The Zig in My Zag

In early 2019, I began working at Cornell University as a temporary administrative assistant. For people who know me as co-founder of TidBITS, this fact opens many doors to discussion. How did this zig in my zag make sense? The simple answer is this: I wanted to try something new without upsetting my life here in Ithaca with Adam. But not just anything new. I didn’t have the personal passion to boot up something entrepreneurial. I wanted to make a real difference in the world. I wanted real health insurance. And I wanted to work close to the running routes that I love so well. This temporary job met all those criteria and was literally a stone’s throw from Barton Hall with its indoor track.

By the end of September, I had switched from my temporary position to being a regular Cornell employee, with a bigger paycheck—and bigger projects that more fully tap my communications skills.

My office at Cornell
My office at Cornell. The ceiling is about 12 feet up, and I love, love, love the way the light comes in. Image copyright © 2020 Tonya Engst . All rights reserved.

All through this process, I wasn’t that concerned about what department at CornelMl I worked for. Many people were puzzled by this. What’s important to understand is that what I cared about was being helpful to make the world a better place. I thought I would be well suited to engineering or science, and I wasn’t attracted to birds or pets, despite otherwise interesting job openings in the Lab of Ornithology and the Vet School.

Where I work, both in the temporary and now in the regular position, has such a long name that I saved it for the end of this post. The full name is the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Disability and Employment. The nickname is Yang-Tan Institute, or YTI. For those who are curious, let’s unpack that:

Who are K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan? Donors who have made a huge difference to the reach of YTI.

What’s an institute? It’s an organization where people work together around a common goal, with funding typically coming from grants and donations more than from selling goods. Cornell has dozens of institutes.

Where is YTI? YTI is part of the ILR School, and it is in Dolgen Hall, on the corner of Tower Road and Garden Avenue. Now, I gotta tell you, I didn’t even know that Dolgen Hall existed before my job interview. And, I bet you don’t either, even though you may have seen it hundreds of times. It’s an older stone building, kitty-corner from Trillium. Yeah, that tannish grayish smallish building.

Dolgen Hall
Dolgen Hall is on Garden Avenue, on the northeast corner of the ILR quadrangle. Image copyright © 2020 Tonya Engst . All rights reserved.

Wait, what’s ILR? ILR stands for Industrial and Labor Relations. I’m sure that clears it right up. I’ve heard that someday the ILR School may change its name to the School of Work. That will help. People in the ILR School teach and study the workplace. Human Resources. Negotiation. Labor rights. Employment trends. The school offers undergraduate and graduate degrees. It is a state school, so it also has a land-grant mandate to provide outreach.

Now that you’ve got all that under your belt, you should be able to take in the mission of YTI: To advance knowledge, policies, and practices to enhance opportunities for all people with disabilities.

What I get to do most days is to help make that mission happen. So, yeah, it’s not what I expected when I started looking for a job at Cornell, but now that I’m here, I’m enjoying my work—and the running.

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