Our Voice

How should we speak, write and communicate? If someone proclaimed an iconoclastic ideal, you would expect them to speak with confidence, with respectful probing of all assumptions, and enthusiastic pursuit of promising new models. Since our culture and ideals celebrate spirited, independent thought, then all our communications should be spirited and independent—not tedious and bureaucratic. 

Distinctive Characteristics of Cornell Engineering

  • Personal
  • Confident
  • Creative
  • Expressive
  • Surprising
  • Positive
  • Persistent
  • Intellectually rebellious
  • Unconventional
  • Iconoclastic
  • Playful

Using our Phrase

1. Break the rules is fine for a sentence, but always with a positive benefit.
     Our culture encourages students to break rules to take intellectual risks.

2. Break-the-rules hyphenated is an adjective.
    We revel in our break-the-rules gusto in the direction of a good outcome.

3. "Breaking rules" in quotes might be necessary when one refers to the phrase itself, but it should always be followed with the positive outcome..
    We call our distinctive spirit "breaking rules to make great things happen."

Phrases that reflect the spirit of the idea

  • Intellectually rebellious
  • Empower students
  • Breakthrough thinking
  • Question established paradigms
  • Challenge accepted explanations
  • Challenge inherited habits of mind
  • Push the limits
  • Disruptive technologies
  • Break the intellectual barriers to finding solutions
  • Try new explanatory models
  • Surprising results
  • Break from the past to build a better future
  • Break the mold, sweep aside barriers to progress

How to express "breaking the rules"

Our rallying cry, "breaking the rules," is a provocative expression of an inquisitive and intellectually rebellious frame of mind. It summarizes an attitude and calls to avoid complacency. It is not a philosophy of gratuitous rebellion and narcissism. It implies belief in progress. The best way to make our intentions clear is to tie the phrase to the purpose of the action—i.e., "Break the rules in order to achieve this or that beneficial result."


" We break rules in order to discover new principles of sustainability."

" We break rules that hold back scientific exploration."

" Breaking rules in service of improving people's quality of life."

" Breaking rules that textbooks perpetuate without relevant empirical support."

" We are ready to break through inherited paradigms that retard vital innovation in biomedical engineering."

" We are ready to break rules—because what we do matters to people in need."

Stories that reflect and reinforce our distinctive spirit.

The history of our college is filled with daring rule-challengers who were proven right.

Here are examples:

A competitive project team insisted—against all opposition—that they needed a certain software package even though it was on the government's restricted list. Through persistence and determination to plead their case at all levels, the team gained permission, used the software, and won the national competition.

A professor argued that the college invest in nanoscience years before it became a critical subject of development. He believed so strongly in nanoscience that, even after being opposed by colleagues, he pressed on with his campaign and eventually achieved support to fund what has become one of the world's premier centers of nanoscience research.

Additional stories to be supplied by you!