When Ahmed Elsamadisi '14 was in high school in NYC, he wanted to join his school's chess team. The only problem was, his high school had no chess team. He tried to create one, but the school refused. He could have given up at that point. Instead, he began competing as a one-person team and did very well in competitions against schools with a full complement of members. Eventually, his high school saw how well he was doing and relented. Elsamadisi became the founding member of his high school's chess team. "An idea is just an idea…it is worthless," says Elsamadisi. "It's only valuable when you actually make it."
When it came time to choose a college, Elsamadisi cast a wide net and applied to 15 of the top engineering schools in the Unites States. "My father is an engineer and I have always loved the idea of creating something out of my mind," says Elsamadisi. "I didn't really know anything about Cornell. When I came to visit I was amazed by the environment. At Cornell you can access designers, lawyers, business majors, and anyone else you need to talk to."
In his three-and-a-half years at Cornell Engineering, Elsamadisi has noticed a big change in himself. "When I got here, I wanted to find a job in research and development and build cool things," says Elsamadisi. "But then I had a freshman project and it woke up the entrepreneur in me. From that project I learned that mathematical ideas can be used to make something physical. That project gave me the chance to learn by doing things instead of by sitting in the classroom." As he talks about these experiences Elsamadisi's words come faster and faster and it is clear he is excited about the idea of scientific discovery. "No school teaches you like they do at Cornell. Just give me a challenge and I will do it. Step back and let me figure it out. You learn so much more by doing things than by 'learning' in a classroom."
Early in his Cornell career, Elsamadisi had the chance to work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and his time there cemented the idea that engineering could be used to make people's lives better. "The technology I worked on improved incrementally how accurately the size of chest tumors can be tracked. It led to a patent for GE and shrunk the cost of a particular test from $10,000 to $300. Right then, I realized I wanted to make a difference," says Elsamadisi. To Elsamadisi, making a difference can take several forms. "It can go both ways," he says. "You can make something that instantly changes the world, or you can work on ideas that make things incrementally better." For now, Elsamadisi is walking both paths. He is doing hands-on engineering work on several products designed to improve incrementally how people share opinions and get feedback, as well as how goods are packaged.
As part of the Kessler Fellows program at Cornell, Elsamadisi spent a summer with WeWork, a co-working space for start-ups. He saw the value of getting people together and allowing room for cross-pollination of ideas. "A space like WeWork can help people free their minds so they can have a place to make things that make the world better," says Elsamadisi. "Collaboration is essential to progress." On the brink of graduation, Elsamadisi is not really sure what comes next. "Right now I am involved with two start-ups and I am doing heavy duty research. So when you ask me about what's next, the answer changes moment to moment," says Elsamadisi. "Eventually I know I will be serial entrepreneur. In the meantime I am living by the words, 'Don't fear the unknown; discover it.'"