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Spotlight on Students: Michael Charles ‘16

  • Affiliation: Chemical Engineering
  • Hometown: Columbus, OH

Why Cornell?

I decided to attend Cornell because I was impressed with the variety of students at the university. I was considering many technical schools, but realized that I valued the diversity of people and did not find the same wide range of interests elsewhere. I wanted to interact with people studying different majors, coming from different cultures, and sharing stories from different backgrounds.

Leadership positions held at Cornell:

At Cornell, my main leadership role focused on improving the representation of American Indian students and other indigenous cultures within the STEM fields. I held the position as President/Co-President of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) for seven semesters and spent two years serving the national organization of AISES as one of seven regional representatives. I also served as the fundraising director on the founding executive board of College Mentors for Kids, the Last Lecture Chair for Mortar Board National Senior Honor Society, Recruitment and Social Chair for the social fraternity Beta Theta Pi, and Leadership Council for Diversity Programs in Engineering. I was also given the opportunity to walk-on to the Varsity Sprint Football team.

Major accomplishments as a leader:

My major accomplishments as a leader were mostly found within AISES, as it was my main leadership focus on campus. As a regional representative, it was my responsibility to host a regional conference for all chapters within 12 states and 5 candadian provinces. Within the College of Engineering, there are 8 engineers (out of 3,150) who identify as American Indian   or Alaska Native. I am currently the only American Indian Chemical Engineer enrolled according to the fall 2015 undergraduate enrollment summary. 

However, with a team of about 5 students, the Cornell AISES chapter was able to bring together about 100 indigenous students and professionals for a weekend to discuss the idea of "sustainability." Over my four years, I was also involved in planning ten total conferences for AISES across six different states with the opportunity to speak in front of 1,600 people at national conferences. 

Advice for future student leaders:

My advice would be to find something you truly care about, something that makes each day seem like a short opportunity to work with your passion. The worst thing you can do is force yourself into a leadership position for the wrong reason. This will not lead to success as a leader or create the happiness and pride that come with accomplishment. Your passion for a particular cause or organization is what will drive you to be a better leader.

Goals post-graduation:

My goal is earn my Ph.D. at The Ohio State starting in fall 2016. The research I intend to pursue in Ohio is computational modeling and simulation of natural processes as unit operations. My hope is that the outputs of industrial process can be paired with the capacity of natural processes to suggest change to environmental policy. In particular, I hope to work with the Indian Energy Policy and Programs Office within the Department of Energy.

Favorite Olin Hall/ChemE memory:

My favorite memory is rehearsing for the senior skit for the Christmas party in the senior lounge. It was one of the few times in Olin Hall that work was off the mind and acting through a ridiculous script was all that mattered. 

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