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Natalie Domeisen
College of Human Ecology

Class of 2015

For the past several years, Natalie Domeisen ’15 has had her mind set on three things: serving others, working hard, and swimming fast—really fast. A sprinter for Cornell’s varsity women’s swim team, Domeisen is an exceptional student-athlete whose list of accomplishments is both extensive and admirable.

Although Domeisen sprints while she’s in the pool, her path to success has been more of a marathon. Since she was in high school, Domeisen has kept a steady pace, continually balancing academics, personal development, and community service.

With her eye on the prize, a fulfilling career in medicine, Domeisen chose to follow a pre-med course for her studies and major in human biology, health, and society.

“For my entire life I have wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be in a profession that’s truly hands-on, and for me, being a physician is as hands-on as you can get in terms of intervention.”

Domeisen likely will be an incredible doctor for a number of reasons, but two traits—her kind, patient spirit and willingness to help others—stand out as crucial assets in today’s healthcare setting.

Swim for a challenge, swim for a cause

Not only was Domeisen an award-winning swimmer, but she also used the sport to connect with others when she wasn’t in a competitive setting. She is a strong advocate for hydrotherapy. While in high school, Domeisen volunteered with The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh and worked with toddlers and infants in water rehabilitation.

“I got to see what being in the water did for them emotionally and physically. Being in the water is a freeing experience, and I think people shy away from it when they have injuries,” she says. “But it’s amazing what you can accomplish in a low-impact environment with free range of mobility. And it’s something you can do at any age.”

Swimming also afforded Domeisen the opportunity to give back to her local community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2009, she began working toward a Congressional Gold Medal for Youth Award, which requires a minimum of 400 hours of public service. She chose to complete a large portion of the required hours by dedicating herself to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, an organization close to her heart.

As part of serving the MS Association, Domeisen organized several swim-a-thon events to raise money and awareness. The individual and team-based events raised money that went toward purchasing wheelchairs and personal cooling suits for MS patients in her hometown.

“I have been on a swim team since I was seven years old and thought that combining my skills and interests with this kind of philanthropic venture could work well,” she says. “It seemed like a perfect fit.” 

Improving self and society

As she finished high school and began her Cornell career, Domeisen continued to document progress for the Congressional Gold Medal by setting and achieving goals: 200 hours of personal development, which included memorizing piano solos; 200 hours of physical fitness that won her several swimming titles; and four consecutive nights of exploration, during which she hiked part of the Laurel Mountain Highlands in Western Pennsylvania.

For her work Domeisen was officially awarded the Congressional Gold Medal Award, Congress's highest honor for youth in the United States, in Washington, D.C. in June 2013.

Even though Domeisen is no longer prompted to donate her time to public service as part of an award application, she still contributes numerous hours to the causes she’s passionate about. For example, Domeisen volunteers once a week at the Bright Horizons Cornell Child Care Center as part of the Big Red Buddies Program, where she works with three-year-olds.

Domeisen has also volunteered with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for the last two summers. In the summer of 2013, she worked specifically with the Patient and Family Centered Care Innovations Center. Domeisen shadowed patients and then shared what she observed with physicians, offering suggestions on how to improve the patient experience. Domeisen says she likes this bottom-up approach and hopes to intern at the same place next summer.

For the future

Domeisen will be a senior Cornellian next year. Her main goal is to get accepted into medical school. She also plans to continue to volunteer in the Ithaca area and excel on the swim team. The experiences Domeisen has had on Cornell’s swim team will likely stay with her for many years.

“I love the sport,” she says. “Swimming fast is fun, competing is fun, but it’s that team camaraderie that means the most. It’s not replaceable.”

In the long term, Domeisen wants to focus on children’s health and development.

“I think the tremendous capabilities of children are very often underestimated and misunderstood,” she says. “Infants and young children need more advocates who understand what they are capable of. I want to help children develop their abilities in important ways because I know they are important themselves.”

Domeisen’s ultimate career goal is to become a neonatal surgeon. It’s another example of how she will continue to use her time and talent to help (even the youngest) citizens of the world.

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