Las Vegas, Nevada, native Anita On has a singular mission in life—helping people reach their potential and supporting them on that journey. As a Human Development major in the College of Human Ecology, she’s cast the net wide as she refines and builds her skills toward those ends. “I really appreciate that there’s not one singular subject that we look into,” says On. “Human Development and Human Ecology are very interdisciplinary.”
As a freshman, On worked as a research assistant in the Affect and Cognition Lab run by cognitive neuroscientists Eve De Rosa, an associate professor of Human Development, and Adam Anderson, a professor of Human Development. In her work with De Rosa and Anderson, On designed and taught hands-on neuroscience lessons to elementary school students at the Syracuse Academy of Sciences. Says On: “This was when I saw that you could really apply your knowledge and your work directly in the community and make an impact.” In her second year with the lab, she took on additional responsibilities, working with rats to investigate how aging affects cognitive flexibility.
“A part of my mission is to do impactful work, including gaining more knowledge about how I can help break down systemic barriers that prevent young people from achieving their potential and help them live healthy, happy lives".
More recently, On has parlayed her personally revelatory classroom experience in Introduction to Nutrition into a research assistantship in the Leak Research Group, a public health nutrition laboratory run by Tashara Leak, the Lois and Mel Tukman Assistant Professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. “I wasn’t very involved in sports and didn’t know much about nutrition when I was a child,” says On. “I’ve learned how dietary habits and activity levels later in life can be influenced by what you do when you’re young.” Leak’s Advanced Cooking Education (ACE) is an afterschool program for 8th graders in New York City that teaches healthy cooking and snacking, mindfulness, and career development. Working with ACE and Leak, On has been able to integrate her interests in developmental psychology with all she’s learned about how food choices affect a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health across the lifespan. “Some young people can’t really control their environment,” she says. “A part of my mission is to do impactful work, including gaining more knowledge about how I can help break to down systemic barriers that prevent young people from achieving their potential and help them live healthy, happy lives.”
Despite remote learning for the fall 2020 semester due to the pandemic, On has continued integrating her academic pursuits with community service. In addition to visiting homebound clients of a hospice in her hometown, she has remained active in on-campus organizations by phone and videoconference. She is a trainer for Cornell’s Empathy, Assistance, and Referral Service, an anonymous peer support program, and works as a senior career assistant in the College of Human Ecology’s Career Exploration Center, which provides peer-to-peer coaching on professional, academic, and post-graduate endeavors. “I see my role as someone who is a cheerleader,” says On. “I believe they have the resources and tools within themselves to succeed and I’m helping them bring that out.”