As Cornell College leadership prepared to face a global pandemic in March of 2020, one of their six guiding principles was to consider how decisions would impact Mount Vernon and Lisbon.

Cornell became part of the earliest wave of U.S. colleges to ask its students, who were on spring break, to stay or return home if they possibly could. Then the college trained and equipped faculty to teach online for the final two blocks of the year.

Mehrdad Zarifkar, a Cornell alumnus and a member of the Mount Vernon Fire Department, praised the college’s quick response at that time. “Not having all those people in close quarters helps limit exposure in Mount Vernon,” he said.

But keeping students off-campus long term was not going to be good for the ongoing economic health of the campus or community.

Intensive planning throughout the summer prepared the college to welcome the majority of students to live and learn on campus when school started in fall. Strict policies were enforced to keep everyone safe, including extensive asymptomatic testing and wearing masks in the local community. Twice during the school year case numbers increased enough to trigger more safety measures to quickly stop the spread of the virus.

After aggressive pursuit of vaccines, the college was able to schedule all-college vaccination clinics in April and May. And on May 15 and 16 the college is planning to hold in-person, physically distanced commencements, with limited guests, for 2020 and 2021 in the stadium.

Recommended for you