When Thitirat Boonyanuphong isn’t on her housekeeping rounds at the Statler Hotel or teaching conversational Thai at Cornell’s Language Resource Center, the 43-year-old can be found in a classroom on campus earning college credits.
For the last eight semesters, Boonyanuphong has steadily taken courses that will help her meet the requirements for pursuing a master’s degree in Asian Studies. She is one of more than 130 Cornell employees taking courses for credit this fall.
“Getting access to Cornell’s education system is easier than I thought it would be,” said Boonyanuphong on a recent day inside the Statler lobby wearing a Cornell hoodie with “Hotelie” emblazoned on the front. “Everyone here wants to help you succeed.”
The Part-time Study program, offered by Cornell’s School of Continuing Education (SCE), is a way for non-matriculated students from around the world to earn college credit at the university without enrolling in a degree program. Cornell employees can take up to four credits each semester tuition-free with permission from their supervisors.
In addition to Boonyanuphong, other part-time students studying this fall include 40 exchange students, 65 students from Lockheed Martin and 29 visiting students from other universities. Students generally enroll in part-time study to explore an interest in a particular subject, enhance their resumes, strengthen professional skills or begin work towards a degree. Part-time students can choose from thousands of regular university courses on campus or online year-round and can access the university’s libraries and other campus facilities. Their grades and credits are recorded on an official Cornell transcript and credits can transfer to a degree at Cornell or most other universities. Some Part-time Study students go on to be accepted into the Employee Degree Program, which allows Cornell employees to earn a degree as they work.
“The hallmark of the Part-time Study program is that it provides an entrée into Cornell for ‘any person’ seeking instruction in nearly ‘any study,’” said Charles W. Jermy, Jr., interim dean of SCE, “the distinguishing characteristics Ezra Cornell had in mind for the institution that he would found in order ‘to do the greatest good.’”
SCE asked Thitirat Boonyanuphong about her part-time studies experience and how she’s using the program to meet her goal of becoming a graduate student at Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. (The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity).
SCE: Thank you for sharing your educational journey with us, Thitirat. Can you tell us a little about your background?
Boonyanuphong: I am currently a Statler Hotel employee working as a housekeeper. I’m also a facilitator for the Thai Conversation Hour at the Language Resource Center. Before I worked for Cornell, I worked for the Tompkins County Public Library as a library page. I came here from Thailand in 2004 to help run a restaurant with my husband and became a U.S. citizen in 2014. I have a BA in information studies from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
SCE: What are your educational aspirations at Cornell?
Boonyanuphong: I want to complete a Master of Arts in Asian Studies at Cornell. I am applying this semester!
SCE: How has Cornell’s Part-time Study program helped you to get closer to that goal?
Boonyanuphong: I’ve been taking classes in Asian Studies since winter 2021 [through SCE], some on campus and some online. This semester will be my eighth. I’m taking THAI 4431: Directed Study. The classes I’ve taken so far have helped me get to the point where I can apply to earn a master’s degree in this field.
SCE: How did you learn about part-time learning at Cornell?
Boonyanuphong: When I accepted my job at the Statler Hotel, I learned about the program through Michelle La Fave in Cornell’s HR office during orientation. And after that first day, she continued to give me useful advice about the Cornell Employee Degree Program.
SCE: Yes, over 40 Cornell staff received degrees from the program last year. It’s an amazing opportunity. What have been some of your favorite moments or experiences with your classes or professors?
Boonyanuphong: When I started as staff at Cornell, I never believed I would come this far and have a chance to study with world-class professors such as Professor Alex Susskind [at the Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration], and professors Ngampit Jagacinski, Chiara Formichi and George Chigas [at the College of Arts and Sciences].
SCE: Faculty have told us that part-time students, who are often “non-traditional” students, bring interesting life experiences to the classroom and contribute a lot to class discourse. Chiara Formichi, associate professor of Asian Studies, said, “Thitirat stood out not only because of her already keen knowledge of the region, but also because she was extremely generous toward her classmates. She was eager to learn more and share and bringing together what she already knew from her lived and educational experience in Thailand with our curriculum, which merges knowledge produced in the region with knowledge produced in Western academe.”
Boonyanuphong: It’s one of the great experiences of my life. It made me a better person and I understand the world better than before. Cornell allowed me to learn and explore new things, access library resources, and it taught me how to do research. Professors listened to my questions and were willing to support me. Because of the support I received from my department, the library, faculty and staff, I believe I can reach my life achievement as well as anyone can.
To learn more about studying part-time at Cornell, visit the SCE website.
Shelley Preston is the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions’ communications and marketing specialist.