Name: Mitchell Cornell
Hometown: Incline Village, Nevada
Major: Physics, minor in math
34th Street Magazine: You have a very rigorous academic path. Why did you choose to pursue both your bachelor's and master’s in physics at the same time?
Mitchell Cornell: I got interested in [physics] in high school. I didn't know if I was up to the challenge coming into college. But I started, and I was fortunate to have very great professors. My first two semesters, I had a professor that I ended up working with my sophomore summer, Elliot Lipeles, who really provided a source of inspiration. As time has gone on, I've been able to take some of the harder, cooler classes. Being able to understand the world in such a precise way is amazing to me. Being able to do the math and understand it at that level has been very rewarding. I’m going to finish both the bachelor’s and the master’s in four years. Because there was not that much golf this year, I was able to take some more classes.
Street: You’ve been described as a leader in different areas of campus. Can you talk about what it means to be a leader, and why you chose to take on leadership roles?
MC: I never really thought about how to be a good leader until I was golf captain and on Camp Kesem board my junior fall. The characteristics that could make [me] a good leader really stem from all the amazing people I met in my first two years—whether that's the previous golf captains who really shaped my first two years at Penn, or the previous leaders of Camp Kesem, or just really inspirational people I met throughout my time here. I could take little bits of conversations or ways that people acted to try and be a great leader on the golf team. That obviously means just not only playing good golf, but also getting up with everybody at 5:30 a.m. in the morning for workouts, focusing but also being a great teammate, having fun on our van rides, making it the family that it should be—and that it is. Camp Kesem has been another really unique experience. I'm over the moon that I've been able to be a part of it. It's something that's personally very meaningful to me. To be able to be, in some sense, the face of the meetings, of the recruitment process, of trying to get people excited about this great cause, has been fun.
Street: What inspired you to get involved in Camp Kesem, and what’s been your favorite part of the experience?
MC: That's actually kind of a funny story. My [first–year] fall, someone in my Spanish class was like, “Come to this meeting. Camp Kesem puts on a summer camp for kids whose parents have cancer. There are chapters throughout the country, and ours serves kids in and around Philadelphia.” My family's been affected by cancer, so that has a deep, meaningful connection to me. At the time, I went to the meeting. Then I just forgot about it, which was so silly, because I could have had all this time to be a part of it. But then one of my good friends bugged me about it again my sophomore year. And then I stuck it out. 'Kesem' means magic in Hebrew, and it's hard to describe the magic that Camp Kesem is. It's a group that provides a lot of strength and community for these kids who are going through very hard times in their lives.
Street: Can you talk a little bit about your love for golf, and how joining Penn golf has influenced your Penn experience?
MC: Golf has been something I've played since I was three years old. I went out there with my dad. In a lot of ways it’s taught me ... how to persevere and how to be strong, mentally, when things go poorly on the golf course. You have to keep your cool, trust your abilities, trust yourself, and keep going. I've been able to draw a lot of parallels from golf to succeeding in other areas of my life. In respect to college golf, an interesting thing is that you don't really get to play team golf that often. Coming into college, I had this individualistic outlook on golf, and then coming out, you realize you have made a family through your competitive spirit and your desire to work hard for each other. I think it’s impossible to overstate how much these guys mean to me, and our coach, and everybody that's part of Penn golf. It's obviously been difficult this year not to have that in a very meaningful capacity. The program is in a very great spot, and I definitely feel fortunate to have been able to lead it for the time that I officially got to be captain when we had a season. But when I think about Penn, that's the first thing I associate Penn with—the golf team and being able to compete.
Street: You're a part of the Friars Senior Society, which focuses on leadership and service. What has that meant to you?
MC: Friars means a great deal to me. I was able to take on leadership last fall within the group, which I think not only allowed me to have some sort of responsibility within it, but also to make sure that I got—selfishly, I suppose—the most out of it for myself. It's tough to broaden the kinds of people we interact with as seniors because sometimes it's hard to branch out. But to be able to be around 40 people who lead different groups or win championships, people who make differences on Penn's campus or make great music—I don't think I could have expected to come across so many fantastic people throughout my time at Penn. To have been able to do it in under a year has been the biggest treat of senior year.
Street: What has been your most memorable experience at Penn?
MC: The last Ivy League championship I got to play, which was when there were three senior captains at the time who really shaped my understanding of myself on the Penn golf team, and how to be a leader, and how to be a great friend. It was sad to me that it was going to be their last golf tournament. And then to sit today and understand that we’re not going to have a last Ivy League championship makes me put myself in those shoes and be grateful that I got to have those experiences, that I got to learn from this group of people and compete at a very high level. Also the Penn graduation in 2018—the whole day was quite memorable. Being able to hear Bryan Stevenson speak was powerful.
Street: If you could impart one lesson on the Penn student body, what would it be?
MC: When people come to Penn, you understand that it’s this great institution that will provide you with great education, probably some fun, and whatever groups you want to be a part of. But I think that it's really important to understand—this is something that I've only begun to do for myself in the past year—the historical context that Penn sits in, with respect to Philadelphia, and the people who live in Philadelphia, and how we impact their lives positively or negatively. It's very important to understand that context if you want to be a positive member of the Philadelphia community. Trying to not think about [the negative aspects] or ignore the very real impact that Penn has on Philadelphia is not right. Penn students should pay attention to understand [the impact], to try and build on it positively going forward.
Street: What’s next for you after Penn?
MC: I'm going to New York to be an interest rate trading analyst at Goldman [Sachs]. I'm not sure what I want to do after that, but some things that interest me a lot are climate science and quantum computing, which are very different. But I think that getting my feet set in the world, and then trying to understand how I can apply the skills that I love and have on some of the more complicated problems we have to solve—I think can be very rewarding.
Last song you listened to?
“Up All Night" by Khalid.
Something people wouldn't guess about you?
I took a gap year, and I lived in Granada, Spain for three months. It’s absolutely my favorite city in the world.
If you were building on campus, which one would you be and why?
Unpopular opinion: I'm going to go with DRL [David Rittenhouse Laboratory]. A lot of the people and the work that goes on in that building are just unbelievable.
Favorite golf club?
My putter is my favorite golf club. It's probably the most important one, the one you spend the most time practicing with, and the one you have the biggest love–hate relationship with, so there's a lot going on.
Who do you look up to?
The two people I guess at the top of my mind right now are my two grandfathers. In different ways, but they both just shaped who I am and what I care about.
If we weren't in a pandemic right now, and you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Granada, without a doubt. I missed that city so much.
There are two types of people at Penn…
Those who show up to their 8 a.m. recitation in DRL, and those who don't.
And you are?
[My first year,] I was the one who showed up. This year, probably not.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.