Millie Kastenbaum, graduating this weekend from Cornell, is the first to receive the university’s new Campus-Community Leadership Award. She has worked with students, city staff, and elected officials while pursuing a government degree on campus.
According to Cornell officials, “the honor will be presented on an annual basis to a graduating senior who has shown exceptional town-gown leadership and innovation.”
City of Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick, himself a Cornell alum who was very engaged with the community as a student, says Millie worked on his high-profile “Ithaca Plan” for dealing with drugs and drug policy. “Millie’s leadership and contributions to the City of Ithaca have gone far beyond inputs from an average student volunteer or intern,” the mayor said. “Her insights during the development of the Ithaca Plan, her steadfast approach on town-gown quality of life issues like rental housing, and her organizational skills, illustrated brilliantly at our campus ‘town hall’ meeting, represent the tenets of a strong leader with a very bright future.”
“I interned for the City of Ithaca’s Mayor’s Office for two summers, and have loved every second of it,” Millie says. The senior adds that her internship at City Hall came about when during the winter of her sophomore year, she e-mailed her resume “directly to the Mayor’s Office on a whim. Mayor Myrick e-mailed me back himself, and passed on my resume to his then chief of staff, Kevin Sutherland.”
Cornell vice president for university relations Joel Malina says Millie’s efforts “represent some of the best work Cornell students undertake in our shared communities.” He added, “Her work with and for the City of Ithaca, including service on the Rental Housing Advisory Commission, has been essential and appreciated.”
As a student, Millie also worked at WVBR as a newscaster and as host of a weekly public affairs talk show, interviewing local leaders and residents about topics of the day.
After graduation this weekend, Millie will join her mother Diana Kastenbaum’s campaign staff, helping the Western New York resident run for the House of Representatives in New York’s 27th Congressional District. The Batavia Democrat will be challenging Republican incumbent Chris Collins for the seat, and Millie says she’ll “most likely be stationed in Buffalo” through election day in November.
Millie says she hopes “more students continue to positively embrace the idea of a shared community” thanks to her efforts and those of the Student Assembly’s City & Local Affairs committee, which she launched and chaired. “Because the committee is new, we’ve had the freedom to try out new and innovative ways to connect students with the local community and vice versa,” she tells us.
“I don’t know what’s next for Millie,” Mayor Myrick says, “but I hope she decides to run for office one day. I think we need people with her intelligence and integrity in public office, and I’d feel lucky to be represented by her.”