'I saw and studied wildlife I never thought I would come close to'

Kelsie Lopez 

Biological Sciences
Lindenhurst, N.Y.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell because it is possible to pursue many different paths within the biological sciences. I was also excited to be in the College of Arts & Sciences because I had the opportunity to explore different classes in the humanities. My major is concentrated in neurobiology and behavior, but I got to pursue research in the ecology and evolutionary biology department while also taking classes in the Department of Romance Studies or anthropology, etc. Cornell gave me unparalleled opportunities to reinforce my education in the classroom, in the research lab and in the field.

What are the most valuable skills you gained from your Arts & Sciences education?

1.    I’ve learned how to apply knowledge from my learning experiences to entirely different contexts. Cornell’s interdisciplinary nature gave me a lot of freedom to explore my different academic interests in many ways. I realized that knowledge is malleable and ever-expanding. I love when concepts or skills are relevant in serendipitous ways. For example, I reinforced information about sexual dimorphism in different bird species by sketching them in my scientific illustration class. I also didn’t realize that software that I first learned for research use in a materials science and engineering lab would be relevant for avian field research during an expedition to Kenya. 
2.    I’m constantly in awe of my peers. They’ve taught me a lot of new ways to learn, think, and study. Students are excellent teachers and knowledge is recyclable and sharable. Studying with my classmates has shown me the many ways that students visualize certain scientific concepts in their heads. Their ability to effortlessly explain things with different metaphors on the spot have inspired me to think and work smarter, not harder. I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had to collaborate with my peers in different contexts.  

Kelsie Lopez with bird

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

My all-time favorite memories are the times I got to see new species that I had never seen before in the wild. I will remember these moments because I got to share the experience with my friends and mentors and see the pure joy and excitement on their faces. My studies and research allowed me to see and study wildlife that I never thought I would come close to. My expedition team lost our minds over a stick bug that we found on a stick in Kenya, and how “stick-like” it was. I studied the cultural evolution of vocal mimicry in the superb lyrebird — a national wildlife icon — for the summer in Australia. The first time seeing one in the wild was so exciting. I will always remember my classmate’s reactions when we first saw sea lions in the Galápagos Islands. This also holds true for our excitement for limpets in coastal Argentina. 

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of, either inside the classroom or otherwise?

I’m a first-generation college student and I was always worried that I wouldn’t succeed at Cornell. I didn’t realize what I was capable of when I first started. I’m most proud of how far I’ve come since then. As I really found my academic passions, I felt more confident about setting out to accomplish more and more ambitious goals. I’m happy that I’ve found a discipline that I love that also has relevant implications for the broader fields of ecology, evolutionary biology and conservation biology. I’ve published in two peer-reviewed journals, presented my research to international audiences and engaged in field research across four continents. I’ve come a long way from where I was when I started at Cornell. 

How has your Cornell education and experience prepared you to deal with the challenges and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic?

The moments that we have with people around us are precious. I think before anything else, we must have empathy, understanding and patience for the people around us. We don’t understand what might be going on behind the scenes of people’s lives. 

Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2021.

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		Kelsie Lopez