Basil Safi, right, executive director of the Office of Engagement Initiatives, will be executive director of the new public engagement center. Krista Saleet, left, director of Public Service Center, will be deputy executive director.

New center expands community engagement opportunities

Cornell is launching a new center this summer dedicated to advancing community-engaged learning and public service across the university. Combining the Public Service Center (PSC) and the Office of Engagement Initiatives (OEI), the center will open new pathways for Cornellians to embrace the university’s land-grant mission to improve lives in New York state, across the nation and around the world.

The center, approved by the Cornell University Board of Trustees in May, will be endowed in part through a gift from Einhorn Collaborative, the foundation led by David M. Einhorn ’91, a member of the Board of Trustees. The foundation aims to help people build stronger relationships, embrace differences and rediscover their shared humanity, toward a goal of developing solutions to complex and urgent challenges.

David M. Einhorn ’91

“I am delighted that David Einhorn’s foundation has created an endowment that allows us to launch Cornell’s new center in a powerful, sustaining way,” said President Martha E. Pollack, “and in the coming year, we look forward to recognizing David’s generosity by naming the center in his honor. This is an exciting opportunity to ensure that the university’s commitment to community engagement will live on in perpetuity, bettering the lives of people and communities around the world and enriching our students’ undergraduate experience.”

The center will be jointly overseen by Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, and Katherine McComas, Ph.D. ’00, vice provost for engagement and land-grant affairs.

“Learning that takes place outside the classroom not only leads to positive changes within local, national and international communities, but also prepares students to become lifelong leaders,” Lombardi said. “Students who participate in public engagement opportunities learn firsthand about the value of collaboration, embracing differences and building a sense of belonging.”

Ashlyn Smith ’19 works with Bailey Vliet during the April 24, 2019 dedication of the Space Station classroom, designed by Cornell undergraduates to support young children’s learning, at Groton Elementary School in Groton, New York. The project took place under the auspices of the Office of Engagement Initiatives.

Basil Safi, executive director of OEI, will be executive director of the new center; Krista Saleet, director of PSC, will be deputy executive director. Together, they bring four decades of experience in higher education and nonprofit management in domestic and international contexts.

The new center will streamline the pathways for students to get involved in community-engaged learning and public service, McComas said, which will amplify how the university supports community engagement and expand options for collaboration, impact and resource-sharing – making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

“Student interest in creating a just and more equitable world is as strong today as it ever has been,” McComas said. “Conveying to students that service and engagement can be a part of their Cornell experience in a holistic way – through coursework and research, as well as efforts they undertake in their residence halls, athletics teams, student organizations and internships – underscores and raises Cornell’s enduring commitment to educating the next generation of global citizens.”

Cornell students beautify Ithaca’s Southside Community Center in 2009, two of nearly 80 students who provided 1,500 hours of community service to the Ithaca community that year as part of the Public Service Center’s Pre-Orientation Service Trips. The Public Service Center has been connecting students with opportunities to serve their communities for 30 years.

The merging of the two entities combines more than 35 years of public service and engagement opportunities and expertise, including a legacy of strong support from alumni who have been active partners in helping to provide students with public engagement opportunities, Lombardi said.

Cornell impacting New York State

“The university thanks our alumni community for all it has done to promote service and engagement at Cornell. We have every expectation that we will continue to offer significant opportunities for alumni to play a key role through their ideas and involvement,” Lombardi said.

Two virtual town hall events have been scheduled for faculty, students, staff, alumni and the community to learn more about the center. They will take place June 8 at 7:30 p.m., and June 9 at noon.

The new center will launch July 1. It will be dedicated later in the 2021-22 academic year and given a name that reflects its mission and goals and celebrates David Einhorn’s critical support. The center will be located in the Engaged Cornell Hub in Kennedy Hall.

Media Contact

Lindsey Knewstub