Student veterans find community, support at Cornell

A new summer fund will help Cornell’s growing numbers of student veterans pursue unpaid summer internships – the latest in a long series of initiatives and programs aimed at creating a welcoming and supportive community for students who served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

These initiatives make veterans feel more welcome at a school as large as Cornell, said Christopher Mahn ’23, a Navy veteran and student veteran ambassador, who works closely with university administrators to grow the number of veteran applicants and help fellow students excel.

“The veteran community has grown exponentially here,” Mahn said.

About 90 current undergraduate students are veterans – an increase from 67 in 2020 and 41 in 2019. Student veteran housing on campus, which opened this fall with the support of the student-led Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association, is already full and has a waiting list.

“They did a fantastic job putting together their proposal and being awarded a house,” said Mary Fisk, Cornell’s student veterans advisor and program manager. “The house takes a lot of stress off of new student veterans who are coming in, and it speaks to the strength of that veteran community.”

The summer experience fund was created through a $100,000 gift from Dr. Joe Landau ’51, M.D. ’55, who received a scholarship designated for children of WWI veterans as a Cornell student. His father served in the U.S. Army and received a Purple Heart. Landau is a retired Navy Commander, and served as a flight surgeon with the Marine Corps for two years before completing 20 years of reserve duty.

“I always appreciated the education that I received,” Landau says, “and I’m pleased to have an opportunity to make a contribution back to Cornell.”

The Dr. JW Landau Summer Experience Fund for Veterans was also inspired by Landau’s granddaughter Simmone ’19, whom he says benefitted from summer experience programs while at Cornell.

“I always appreciated the importance of the military and I thought this was an opportunity to combine my interest in Cornell with my interest in the military,” he says. “If other alumni are interested, I think there are many additional ways to contribute to the veteran experience.”

Landau’s gift, said Mary Fisk, will “eliminate the need to exhaust GI Bill benefits” for student recipients. “It just takes a lot of financial stress off their shoulders, to be able to experience an internship the way it’s intended. That’s an awesome gift.”

Veterans come to Cornell with different life experiences from the typical undergraduate student, said Fisk, whose role, established two years ago, is to help these students find their place at the university and feel supported.

Fisk works with many partners across campus to help support students with initiatives like summer programs for incoming veterans, a new veteran’s seminar, and she helps with recruiting new students.

New programming tied to the veteran house is expected, Fisk said, and she looks forward to finding additional ways she and her partners across campus can help provide what student veterans need, like more career exploration and professional development experience.

Kyle Downey, senior associate director of undergraduate admissions/military and veteran admissions and enrollment services coordinator, said Cornell’s progress in growing its numbers of student veterans is thanks to dedicating resources to recruitment, financial aid and student support.

“I’m excited about how far we’ve come and the direction we’re headed,” he said. “Still, we’re not taking a break to celebrate our accomplishments, because we still need to enroll more undergraduate veterans, provide a more seamless enrollment experience and transition to Cornell, and work toward creating a dedicated veterans center on campus. There’s so much momentum here right now and I’m excited to play a role in this really important and rewarding effort.”

Kait Provost is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.