Rachel Harmon '15
- Teaching Assistant, Cornell Prison Education Program
Rachel is from Champaign, Illinois, and first became attracted to ILR while spending a summer at Cornell as a rising senior in high school. Her broad interests and specific passion for public policy and social justice made ILR’s interdisciplinary curriculum a solid fit. Since coming to Ithaca, Rachel has been involved in undergraduate research and the Cornell Prison Education Program. She is also a resident of the diverse self-governing community of students living at Telluride House.
The first thing that attracted me to ILR was the interdisciplinary nature of the program. One of the most valuable things about an ILR education is that you’re required to examine problems through many different lenses: an economic perspective, a legal perspective, a social perspective. It gives you a more comprehensive understanding of issues, which I think is very different than the myopia you can get if you’re in other disciplines. My high school history courses also helped me realize that labor struggles were central to so many social movements, from the civil rights movement to women’s empowerment, so I liked the opportunity to learn about an area that’s played such an important role in American history.
I spent two summers doing research as a high school student, and now I’m a Presidential Research Scholar at Cornell. The program helped me find a faculty mentor and supported me with a financial support account to defray the costs of engaging in research. Being a Presidential Research Scholar has made me establish relationships with professors, and they are just incredible resources and sources of inspiration. It’s also given me an avenue to expand my academic horizons beyond the ILR School. I’ve worked with ILR professors, with the Worker Institute, and with a nontraditional labor organization called the Restaurant Opportunities Center in NYC, but I’ve also studied things you wouldn’t necessarily find in the School. I’m hoping to eventually do an honors thesis, and being involved in research now will give me a lot of experience to build off of. This summer I’m also a fellow at the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, which is designed to prepare students from diverse backgrounds for graduate school and faculty positions within the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts.
Cornell Prison Education Program
Another incredible opportunity that I’ve taken advantage of is getting involved in the Cornell Prison Education Program. It’s one of the only programs of its kind in the country. Once a week, we go out to the city of Auburn to a maximum-security facility about 45 minutes away from Ithaca. Undergraduates serve as teaching assistants for either PhD students or professors who are teaching college-level courses. Through the program, the students at Auburn are able to complete an associate’s degree. It’s been a really profound learning experience because you’re in a classroom with people who have incredibly different life experiences and backgrounds, so it can be a very intense learning environment.