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Meeting of students with Brian Dunn speaking

Students build a club to organize interest in compensation topics on campus

by Sean Sung

At Cornell University, students are deeply invested in shaping their future careers, so when the significant union activities involving the United Auto Workers and the Writers Guild of America in 2023 involved complex issues around compensation, students developed a keen interest in the field of compensation. These strikes highlighted critical aspects of compensation and total rewards, including the intricacies of how people are paid, the rights to compensation for derivative work, and the structures of comprehensive reward packages. This surge of interest among students underscored the need for an exploration of these topics, beyond theoretical discussions and into real-world applications and strategies. These events served as a catalyst, motivating students to engage directly with the evolving landscape of compensation.

The Institute of Compensation Studies had been around for over a decade, but students had few ways to come across its activities. To address this, both graduate and undergraduate students worked with Professor Brian Dunn and Professor Diane Burton to form the first club on campus that focuses exclusively on total rewards and compensation consulting. Students completed the chartering process at the end of the 2023 Fall Semester. The Club began activity in Spring 2024.

The Cornell Compensation Club has had a successful first semester, hosting an engaging series of three events with diverse guest speakers. The inaugural event featured four experts from Willis Towers Watson and United Health Group, offering students invaluable insights into compensation consulting and corporate in-house compensation strategies. The second welcomed managing partners from prestigious specialist compensation consulting firms like FW Cook, Pay Governance, and Sullivan Cotter, broadening discourse on more specific areas of compensation, like executive compensation and nonprofit compensation. The third event was a book talk and fireside chat with author Jake Rosenfeld, providing a deep dive into contemporary compensation from a sociological perspective.

Additionally, the club played a pivotal role in supporting an Institute event that explained Elon Musk’s notable $56 billion pay package lawsuit, featuring lead plaintiff attorney David Tejtel. This massive audience reflects the growing interest and engagement in compensation topics in Cornell.

As the semester concludes, the Cornell Compensation Club reports a membership of 106, a testament to its successful inaugural semester. With a solid foundation, the members are poised for even greater activity and new achievements in the upcoming academic year.

Plans for 2024-2025 include broadening its experiential learning opportunities for students. The Club is targeting introduction of project-based initiatives such as case competitions, consulting practicums, and a dedicated educational series. 

The student leaders are pushing forward to grow on this year’s initial momentum. For more information, visit the club instagram page at or the club website at