Fresh from the Hill: Inside Stories of Noteworthy Cornellians

The Lucky Break - Ritu Raman '12

An episode of Fresh from the Hill: Inside Stories of Noteworthy Cornellians

By Cornell Alumni Association
Fresh from the Hill: Inside Stories of Noteworthy Cornellians will give you an inside look into the lives of some of our most notable young Cornellians. Learn who they are and what role Cornell University played in their professional and personal lives.

Created and produced by Amanda Massa.
Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13.
Artwork by Chris Kelly.
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Second Chances - Darnell Epps '19
From the Brooklyn housing projects, to private Catholic School, to a near 17-year incarceration at Five Points Correctional Facility, to Cornell University, Darnell Epps '19 is not your typical Cornell Senior.  Hear Darnell's fascinating and inspirational story about taking the wrong path in life, lessons learned, and coming out the other side. “One thing that struck me deep was seeing the pain… When I walked in the courtroom and I would see a packed courtroom and I would see families on both sides, feeling pain. I would see the tears in my mother’s eyes, the embarrassment that I caused her, the shame that I brought. She was a New York City Police Officer, but yet had to explain to her colleagues that her two sons were incarcerated for murder. And she was at trial every day. She stuck by me. She came up on the visit practically every month to see Darrell and I. It was that. It was witnessing that. It was seeing that. That really brought me face-to-face with the need to ultimately become a responsible adult and to break out of this way of thinking that seemed to dominate my teenage years.”  Check out Darnell's Op Ed in the New York Times. Hosted by Lou Diamond '92. Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.    
June 26, 2019
The Lucky Break - Ritu Raman '12
Ritu Raman is an engineer, writer, and educator with a passion for introducing bio-hybrid materials into the toolbox of every inventor. She grew up in India, Kenya, and the United States and has learned to appreciate and thrive in diverse and dynamic environments. Her life experiences have shown her that technical innovation can drive positive social change, and this inspires her to help democratize and diversify STEM education around the world. Ritu is currently a L’Oréal USA postdoctoral fellow in the renowned Langer Lab at MIT and a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2018.  Listen in as Ritu chats with Aaron Kominos-Smith about how she navigated the US college process and learned "the Ivy League is a good thing," how she originally picked Cornell because of her aspirations to be an astronaut, how her successes in life not only resulted from her hard work but also some luck, and what she's currently working on at MIT. Check out WiSDM (Women in STEM Database at MIT), which Ritu mentions at the end of the episode at  “We all get value out of something when we see that it impacts other people” Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.  
June 12, 2019
Empowering Podcast Creators - Nir Zicherman '08
Nir Zicherman '08 is the Co-Founder and CTO of Anchor, the easiest way ever to make a podcast, 100% for free. Previously, Nir ran server engineering at Aviary, where he built back-end systems to scale to tens of millions of monthly users until Aviary's acquisition by Adobe in 2014.  In this episode of Fresh from the Hill, hear about Nir's journey as a Government major at Cornell, to NYU Law, to passing the bar, to finding his first job in programming (yes, you read that right). Nir believes in teaching yourself the things that you're interested in, which is what led him to a career in programming. Learn how Nir met his co-founder and decided to start Anchor, a company that's revolutionizing the world of podcasting in all facets: hosting, recording, distributing, editing, and monetizing.  “With Anchor, we have discovered that there’s so much interesting content that can be created when you put the tools in the hands of people who have really interesting ideas, but historically haven’t been empowered to actually make those ideas come to life.” You don't have to be Joe Rogan to be successful in podcasting - visit to get started today! Hosted by Aaron Kominos-Smith '04. Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.      
May 29, 2019
The Business of Broadway - Dana Lerner '14
Dana M. Lerner '14 is a Tony-nominated theater producer and entrepreneur. She is the founder and CEO of Red Pelican Creative, LLC a social media consulting and management agency providing strategic advice and management consulting on social media, brand enhancement and development primarily in the live entertainment space .   In this episode of Fresh from the Hill, Dana sits down with host Aaron Kominos-Smith '04 to chat about what life as a theater major at Cornell was like, how to get into the business side of theater, how Hamilton is changing the game in ticketing and subscription models, what it takes to be a Broadway producer, and how she got involved with the Tony-nominated show Indecent. Also hear about the numerous ways Dana stays involved with Cornell in her very limited free time! Learn more about Dana and Red Pelican Creative at and   Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.     
May 15, 2019
The Value of People - Julio Casado '08
Julio Casado '08 studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, received a Master’s degree in Management from the Harvard University Extension School, and is a 2018 Fellow of the New Leaders Council. He was born in Dominican Republic, grew up in Harlem, and is proud to call the Bronx home. Hear about how Julio's experience at Cornell in the ILR school directly launched him into a career in the labor relations and HR world, and how the power of the Cornell network helped him to get where he is today. Learn about the the different entrepreneurial paths he's pursued since graduation and how he currently consults in talent management and fundraising with a focus on advancing social impact organizations as well as being the Co-Founder of Smart Professions, which provides talented freelancers skills training and infrastructure support critical to their personal and professional growth. Additionally, Julio serves as the President of La Unidad Latina Foundation, a non-profit organization that propels students dedicated to advancing the Latino community from high school to college graduation and beyond. Together with the Alpha Chapter of Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity Inc., LULF established the Latino Living Center endowment fund to support the Program House and cultural events for Cornell's Latino community. Julio previously served as a Business Operations Manager at a Bronx, NY middle school and as a Human Capital consultant. Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.    
May 1, 2019
Making Something Beautiful From a Pile of Dirt - Justin Kondrat '14
Justin Kondrat '14 is an inspiring alumnus who defeated all odds to go to his dream school, Cornell University. In this episode, host Aaron Kominos-Smith talks with Justin about his intense passion for horticulture and how Cornell helped him achieve his dream of working as a  horticulturist. Hear about Justin's journey to Cornell as a first-generation college student who grew up in a low income household and was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. Despite these limitations, Justin was always determined to go to Cornell. He earned his associates degree in horticulture production at SUNY Morrisville and then transferred to Schenectady County Community College to get his chemistry credits out of the way. He always knew in his heart that Cornell was where he was meant to be, and he was accepted after he finished his courses at Schenectady County Community College. In 2014 he graduated from the School of Integrative Plant Science.  Justin currently is a horticulturist within the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection, Washington, D.C. In his free time, he leads community-based installations focused on connecting people with plants and serves as an advocate for person with learning disabilities. Most recently he produced The Pansy Project, Washington, D.C. This project was an extension of U.K. Artist, Paul Harfleet's work of highlighting the issues surrounding homophobia by planting an individual pansy at an identified site of a homophobic act. This gentle artwork and planting promotes discussion, invites dialogue and offers the opportunity for municipalities to publicly support the fight against discrimination in all its forms. This project engages the LGBTQ+ communities by the uses a pansy flower. The pansy is the ideal flower given associations with its name, but pansy flowers are hearty and easy to grow with its inherent, striking beauty:  “No matter how much it’s knocked down with the ice and the snow it always comes back up with a smiling face. It always shows that face proudly.”  At Cornell, Justin led ROOTED at Cornell: a living community art installation designed to actively engage students. Justin believes that horticulture is a medium of inclusion where all may find belonging. He has devoted his life to catalyzing change through horticulture. “Plants have the power to help us transcend limitations that we place upon others and ourselves. Horticulture naturally invokes inclusion and invites all to feel welcome.”  Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.    
April 17, 2019
Meet Aaron Kominos-Smith '04
Meet our third and final host for season one of Fresh from the Hill! Learn about Aaron's background at Cornell, how his time in the Whistling Shrimp Improv group inspired him to leave his job as an architect and pursue a job in standup comedy, and what's the first thing that comes to his mind when he hears the word "Cornell." Find out more about Aaron at Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.    
April 3, 2019
Connecting Artists to Fans... from WVBR to SiriusXM to Spotify - Jordan Gremli '08
Jordan Gremli graduated from Cornell University in 2008 with a Bachelor's Degree in Atmospheric Science, but spent most of his time as an undergraduate at WVBR-FM, the school's independent, student-run commercial radio station. He is currently Head of Artist & Fan Development at Spotify. In this role, he manages a team responsible for building programs and tools that help artists build their audiences by connecting them with the right fans throughout every step of the artist development process. This includes developing and running Fans First, Spotify's fan reward program. Hear about how Jordan's aspirations changed from becoming a meteorologist to working in music and how his extracurricular involvements led to that decision. Also learn about how Jordan stays connected to Cornell, how Spotify has grown and remained constant over his 7-year tenure there, what he does to enhance the user and artist experiences,  and how to hear what he's currently listening to through his Top Ten of the Week playlist. Hosted by Lou Diamond '92. Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.   
March 20, 2019
Pathways - Becky Katz '09
Becky Katz '09 is currently a Robert Bosch Fellow, a prestige program that accepts 15 professionals and provides professional development in Germany. Before her move to Germany, she was the City of Atlanta’s first Chief Bicycle Officer. In this role she worked across city and state departments and with the public to make Atlanta safer, easier and better by bike. Her main initiatives included launching and overseeing the Relay Bike share system, increasing the city's bikeway mileage through the Renew Atlanta Infrastructure Bond/TSPLOST and other capital programs and leading Cycle Atlanta planning study.  In this episode of "Fresh from the Hill," Becky will talk with host Lou Diamond '92 about the various pathways she took after graduating from Cornell with a degree in environmental engineering and what she's up to today. Hear about her interest in the overlap of engineering and communities, how at the end of the day all jobs are about networking and having real authentic relationships, the role of women in engineering and the challenges they face in a male-dominated industry, and how easy it is to find Cornellians anywhere in the world! Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly.  
March 6, 2019
"People are the X Factor," Kia Albertson-Rogers '13 (Kia Orion)
Kia Albertson-Rogers '13 (Kia Orion) is a Philadelphia based singer-songwriter performing soulful, electronic, and R&B music. Graduating from Cornell in 2014, Kia spent a brief period in the music industry before getting involved with non-profit work. With a background in hip-hop and jazz, he is focused on creating songs that resonate with listeners in a way that is both energetic and emotional. His main weapons are Ableton Live and piano. He recently moved to Thailand in order to pursue music full time, but will always have a place in his heart for Ithaca. Take a listen as Kia chats with host Lou Diamond '92 about life, finding oneself, making meaningful connections, his music, and what went into creating the intro and outro music to this podcast. Buckle up - this one is a fun ride that we think you'll enjoy! Follow on social @kiaorion. Podcast created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '13, Artwork by Chris Kelly. 
February 20, 2019
"I Just Need a Beer," Jack Mason '11
Jack Mason, Master Sommelier at the Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Houston Downtown and Galleria locations, achieved MS status at the very young age of 27 and is one of the youngest to do so. He is one of only 9 esteemed Master Sommeliers currently in the state of Texas and one of 144 Master Sommeliers in the United States.  Jack Mason has been featured in Forbes’s annual “30 Under 30” list of outstanding young professionals nationwide, Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list in New York City as was named Wine & Spirits “Best New Sommelier 2015.” He was also featured in the series “Uncorked” on the Esquire Network that followed his journey to receiving his MS certification.  Hear Jack chat with host Lou Diamond about what it took to get into Cornell's Hotel School after being denied the first time he applied, how being a transfer student gave him more of a focus, what made him decide to become a Master Sommelier, how his taste in wine has changed over time, the role religion plays in his life and how it helps him thrive, his future aspirations, and his advice for young people looking to pursue a career in hospitality or the wine industry.  Episode photo of Jack by Alice Gao. Created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14, Artwork by Chris Kelly. 
February 6, 2019
"Little Sister," Irene Li '12
Irene Li '12 operates Mei Mei Street Kitchen & Mei Mei Restaurant in Boston, where her work centers around ethical sourcing and fair employment practices. Irene’s background of living on an organic farm, organizing for economic and social justice, and working the restaurant line inform the direction of her creative, farm-driven, Chinese-American menus. She is an Eater Young Gun winner, Zagat and Forbes 30 Under 30 Honoree, and a four-time James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef semi-finalist.  In this episode of "Fresh from the Hill," host Lou Diamond '92 chats with Irene about her pathway at Cornell, how she ended up opening up a food truck with her brother and sister and eventually a traditional brick and mortar restaurant in Boston. Learn about Irene's background, food, and inspirations as well as what makes her tick and how if you're in the restaurant business you should never skip leg day!  Learn more about Mei Mei Restaurant and Street Kitchen at  Podcast created and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14, Artwork by Chris Kelly.
January 23, 2019
Meet Lou Diamond '92
Get get to know the host for our second series of "Fresh from the Hill," Lou Diamond '92.  Learn what Lou's favorite classes were at Cornell and how they connect to what he does today, hear about how Lou helps people Thrive in their everyday lives, and get a little teaser on the episodes he'll be hosting.  Learn more about Lou at  Hosted, created, and produced by Amanda Massa. Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14, Artwork by Chris Kelly.
January 9, 2019
"It Doesn't Get Old," Meghan Dubyak '04
On this episode of "Fresh from the Hill," you'll hear from Meghan Dubyak '04, current chief spokesperson and Associate Vice President for Communications and Creative Services at Georgetown University and former Press Secretary to Vice President Joe Biden and Special Assistant to President Obama. She'll chat with host Alex Zalben '99 about how she chose to work in political communications, her experiences outside the classroom and how they helped her grow at Cornell, her work with Steve Israel, Sherrod Brown, and Joe Biden, similarities (and differences) between work in politics and what's depicted on TV shows like "Scandal" and "The West Wing," how Joe Biden is the most "memeable" politician, her involvement in the “Cancer Moonshot” and “It’s on Us” campaigns, and her advice for young people wanting to get into government work. Created and produced by Amanda Massa Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14, Artwork by Chris Kelly
December 26, 2018
"Why Are You Trying to Study the Magic That is Love?" Marisa Cohen '06
In this episode of "Fresh from the Hill," Alex Zalben '99 talks to relationship expert Dr. Marisa Cohen about love, relationships, and her two primary lines of research: perceptions of first date success and consensual non-monogamy. Tune in to learn about how fighting can be important for a healthy relationship ("if you don't fight, chances are you're not being very honest"), how non-traditional relationships can really work out in the long run, why she's a proponent of online dating, how the Human Bonding course at Cornell inspired her to change career paths, what social media posting can mean about a relationship, and much more. Learn more about Dr. Cohen at her website Created and produced by Amanda Massa Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14 Artwork by Chris Kelly
December 12, 2018
"Who Made Your Beats For You?" Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo '08, MA '15 (AKA Sammus)
Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo '08, MA '15 aka Sammus is an Ithaca-raised, Philadelphia-based rap artist, producer, and PhD student in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. Through her music she has spent the past several years cultivating a strong following of activists, hip hop heads, punks, and self-identified nerds and geeks, among others. Enongo will talk about growing up in Ithaca and the different lenses she's seen Ithaca through, and how she never felt like she had to choose between her "Ithaca-ness" and "Cornell-ness." You'll also hear about her musical influences, her heroes, what role video games play in her music, sexism in the music industry, and what we can expect from her next project coming out in 2019. Not only that, Enongo is currently pursuing her PhD from Cornell (triple red!) and is exploring the politics of studios and community studios in low-income areas and how there's a need for studios in the public space. Learn more about Sammus at Hosted by Alex Zalben '99 Created and produced by Amanda Massa Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14, Artwork by Chris Kelly
November 28, 2018
"Take the Plunge," Stephen Hall '06
In our third episode of "Fresh from the Hill," we hear from Stephen Hall, co-founder of Tinker Coffee Co., a specialty coffee roaster in Indianapolis, Indiana. Steve will talk about his time at Cornell in the Hotel School, starting out in the wine industry and how he eventually made the transition to the coffee world, the nuance of coffee flavors, how hospitality is connected to every aspect of business, and the best way to get a great cup of coffee (HINT: invest in a good grinder!) Learn more about Tinker Coffee: Hosted by Alex Zalben '99 Created and produced by Amanda Massa Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14 Artwork by Chris Kelly
November 14, 2018
"Find Your North Star," Svante Myrick '09
At age 24 Svante Myrick won a mayoral race to become the youngest mayor in Ithaca's history and the first mayor of African American heritage. In this exclusive interview, host Alex Zalben '99 and Svante will chat about Svante's childhood, the first time he visited Cornell ("I thought I had stumbled on something magic, and I was right"), the opioid crisis in Ithaca and his plan to combat it, his learnings from President Barack Obama, his advice to young people getting into politics, and much more. Learn more about Svante: Created and produced by Amanda Massa Music by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14, Artwork by Chris Kelly
October 31, 2018
Introducing "Fresh from the Hill: Inside Stories of Noteworthy Cornellians"
Check out the very first episode of "Fresh from the Hill: Inside Stories of Noteworthy Cornellians." In this episode you'll hear from one of the hosts of the podcast, Alex Zalben class of 1999. You'll learn a little about Alex's background, how the podcast came about, and what to expect from season 1. Learn more at "Fresh from the Hill" was created, recorded, and produced by Amanda Massa, Associate Director of Young Alumni Programs at Cornell. Additional support was provided by Margaux Neiderbach '99 and Robert McMahon. Music for "Fresh from the Hill" was written, produced, and recorded by Kia Albertson-Rogers '14. You can contact him at Artwork for "Fresh from the Hill" was created by Chris Kelly. Special thanks to: Karen Barnes Jose Beduya MFA '04 Lisa Bushlow '91 Shannon Clute MA '01, PhD '03 Thomas Deneuville Joe Lyons '98 Adam Murtland Michael O'Neill Stephanie Watt '15 ... and all the staff in Alumni Affairs and Development who helped make this podcast a reality This podcast is hosted by Anchor, which was co-founded by Nir Zicherman '08. Learn more about Anchor at
October 17, 2018
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