Renee Alexander: Student Advocate Extraordinaire

Her Campus (HC): Who are you?

Renee Alexander (RA): “Who am I? How much time do you have?  While I have a fundamental core, who I am has evolved over years. I remember being outgoing and displaying strong leadership qualities as a high school student but felt initially overwhelmed when I arrived here as a 17-year old freshman, and it would take me a while to regain my confidence.  My career started on Madison Ave.; however after several life-altering experiences, I walked away from a successful and profitable profession, which centered on selling advertising in a highly competitive setting, to people-helping career in student affairs.  My greatest strength is developing relationships. I have the gift of making meaningful connections with all kinds of people. It’s who I am.”


HC: What did you study at Cornell?

RA: “I was a student in the College of Arts & Sciences and majored in American History and Government. Initially, I railed at the complexity of the distribution requirements in A&S because it forced me to take courses outside of my strengths and interest areas. As I matured, I began to understand that those pesky requirements helped me to learn now to study and be good at something that was not a particular strength. It also helped me develop breadth and versatility in my academic pursuits.


HC: What was your favorite part about being a Cornell student?

RA: “My favorite part of being a Cornell student was being immersed in a setting and environment with bright, sharp, dynamic and ambitious students, while being taught by scholars and academics who were standouts in their fields of study. I didn’t realize how special this was until I got out into the real world and began to understand how quickly the talent pool can erode. I also made “friends” for life – my Cornell friends are my closest friends, and we’ve been together now for years. We are a family; this is a dynamic I never could’ve predicted while I was a student.”


HC: What is the most important thing you learned from being a student at Cornell?

RA: “Discipline. Plain and simple. I learned how to prioritize; I learned how to focus, commit to doing something and completing it. I learned how to give it all I had and go through the process while being mindful of results. Cornell taught me how to think. To question. To analyze. Cornell taught me confidence and to believe in myself.”


HC: What do you currently do at Cornell?

RA: “My title is Associate Dean of Students. I am located at The Center for Intercultural Dialogue, where I focus on supporting students in their social and cultural identity groups, while building programs that help our students engage across difference. I advise numerous student organizations; advocate for an individual or a group; sit on a number of administrative committees; field calls from parents, alumni; and I am one of five University Diversity Officers and contribute to the university’s diversity initiative by being a voice for all Cornell undergraduates. My work involves building an inclusive student community where everyone feels a sense of belonging and where students from any and all backgrounds can connect with and relate to others from a different upbringing and experience. It’s exciting work. I love it.”


HC: Why did you decide to come back and work for Cornell?

RA: “My reasons for returning are numerous; however, the best way to sum it up is that in the early 2000s, I had some major changes in my personal life, and I began to return to Ithaca during the summer to recharge and relax. The more time I spent here, the more connected I got, so when a job in Alumni Affairs and Development opened up in late 2005, I applied for it, not thinking that I would seriously return. However, after receiving a job offer, my college roommate strongly urged me to do it. And after much thought and contemplation, I figured “why not?” If it didn’t work, I could always return to New York. Nine years later, I’m still here and working with students, which is my strength and passion in higher education.


HC: What is it like working with students every day?

RA: “Cornell students are remarkable. And we’ve recruited such a diverse and dynamic group that I’m constantly inspired by what they bring to the life of the university. I’m also aware of how students are more sophisticated than a generation ago and how technology impacts their experience. That said I’m also mindful that undergraduates are still young adults who are still growing and navigating developmental stages in spite of their achievements. I enjoy the optimism and energy that students bring, and I appreciate being in a position to positively impact their growth. Their youthful energy is infectious, and keeping up with them keeps me moving.


HC: Any advice for new Cornellians?

RA: “My advice for new Cornellians is to make sure you meet students from across all communities and spectrums. If you limit yourself to one community, you shortchange the Cornell experience. The beauty of this place is the sheer diversity of people it attracts, from all races, religions, cultures, nationalities, political views, socio economic backgrounds. Cornell is a microcosm of our broader society, so learn about people who are different from you; develop an understanding and appreciation of people who come have different experiences, worldviews, customs and cultures. It’s all here, so embrace it.”


HC: What is your favorite food?

RA: “Choosing a favorite food is difficult; however, I like veggies so Asian-themed cuisines are high on my list. Sushi for sure, and I cant forget about collard greens. What a combination!”


HC: What do you do for fun?

RA: “Fun. I like to travel. I really enjoy sports, both watching and playing. And as a New Yorker, I really enjoy seeing Broadway plays and musicals.”


HC: What is your favorite quote?

RA: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”