MARTHA COULTRAP: I'm Martha Coultrap. I graduated in 1971 from Arts and Sciences and majored in government.
SPEAKER 1: OK, thank you. How is it you happened to choose Cornell for your undergraduate studies?
MARTHA COULTRAP: I chose Cornell. I was from the Midwest. I decided that I wanted to go to an Ivy League school. I wanted the challenge. I wanted the variety of student that was going to attend. And at that time, the only Ivy League school I could apply to was Cornell. But I have to say, my mother had gotten her graduate degree there, and so I was somewhat familiar with it. And I went and saw its beauty and was ready to go.
SPEAKER 1: You have such a nice smile on your face when you talk about Cornell. It makes me wonder if you're recalling some memories of those undergraduate years.
MARTHA COULTRAP: I guess that the smile came when I thought about looking over from the Hill looking down to Cayuga, either now from the art museum or just standing on the Hill looking over to the west. It was a beautiful place, intense, fun. But yes, I have great memories of Cornell.
SPEAKER 1: Anything stand out in your memory of anything special, you know, any event, whether academic or just fun or whatever?
MARTHA COULTRAP: I was at Cornell during difficult times for universities. So I suppose one of the most intense memories would have been the conflicts that arose as a result of the Vietnam War and issues surrounding race at Cornell. I do remember lots of fun and snowball fights and tray sliding.
SPEAKER 1: Coming back to those difficult times, what was that like for you as a student? You must have been 19, 18, 19, 20 years old, and you were a government major. And there was a conflict that was really standing up to the government of the United States. Any thoughts about that?
MARTHA COULTRAP: It was, for someone from a very conservative, traditional background, a very troubling time. I had to rethink a lot of my ideas about the role of citizens, the role of the government, the reason for going to war and not going to war. And so it was a difficult but a-- I was glad that I was there, so could experience the discussions and the-- the whole conversation, at least, was there. And there were lots of points of view to think about, debate, discuss.
SPEAKER 1: Did any of those experiences at Cornell during that difficult time, did that have an impact on you in your later adult life and in your career? Did any of those things sort of shape you and the way you thought about things?
MARTHA COULTRAP: Yes. I probably learned a lot more about realizing that issues are not always black and white. I guess that one of my strongest memories is we all would read The New York Times after some event had happened at Cornell, and we always were quite surprised that the news did not always reflect what we had perceived to have happened the day before or what was going on at Cornell. So I suppose that it shaped my way in providing me with some healthy skepticism of the press, of how actions can be perceived externally. So I think it was quite an education outside of the classroom.
SPEAKER 1: You stayed very much involved with Cornell. I'm wondering, was that a continuous involvement since graduation, or did you sort of drift away and come back?
MARTHA COULTRAP: I've always been involved. I was part of the first set of class officers that planned our fifth year reunion. So I've been-- came back to all the reunions and have participated in class activities since graduation. So that was my link to Cornell. I did events in New York City when I was a young alum, networking and fun events, since there were so many of us here.
SPEAKER 1: And what about your involvement with PCCW? Tell me about that.
MARTHA COULTRAP: I was elected to PCCW in 1996. I very shortly thereafter became involved with the development committee and served as chair, after which Toby Levine, the chair at the time, asked me to be the vice chair of PCCW. So I stayed. I took on a leadership role at PCCW and then became the chair in 2001.
SPEAKER 1: And what are your thoughts about PCCW and its role as a service organization, I guess we could say, at Cornell and its contribution?
MARTHA COULTRAP: I think PCCW is a unique and wonderful resource for the university. It's unique in that the qualifications for membership for many of the members are that they've had no previous involvement with Cornell, but they have succeeded in a significant way in their chosen profession.
I think that it is important to find women and attract them back to Cornell with activities that provide them with some intellectual stimulation, but also provide them with the opportunity to contribute at a significant level. They have lots of talents to bring to Cornell. So I think that PCCW serves Cornell very well in that respect.
SPEAKER 1: Can you give me some ideas of how PCCW serves Cornell? Any specific ways that stand out for you?
MARTHA COULTRAP: In a number of ways, as I said before, my involvement with the development committee has brought a lot of interest and talent to the effort of raising funds. We have, in two significant waves, created two wonderful endowments for the university, the Affinito-Stewart grants, which support faculty in their early careers and their path to tenure. They have had extraordinary results and, from the responses of the recipients, have done critical things for their careers.
On another development front, we have the leadership grants, which are designed to help faculty, students, and staff in various ways where there is need. I think those on the financial side have been extraordinary. I think the support that members have given to both students and to faculty are very important and have helped, over the 20 years of PCCW, numerous students find jobs and internships and just learn the ropes and faculty to have a resource to help them in their professional development.
SPEAKER 1: Coming back more specifically now to the university, any thoughts on Cornell being a special sort of university or a special place?
MARTHA COULTRAP: Cornell is a special place for a variety of reasons. One, its location is unparalleled. I think the diversity of disciplines that are taught at Cornell are absolutely unique and provide an energy and an intellectual atmosphere that is really unparalleled.
I think the long history of women at Cornell makes it unique. Women were there from the beginning, have always participated in all aspects of university life. So I think that the combination of the diversity of intellectual pursuits and the diversity of its faculty and student body really makes it a special place.
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Former chair and PCCW member Martha Coultrap '71 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.