The Cornell Tradition program, with 600 talented and creative undergraduate student members and a supportive staff, was designed in 1983 to recognize and reward outstanding students who were working and serving. The program provides financial assistance to Cornell University undergraduates who complete at least 75 hours of service and leadership and 250 hours of paid employment each year while maintaining their grades. Over the last five years, Tradition Fellows have averaged 166 hours of campus and community service annually per student – which equals nearly 100,000 total hours per year.
To help support the Tradition’s staff and to give youth voice and leadership to programming decisions, a Student Advisory Council of 12-15 Fellows is organized each year. This Council develops and manages a variety of service activities for the other students in the program. There is a wide range of service projects: monthly food preparation and delivery at a weekend soup kitchen, regular educational programs for youth and families at the Sciencenter, semesterly blood drives, semi-weekly “bingo nights” at a nursing home, an ongoing computer assistance service for local non-profits and retired faculty, and many one-time efforts such as food drives, holiday parties, and neighborhood clean-ups.
Special opportunities offered by The Cornell Tradition staff also encourage students to offer their service and leadership to the community – from Ithaca to around the globe. The “Community Action Fellow” program supports a limited number of students each year who want to design and implement an independent project in cooperation with a non-profit agency in Ithaca to meet a community need. The “Menschel Public Service Internships” support students who want to intern with a non-profit organization anywhere in the country.
The Student Advisory Council activities and those administered by the staff, however, do not begin to capture the full range of what Tradition Fellows are doing. The magic of the Tradition is its flexibility – students can pursue their own interests and activities and remain eligible for the program. They are not limited to, and are encouraged to move beyond, the activities that are provided through the program. Tradition Fellows also serve as organizers and designers of community gardens, care-providers for individuals and families facing HIV/AIDS, tutors and mentors through numerous after-school and community center programs, language assistants for refugees, and more.
All of the Fellows’ service activities respond to important community needs, whether it is children in need of an adult friend or safe activities, or senior citizens in need of companionship. The service builds connections between Cornell students and Ithaca residents, two groups who often remain isolated from one another. Tradition Fellows serve on their own schedules, but their service is ongoing, spanning the academic year and continuing for up to four years.