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.”

Crypto Regulation: Can Securities Laws Keep Pace with Innovation?

Nearly everyone agrees that the crypto asset market needs more robust regulation, but there is much disagreement about what the laws should look like as well as who should be legislating and enforcing them.

One key concern is whether crypto assets are commodities or securities, which raises crucial issues about which governing organization should be responsible for oversight and enforcement. Additionally, laws are struggling to keep pace with technological innovation, thereby increasing the potential for scams, fraud and poor practice.

Charles Whitehead, Myron C. Taylor Alumni Professor of Business Law at Cornell Law School and author of Cornell’s Securities Law certificate, discussed the shifting regulatory environment around crypto and what’s next for the revolutionary technology in a recent webcast, “Crypto Regulation: Can Securities Laws Keep Pace with Innovation?”

In the U.S., there are several regulatory bodies overseeing crypto assets. Does this make sense, and if not, why?

It’s referred to as the regulatory alphabet here in the United States: SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission), CFTC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission), OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). It’s a reflection of the way in which we think historically about how to regulate the industry. The problem is that over time the historical distinctions have fallen away. What may or may not be a banking practice can now pop up in the securities industry. The way we think about regulation and the industry has changed over time, largely reflecting the innovation in the industry itself. Crypto is highlighting a fundamental flaw with the U.S approach to financial regulation, which is that we don’t have a central regulator.

There needs to be a focus on anti-fraud. There needs to be a focus on protecting consumers. The real debate is who is going to do this. I would suggest it’s the SEC.

Why is the SEC uniquely positioned to oversee this?

The SEC is a consumer financial regulator. Their fundamental goal is to protect consumers. They were set up with a view toward protecting retail investors. The regulations that the SEC has for broker dealers, exchanges and people that take custody of these assets were intended to protect investors against the things that you see with FTX: people losing money and the scams that are out there right now. The SEC already has a toolkit, and it makes sense for the SEC to pick this up.

Is crypto more like a currency than a security? It seems like that is how it’s being used or advertised. Why not categorize it that way?

If I were taking crypto and buying a sandwich with it, that would look much more like a currency. That is something that really doesn’t need the protections of the securities laws. To the extent that it’s being used as a way to promote investment, it begins to look a lot more like a security.

Crypto assets are used primarily as speculative investments, which is not in line with the stated vision of most projects out there. How should regulators navigate this?

The whole rationale behind crypto assets was decentralization — a way to create a non-centralized, non-government-controlled medium of exchange across multiple parties. The vision was that it would provide banking attributes without necessarily having a bank, that you’d be able to use crypto assets as a means to support parts of the community that otherwise were not being properly supported by the financial industry. That’s largely not been the case. You can argue that in some cases people pursuing crypto deals are taking advantage of the folks that crypto initially was intended to support.

There will come a time when crypto will begin to look more like a commodity or more like a currency. In that case, the need for regulation drops away. We’re just not there yet. There should be a regulator focused on consumer protection precisely because of the scams.

One of the throughlines here is technological innovation. Law is unable to keep pace, and that creates an environment with increasing potential for fraud like what we saw with Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX.

FTX is a huge blow to the integrity of the industry just because FTX was viewed as the safe place in which you could do trading activity. The other part is it was done offshore in the Bahamas, so it was being done away from the direct regulatory oversight that you might otherwise see. A large part of what was happening there would have been either prohibited or regulated were we to treat these underlying instruments as securities.

You can’t trust the markets to police themselves. This is a common view that the market will police itself, and that if there had been a problem with FTX, it would have been uncovered much earlier because the market or participants in the market would have seen this. In an enthusiastic market like crypto, you don’t see that type of oversight.

As of August 2022, whitehouse.gov. tells us that the estimates of the total global electricity usage for crypto assets are between 120 and 240 billion kilowatt hours per year. Is there any push to regulate this side of things?

There already are rules in place and government groups like the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency that have the ability to step in, look at the issues and potentially regulate the usage of electricity, consistent with their mandate for environmental protection and energy conservation.

I would ask not whether we should look at this but whether we’re being broad enough. If electricity is an issue and energy is an issue for crypto, let’s look at the New York Stock Exchange and stocks and bonds that are trading. I believe there are huge amounts of energy being expended there as well.

Want more? Explore Charles Whitehead’s Securities Law certificate program delivered by eCornell.

This post has been edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from Whitehead in the webcast “Crypto Regulation: Can Securities Laws Keep Pace with Innovation?”

New Sustainable Tourism program charts course for travel’s future

At the intersection of travel and sustainability is sustainable tourism, a response to the growing need for the travel industry to ensure host communities receive socioeconomic benefits and are protected from adverse environmental effects. As business rebounds in the pandemic’s fourth year, tourism professionals are strategizing to reduce the “invisible burden” of tourism and address unprecedented challenges.

The Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Program (STAMP) – part of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business – recently launched Sustainable Tourism Destination Management, a self-paced online course designed to train hospitality and tourism leaders in managing destination assets.

Delivered by eCornell, the course equips professionals working in a wide array of destinations with data-driven methods for measuring the impacts of tourism, managing natural resources, creating climate action plans and tracking economic development goals.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle Website.

New Cornell certificate helps create the ethical data science workplace of the future

We increasingly place our trust in algorithms, whether applying for a mortgage, a new job; or making personal health decisions. But what about the security system that uses facial recognition and locks out a 55-year-old office custodian from her night shift? Or the groups of people automatically cropped out of photos on social media? These are the unintended, and often unfair, consequences of data science tools amplified across millions of users. They’re also highly preventable.

This is the lesson that lawyer and epidemiologist M. Elizabeth Karns embeds in every data science and statistics course she teaches in the Department of Statistics and Data Science. Her students will be deciding how to use data in the future, and while bad decision-making in business isn’t new, Karns says it’s the accelerated and aggregated effect of today’s data science applications that’s so dangerous: individual, team or even a whole company’s worth of decisions, can instantly affect the lives of millions of people. Moreover, the torrent of new technologies is moving faster than our regulatory systems, leaving a gap in accountability. Even data scientists themselves often don’t know exactly what’s happening inside their algorithms.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle website.

NASA engineer is Alabama’s first certified Black woman winemaker

Rada Griffin works long days as a senior software engineer and subject matter expert for NASA, providing support to the project that’s going to put the first woman on the moon in 2024.

“It’s a big responsibility for us to ensure that everything goes perfectly,” she said. “And then, whenever I can find the time, I do my thing with wine.”

Griffin, based in Huntsville, Alabama, juggles three lives in one. On weekdays, she’s a contractor for NASA. On weekends she hosts wine and food pairings – and sometimes flies to Napa Valley, California, to check the progress of her first vintage. In 2019, after honing her wine skills in a series of online classes authored by an instructor in the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration, she launched Anissa Wakefield Wines, becoming the first certified Black woman winemaker in Alabama.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle website.

New Equitable Community Change Certificate Launched

2020 was a year of widespread unrest in the United States, with an estimated 15 to 26 million people protesting income inequality and racial injustice in more than 3,000 distinct locations according to the New York Times. Two years later, faced with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and new national priorities, millions of Americans who participated in demonstrations are wondering: What comes next?

At Cornell University, the ILR School has developed an answer using the expertise of its ILR Buffalo Co-Lab (ILR Buffalo) and community-based think tank Partnership for the Public Good (PPG). In January 2022, ILR Buffalo and PPG launched an online certificate through eCornell entitled Equitable Community Change to provide practical training for individuals working in all sectors of society to build more equitable, just, and sustainable communities.

Read the full story here.

Sustainable Business certificate tackles much more than environmental issues

In recent years, many companies have acknowledged the impact their business has on climate change and other environmental issues. Often, there is the belief that a technical solution will solve the problem, allowing companies to avoid negative consequences in the future. But what’s in the rearview mirror is closer than it appears.

To help managers think more holistically about the social and environmental impacts of their business and take action, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business faculty recently launched an online certificate in Sustainable Business through eCornell.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle website.