DEBBI ADELMAN: Deborah Gerard Adelman, class of 1971, and I also have a master's from '74, the College of Human Ecology, and I was a nutrition major.
SPEAKER: Excellent. And you're from New York City, or the downstate, certainly, as they like to say up there. And how did you happen to choose Cornell?
DEBBI ADELMAN: Well, at the time that I was applying for college, and having two children who had been through the process, I don't remember the process being quite as a big process as it has become. But at the time, finances were certainly a concern, and state schools, if you were a New York state resident, provided an incredible opportunity at a very good price.
So I think in looking around, it was staying in New York. It was looking at largely state schools. Cornell was, I think, the top school on my list from an academic perspective. And at that time, applying to one of the state schools seemed like the obvious choice for me. Again, I think finance and what my parents could afford was uppermost in my mind. So perhaps that was more of the emphasis, as opposed to the quality of education, which clearly was there. But maybe it became the extra benefit.
It certainly was a bit of an adjustment. I grew up mostly on Long Island, so I was used to being in a metropolitan area, but probably didn't suffer from the anxiety of growing up in a real city, real urban environment. But it certainly seemed far away from things and it seemed isolated, in a lot of ways. So I think that took a little bit of getting used to.
On the other hand, I think I found that it became an all-inclusive place. It had everything that you needed. It had the academics. It had the culture. It had music. It had everything you would have wanted, so it seemed to be very self-contained. So in that way, after a while, I think you kind of realize, you're not really missing anything.
When you came to Cornell when I came to Cornell in the late '60s-- and I was there for the Straight takeover. I was there during the Vietnam War. I was there during Cornell and other universities student activism. It's hard not to have that overshadow a lot of things that happened at Cornell because it was really multiple years of experience for us as students.
And I look at the years that I was at Cornell as perhaps one of the most transitional periods of time. When I came to Cornell, as a freshman, we had all-women dorms and we had curfews. By the time I left Cornell, we had no curfews, and the dorms were starting to become mixed. So to me, there was an enormous things going on there in those four years that were, perhaps, greater change than I think Cornell had seen in the hundred years before that.
So I guess for me, it was shaped all around a lot of student activism and things that were going on. The academics were very important, and I'd say in the first two years I was there, it was overwhelmingly important. It quite honestly got overshadowed in my last two undergraduate years because of the events of the world really becoming a part of the Cornell experience, which perhaps, it hadn't been as true. It was probably far above and far away, and became a lot closer to world events at the time that I was there.
I'm definitely one that fell in the drift away. I was fairly engaged in the university at the student level, both in my dorm and being involved in programming in my dorm and in the student union. But when I left Cornell, I guess I became very focused on my career and very focused on what I wanted to do. And frankly, it was involvement, or being asked to join PCCW, that really re-engaged me in Cornell.
I think I made some modest financial contributions to the university as an alum, but I didn't stay terribly engaged in alumni activities until that time. Well, since I joined PCCW, it really reminded me about all the things that I loved about Cornell, and it reminded me, as an alum, of in a sense, the responsibilities that I have to the university because so much of what I became and success in my career certainly was attributed to the experience that I had at Cornell and the education that I had at Cornell.
So PCCW gave me that opportunity to meet some incredible women, wonderfully accomplished women, and again, reminded me of the importance of my Cornell education. It also allowed me to become more engaged in an organization, and ultimately, I became chair of the organization, which was a profoundly exciting, humbling, and honored experience to have, to be given the opportunity to lead that group for a period of time.
But it also gave me a lot more interest in my college and I became much more involved in the College of Human Ecology. Eventually, I became a member of the board of the Human Ecology Alumni Association. Also became president of that organization for two years. And just this past year, Dean Alan Mathios asked me to chair the Human Ecology Advisory Council. So I really have to say that PCCW was kind of the starting point of that-- the trigger, so to speak-- for my re-engagement with Cornell.
I always sort of thought that perhaps the fact that Cornell was isolated, was kind of away from a city environment or something-- its purported reputation is perhaps being the easier Ivy to get into, although the statistics would say that, in the last year or two, that that is no longer the case. I don't think that I could get into Cornell today I had to do it all over again.
I think we always tried harder. You know that old Avis commercial. I think that Cornell always felt that it had something to prove. And I think we, as Cornelians, always felt that we had something to prove. And I say that in a nice sort of way, because the experience there, the academics, the faculty, everything there is top rate.
I think sometimes, we feel that the experience of being in Ithaca, New York, somehow made that less than a great experience or less important than perhaps a Harvard or Yale. So I think our personality was almost this, we try harder. And I think in that way, we maybe succeed more. And while I'm sure alumni in many other universities are very supportive and very engaged, particularly with students and really mentoring and doing all those things, I think the Cornell network is something unique and is part of the personality of Cornell, of alums who feel so strongly and so passionately about what the university has done for them.
I find that pride is not completely unique, but I think in many ways, it is unique and part of our personality that we really, really want to do more for all those who engage in the Cornell experience.
Well, and I don't want to say PCCW is the only aspect of this. But I think the idea that women before me, and many accomplished women before me, in engaging the university, engaging Frank Rhodes, and looking at an organization that would really work with the university to keep a focus on issues that were important to women, I think that's a somewhat unique thing that Cornell has provided.
During the time that I was chair, I had the opportunity to meet with a similar organization of women. And one of the things I was struck by it was that the membership in that organization was directly related to the financial contributions that you made to the university. And I, by no means, suggest that that's an unimportant thing.
What I find, though, about PCCW, while financial involvement, I think we've learned as an organization, is very important, I think we're unique in that we really are looking at our women alums as a group of mentors for students, engaging with the faculty, supporting the faculty in grants. It's so much more than just a checkbook to the university, but really supporting the issues that are important.
And I think that makes Cornell unique in that sense, is that they put their money where their mouth is, in so far as they're not just talking the talk. They're trying to walk the walk, so to speak. And that's not to say that we don't have a ways to go and that the university hasn't necessarily always succeeded where I think we, as women, would like it to.
I think the fact that we've engaged in a group, and listened to a group, and allowed a diverse point of view to be heard, I think that does make Cornell perhaps a little bit unique, and important for the women who come after us-- students as well as faculty.
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PCCW member Debbi Adelman '71 & '74 reflects on how she chose Cornell, her memories of the university, and how Cornell has shaped her life both personally and professionally.
The President's Council of Cornell Women is a group of highly accomplished alumnae working to enhance the involvement of women students, faculty, staff, and alumnae as leaders within Cornell University and its many communities.