Student Spotlights

Paul Russell '19

ILR Experience

Research Fellow, Southern African Institute for Policy Research

Exploring Interests

I was interested in entrepreneurship before I came to Cornell. I tried to start a business in high school, but my career interests switched to public policy once I arrived. On campus, I hosted a political talk show on the radio, was involved in student government, and started writing a column for the Cornell Daily Sun that often focused on politics. The summer after my freshman year, I was a part of ILR’s High Road Fellowship in Buffalo and did research on the police-community relations in the city. It made me interested in trying to pursue working in local politics at some point in the future, and I think that’s something I still want to do.

The next summer I did the Global Service Learning program in Zambia. I went expecting to conduct legal research, and in the end, I was able to do it with a specific focus in international business law. My research was about the extent to which mining companies follow environmental regulations imposed by the state. I became interested in the intersection between government and business, so I ended up taking more classes about that area. I also started working at a start-up incubator called Rev: Ithaca, where I write stories about local entrepreneurs.

Global Service Learning 

Before my trip to Zambia, I never had an opportunity to do a long-term research project, which is so different from the regular classroom experience. I was in a country I had never been to before, had one partner, and our job was to write a research paper. I learned so much about business law, especially how different legal systems can be and the many ways businesses interact with their governments.

Our topic was the environmental regulation of Zambian mines. To understand that issue, we had to learn a lot about land allocation. In Zambia, the general structure of the legal system is very similar to the one in America. Court cases decide how people interpret the laws and laws are passed by a governing body. However, there’s also this concept of laws that are made through the tribes and local authorities, and these can often conflict, especially when it comes to the allocation of property.

In the U.S., our legal debates are mainly about which rules should exist in our legal system and how they apply. It was a great lesson to learn that in other countries, like Zambia, the argument may not only be about which laws apply, but which legal system to consult in a particular situation.

I made so many friends and still keep in contact with my host family. We FaceTime every now and then, and it’s so great to see that everyone’s doing well. After the trip, a few friends and I thought it was the perfect time to do something a little unexpected and crazy, so we went on an eleven-day self-directed safari in Botswana that turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life so far.