Karen Chi-Chi Lin ‘13 is an architecture student who was born in Ohio but considers Singapore her hometown.
“Something about growing up abroad has made me a really restless, enthusiastic person,” says Chi-Chi. “I want to try new things all the time and I can’t sit still. My whole life is built up of little projects—make a book, make a great costume, make a great design proposal for studio, making cool stuff, organizing a surprise for a friend.”
Chi-Chi’s enthusiasm is reflected in her involvement in Cornell University Sustainable Design (CUSD), or more specifically, the Schoolhouse South Africa design-build project, which incorporates the student designs of second year architects at Cornell into the construction of a pre-school/teaching training center this summer in Cosmo City, South Africa.
“It’s really amazing because we’ve partnered up with not-for-profit Education Africa and childcare specialists, Play-with-a-Purpose, to provide an education for children in South Africa,” says Chi-Chi. “But, in doing this design-build project, we’ve also taught Cornell students a lesson of stewardship and sensitive design.”
Chi-Chi certainly has much to offer the Schoolhouse design-build project. An an intern in Bangladesh at the Panigram Resort, she was tasked with the design and construction of a banquet pavilion for a luncheon for potential investors, as well as acting as the construction manager, material procurement manager, and countless other relevant positions.
“[The banquet pavilion] was constructed within 2 months in a rural village in Bangladesh while facing several challenges: no electricity, a language barrier, and gender inequality. At the end of it, the pavilion was built and the luncheon was very successful,” says Chi-Chi.
“It’s still used as a pavilion and outdoor classroom; the locals call it a ‘park’! I was able to pick up enough Bengali just by being on the site to be able to talk to Bangladeshis on the phone! And on the final day of construction, one of team leaders on my construction team offered me a cigarette—I don’t smoke, but this was a sign of acceptance… A sign that I was accepted into their ‘man circle.’ Definitely my proudest accomplishment to date."
Undoubtedly a product of her work with CUSD, Chi-Chi learned just last week that she was selected as a winner of the Udall Scholarship, which, according to the website, awards “80 scholarships of up to $5000... to sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care.”
Earlier in her Cornell career, Chi-Chi was also involved with Big Red Relief, a student organization which has been raising money for charitable causes dealing with humanitarian relief efforts across the globe since 2005, after the Tsunami in Indonesia. On a lighter note, Chi-Chi is always proud to see students wearing her year’s Dragon Day shirt, having been involved in the design process and committee. “Bonus points if I see it on the engineering quad!” she remarks.
Aside from her on-campus feats, Chi-Chi is an avid runner, having just finished her 53rd race this past summer, and also enjoys photo-journaling.
Though she is rarely appreciative of Ithaca weather patterns and winters, Cornell seems to be a good fit for Chi-Chi. “I chose Cornell because I wanted to attend an architecture program, but not limit my classes to only architecture-related courses. I also wanted to go to a big school so I could take classes (and meet people) in different colleges,” she says.
“Best part about Cornell is being around people who are passionate about XYZ. You find that everyone has their special ‘thing’ that they do or are involved in. Talent is very… very… attractive. I have met people who own famous mega-sites, who started their own companies before they turned 21, who make bikes, who are starting their own studios abroad, who have run at least 10 marathons… People here are smart, hard-working, and then some.”
Just the Facts:
Favorite class: Design studio. It’s not just a class-- it’s a lifestyle, a family, a place, and definitely a constant source of frustration and stress, too. There’s a reason why Rand Hall is always lit. There’s also a reason why I slept on a bench last night in studio.
Favorite quote: “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Easier said than done, but it’s definitely something I want to work on.
If you could change one thing about Cornell right now, what would it be? I would construct an underground tunnel straight from my desk at Rand Hall to my bedroom so I don’t have to get snowed/rained/Ithacated on. Just kidding. I don’t want to change anything, but a little more sun might be nice.
How do you think women are portrayed/treated on campus? I don’t know if I know enough to be able to answer this. I think overall, women are respected as great individuals. We have lots of talented, smart female students; intelligent, enthusiastic teachers; and inspiring and insightful speakers come to campus.
Personally, I went to the Vagina Monologues, which is supported by the Cornell University Women’s Resource Center, and it was awesome. From someone who came from a pretty conservative background, it took—pardon my language--but it took balls to see this performance and really confront some contemporary issues women face today. (I saw a lot of guys there, too! It feels great knowing that I am in a community that is open and compassionate.)
Future/career plans? I want to be an architect and I’d like to work with lots of different firms to create high-density buildings. Not only is it more “eco-friendly,” but also—who doesn’t want to live in a high-rise? The views are simply amazing from a tall building.
Thoughts on Nelly for Slope Day? He’s a pretty big deal, but not really my kind of music. BUT! Did you know Nelly’s first name is Cornell?
If you were stranded on a desert island and you could only have one thing with you what would it be?My dog
Pet peeves: I get really cranky when people flake out last minute – but who doesn’t get slightly cheesed about that?
Favorite book: I really can’t choose... Even though I read The Giver in middle school, I still think it’s one of the coolest stories ever.
Toughest thing about attending Cornell: There are sooo many options. It’s impossible to do everything you want to do, so you have to say no to some things. Even if you only sleep 2 hours a night, I don’t think you’d be able to do everything you want to do. Too many cool classes and interesting student groups and performances and study abroad options…and then there’s all the stuff in Ithaca, Ithaca College (did you know you can take classes there?), and the surrounding areas! I'm getting way too excited and overwhelmed just thinking about the possibilities.
Who is your biggest hero/role model? My dog. He loves me with unconditional love and is understanding despite our language barrier. I think you can learn a lot from a dog—to live simply, honestly, with enthusiasm, and a good attitude.
What is something you wish I had asked you? “How can I donate to CUSD?”