Class of 2012
When psychology major David Ge ’12 arrived as a first-year student, two things were perfectly clear: he wanted to study the power of the mind, and he wanted to make life-long friends.
In the end, both would be accomplished but not as he had expected.
“I knew I’d set an impossibly high standard,” says Ge, a man whose dark eyes sparkle as he breaks into a grin. “The combination of idealism and optimism is my major flaw and also my strength.”
Pursuit of friends began the minute Ge moved into North Campus. He joined a number of organizations right away, then pledged a fraternity—throwing himself wholeheartedly into what he hoped would be lasting contributions to the house. But Greek life was not the life for him. Much to his dismay, by spring of sophomore year, Ge realized he had neither the friends he longed for nor a solid focus on his studies. Then, inexplicably, he happened upon a book that reminded him of what he already knew but had forgotten: the power of the mind.
“It tapped into my psychological interest and made me believe some parts of my thought processes were under my control, that the way I live each day is a derivative of these thoughts,” Ge recalls. As a result of this insight, he made two choices: to focus on the positive aspects of his life (of which there were many) and improve his flagging grades. Tackling the latter generated curiosity about careers suited to what he calls his altruistic core. What about business or law, perhaps? Then there was medicine, the vocation he’d long been drawn toward but had been avoiding, not wanting to follow the footsteps of his older brother. A summer spent in New York City with the College of Human Ecology’s Urban Semester Program laid these questions to rest.
That summer Ge confirmed his true calling and found both inspiration and evidence of his own capacity for compassionate action. The inspiration came from a physician he shadowed at Woodhull Medical Center, a public hospital in Brooklyn. “This doctor’s bedside manner was so compassionate,” Ge says. “His patients loved him, and he was providing them such wonderful care.”
Ge knew he wanted to fit into this man’s mold and recognized the opportunity to demonstrate compassionate caring himself in his evening volunteer position as liaison in the waiting room of the post-anesthesia care unit at Weill Cornell Medical Center. In this room where families awaited loved-ones’ returns from surgery, anxiety was palpable.
“I just felt for them; I had this inclination to go and sit beside them on the couches and ask them about themselves and how they were doing,” Ge explains. “I learned so much by listening to all these different kinds of people I’d never encountered before. Most of all, I learned that medicine is all about the love of families, not just the patient alone in the bed.”
On their behalf, Ge suggested a new routine to convey to family members an approximate time when they could see their loved one again. He thought families would appreciate having a concrete number and they did, Ge says. “You could see the anxiety melt away. I’d end my shift ecstatic, knowing that by doing such a small thing, I’d made a difference.”
Once he was back on campus, certainty about his future direction—most likely oncology—made coursework more compelling and studying more purposeful. Ge’s grades began to improve. He began thinking about the field of health care—beyond just patient care. As a result, he joined the Sloan Program in Health Administration, believing he could have a more positive impact as a physician if he understood the business imperatives and all the policies and systems surrounding the doctor-patient relationship.
Among Sloan Program students with a similar interest and a “desire to make each other better,” Ge says he unexpectedly found a sense of family: “It’s what I’d been looking for all along.”
Still, he thought, “What if there’s a way to feel more broadly connected to others on campus?” He mulled this question over with his small circle of friends. Then he shared ideas on ways in which to make new friends with students in the North and West Campus dining halls and received useful responses. From those responses a new student organization called Coffee Hour was born. Now each Thursday at 4:30 p.m., free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are served in the Browsing Library at Willard Straight Hall. Anyone can drop by and be introduced to friends of friends.
“Coffee Hour is for that person who doesn’t have a strong social circle yet and needs to be reached out to,” Ge explains. “That happens from social circles talking to other social circles that can then reach that person.”
New guests are Coffee Hour’s top priority. Attendees are a mix of regulars and first timers—about 50 to 70 undergraduates and graduate students from across campus.
“Having this social outlet for students to meet other students is what I wanted to accomplish all along for myself and for others,” Ge says. “It’s very humbling to have had a hand in contributing back to the Cornell experience.”
That impulse runs deep. Ge, the second son of Chinese immigrants, counts himself lucky that his parents left a country with a one-child-per-couple policy.
“If they hadn’t come to the United States, there would be no me,” Ge says. “That idea is always in the back of my mind. It drives my actions to give back to the society where I now live.”