Vitousek Lab undergrad tells of her Extraordinary Journey

By: Paige Becker, 
May 10, 2021

Paige Becker

Biological Sciences
Lucas, Texas

What was your favorite class and why?

I have two favorite classes. The first was the History of Rock Music and the second was American Sign Language. I loved History of Rock Music because I grew up listening to classic rock with my dad, and being able to learn the history behind my favorite music genre was incredibly fun. After every class, I would call my dad and fill him in on what I had learned that day. I even got to write an essay on my favorite artist, Billy Joel! ASL was also a favorite because it introduced me to an entire community that I never even knew existed. The deaf community is extremely inclusive and inviting. Although I am not deaf, I feel like I am a part of a new and special family. 

What is your main extracurricular activity and why is it important to you?

girl playing volleyball

I was a member of the varsity volleyball team here at Cornell. I have been playing volleyball for over half of my life, and I am forever grateful to be able to finish my career at Cornell. Volleyball is incredibly special to me as it has taught me discipline, patience, diligence, integrity and perseverance. I would not be the woman I am today without it. Along with teaching me several values,  Cornell volleyball has given me the best community with friendships that will last my lifetime. 

How have your beliefs or perspectives changed since you first arrived at Cornell? What have you discovered about yourself?

Being from a small town in Texas, I grew up in a bubble. In my community, I never got to experience the diversity and beauty of the world. Cornell has enabled me to meet people from all walks of life, and has taught me compassion and understanding. I have discovered that I am extremely passionate about conservation and the environment. 

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?

The summer between my sophomore and junior years, I worked as an undergraduate field assistant in Dr. Maren Vitousek's lab in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Her lab works with a population of tree swallows up near the Ithaca airport. Tree swallows are beautiful, blue iridescent songbirds; I fell in love with them the moment I held one of them in my hand. After working in this lab, I changed my concentration from genetics and genomics to ecology and evolutionary biology. I stayed in Dr. Vitousek's lab for the rest of my time at Cornell. I knew that I wanted to work to help conserve these small birds, and any other species that are endangered. After that summer, I shifted my class schedule to encompass more ecology classes and I really found my niche in academics here. 

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

It is perfectly OK to not know your path for the future. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I came to Cornell. I took advantage of the College of Arts & Sciences' wide range of courses and finally found my passion my junior year. Also, it's never too late to change course. If you pursue a path, and later discover that it's not a great fit for you, switch it up! Don't settle for something that you are not truly passionate about.

This article originally appeared as part of Extraordinary Journeys, the Class of 2021 -- a year like no other. Every year, Arts & Sciences faculty nominate graduating A&S students to be featured as part of the Extraordinary Journeys series.

Undergraduate student, Paige Becker shown holding a tree swallow