Program Guide to Cornell: A Student Perspective


Hi, my name is Autumn, and I attended Sustainable Summer at Cornell in 2023. I currently live in Texas, but I’m graduating high school this spring, and then I’ll be heading to college. I’m planning on majoring in environmental science, and pursuing law school to become an environmental lawyer. Sustainable Summer gave me lasting memories and helped encourage my personal growth and my passion in this field.

So, what is a Sustainable Summer program all about?

Sustainable Summer is a program that changed my life, and I’m not exaggerating. Not only was I surrounded by, for the first time in my life, other people who cared about the same things as me, but also people who became my best friends. I would wake up early and learn about things that genuinely interested me, and stay up late to hang out with people who I still talk to.

Applying & Getting Ready

I wrote an essay about an environmental problem in my community, and the solutions I had to fix it. This essay actually continued to serve as inspiration for me during the program, where in small group discussions we dove deeper into these problems, and how we could make a difference. My tip for applying? Stick to what you know, and what you’re passionate about. Show your true self!

Welcome to Cornell!

On the first day I got there a little later than everyone else, so it was somewhat awkward at first. I sat down with a group to play some cards, and I’ll admit that I was pretty shy. But that night, when my roommate and I started unpacking and getting our room ready, we warmed up to each other and became inseparable after that. Beyond just my roommate, the whole staff had us play a lot of get-to-know-you games that made everyone more comfortable with each other, and we became a big group of fast friends.

The best things about Cornell are: the food, the friends, the teachers, the experiences. I know when you first think about going to an environmental camp, you don’t really think about the food, but it’s amazing. Although, I would recommend that you limit yourself with the ice cream… I know Ezra’s Morning Cup is amazing and you can never taste it again, but having it three times a day is slightly too much!

Academics: What is ‘class’ time really like?

Class honestly feels a lot like college! Usually, my friends and I would go to breakfast first, and then head straight to our morning class. We had big sessions on economics and conservation, energy and policy. Later on, different staff members would offer specialized sessions on interesting topics, like cities going all electric, mycelium, and the future of conservation.

I learn by taking notes, so to every class I took my laptop, and I still reference them every now and then, because there is so much information that you receive. I’d say, to really get the most of your experience, just try to pay attention, be present, and absorb everything. 

Exploring Ithaca

All of our trips were highlights! The last day hike in Watkins Glen was amazing, and it was fun because Jeff would point out all these plants and explain them. But there are so many little things that I remember! Like when we went to the waterfall at Treman State Park the first week, and stopped at the Ithaca Farmers Market and I bought fresh cherries. Some of our ‘trips’ were us getting together and walking to the Cornell Dairy Bar or the library. While the program educates you and introduces you to big ideas, it’s still a summer program where you experience all different fun things.

The Project

Our final project was essentially creating our own business, something that was profitable but had a positive environmental impact. It was important for us to learn how to work on creating things that weren’t just ideal and perfect to us, but also something that appealed to a lot of potential customers, even if they didn’t have the same understanding of environmental issues as us. We created a company focused on replacing traditional grass lawns with native plants. We spent a lot of time on it, got a bunch of feedback from staff, from each other, and people on campus – and even managed to create an accurate pricing model by calling nurseries in the area we wanted to be located in. 

The final presentation was really exciting, because it was a culmination of all the work we had done, and everything we learned. It all seemed a little intimidating at first, but you have plenty of time and you have the ability to make something amazing!


The last day was the hardest part of the whole program. It actually turned out to be my birthday, and my flight was really early in the morning, so that last night we didn’t sleep at all. Somehow though, everyone still managed to decorate my door, and I still have all the cards and presents they got me. I connected so deeply with everyone, and we were all crying as I left. When I was flying home, I couldn’t stop sobbing on the plane (it felt like a cheesy movie), and for the next week, we constantly FaceTimed because we missed each other so much.

The friends you make will stay with you for the rest of your life; all of a sudden you are surrounded with like-minded people who appreciate the same things as you, and it’s impossible not to get along with them.

Final Takeaways…

  • If you’re still unsure about applying after this, all I can say is it was one of the best experiences of my life. Take the leap and apply!
  • The whole program would have been worth it if we only stayed in the classroom and learned— and yet we still got to experience so much more. The opportunities and connections I got beyond education were priceless
  • You can only get as much as you put in, don’t be afraid to work hard and take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

What’s next for you?

Taking what I learned and putting it to use! I’ve made a presentation to my conservation club at my school about everything I learned. Beyond that, next is having a meet up with some of the friends I made at Sustainable Summer this Spring!