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New alumni speakers series taps faculty already 'on the road'

Cornell alumni can once again listen to lectures by distinguished faculty members without coming to campus or paying tuition.

How? Cornell on the Road, a speakers series that takes advantage of the travels of faculty members.

"We know faculty members travel all the time. They attend conferences, there's personal travel, seminars at other universities," explains Kelly Speiser, assistant director of Cornell on the Road. "A big part of what I do is to find faculty members who already have travel plans and build an event around that."

The new series replaces the Cornell Alumni Federation Speakers Series, which recruited faculty who were willing to travel specifically for alumni club events. Because it piggybacks on existing travel plans, the new approach is "more strategic and is a better use of resources," says Speiser.

Carol Kammen

During a Jan. 26 Cornell on the Road event in New York City, Cornell historian Carol Kammen discusses how blacks and Jews were simultaneously "part and apart" of the Cornell student body.

"The benefit of this approach is that we're doing events with our best faculty where we have the most alumni and featuring a wide array of topics that will attract diverse alumni audiences," says Speiser.

For example, she says, nationally acclaimed deception expert Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication, was scheduled to attend a conference in Boston in late February. He agreed to give a talk -- "Digital Deception: The Brand New World of Lying" -- for the Boston alumni club during his visit. Hancock, who was also a regular presenter for the previous alumni speakers series, says he loves participating in Cornell on the Road.

"I get to connect with people who are really interested in science and they love Cornell," says Hancock. "I see students all the time, and by going out and seeing alumni I get to see who they ultimately will become."

Todd Wolleman '80 believes the speakers series reconnects alumni with what "brought [them] to Ithaca in the first place."

"I feel the common denominator for all Cornellians is a love of learning," says Wolleman. "The foundation that we set in Ithaca needs to be maintained, and Cornell on the Road is a great way to do it."

Events in the revamped series have included:

  • "Part and Apart: Black and Jewish Students at Cornell, 1869-1969," by University Archivist Elaine Engst and Tompkins County Historian Carol Kammen (New York City);
  • "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," by Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and director of the Food and Brand Laboratory (NYC, Westchester County, N.Y., and Anaheim, Calif.);
  • "Why Darwin Still Matters" with Warren Allmon, the Hunter R. Rawlings III Professor of Paleontology (Buffalo);
  • "Build It Green -- Green Composites and the Future of Industrial Design" with Anil Netravali, professor of fiber science and materials design (San Francisco); and
  • "Bailing Out the Roman Empire," with Kim Bowes, assistant professor of classics (NYC).

In addition to New York City, Boston and the cities listed above, Cornell on the Road events have been held with alumni groups in Chicago, Seattle and even Tokyo. Plans are in the works for events in Atlanta and Singapore, says Speiser.

"The best part of doing this is when alumni leave an event and you hear them saying it's one of the best Cornell events they've ever been to," says Speiser.

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