Yuvraj Sarda ’27 describes his contribution, Oasis, a website that aggregates ideas that people have for new ideas that others can pursue.

Cornell, SUNY students show off contributions that help others

Students from Cornell, Binghamton and Stony Brook universities came together to celebrate the contributions they made to improve local, regional and international communities during a showcase event on April 19 in the College of Human Ecology’s Commons.

Cornell impacting New York State

The students are participants in the Contribution Project, hosted by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR), which provided $400 each to 200 randomly selected students to fund a contribution to a cause or initiative that is meaningful to them. This year, the project expanded beyond Cornell to the two schools in the State University of New York system. Funding was provided by Hopelab, a social innovation lab that supports the mental health of adolescents. 

For Khadija Monis ’26, who is majoring in interdisciplinary studies in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, her contribution goes far beyond Ithaca and challenges cultural norms. Monis, who is from Afghanistan, founded One Woman’s Education, which provides support for young women in Afghanistan to continue their pursuit of a college education, an opportunity that was stripped away when the Taliban came to power. Monis recalled seeing a young woman who was in her third year majoring in environmental science suddenly have her studies come to an end. Monis sprung into action, helping the student enroll in a private university for midwifery (the only field the Taliban allows women to study) to restart her career path.

Minal Iftikar, a first-year student at Stony Brook, with a display of her contribution, Wastewise, an AI-powered app that scan’s a user’s leftover food waste and gives suggestions on how to re-use that waste.

“The significance of this contribution cannot be overstated,” said Monis. “I grew up in a community where education seemed a dream out of reach for many women, including myself. I aim to continue supporting these young ladies by helping them enroll in private universities, providing them supplies, such as textbooks, and making sure they have access to internet connections which can give them more opportunities.” 

Monis added that she hopes to be able to help the young women improve their English language skills so they can apply for scholarships to attend school in the U.S. 

“Binghamton and Stony Brook saw this as a tremendous opportunity for their students to make a difference in the world,” said Anthony Burrow, director of the BCTR and the Ferris Family Associate Professor of Life Course Studies in the Department of Psychology in CHE. “Working with two SUNY universities on this also demonstrates Cornell’s commitment to making a positive impact across the state.” 

Some of the contributions were focused on improving experiences on campus. Luca Cassidy, a junior at Binghamton, chose to work with the university’s Disabled Student Union to encourage the more than 300 clubs to improve the accessibility of their social media posts. Cassidy said funds will go toward a prize given to the club that makes the most progress toward accessibility throughout April. 

“I think community is really important, and one of the easiest ways to find community is through a club,” said Cassidy. “Everyone deserves access to community and the lifelong relationships you get from that.” 

Some contributions made a direct impact on New York State residents. Isabelle Kochar, a first-year student at Stony Brook, used her funding to create care packages for residents of Sienna House, a transitional housing unit in the Bronx for women who are either pregnant or have a young child. The packages included toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, body wash and other hygiene items. 

“My purpose was to make these women feel like they have a sense of support and that they can depend on their community,” said Kochar. “Many of these people feel alone and abandoned because the system has not treated them well. I wanted to make them feel connected to the people around them.” 

“It warms my heart to see students who are juggling so many things like studies, jobs, and their futures are also thinking about how they can help others,” said Burrow. “Whether it be on their campus, in their communities, or other parts of the world, these students have shown compassion and benevolence through self-generated contribution ideas, and their universities should be proud.” 

Juan Vazquez-Leddon is the director of communications in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. 

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Kaitlyn Serrao