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Cornell High Road Fellowships Ignite Civic Careers in Buffalo

Author: Alessandro Powell

Cornell University students and area civic leaders came together for a panel on public service on Saturday, June 23, at WBFO studios. The undergraduates are in Buffalo for the High Road Fellowship, a Cornell in Buffalo program that brings Cornellians to the City of Good Neighbors for summer immersions in community and economic development. Assembly Members Sean Ryan and Crystal Peoples-Stokes spoke at the event.

High Roaders (as the students are called) like Madeline Rutowski, pictured above, engaged with panelists and speakers. They asked questions and discussed local issues.

“Dealing with High Roaders gives me optimism,” said Assembly Member Ryan, who has long championed increased investment in education.

Saturday’s panel event kicked off Cornell in Buffalo’s new Careers in Public Service program. Careers in Public Service complements the Cornell ILR School Fellowship program in supporting grassroots economic development and urban revitalization through engaged learning and research.

High Road Fellows work with Partnership for the Public Good (PPG) partner organizations over the summer. Since 2009, the program has brought 171 Cornell undergraduates from all over the world to Buffalo for an immersion in community-based economic development. Cornell hopes to create career pathways for the next generation of government leaders through this new WNY initiative.

Earlier this year, Cornell in Buffalo received state funding for the Careers in Public Service program, which will bring more Cornellians to Buffalo to develop their skills with civic institutions. The proposal received unanimous support from the Western New York delegation.

Addressing the High Roaders, Assembly Member Sean Ryan spoke about economic development benefiting the entire community. He critiqued the increasingly common practice of municipalities offering subsidies to employers, like Amazon.

“When companies came to Buffalo in the past we didn’t offer them subsidies. We offered infrastructure, schools, parks,” Ryan said. “We’re playing the wrong game, and the taxpayers are taking it on the chin.”

Assembly Members Sean Ryan and Crystal Peoples-Stokes

Ryan also addressed the challenges of the institutional bias, such as the ‘racial disharmony’ laws that intensified segregation during white flight. The Assembly Member also discussed implicit bias, outlining a study wherein identical job application resumes were sent out with stereotypically black or white names—black names were called back less frequently than white names, not even equalizing when the white applicant had a criminal record.

Assembly Member Peoples-Stokes focused on social justice, education, and criminal justice reform. Peoples-Stokes spoke with the Cornellians about her efforts to legalize marijuana in New York, as well as her bill to keep low level marijuana offences off of criminal records.

Low level offences effectively make people second class citizens, even barring them from applying for housing benefits or Pell Grants.

Peoples-Stokes hopes to make marijuana growth and distribution possible for small businesses by decoupling the various and expensive operational licenses. She sees the tax revenue from marijuana legalization flowing into our public schools.

As a champion of Community Schools Peoples-Stokes has secured funding to make our public schools community anchors, strengthening parent engagement, providing health services, and implementing high quality extended day and year programs of excellence to the entire community!

Zoë Nelson, Rebecca Castaneda, Alex Hammond, Richard Rodgers, Mark Boyd, Jim Kennedy

‘Dedicate yourself to the things that are worthwhile’ was the message from a group of young public service professionals talking about their career paths with Cornell undergraduates on Saturday. High Road Fellowship Coordinator Megan Connelly and Co-Founder Lou Jean Fleron plan to expand the program to include semester-long experiences with public officials.

Panelists, some of whom were Cornell Alumni, included Mark Boyd, Chief of Staff for Assembly Member Peoples-Stokes; Rebecca Castaneda, Director of Special Projects for Assembly Member Ryan; Juweria Dahir, External Affairs Manager for Mayor Brown; Jim Kennedy, WNY Regional Director for Senator Gillibrand; Zoë Nelson, Associate Director State Government Relations for Cornell University; and Richard Rodgers, Legislative Director for Senator Tim Kennedy.

From left: Megan Connelly, Mark Boyd, Rebecca Castenado, Juweria Dahir

‘Dedicate yourself to the things that are worthwhile’ was the message from a group of young public service professionals talking about their career paths with Cornell undergraduates on Saturday. High Road Fellowship directors Megan Connelly and Lou Jean Fleron plan to expand their program to include semester-long experiences working with public officials.

Alex Hammond, Town Supervisor for Waddington, NY, also spoke to High Roaders about his experience running for elected office, upsetting a conservative incumbent in his rural community while he was still at Cornell (he graduated in 2018). Hammond, also a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army National Guard, flipped the seat by emphasizing a grassroots, door-to-door campaign.

Lead image: Juweria Dahir discusses Buffalo politics with High Roader Victor Rieman and other Cornell Fellows.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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