In the four years she spent working toward a 2013 Congressional Gold Medal Award, Natalie Domeisen ’15 volunteered for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, played piano, swam and skied competitively, and completed a six-day hike with her father in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountains.
Created in 1979 by Congress, the award program aims to encourage youth ages 14-23 to engage in wide-ranging “character-forming experiences” – specifically, 400 hours of community service, 200 hours of a sport or physical activity, 200 hours of “personal development” in the arts and a four-night expedition for those striving for the ultimate Gold Medal award. (There are six levels of awards – from the highest Congressional Gold Medal to the first stage Congressional Bronze Certificate.)
Domeisen, a human biology, health and society major in the College of Human Ecology, was one of 230 young people to receive the Gold Medal Award – Congress’ highest honor for youth – at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol June 19.
She faced challenges along the way: Though she’d hiked previously with her family at home and in Switzerland – where her family is from – Domeisen’s six-day hike for the award took her out of her element with its length and isolation, she said.
But other parts of the process came more easily: A competitive swimmer for many years, Domeisen felt volunteering with the MS Association allowed her to “bridge [her] interests” in physical activity with community service. Domeisen organized fundraisers and educational events for the MS Association, including several “swim-a-thon” events to raise funds for her local community in Pittsburgh.
“I have a lot of family friends with MS; it’s something I’ve known,” she said. “Actually seeing what the volunteering manifested into was the best thing.”
At Cornell, Domeisen competes on the women’s swimming and diving team. A pre-med student, she researches child development in Cornell’s infant lab, which she sees as great experience for her “ideal” career as a neonatal surgeon.
“I’ve known I want to work with kids [for many years],” said Domeisen.
Sarah Cutler ’15 is a student communications assistant for the College of Human Ecology.