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Jennifer Bernhard

Jennifer Bernhard

Associate dean for research | Grainger College of Engineering

During move-in week ’19, we asked UI faculty members to tell us a story about their own experience of leaving home for the first time. Here’s Cornell grad Jennifer Bernhard, now the Donald Biggar Willett professor of engineering and associate dean for research.

“I grew up in a very small town, where everyone knew everyone else, which was a great environment, but also sometimes limiting. In those days, I excelled academically while being pretty shy and quiet, and that was my label.

“When I arrived at Cornell, I jumped in to the first week of freshman year determined to take advantage of the opportunity to define who I was on my own terms.

“I decided to be outgoing, to meet people and make new friends, and to be brave in my choices. During that first week, my efforts were rewarded with new, exciting relationships with incredibly smart people from all over the world who were also exploring who they wanted to be.

“I had my first real job interview to be a chemistry lab assistant — didn’t get it — and ended up working as a clerk in the union’s convenience store, which ended up being a lot more fun.

“I learned what it was like to not be the smartest student in the room, and that that was OK.

“I met and eventually became best friends with a young man who lived on the same floor of my dorm — and he turned out to be my future husband. I look back on that first week of college as one of the most exciting and formative of my life.

“As we send our first child to her first week of college this fall, I’m excited for her to experience the freedom of being on her own, making her own decisions, and becoming the person she wants to be.”