Universidad de Puerto Rico students register upon arrival at the Bienvenidos dessert reception Jan. 21 in the Physical Sciences Building.

Cornellians share advice, warm hats with students from Puerto Rico

Universidad de Puerto Rico students pick up hats, scarves and mittens made for them by knitters from around the university.

Kristaly Rodríguez dropped off her belongings in her room at Risley Hall Sunday before making her way to Clark Atrium in the Physical Sciences Building for a “Bienvenidos” dessert reception and orientation for new students from the Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR).

Once there, she and friend Elizabeth Rivera collected a colorful hat and scarf, a water bottle and bag and, by the end of the night, new mentors to help guide them through the semester.

“There are a lot of opportunities here,” said Rodríguez, a biology major. “This is a really big place filled with people from different cultures.”

For Rivera, who’s interested in neuroscience, the rigor of Cornell’s curriculum was a draw. “Cornell has one of the top-ranked biology programs, so I know this will be a great challenge for me, but it will give me a wonderful chance to expand my career,” she said.

The gathering was part of a weekend of events for 62 new students who will receive free tuition and room and board for a semester in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The dessert reception, sponsored by the Latina/o Studies Program, the Latina/o/x Student Success Office and the Puerto Rican Students Association (PRSA), included words of encouragement from fellow students, including Chris Arce and Marielisa Cabrera, co-presidents of the PRSA, and Andrea Acevedo, a doctoral student involved with Cornell’s chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. The students were also welcomed by staff and faculty members, including a number of professors from across the university who offered to help connect students to resources or just listen.

“In Puerto Rico, we invented the word resilience,” Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, associate professor of Latina/o studies and anthropology, told the students as she encouraged them to remain strong even if their circumstances become challenging.

“We appreciate the courage it took you to venture to rural New York state in January,” said Juliette Corazón, advising dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and assistant dean, Latina/o/x Student Success Office.

Students at the reception.

Lizette Albelo attended the reception with two of her sons. One of them, sophomore Ricardo Natal, is one of the new students. His older brother, Manuel Natal Albelo ’08, is a lawyer and member of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico.

“This is an excellent university, and he’s very excited to be here,” Lizette Albelo said of Ricardo. She said electricity was restored to her house only about a week ago. “We have had many months without anything.”

Gilberto J. Treviño Cintrón is in his final semester at UPR studying international business. “To finish my degree, I needed to do an international exchange program, so this is perfect,” he said, adding that he’s signed up for classes in trade, agriculture, calculus and business. “I want to be more involved in a connected campus. There are all sorts of technologies here that we don’t have, and I hope to make many connections with people from diverse fields.”

Visible reminders of the connected campus were the hats, scarves and gloves that the students donned. Knitters from around the university made 126 hats, 25 sets of mittens and 100 scarves and cowls, said Stacie Mann, a staff member at the Lab of Ornithology who managed the project. Many of the items included safety-pinned notes of welcome from the knitter.

The event ended with students pairing up with current Cornell students who are acting as mentors to help them navigate everything from enrolling in courses to finding the closest dining hall or fitness center. Acevedo was instrumental in matching each new student with a graduate student, while the PRSA helped find undergrad mentors. The pairs met with hugs and handshakes and an exchange of contact information.

“My mom was almost crying when I left to come here, but she is very proud that I came here,” Rodríguez said. “I want to prove to my family that I can do this.”

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Jeff Tyson