Isabel Villanueva: 'I made the giant decision to jump on a plane to China.'

Tue, 04/25/2017

Isabel Villanueva

Science Technology Studies

Dobbs Ferry, NY

What is your main extracurricular activity? Why is it important to you?

My main extracurricular activity at Cornell has been playing the oboe. Playing the oboe has been a part of my life since high school and so I decided to pursue this hobby in college as well. I have taken lessons every semester and participated in Cornell's Wind Ensemble, CU Winds, my sophomore and senior years. Being part of a band is important because it is a fun way to escape the stresses of academics and a way to be part of a tight-knit community within Cornell. However, I feel that playing the oboe at Cornell has also been extremely challenging and has forced me to work on myself. The high level of expertise expected in CU Winds has challenged me to not settle and to try for something even if it feels impossible. Playing with musicians whose skills far exceed mine is intimidating, but extremely rewarding. My skills have improved greatly during my four years of Cornell, along with my confidence in my playing. My time at Cornell would not have been the same without the incredible music community.

What was your most profound turning point while at Cornell?

My most profound turning point while at Cornell was when I took the class Science Technology Studies 2851 the fall of my sophomore year. I had taken one STS course that made me interested in the major, but this was the class that confirmed my interest in science communication. The class was intriguing and the Ph.D. candidate who taught it at the time, Meghnaa Tallapraga, was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Even as a shy person, I was able to answer questions and participate in front of a class of more than 100 students. Before this class, I had no idea that science communication was a field and after taking the class, I focused all of my studies around the field. To this day, when people ask me about my major, this is the first class that I talk about.

What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?

My biggest accomplishment at Cornell has involved me taking a giant step out of my comfort zone and going across the world by myself. Before my junior year, I had never traveled abroad by myself, but that year I made the giant decision to jump on a plane to Harbin, China, all alone. There, I took a pledge to speak solely in Chinese for the duration of my fourth-month stay and completed a research project about air pollution in major Chinese cities. Not only did this trip inspire me to continue with my Chinese studies and to travel back after graduation, but it was where I made the choice to write an honors thesis. My thesis, which combines my interest in China with my major, talks about media coverage of air pollution in Beijing.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

My favorite Cornell memory so far has definitely been my service trip with CU Winds to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In January 2017, I traveled with the group to Haiti to work with Holy Trinity Music School in Port-Au-Prince and perform in various concerts. While in the Dominican Republic, we worked closely with Carol Morgan International School and their band students. For our biggest concert of the week, we had the amazing opportunity to perform with more than 100 musicians of the Holy Trinity Music School and a few musicians from Yale University on a stage right below the Sans-Souci Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A trip like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and without Cornell or CU Winds, I never would have had an experience like this.