One student claimed Cornell had a lack of things to do on a popular forum; it’s an understandable complaint if you’re used to living in a large city, or perhaps have transferred from another metropolitan school. Cornell University, which calls Ithaca, New York home, is the quintessential college town through and through. It’s self contained in many ways, with beautifully designed buildings and trees veering off in every direction. As for its modest yet highly selective undergraduate student body of roughly 14,000, they’re only getting smarter with each incoming class (even if the elbow patch blazers and other cornerstones of Ivy League life have vanished, for the most part). Still, some of the most enjoyable on campus activities cater to the intellectually curious. In true scholarly fashion, we’ve focused on the pursuits that might just tip your fun scale and brain.
You already know that Cornell serves up some seriously delicious food no empty stomachs around these parts. Did you know that there’s something equally as beautiful as a juicy burger after class? Well, there is. It’s called The Cornell Plantations. This blanket term references the school’s botanical garden, arboretum and network of nature preserves. While Cornell might not exactly exude the oft-exciting hustle and bustle of city life, it’s certainly in no shortage of rustic beauty. Take some time to relax by strolling the acres (we hear they’re most breathtaking during autumn and spring). If public speaking is your thing, then you’ll be pleased to know that special lectures are held hear throughout the year.
What kid didn’t stare at the moon with wonder when growing up? If your other-worldly obsession with all things space has followed you into adulthood, then SPIF otherwise known as the Spacecraft Planetary Imaging Facility is the place for you. It’s conveniently located right on campus, so you don’t even have to fire up the shuttle to get there. Sponsored by the university, this hub for science is open to the public. You’ll discover over 100,000 images taken by NASA spacecrafts, touch an actual meteorite and see the flag and patch that flew aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Trust us, cosmonauts, it’s totally out of this world.
Keeping the space theme going, an evening visit to The Fuertes Observatory is always in order (it would also make a great spot for that special date). Though it’s no longer used for public research, it holds astronomy sessions throughout the year and is open to the public on clear Friday nights. Put the planetary knowledge gained at SPIF into action.
As far as an all-purpose building with ample hangout spots goes, Willard Straight Hall is the ticket. This Gothic structure has a staggering six floors, and it occupies 103,000 square feet right on campus. A lounge, art gallery and dance studio are just a few of the things that can be found here. It also supports events and functions like student groups or Greek life. Point the Fuertes telescope this way, because there’s a lot happening here.
For laid back nights when all you need is a bucket of popcorn and a good movie, head to the Cornell Cinema. Conveniently located in the aforementioned Willard Straight Hall, this theatre is regarded as one of the best college film programs in the country. It shows a mixture of hits, classics, documentaries and even those hard to find foreign pieces. If you’re a student trying to be frugal with your spending, there’s nothing to fret about. You’ll get in for the low price of $5.50.
Ryan James is a ’13 alumnus of Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in writing and media. He currently works as a copywriter for a Fortune 500 e-commerce corporation based in Columbus, OH.