College Connections: Philip Whitmarsh at Cornell University

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Which college did Superman and the notorious RBG graduate from? Christopher Reeve and Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated from Cornell University, located in Ithaca, New York. Cornell is home to many distinguished scholars, including fifty faculty members and alumni who are Nobel laureates. 

Founded in 1865, Cornell is a private university with an acceptance rate of 10%. It has the largest student body of the eight Ivies with 24,027 undergraduate and graduate students. Cornell is well known for its prestigious engineering program, where Casady alum Philip Whitmarsh (’17) is a student. Philip’s passion for aerospace is inspiring, and his thoughtfulness is evident in his keen observations about college life. Philip graciously reflects on his time at Casady and shares his insight into Cornell. 

What was the most important lesson you learned as an Upper Division student?

Philip: I would say the most important thing I learned while at Casady was how to be myself and pursue goals and activities that interested me, rather than doing something because it was “cool” or expected.

What classes at Casady were the most beneficial to you (either preparing you for college or perhaps being inspirational for a new field of study)?

Philip: This is a tough question, since I had so many wonderful classes and teachers. I really loved both my physics classes with Mr. Z, since they inspired me to pursue an education in physics and engineering. My English classes taught me how to think about issues more qualitatively rather than trying to slap a number value on everything. 

What is your favorite Casady memory?

Philip: I loved making movies for different classes, like a Romeo and Juliet adaptation for Mr. Banecker’s class or a cooking video for French class.

What advice would you give your 17-year-old self who was preparing for SAT/ACTs and beginning to write college essays? 

Philip: RELAX AND BE YOURSELF. Preparation is important, but once you’ve put in your work, you just have to trust in your performance rather than stressing yourself out so much that the final product is worse than it could have been.

What is your major/minor and what do you want to be after completing your education? 

Philip: I am majoring in applied and engineering physics (AEP), while minoring in aerospace engineering and Viking studies. The long shot dream after graduating is to work for some time as an engineer in the space industry, then apply for the astronaut program at NASA or SpaceX, which will soon begin hiring its own engineers to fly their command modules.

Describe Cornell’s personality (liberal or conservative, intense or nurturing, etc.) and what attracted you to Cornell. 

Philip: Cornell’s campus is beautiful and cold, and the students here have a strange fellowship through hardship. We all work hard, and we’re proud of that. However, Cornell is also a fun place to be when you have time to enjoy yourself, such as an on-campus cinema, plenty of clubs and groups, and enough trails for the most avid hiker. Cornell is definitely liberal, and it is very open-minded and accepting, but I wouldn’t call it nurturing. You do have to fight to survive here, but I think it’s better that way.

What are some fun traditions at Cornell?

Philip: Slope Day takes place on the final class day of the spring semester when some band or rapper will come and put on a cool concert on our large slope separating West and Central campus. Dragon Day is also pretty fun, which is when the Architecture school and the Engineering school make a huge dragon and phoenix, respectively, and march them through the campus’ streets.

What extracurricular clubs, activities, and/or sports are you involved in? Which one of these has had the biggest impact on you? 

Philip: I’ve gotten to work in this awesome research group called the Space Systems Design Studio, which has multiple teams dedicated to various aspects of experimental space technology. I got to work on chip satellites and a laser-sail, destined for Alpha Centauri (traveling at 20% the speed of light!).

What does your average school week and weekend look like?

Philip: My weeks are brutal, especially in the second half of the week when most of my problem-sets and assignments are due. Weekends also require a lot of time to catch up on work and sleep, but Friday nights are for hanging out with my housemates and decompressing. We try to go to the gym together and occasionally do fun things like play basketball, badminton, or frisbee.

What has been the greatest challenge for you while at Cornell?

Philip: The greatest challenge has been balancing personal life and school life. Sometimes I feel I need 30 hours a day to get everything done, but I just don’t have it. So learning how to cut the fat in my schedule and still making progress and maintaining my GPA and physical and mental health have been difficult lessons.

What do you enjoy most about Cornell?

Philip: I really appreciate the heritage here. It’s humbling to work in the same buildings that people like Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan worked in as well. You can tell that a lot of amazing knowledge has come out of this place, so getting to participate in even the smallest way is a privilege.

How are opportunities such as internships and study abroad woven into the curriculum?

Philip: I had the amazing opportunity to work at a small space company in Seattle this last summer. The material I learned in class was relevant to my work, but I also had to learn how to translate theory to practice, and it was rewarding to see the physics I know applied to real technologies that will advance mankind’s role in space.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Casady community?

Philip: Most of the people I encounter are good people with a grounded sense of respect for others, but I meet far too many people who are discourteous or even malicious. It’s an abstract thing to think about, but please take some time to reflect on how your beliefs and habits might affect other people. Even in a place as progressive as a college campus, I still see instances of men acting in a disgusting or even predatory way toward women, and there are occasional racially motivated issues as well. Please do take time to reflect on yourself and make sure that when you step into the larger community, you’re coming from a place of respect and inclusivity. I know this is off topic from the rest of my answers, but I felt compelled to share it here.

Cornell’s gorgeous campus in upstate New York includes 745 acres with over 260 buildings and 10 libraries on campus. There are over 1,000 student organizations, and one-third of the undergraduates belong to a fraternity or sorority.

Cornell’s unofficial mascot is the Big Red Bear, and their team nickname is Big Red. In 1915, Cornell’s original bear, named Touchdown, was a real bear cub that lived on campus and attended football games. These days, the bear is an undergraduate student dressed in a bear costume.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1898, Cornell’s football team was defeated by their rival, the University of Pennsylvania. However, the general manager of the Campbell Soup Co. was in attendance and was so impressed with Cornell’s red and white uniforms, that he changed the company’s colors from orange and black to the now red and white we see on Campbell’s iconic soup cans. 

Fun fact about Cornell University: Since the late 1800s, Cornell has had two secret honor societies, Sphinx Head and Quill & Dagger. Go Big Red!