Jess Reno: Martian, Drum Major, and More!

Picture it: you’re sitting in your room in Collegetown, trying to finish an assignment due at midnight. You have all the knowledge, but something is distracting you. A sound, off in the distance, a vrooming going through the streets. You check out your window, but whenever you look outside there is nothing. Ghosts? The statues of Ezra Cornell and A.D. White frolicking? No, it’s probably just Big Red Marching Band Drum Major Jess Reno zooming down the streets of Ithaca on her motorcycle, because she is just that cool.


The drum major, for those who aren’t in the know, is the person who leads the band. You can spot her running onto the field solo at the beginning of the band’s shows, tossing her mace up in the air and (almost always) catching it in an impressive manner.

Born and raised in Mars, PA (where, according to Wikipedia, the residents are called “Martians"), Jess knew early that she wanted to go to Cornell. She applied and was accepted early decision. As for what she wanted to do, well, that changed a little more often. “Since getting here I've changed my major and life plan about twice per semester," Reno says, though currently she is a Psychology and Alternative Chemistry major in the College Scholar Program.

It seems safe to say, though, that marching band is her true love. When asked why she joined the marching band and why she subsequently ran for drum major, Jess says, “I couldn't not join marching band. I was drum major in my high school and once I got over the transition period necessary to go from a competition marching band to this marching band (which is the only real marching band in the Ivy League), I knew I wanted to be drum major. Band people are a different kind of people. The marching band became my family as soon as I got to campus, and I knew I wanted to make band as awesome for the freshmen as it was and is for me. Not to mention the fact that I love conducting.”

Being part of the marching band family is definitely one of the most important parts of Cornell for Jess, and she is eager to welcome others into that family. As drum major, she is often the first person people see when they come into the band- and what they see is a strong, hardworking woman who always has a smile ready for newcomers. Her ultimate goal is to make everyone who becomes part of her family as comfortable as possible, citing her proudest contribution to the band by saying, “nothing that I've specifically accomplished, but I do hope that being so out will help anyone who is gay in band feel more comfortable with being who they are.” And indeed, Jess’s willingness to be herself is apparent to everyone who knows her.

But because Jess clearly can’t be satisfied with making a gigantic contribution to just ONE aspect of Cornell, she manages to stay involved in other places as well. She is an active member of Indoor Drumline, a peer counselor, and an enthusiastic intramural innertube water polo player (as all the great leaders of the world before her have been.) On evenings when she isn’t studying in a library, she loves to drive around town on her motorcycle and play with her cat. I know, right? This girl is pretty much the coolest.

And she loves Cornell, which is apparent both when you watch her conduct and when you talk to her. “Cornell has far surpassed my expectations,” she says. “I was very nervous about leaving my high school and coming to this school where I literally knew no one. It has been amazing here though. Maybe not every day, but I really love it at Cornell. I have made friends I plan to keep for the rest of my life and have learned so much.”

The main thing she would change about Cornell? The low awareness of help available for students in distress. “I think I would want people to be more aware of all the mental health resources available on campus,” she says. “It's such a shame that there is still a stigma associated to getting help. In my opinion, it takes a really strong and smart person to find help when they need it.”

Even though she has been unsure of her course of studies in the past, Jess now has a clear path for the future in mind. The plan? “I plan to go into the Peace Corps for two years after graduation. After that, I am looking to go to graduate school for clinical psychology and using my degree to become a psychologist.” Personally, after seeing her control the loveable hooligans that make up the Big Red Marching Band and continually do it with a smile on her face and boundless enthusiasm and dedication in her voice, I don’t doubt that this girl can do anything she puts her mind to.

Still not enough Jess Reno for you? Take a look at this list of fun facts for more! And come watch the marching band to see her in action- they will be performing at Cornell Days April 13 and 20th, giving a Spring Concert on the Commons on April 28th, and of course rocking out at all of next fall’s football games.

How many of the 161 List have you already achieved? Which is your favorite? 67. My favorite so far was learning the words to Davy, Alma Mater, and Evening Song. Everyone on campus should know these words, but I often feel like only the marching band and glee club actually do.

What is your favorite class and why? Probably Astro 4490. It is a senior seminar called Critical Thinking. The class was just the professor, me, and one other student. We had awesome discussions about time, existence, and the universe. Every class was just mind-blowing and since the class size was so small I could ask any question I had and really just learn a great deal.

If a genie lamp showed up on your doorstep and you got one wish, what would it be? Probably to live healthily forever. There is so much in this world to do and so little time. I would love to spend years or decades doing nothing besides reading and traveling.

What's your favorite...
Quote? "Be the change you wish to see in the world" -Gandhi

Color? Red!

Food? Lasagna.

Poet? T.S. Eliot.

Season? Winter.

Girl Scout Cookie? Thin Mints! (Author’s Note: This is an excellent choice, because everyone with a brain knows that thin mints are far superior to any other sort of girl scout cookie.)