Sarah McMorrow '24

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JFK Award recipient merges passions for medicine and public service

Throughout her years at Cornell, Sarah McMorrow ’24 has shown a dedication to serving others, logging hundreds of hours as an emergency medical technician and firefighter with the Varna Volunteer Fire Company (VVFC). And her future plans are just as inspiring.

“I want to be a forensic pathologist and battle the disparities prevalent in the medical and criminal justice systems through medical research,” said McMorrow, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her passion for medicine and public service is being recognized with this year’s Class of 1964 John F. Kennedy Memorial Award. The JFK Award will support her further education with $15,000 and is administered by Cornell’s Einhorn Center for Community Engagement.

“This is not a medical specialty for the faint of heart, but I believe I am up to the challenge,” she said.

McMorrow joined VVFC in October 2022 with the intention of serving as an EMT and then added training as an interior firefighter over the next year. Volunteering some 20 hours a week, “she has made a profound impact on our organization,” said Mason C. Jager, D.V.M. ’12, Ph.D. ’22, assistant research professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences and VVFC’s fire chief.

McMorrow served 250 hours in 2023 alone, earning certifications, participating in departmental trainings, responding to calls, attending meetings and participating in various committees. “She played a pivotal role in transforming our department — faced with imminent threat of closure due to a decline in volunteer membership — into one of the largest and best trained in the area,” Jager added. Her contribution was recognized with the prestigious 2023 Fire Rookie of the Year accolade.

“Dedicating my time here has been one of the most impactful experiences of my life,” McMorrow said. “Not only is the work of helping people through their worst days incredibly rewarding, but I have met some of my closest friends here. I am surrounded by people who inspire me to be my greatest self.”

McMorrow’s leadership skills have been equally on display on campus, where she served as a co-founder of Bicons, a club that provides a fun and safe space for bisexual students; vice president of the Cornell Center for Health Equity; and an Arts and Sciences Ambassador to prospective and incoming students. She also found time to dance with On Tap Dance Troupe.

“Sarah’s commitment to community service is matched by her excellence in the classroom,” said Matthew Velasco, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, with whom McMorrow has taken several classes for her anthropology minor. She plans to combine this knowledge with skills from her major in computer science. “As a pathologist, I hope to use my computational background to do research that will improve the field of forensic science,” McMorrow said. She has already collected hands-on research experience in the laboratories of several Cornell faculty members, including Velasco.

As McMorrow embarks on the long road towards her chosen career — which includes medical school, residency and a specialized fellowship — she plans to continue contributing to the public good. She will use the financial freedom provided by the JFK Award to dedicate more time to serving in emergency services and shadowing physicians as she prepares to apply for medical school.

The JFK Award was established by the Class of 1964 in their senior year and is awarded annually to a graduating Cornell senior pursuing a career in public service.

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