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Cuffie gift boosts research by undergraduates

Sheryl Sinkow; Mark Vorreuter

Supported by Cuffie’s endowment, Misha Inniss-Thompson worked this summer with Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development, to study gender discrimination.

After graduating from a magnet high school in Newark, Cynthia Cuffie ’74, MD, (shown above) arrived at Cornell planning to major in chemistry. But when she took a nutrition course in Human Ecology her sophomore year, she switched to nutritional sciences. “The college was very warm and the professors were invested in our success,” she recalls. “That type of environment was perfect for me to thrive.” As an undergraduate, Cuffie concentrated on research—a focus that would shape the span of her career. After Cornell, Cuffie completed medical school followed by specialty training in internal medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now part of Rutgers University), followed by an endocrinology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Following her studies, Cuffie rose through the ranks of the pharmaceutical industry, becoming vice president of global clinical development for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases at Merck. During her 26year career, Cuffie led drug development to treat conditions from hypercholesterolemia to brain tumors. In 2011, she retired and

currently presides over Aspire Educational Associates Corporation, an organization she founded in 2004 to offer career and leadership development. An active Cornell volunteer, Cuffie is mentoring committee co-chair of the Cornell University Council, grants committee cochair of the President’s Council of Cornell Women, and immediate past vice president of student relations of the Cornell Black Alumni Association. “My Cornell education taught me perseverance. I will forever be grateful for that,” says Cuffie. “It gave me confidence to pursue an exciting and intellectually challenging career path.” To continue her family’s legacy of educational excellence, Cuffie created an endowment fund in Human Ecology to support undergraduate research for black and underrepresented minority students. “This fund enables me to give students of color resources to pursue opportunities, such as conducting research, that will broaden their academic experience,” she says. “I want to see them thrive at Cornell and beyond.”

The first two recipients of the stipend— human development students Sabrina Alexander ’16 and Misha Inniss-Thompson ’16—used the grants to support original research projects. Inniss-Thompson, from Teaneck, N.J., hopes to earn a PhD in psychology and led a study on gender discrimination in the workplace. “Without the funding, I wouldn’t have been able to stay through the summer,” says Inniss-Thompson, who is also a McNair Scholar, a program that helps underrepresented students prepare for doctoral programs. A Newark native who hopes to study medicine, Alexander contributed to a nutritional sciences project that compared obese and non-obese women’s attitudes about breastfeeding. “It’s just really inspiring to see someone who came from Newark and is doing exactly what I want to do, in terms of being involved in the community and giving back to the college,” Alexander says. “I’m just very grateful to have crossed paths with her.” — Sherrie Negrea


Human Ecology Magazine, Fall 2015