Lake Placid Consulting Project Puts Students’ Skills to the Test
This piece was originally published in April of 2017.
People are often surprised when I tell them how long I’ve been working for the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy—it’s coming up on 15 years, now. In this day and age of job-hopping, why haven’t I moved on? My answer is simple: I love the community of people that make up CIPA.
The Cornell Brooks School attracts bright, energetic, richly diverse, creative, and compassionate students, dedicated to the broad mission of making the world a better place. You can’t go wrong working alongside folks who are dedicating their lives to public service.
I’ve had a lot of adventures with our students over the years. The latest occurred just two weekends ago when I accompanied three of them on a consulting trip to Lake Placid, New York, which is about a five-hour drive from Ithaca (it’s also the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics).
Second-year student Zixian Liu and first-year students Shujun Zhong and Zihan Wang are enrolled in Rebecca Brenner’s course PADM 5900: Consulting for Nonprofit and Government Organizations. As an introductory consulting course, it offers students the opportunity to put academic skills into practice for real-world clients in government or nonprofit agencies.
The project that Zixian, Shujun, and Zihan chose to tackle this semester was for the Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission. Building upon trail mapping work done by a previous Brooks School team in 2015, this 2017 group was tasked with creating a consumer pamphlet of the individual hiking trails in the area, including detailed trail descriptions. When complete, these pamphlets will be made available to residents and visitors in both paper and digital formats. Long-term, the information may also be made available through on-site, informational kiosks.
We traveled to Lake Placid so the team could meet in-person with the client representative Dean Dietrich, the Chairperson of the Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission. A 40-year resident of Lake Placid and former teacher, Dean is Mr. Outdoorsman. He skis Whiteface (the Olympic mountain) every day of the season that he can; he’s an intrepid hiker and snow shoer; and he loves all-things Lake Placid.
The students had approached Dean about visiting, as they wanted their trail research to be informed by first-hand experience, allowing them to infuse their upcoming pamphlet with more authenticity. Dean, and the greater Lake Placid community, embraced our visit with warmth and generosity. The students were delighted when Jared Steenberge, Operations Manager at the Olympic Training Center (OTC), rolled out the red carpet for them, offering accommodations and meals at the athletes’ training facility. Art Devlin, the Deputy Mayor of Lake Placid and the Village Board liaison to the Community Development Commission, provided beautiful accommodations for my family and me at the Art Devlin Olympic Motor Inn. And Jennifer Jubin, the owner of the Cascade Cross Country Ski Center, provided the team with snow shoes for the weekend.
While it’s technically “Spring” now, the Adirondack region (where Lake Placid is located) hasn’t gotten the message yet, and won’t for a while. There’s still a lot of snow on the ground. Hiking the trails, then, was really only viable with snowshoes. Zixian, Shujun, and Zihan are international students from China—two from the Beijing area and one from the Shanghai area. Suffice it to say that snow shoeing in the Adirondacks was a new experience for them. But, I’m proud to say, they embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm, including the adventurous and somewhat scary, quarter-mile descent down the steep side of Cobble Hill! One student, with the help of Dean, even conquered a major fear of heights.
Dean also arranged for the students to meet with one of the local stakeholders on Saturday, Don Mellor, who is a rock-climbing legend in the Adirondacks. He teaches at a local school, which owns land that encompasses trails leading to Cobble Hill, and he was able to offer the students valuable information for their project.
The team will be working to develop the trail pamphlet throughout the remainder of the semester and return to Lake Placid in May to make their final presentation to all the members of the Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission. This project for the Lake Placid/North Elba Development Commission is just one example of how organizations and communities provide our students with fabulous learning opportunities. They reap the benefits of a pro bono service, but the students walk away with both résumé-building experiences and life experiences that they will never forget.
If you have questions about attending The Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, we encourage you to request more information today!