employee’s responsibility to be deliberate about keeping track of what they’ve accomplished. Sort of your value to the organization. It’s like a personal self-inventory of what you have accomplished, what you feel like you mean to the organization, how the organization is a benefit to you.”

Which work arrangement will become the new standard in the future?

Fabrizio: “I’m very effective working at home. Now, [I’m] hybrid, so I have that client-facing part of my work, but when I come back to the home office, I’m very productive.”

I think we’re going to quickly go to a hybrid scenario where better-performing organizations will have to define what their work arrangements are for different business units within the organization. I think organizations will have to do a better job of defining within the same organization what roles [will] be five days a week in office, two or three days in office and what roles are going to be completely remote.”

​​Discover how Cornell’s remote leadership and hybrid work strategy online certificate programs can make you a better manager and equip you with the competitive advantage needed in today’s evolving world of work.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Experience the full Keynote “Work from Wherever” online.

The Age of the Mompreneur: Empowering Working Mothers

Modern societal shifts and emerging trends in the startup ecosystem present new challenges and opportunities for women, particularly for mompreneurs – those juggling the responsibilities of motherhood and entrepreneurship. The success of early-stage enterprises founded and led by women depends greatly on dismantling systemic barriers, including the uneven distribution of venture capital.

In the recent Keynote webcast “The Boss of Me: Entrepreneurship and Motherhood,” Andrea Ippolito – CEO of SimpliFed, director of Women Entrepreneurs Cornell, and lecturer in the university’s engineering management program – shared her experiences as a mother and businesswoman, delivering compelling insights into what it takes for women to thrive as working mothers in today’s competitive, fast-paced labor market. 

How has the landscape of entrepreneurship changed for mompreneurs, particularly during and after the COVID-19 pandemic?

“What happened is that by forcing us to be at home, we showed folks that we can be effective and efficient, despite what some CEOs are saying. We actually saw an increase of women starting companies. When you look at 2019 compared to 2021, in 2019, there were a whole lot less women starting companies, 28%. Whereas during the pandemic, 49% of new companies were started by women. It was a much more flexible work environment.

Before the pandemic, it was all about meeting in person or working through stakeholder meetings in person. My journey looked a lot different than someone that was in their 20s, pre-kids, that could hustle 24/7. And don’t get me wrong, I hustle 24/7. My effectiveness and efficiency of working has always been pretty “right on” with having kids. But the time horizon has taken me a little longer.”

What are some of the largest hurdles working mothers encounter when trying to found a startup, and how does societal infrastructure play a part in this?

“The infrastructure is not in place to help support [founders], especially parents, whether that’s paid parental leave, universal child care support. There are so many things that we need to do as a society to better support entrepreneurs getting their organizations off the ground.

Startups founded by women are more profitable, and they exit faster. If you are an investor, it’s in your best performance interest for your fund to invest in women. If we want to have a more profitable economy, and we know that startups are the engine for that, then we need more folks participating. And the biggest pool of people we’re not taking advantage of right now is women. We need to rethink the structures to help support them.”

What are your secrets to striking a healthy work-life balance that comes with being a businesswoman and a mother?

“One of the things we see often is, especially for women that are parents, is they feel like they have to hide different parts of their life. For me, I have a five-year-old. I have a two-year-old and a T-minus five-week-old. And I don’t try to hide it. There are times where, yes, I don’t want them around because I want to focus 100%. But I also don’t try to hide it.

There’s this big misconception that people are taking off in the middle of the workday, and they’re not focused. The reality is that by giving folks a more flexible schedule, you actually get more out of them. They value their work. They’re aligned with your mission. But you’re also respecting them as a human being as well.”

Can you share your insights on the bias in investment toward women-led startups? How does this coincide with major life events like motherhood?

“We know that women [are] seen as less investable. There are tremendous biases out there, no doubt. And the research has shown that. One of the things that I feel very strongly about is that by the time a woman gets enough experience, expertise, and confidence, it’s around the same time that she’s having kids. One of the challenges is how do you start a company when you have this crazy unpredictable life of being a parent.

Venture capitalists have to raise money from somewhere. They have to raise money from what are called limited partners, or LPs. And those limited partners are pension funds, college endowments, sovereign wealth. And so we need folks like limited partners, like college endowments, to actually invest more in women-led funds.”

How can businesses better support working mothers, particularly with regards to incorporating child care into their business models?

“I think more and more, we need to have universal child care as a federally-funded entity. The companies that find ways to support child care or maybe fund it as a benefit will do better. And so I think there’s a responsibility of larger organizations to have this as a benefit. And then for, say, small businesses where they don’t have, frankly, those types of funds or resources, I do think [we need] a government federal response. It’s good for our economy. It pays for itself. It creates an engine in our economy.”

In a rapidly evolving entrepreneurial world, businesswomen are breaking down barriers, mastering the juggling act of work-life integration, and shaping business models to include family needs. Learn how to navigate a tech career as a woman leader in Cornell’s Women in Product certificate program, designed by Andrea Ippolito or gain a better understanding of funding models in Cornell’s Startup Funding and Finance certificate.

Navigating the Future of Hospitality Management

Labor market shifts and workforce issues continue to challenge the hospitality industry due to the lingering effects of global travel restrictions and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. With decreased interest in hospitality jobs, many people exited the industry, creating a need for new talent and a push to bring back those who left. The profitability of travel and tourism businesses relies on how well hospitality leaders can address these issues.

In the Keynote webcast, “The Next 100 Years: Hospitality Workforce of Tomorrow,” industry experts J.D. Barnes, vice president of global workforce innovation and optimization at Hilton, and Katherine Grass, CEO of Optii, joined Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration faculty J. Bruce Tracey, professor of management; Vincent Slaugh, assistant professor of operations management and Tashlin Lakhani, assistant professor of management and organizations, to share valuable insights on adapting and thriving in the evolving landscape of human resources in the hospitality industry.

How have pandemic-induced labor market shifts transformed the landscape of HR in hospitality? 

Barnes: “The emerging trends around greater flexibility, the reset from the pandemic, the rise of the gig economy – all of these considerations are things that are now impacting the labor market. At Hilton, we’re keen on embedding greater flexibility, choice and control, bringing in the best talent and modernizing some of the roles and assignments within our hotels to make them more appealing to different generations.”

Grass: “It’s all about how to keep these new entrants into hospitality happy. How do you train them? How do you make things very easy for them? How do you engage in ways that maybe, as J.D. was saying, they were used to in other industries and offering that flexibility. And sometimes the challenge of hospitality is offering flexibility in new ways because you don’t always have that work-from-home option.”

What are some ways hospitality HR professionals can attract and retain talent?

Barnes: “We have an ability to bring in students who might not have traditionally looked at our employment because they can’t give up an eight-hour shift when they’re working in between classes or managing a workload. For them what’s important is a four, five, six-hour shift, which is why they may have looked at gig endeavors. And then similarly, (we have) encore retirees and people who have left the workforce but want some level of flexibility in between their retirement to pick up a different level of work.”

Lakhani:We really need to focus I think on the retention and the growth opportunities, telling the stories but also creating the stories, showing them that there are opportunities for growth and that they can see their colleague being promoted to positions, and that there is really a space for them to grow and have a lifelong career.”

Grass: “There’s all these different (talent) pools coming in who maybe are not familiar with hospitality, so how can you embrace them, how can you help them, how can you train them and bring them into the culture as quickly as possible?”

Which positions are first in line when it comes to redesigning work?

Barnes: “I do think that housekeeping, in particular, is one of the biggest areas in our hotels from a staffing perspective. If you look at the contribution that those team members make in terms of the guest experience and the amount of time they take in preparing a room, that experience is important.”

Lakhani: “Some of the most severe labor shortages are in housekeeping or in the back of the house – where we can’t create hybrid work.”

Barnes: “The more information we can gather ahead of the arrival of the customer, the more we can infuse that into the actions that our team members take in delivering that service and experience. Technology is playing a big part in making sure that it’s seamless, that it’s fast, and that the preferences are known.”

What are the influences of AI and other technologies on hospitality management?

Barnes: “We’ve incorporated AI from a training perspective in our ability to use virtual reality in helping team members understand what their duties are, how to personalize services, the sequence of steps and things like that. It’s really interesting for us to think about how we’ve morphed training across some of our hotels.”

Slaugh: “I think we completely miss frontline service work as a domain for analytics. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth. In recent years, I’ve worked on a hotel’s housekeeping scheduling problem. And that’s just a new model for our field.”

Barnes: “Things like text messaging recruiting. A lot of this AI technology is coming in here. Being able to schedule a candidate and say, hey, come in three days. We’ll be able to interview you in person. We’ve got to modernize a lot of that approach to recruiting.”

Grass: “Just even the diversity on the language front when you are managing departments: There can be a dozen languages spoken, so how does your software in real time translate conversations for them? We ensure that we do inline and real-time translations so that if a team leader is communicating something in Spanish, everyone is receiving that in their (preferred) language. All those communications are happening in real time. It’s giving that sense of community and ensuring that everyone has a voice and can make that voice be completely understood.”

How can leaders in hospitality increase the industry’s appeal?

Lakhani: “We’ve seen innovation. We’ve seen compensation go up. But I think there’s still work to be done in terms of changing the perception of what it means to work in hospitality.”

Grass: “When you have this personal connection and personal interaction, (you ask) how can the technologies help me eliminate or simplify the rinse-and-repeat that gets a bit monotonous, especially for people who are new to an industry and step in and say, ‘Oh, this is really kind of same-old, same-old every day.’ How can you smarten up and remove that monotonous bit to allow people to have more quality time to interact with the guest in better ways?”

Barnes: “The greater desire is for us to continue to emphasize that life doesn’t have to fit into work, that work should fit into your life. And so enabling that functionality, enabling that choice and control for our team members across all our hotels. It’s also the flexibility of allowing that choice and control for the team member and for them to inform us about what works for them.”

Explore Cornell’s hospitality certificate programs to gain an edge in today’s transforming industry and prepare for the workforce of tomorrow.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Experience the full webcast “The Next 100 Years: Hospitality Workforce of Tomorrow” here.

Pre-college big data certificate offered free to Cornell community

Close-up of hands typing on a laptop

A new pre-college certificate program designed to help high school students develop data analysis skills complementary to a wide range of academic and professional fields will be offered at no cost to the children of Cornell faculty and staff and underserved students nominated by local high schools and other partners.

“Big Data for Big Policy Problems,” offered by eCornell in collaboration with Cornell’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and the School of Continuing Education, is a rigorous, non-credit version of the course offered to Cornell students.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle.

Nolan School graduate champions global social change

Brian Kaufman, ’08, leads asset management for the U.S. hospitality portfolio of Blackstone Real Estate – the world’s largest owner of commercial real estate. A graduate of the Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration, his time in the program prepared him not only to manage this enormous portfolio, but to strengthen the underlying assets through strong operational interventions. A recent example: last December, Kaufman received the Peter G. Peterson Award ‒named for one of the firm’s co-founders and given to just one of the company’s more than 4,000 employees each year ‒ in recognition of his efforts to drive progress on Blackstone’s goal of 2,000 refugee hires across its global portfolio companies and real estate properties.

“At Blackstone, we build diverse teams because we believe they make stronger companies,” said Kaufman. “We want to use our resources and scale to provide new opportunities to thousands of courageous refugees around the world. I’m honored to be on the team leading this initiative.”

At the time Blackstone announced its refugee hiring commitment, Kathleen McCarthy, Global Co-Head of Blackstone Real Estate, said, “Blackstone’s advantage lies in our deeply integrated approach to building resilient companies and properties, and doing so at scale. Today’s commitment to 2,000 refugee hires across our portfolio reflects tremendous focus on this effort from our team and allows our portfolio companies and real estate properties to welcome a powerful spectrum of backgrounds, identities and experiences.”

Blackstone is no stranger to setting and hitting ambitious targets. Their refugee hiring target builds on the success of both their Veterans Hiring Initiative ‒ which hired more than 100,000 US veteran, veteran spouses and caregivers across Blackstone’s portfolio ‒ and their signature Career Pathways program, which aims to recruit, retain and advance diverse and historically underrepresented talent at Blackstone portfolio companies.

Cornell has also benefited from Kaufman’s commitment to social change. In addition to serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board at the Nolan School and the Advisory Board of the Nolan Center for Real Estate and Finance (CREF), he helped establish eCornell’s social impact program for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Supported by Blackstone and CREF, directed by Nolan School Professor Steve Carvell and authored by Nolan School faculty, the program has awarded more than 100 students from eight institutions eCornell’s Commercial Real Estate certificate. It gives students the guidance and tools to manage project planning, investment and financing decisions, real estate assets and more.

Spelman College alumna Amanda Kelley, now an analyst for JPMorgan Chase & Co., says the program helped launch her career and empowered her to negotiate a higher salary.

“I am grateful to have learned so much at such an early stage of my career,” Kelley said. “The program not only educated me on commercial real estate topics but allowed me to secure a salary commensurate with my worth.”

Laterrance Jackson, a Morehouse College senior and U.S. Navy veteran, earned the certificate in 2022. “The program gave me invaluable insight and real-world exposure to the field,” he said.

Significant as his impact at Cornell has been, Kaufman continually seeks out opportunities to make a difference beyond his alma mater and his workplace. He is a Board and Executive Committee member of the Altneu Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which helped relocate Ukrainian refugees and recently donated an ambulance to United Hatzalah, a volunteer Emergency Medical Service organization that provides free emergency medical first response throughout Israel.

Kaufman says he is humbled by the progress and impact of the programs at Cornell – and the support he has received along the way.

“The hotel business is a people business; it’s people serving people. There are no barriers to entry in pursuing acts of kindness or service to others,” he said. “As our school’s founding benefactors said, ‘Life is Service’. It is through service that our industry can be a leader of global social change.”

 

Joanne Troutman is director for social impact programs at eCornell.

4 ESG Strategies for Corporate Sustainable Development and Omnichannel Success

Corporations play a significant role in improving global sustainability through their supply chain, production and management choices. While the careful development of eco-friendly products and services is essential, business leaders must not forget about their customers in the process. Omnichannel strategies can raise awareness of sustainable options and innovations that meet consumers where they are.

In the recent webcast, “Omnichannel Meets Sustainability: Strategies for Incorporating Sustainability Into Omnichannel Business Models,” industry leaders joined Dan Hooker, director of Cornell’s Omnichannel Leadership Immersion Program and senior lecturer in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, to share four corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies for achieving sustainable development goals that protect the environment, increase revenue and improve customer loyalty.

1. Adapt to Pandemic-Driven Culture Shifts

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a shift in consumer behavior, pushing businesses to reevaluate their sustainability practices. Consumers are shopping more on phones, choosing delivery instead of in-person grocery shopping and making online orders instead of first checking out products in brick-and-mortar locations. The results are increased demand for goods that require packaging and growth in the delivery industry.

In the new homebody economy, businesses will need to get creative in reducing their environmental footprint and adopting better ESG practices.

“Our packaging commitment is to achieve 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by the end of 2025,” said Janelle Meyers, chief sustainability officer at Kellogg Company. “We have three key approaches: reducing packaging usage across our portfolio by decreasing total packaging weight wherever possible, excluding certain plastic items in packaging materials and redesigning packaging to be more recyclable or compostable, whether it is going into brick-and-mortar stores or if it’s going online.”

2. Gauge Consumer Reluctance

When customers are resistant to eco-friendly alternatives and their higher costs, businesses can increase understanding and adoption of sustainable options through education. Businesses can also emphasize the long-term benefits of environmental action, appealing to consumers’ sense of social and ethical responsibility.

“If you ask our customers if they would value more sustainable recyclable packaging, over 85% would absolutely agree. If you then ask them if they would be willing to pay for it, about 60% would agree,” said Erik Weenink, director of pricing and promotion at Giant Food, an Ahold Delhaize subsidiary. “However, when we give them the choice in the store, less than 20% of our customers will vote with their wallets.”

“At the very individual level, people have to recognize that they’re part of mitigating the impacts of climate change by actually making consumer choices. There’s a lot of opportunity to use the omnichannel approach and meet the person where they are on the educational side of the new innovations out there,” said Devry Vorwerk, founder and CEO of DevryBV Sustainable Strategies.

3. Integrate ESG Practices Companywide – and Industrywide

To genuinely embrace sustainable management, businesses must go beyond communication and escape the perception of greenwashing. ESG practices should be integrated into organizational design, logistics and budgeting.

At Kellogg Company, the sustainability core team is embedded in the supply chain, ethics and compliance organizations, with aligned goals across departments. According to Meyers, the corporation’s custom of a quarterly council enables the coordination of objectives at cross-functional global and regional levels.

Collaboration between various players in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, including retailers and delivery services, is equally important for achieving sustainable development goals. These organizations can create synergies that promote environmentally responsible behaviors. When working with external contractors and vendors, corporations can improve ESG goal compliance through the transparency provided by certifications and demonstrate commitment to sustainability across the entire value chain.

“We can’t do it alone. We want to make sure that we not only say these things and set these goals, but that when we perform and report against them, that it is what we actually do,” Weenink said. “That’s why we work with third parties to provide transparency. It is through partnership that we can achieve that.”

4. Attract Customers with Sustainability Impact Programs

Sustainable practices – and effective communication of their importance – can be a powerful force in attracting eco-conscious consumers. However, corporations can also incentivize customers to choose sustainable options by making them easily accessible, affordable and beneficial. Ahold Delhaize promotes recyclable products as part of its Loop program, in which customers receive reusable containers they can later return for a rebate.

A tangible product is not always necessary to generate the same impact. In partnership with Kennedy Rice, Syngenta and Regrow, Kellogg assists growers in reducing methane production from rice cultivation. Effective marketing of programs like Kellogg’s inGrained initiative can drive consumers to purchase from these brands.

“We hosted over 200 retailtainment events. There was a booth that helps consumers understand the benefits of soil health and how our program is helping improve the soil health in the Louisiana rice program. We’re pretty excited. We just closed that pilot year. We’re looking forward to our second year,” said Meyers.

Corporations can make a significant impact by pursuing ESG efforts that promote responsible consumption and production. In this year’s Omnichannel Leadership Immersion Program at the Cornell Tech campus in New York City, global business leaders will join Cornell faculty experts to discuss best practices for engaging in sustainable development as well as optimizing the customer experience and strengthening operations through technology, data analytics and change management. Apply to participate in the program this June.

Ready to discover the latest sustainability best practices for your business? Learn about Cornell’s certificate programs in sustainable business and corporate sustainability.

eCornell, non-profit partners tackle economic mobility

Inside the bustling Bethel Gospel Assembly and Beth-Hark Christian Counseling Center in Harlem, Minister Lyneese Straws responds to a daily rush of requests from congregants, volunteers and community members. Each person gets her full attention.

She understands that even brief interactions can change lives.

More than a decade ago, Straws transitioned from receiving services from New York-based not-for-profit Dress for Success to volunteering for the organization — just in time for its collaboration with QVC for the first National Makeover Day. As cosmetics entrepreneur Bobbi Brown applied her makeup, Straws shared that she possessed a cosmetology license and education in business: the right foundation for a beauty marketing career.

“It was unbelievable when Bobbi asked, ‘Are you working now?’ I said no,” Straws recalled. “She said, ‘Good. Now you work for me.’”

An interview in the same week secured Straws’ nine years of employment with Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. When the role ended — on the verge of the COVID-19 pandemic — she relied on severance, investments and unemployment payments, and struggled to maintain housing for her family. She returned to volunteering, this time through Bethel Gospel Assembly’s food pantry and soup kitchen at Beth-Hark.

“I’d been volunteering for six months. Beth-Hark’s former operations manager, Kendall Glaspie, under the guidance of Executive Director Michelle P. Robinson, saw leadership skills in me and asked if I wanted to participate in a pilot program with eCornell,” Straws said. “Earlier in the year, I saw an ad for eCornell and I looked at courses, but I didn’t have the funding. When opportunities like that fall in your lap, you know it’s purpose. It’s by design.”

United Way of New York City, a Beth-Hark partner, is one of several organizations participating in eCornell Transform. The new program gives working adults from underserved communities no-cost access to online courses and certificates from Cornell University, powered by eCornell, with the core goal of supporting economic mobility for all.

“The eCornell Transform program is unique because it taps into existing relationships, through our nonprofit partners, to determine a community’s workforce needs and identify adults who could meet those needs with additional training and support,” said Joanne Troutman, director of social impact programs for eCornell. “By extending educational opportunities from Cornell to those who otherwise would not have access, we aim to help individuals upskill and forge career paths that earn a living wage.”

eCornell recently completed its pilot of the Transform program, which ran in partnership with a handful of nonprofit organizations across the country, with a particular focus in New York state. With successful results across the board, eCornell now plans to secure additional partner funding and expand the program to participants in more locations.

Through the Transform program, Straws completed the Cornell project leadership certificate. The program’s six courses and live study group prepare students to influence teams, leverage emotional intelligence, drive project outcomes and foster healthy conflict. Straws’ favorite course, “Leading Project Teams,” offered her a forum of peers to discuss her work experience and ways to apply her new skills.

After completing the project leadership program last fall, she was promoted from volunteer to pantry and soup kitchen manager. In addition to ensuring smooth day-to-day operations for consumers, Straws performs administrative duties related to the center’s grants and food deliveries.

“I learned so much from the leadership certificate with Cornell. It taught me about myself and how to deal with others in team settings,” she said. “I’ve been able to use what I learned in running the pantry, and I manage over 15 volunteers in a week. It’s about getting to know the volunteers and the consumers, calling them by their names, knowing their faces, developing relationships and serving everyone in excellence.”

Earning the project leadership certificate has been vital in helping Straws serve her larger community as well. She employs skills from the program at Bethel Gospel Assembly where she co-directs ministries for adults and teens, during team ministry engagements at Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx and in her own marketing consulting business, Just Jump Brandstorming.

Her next step is to complete studies for a real estate license as she develops plans to create a one-stop-shop transitional housing complex that will also offer makeovers, counseling, pantry services and more.

She also hopes to complete additional certificates through eCornell.

“These are all pieces of a puzzle to make the vision come to fruition. Being a part of the Transform program opened doors for me,” Straws said. “It was invaluable because I was able to apply it to so many areas of my life — in ministry, in helping the community, within myself. In every moment, God allows me to be a part of the bigger picture, which is to help rebuild someone’s life.”

Entrepreneurship program emboldens spice startup founder

For Abena Foli, the farm-to-table lifestyle is a birthright. Each day she uses the knowledge she gained from growing up on her father’s farm in Ghana to enrich her career as a food scientist and regulatory affairs leader.

“Working in the food industry, I get to sit in marketing ideation sessions, and research and development meetings. Whenever we talk about innovation in ingredients or products, West Africa is never mentioned,” said Foli, who now lives in Texas. “There was a lack of West African-originated products on shelves. I wanted to leverage my food science background as well as my West African heritage to solve that problem.”

She decided to start small for maximum impact: “When people are new to cuisines,” she said, “they tend to try seasonings first.”

Foli founded POKS Spices in 2016 to bring flavors from West Africa into American home kitchens. In 2021, she became one of the 60,000 women to participate in the certificate program offered by the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell, which is managed by the Cornell Law School and powered by eCornell.

Funding from Bank of America makes it possible for the students to gain the skills and resources to build a successful venture – and earn a business certificate from the university – at no cost.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle Website.