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Expanded Kessler Fellows program welcomes new cohort

From 2009 through 2019, the College of Engineering’s Kessler Fellows program gave third-year engineering students exposure to the business of entrepreneurship through academic coursework, interaction with entrepreneurs in residence and a startup experience.

The 2020 cohort of Kessler Fellows. First row, from left: Audrey Gunawan ’21, Samantha Hertle ’21, Yunyun Wang ’21, Yitzy Rosenberg ’20 and Jordyn Goldzweig ’21; second row: Shemar Christian ’21, Lineker Ono ’20, Mary Feyrer ’21 and Marigot Fackenthal ’21; third row: Grant Logan ’21, Johnathan Petrozzini ’21, Conner Swenberg ’21, Corson Chao ’21, Sam Brickman ’21 and Niharika Shukla ’20; back row: Steve Gal, senior lecturer at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business; Nate Cook, entrepreneur in residence for the College of Engineering and visiting lecturer at SC Johnson; and Ken Rother, director of Rev: Ithaca Startup Works and director or Cornell eLab.

The program has implemented some major changes for 2020: It has expanded, and is now available to juniors in any STEM field.

In addition to a new, more diverse cohort of students, the program welcomes a new director – Nate Cook, a Cornell Engineering entrepreneur in residence and visiting lecturer at the SC Johnson College of Business.

“What we’re really endeavoring to do with the program is to provide fellows with a deep dive into startup culture,” said Cook, who also serves as a mentor for the 76West clean energy business competition and the Grow-NY food and agriculture competition.

Kessler Fellows enroll in a one-credit spring semester entrepreneurial course, followed by an immersive experience working with an existing startup over the summer. Through support from Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, fellows have access to a group of 10 Entrepreneurs in Residence, who can provide advice on topics such as patents, funding, branding and prototyping.

“In the spring we expose them to workshops and guest speakers to get their feet wet,” Cook said. “The summer startup experience allows students to expand upon classroom lessons by interacting with company founders and other top-level leadership to learn about all aspects of running a startup.”

One focus during the spring semester is for students to identify the startup they will work with over the summer by homing in on companies that match their skill set and interests. Fellows then develop individual learning goals and conduct a business analysis before beginning the summer component.

New fellow Marigot Fackenthal ’21 was interested in joining the program as a way to pursue her shifting priorities.

“I love aerospace engineering, but I find myself unable to separate my academic interests from my politics and ethics,” she said. “I don't think working for a top defense company is my direction anymore; I want to explore new applications of my education. A lot of the exciting work in environmental aviation and wind power is being done at the startup level.”

Yitzy Rosenberg ’20 is part of AguaClara Cornell, a student-run engineering-based project team in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. AguaClara focuses on the development of technologies to provide safe drinking water to communities that lack it.

“Through the Kessler program I hope to develop my instincts to evaluate what works and to know what to do when it doesn’t,” he said. “I already have a few ideas that I’m going to explore when I graduate and I hope that when I develop these ideas, I know at the very least the next steps I need to take to make them succeed.”

The 2020 Kessler Fellows are:

  • Sam Brickman ’21, computer science;
  • Corson Chao ’21, materials science;
  • Shemar Christian ’21, mechanical engineering;
  • Marigot Fackenthal ’21, mechanical engineering;
  • Mary Feyrer ’21, mechanical engineering;
  • Jordyn Goldzweig ’21, computer science;
  • Audrey Gunawan ’21, materials science;
  • Samantha Hertle ’21, chemical engineering;
  • Grant Logan ’21, materials science;
  • Lineker Ono ’20, mechanical engineering;
  • Jonathan Petrozzini ’21, materials science;
  • Yitzy Rosenberg ’20, environmental engineering;
  • Niharika Shukla ’20, mechanical engineering;
  • Conner Swenberg ’21, engineering physics; and
  • Yunyun Wang ’21, information science.

Thanks to support from Andrew J. Kessler ’80, fellows receive weekly summer stipends and coverage of travel costs associated with their work with a startup. Past fellows have completed their immersions with companies such as HoverBot, Wayfair, WeWork and Hipcamp.

Casey Verderosa is a writer for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

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Jeff Tyson