Inaugural High Road Fellowship Cools Down in NYC
The second law of thermodynamics tells us that over time energy disperses, and a system tends towards uncertainty. Weeks earlier, the 12 New York City High Road Fellows gingerly gathered in the classroom and clustered at the tables. By late July, they’re positively charged, bouncing from table to table, swiveling to chat with their friends. Entropy: Nature‘s tendency for things to become messy.
Convening one final time to reflect on their High Road experience, the fellows were joined by those who made the pilot NYC fellowship possible - program sponsors, work colleagues, ILR staff, Friday speakers, alumni, and even the city itself.
“This model of engaged learning would not be possible without your partnership with us, your mentorship with the students, and your engagement throughout,” said Ariel Avgar, senior associate dean for Outreach and Sponsored Research.
Avgar's words echoed the second law of thermodynamics. Things naturally tend toward chaos, unless energy is supplied to reverse it. As the fellows spoke about their summer, it became clear that it was the energy of program sponsors, work colleagues, ILR staff, Friday speakers, alumni, and even the city itself, that brought success to the inaugural program.
Alex Herazy ‘25 talked proudly about his admittedly unglamorous work expanding wastewater treatment facilities through Assemblymember Alex Bores’ ‘13 office. It’s a newfound perspective afforded to Herazy by Robert Taylor who engaged with the fellows weeks earlier about his work with underserved youth in New York City. Taylor’s paradoxical story of choosing to work at Columbia University instead of Red Hook’s Community Justice Center resonated with Herazy.
“I decided that I was going to go to Columbia because the type of student that I was gonna be working with was the type of student that was likely to be put on a trajectory around decision-making that would impact people from the communities that I came from,” said Taylor. The realization that impact can happen at every level, even the most unconventional levels, down to the atom, struck Herazy.
“I think it goes to show that our perceptions and our beliefs can change throughout our career,” said Herazy. “We’re not locked into what we believe as a 22-year-old graduate.”
For Claire Ting ‘25, it was the city itself that supplied the energy pushing back against uncertainty. At the 92nd Street Y, where the fellows have lived for the past nine weeks, Ting “met a lot of people from diverse backgrounds - actors, singers, researchers, banking interns. What we found was that a lot of us had similar experiences at the stage of life we were in. Being in our early 20s, exploring this unsure uncertainty in our career and our lives. There was a lot of solace in the community.”
“I'm a second-generation immigrant,” said Ting. “I'm the product of a lot of predominantly white institutions so in the process of that I've felt very disconnected from my culture over time. So, being able to come to New York City and be in this cultural epicenter for Asian and Chinese culture - especially in Flushing, Queens - was something really surprising. There are very few places in the US where I'm able to walk into a business and just freely speak Mandarin and be understood and heard, and it's through this that I eventually regained fluency of my Mandarin which I wasn't expecting at all at the beginning of this experience.”
Entropy had been on Bryanne Sarfo’s ‘26 mind throughout the summer. “I wondered how you find your future career. I know I'm only a rising sophomore, and I have a long way to go, but I’m obsessed with that question for some reason,” said Sarfo.
Sarfo found reassurance in the frequent coffee conversations with Esta Bigler ‘70, director of ILR’s Labor and Employment Law Program and program’s faculty advisor. “You aren’t stuck in one place,” said Bigler, time and time again. The words burn in the fellows’ minds by now. For Sarfo, it’s a mantra.
“The best way is to explore,” said Sarfo. “Try it out. Go in with an open mind, because you can come out a completely different person. I feel like I’ve come out as a completely different person.”
“I’d tell future High Road Fellows that the experience was enlightening,” concluded Sarfo. “I learned that who I thought I was is different than who I actually am, and I intend on using that to guide my future experiences and to see where I end up.”
“I want to thank all the sponsors for making this really an enriching and amazing summer for our Highroaders,” said Bigler. And I just want to say to the Highroaders, you made this an enriching and amazing summer for me. I really enjoyed every minute I spent with all of you, I've learned from you…”
Attention turns to the future of the NYC High Road Fellowship. It’s easy to forget this is a pilot program, but there is still disorder to fix and improvements to make. Uncertainties are everywhere, but according to Bigler, there’s one guarantee in life: “We know ILRes always stick together.”
It’s now August, and the Highroaders are still thinking about the second law of thermodynamics. Heat moves from hotter objects to colder objects; the fellows leave behind the stifling city heat and return to Ithaca for the fall semester.