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Support Structures for Your Engineering Student

The Cornell campus is big enough to have its own zip code, and that can be overwhelming at first. But there also are many factors that make Cornell feel smaller and more manageable, such as the advising and support programs offered each step of the way by both the university and the College of Engineering. Faculty and staff members are committed to providing the help students need in finding their way around campus and negotiating the course requirements, hard work, and other challenges that life at Cornell will present to them. Although they may be leaving home for the first time, incoming students receive considerable support as they learn to fend for themselves.

The Faculty's Role

Undergraduate students are assigned a first-year faculty advisor with whom they work until they declare a major (or “affiliate”). Once they decide on and are accepted into a specific major, students are assigned a faculty advisor with expertise in that particular major.

The faculty advisor is the person students will see when they have questions about the academic requirements of the university, the college, or the schools and departments. Faculty advisors evaluate each semester’s program, approve course changes, and provide guidance in the interpretation of college and department rules.

All first-year advisors are versed in the Common Curriculum, so they can assist first- and second-year students to pursue any engineering major. Faculty advisors help students translate their interests into an appropriate course of study, evaluate their curriculum and work load, monitor their progress toward a degree, and recommend they take advantage of the diverse opportunities at Cornell.

It is each student's responsibility to keep honest and open communication with their advisors and share information about their goals and interests to better enable the advisors to guide them. The advisors' role is to be available to listen to student needs and questions and to help students navigate the curriculum and academic opportunities in general.

However, it is not the faculty advisors' role to provide specific student services. For example, while the advisor can recommend a tutor, he or she does not personally provide tutoring. The advisor also may be aware of a number of excellent career opportunities, but his or her main role with respect to careers is to direct students to the appropriate resources available to them.

Engineering Seminar

The Engineering Seminar (ENGRG 1050) for first-year students, a required one-credit course, introduces students to the structure and resources of the Cornell Engineering curriculum, ensuring that students are aware of the academic requirements and what the program expects of them. The course provides an introduction and orientation to the college’s many activities (curricular as well as extracurricular) and helps in creating a common identity among engineering students by making them conscious of the college’s uniting values and ethical principles. Perhaps most importantly, the course ensures frequent, informal meetings between students and their faculty advisors, in addition to providing peer advisors (engineering sophomores, juniors, and seniors) with a variety of backgrounds and interests. The seminar creates an environment within which a supportive network and effective communication can develop and flourish.

Student Resources

We believe the success of Cornell’s engineering students is closely aligned with the success of the College of Engineering. In addition to the general services available to students through the Campus Life and Dean of Students offices, the College of Engineering specializes in academic and career resources specific to engineers. Engineering Student Services offers a variety of support services from the time of students’ arrival, including help with settling in, encouraging students to approach learning in new and innovative ways, locating research opportunities, and discovering organizations that match their interests.

Engineering Advising

Engineering Advising is a good place to start if students are unsure of where to find various kinds of information. The professional advising staff members support the work of faculty advisors and focus on first- and second-year students prior to affiliation with a major. They work with students on an individual basis on academic and personal matters. They also provide a number of structured offerings in which all engineering students participate.

Engineering Learning Initiatives

This office facilitates academic opportunities that enhance learning and the teaching environment. This is the place for undergraduates to learn about (and obtain grants for) research opportunities.

One of the office’s key initiatives is Academic Excellence Workshops (AEWs), which are one-credit courses offered in conjunction with core engineering courses in math, computer science, and chemistry. These weekly two-hour cooperative learning sessions are designed to enhance student understanding through peer-facilitated group work on problems at or above the level of course material.

Of special interest to undergraduates, ELI offers a Tutors-on-Call program and trains upper-level students to be tutors.

Cornell Career Services/Engineering Career Center

The Engineering Career Center works in tandem with Cornell Career Services to provide career development support and assistance to students. Cornell Career Services maintains a comprehensive library of resources to facilitate students’ exploration of their many career options. They also have staff members certified to administer standardized inventories to help students identify and narrow their interests.

The Engineering Career Center brings approximately 230 employers to campus every year to conduct interviews for full-time, summer, and co-op positions. We encourage all students to become familiar with the Career Center and to make use of the group and individual advising offered in key areas such as:

  • career applications of majors
  • job shadowing
  • career-based internships/co-ops
  • job search strategies
  • resume preparation and critiquing
  • interview practice
  • salary negotiation

Additional Academic Assistance and Counseling

Students can avail themselves of a number of university-wide and engineering-specific services to help them cope with a wide variety of academic and personal issues.

Peer tutoring and peer advising

Peer tutoring is a free service offered by Engineering Learning Initiatives. Peer tutors are trained to assist other students in core engineering courses and can be contacted directly by students to set up convenient times to meet and discuss coursework. Peer education programs include the AEWs, peer tutoring, and peer advising.

Peer Advisors are sophomore, junior, and senior engineering students who have volunteered through Engineering Advising to help new students understand the course selection process, meet other engineering students, and adjust to life at Cornell. They are invaluable sources of practical information and emotional support during a student’s first semester in the college. All first-year students are assigned one or two peer advisers, who receive training in group dynamics and mentoring in order to provide support to the faculty in first-year seminars and to the students enrolled in them.

Early intervention

The College of Engineering is proactive in maximizing students’ academic success. As part of the Early Intervention Program, the college contacts and encourages students who are performing at or below the C– level following the first and second preliminary exams to make use of tutoring and other help available to them. In some cases an advising staff member will contact students by phone, following up with one-on-one consultations to address reasons for the difficulty and to make a plan for turning things around.

Psychological counseling and EARS

Not all problems are academic in nature. Homesickness, for example, or a severe case of the blues, or an overload of stress that disturbs sleep patterns and eating habits—these issues need to be addressed by someone trained to understand what the student is going through psychologically.

Resources such as Cornell United Religious Work, the International Services, Residential Programs, and Student Disabilities Services seek to provide answers to students experiencing the growing pains of adulthood.

Your student might also benefit from talking to other students, who perhaps faced similar issues when they were new to Cornell. The Dean of Students Office offers an Empathy, Assistance, and Referral Service (EARS), which trains junior- and senior-level students in counseling others in problem-solving, self-esteem, social interaction, and effective communication. Peers are also knowledgable about what resources are available across campus. It might be that your Cornell student simply needs to connect with other like-minded students, learn to relax, or take up an activity that he or she truly enjoys.

Cornell Health has a Counseling and Psychological Services office with certified counselors who have particular expertise in addressing more difficult issues. Students can discuss anything they want or need to talk about, in complete confidence, with the assurance that the person listening cares about their happiness and well-being, and has the knowledge and skills to address the issues in a way that brings lasting improvement.