“You guys couldn’t control a pandemic; you couldn’t control social restrictions, but you did what you could with it. And your lives will be richer for having those tools”. These were the words of Constance Wu as she held her convocation speech at Cornell University a week ago. While listening to her in person, her words resonated with me. I am a “pandemic scholar” after all–this is how our Dean of Dyson school called us in the graduation ceremony. Indeed, these two years of pursuing my master’s degree at Cornell University have marked a rollercoaster of emotions, a steep learning curve of precious knowledge, and a lifelong of memories with friends I have made.
As I look back, I can see myself more emotionally mature and professionally ready to apply all the tools Cornell gave me in the industry and make a difference in the sustainability space. If I had to pick three concrete things that have changed in me during this experience, I would go for: First, being a ‘pandemic scholar’ cultivated more stamina and flexibility in my work ethic. I learned that as long as there is commitment, one can easily find ways to learn, regardless of location and modality. I learned that the key is to find ways to bring the experience of a learning interactive community, into a virtual model. An online course is not just about content, but it is also about creating friendships, stimulating intellectual online conversations, and virtual study groups, while being super flexible regarding time zones. Honestly, this is how I have survived my first graduate year. I think that the Albanian education system could use so many of these concepts to increase access to education in the most remote areas even at a post-pandemic time. Second, I have learned how to get out of my comfort zone. I have always been used to living in a city. Therefore, transitioning to a rural area such as Ithaca, for me was a huge shift in my lifestyle. Ithaca is very beautiful and outdoorsy, and fortunately for me, the Cornell campus is just gorgeous with a European castle medieval vibe. Therefore, I learned how to embrace what I mostly liked about Ithaca and internalize a new way of living, while forming my social circles. Two academic years later and here I am, with new coping mechanisms to adjust to any living space. Third, the Cornell academic and extra-curricular experiences, have given my professional interests a new direction. When I applied, I knew I wanted to focus on development economics. Yet, I knew that this is a huge area, and only after a few courses and practical experience at Cornell, did I find my career direction–renewable energy and green finance,-which is a great blend of my prior training and work in banking but pivoted towards one of the sustainable development goals. After graduation, I will stay true to my commitment to this goal too, as I continue working in renewable energy.
Overall, rewinding time three years back, when I decided to apply for the MIP program, I can now say that it was a great decision. This experience has changed me in so many more ways, which I am yet to discover each day and it has given great direction to my story of life. My only hope and goals now are that I continue to further live the legacy of this experience and build upon it in an impactful way.
©️ Ina Gjika completed a degree in M.S. in Applied Economics & Management at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.