Claudia Ponce de León, a leader in the Latinx community at Cornell

By: Melissa Ruiz Hernandez ‘22,  Latinx Student Success Office Communications Intern
May 5, 2020

Claudia Ponce de León, a senior in the College of Engineering majoring in Civil Engineering, is well-known in the Latinx community as a leader and community member. If you have ever attended Unity Dinner, you are already familiar with her work and engagement. Claudia has been involved in a variety of student clubs and organizations throughout her years at Cornell as Co-chair for the Unity Dinner Planning Committee, Treasurer and Vice-President of the Cuban American Student Association, member of First Generation Student Union, Ambassador of CU Image, and President of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/ Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc.

Her involvement goes beyond just Cornell’s campus, however. As president of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad, Claudia has been key in organizing a campus tour for prospective students from NYC, co-sponsoring a clothing swap at Southside Community Center, and organizing hygiene products and clothing drives to donate to the Women’s Opportunity Center. When asked about why she joined her sorority, she said: “The reason I joined was because the womxn in this organization have provided me a space as well as support to grow and continue to push me to grow as an individual, while also providing me with a platform to do community work that is not limited to one identity, one theme, nor one location.”

Creating her own space and building community has been important for Claudia. Being from Miami, Florida, she mentions that she experienced a culture shock when she arrived at Cornell. “I had no idea what to expect weather wise, demographically, nor economically. Life at Cornell is very different from life in Miami. Yet, I was able to overcome the impacts of the culture-shock by finding amazing people who have become my home away from home.” Her fondest memories are those she shared with her close friends. She reminisces about late-night hangouts with her friends at the LLC, watching the sunset at the slope, and attending hockey games.

Her time at Cornell has not been at all easy, however. As a first-gen, Latinx, low-income student in a field where women are underrepresented, she has faced significant challenges. For one, women of color are underestimated, underrepresented and questioned in STEM fields. Second, first-generation students usually deal with imposter syndrome and self-doubt. These were things that Claudia has experienced and has learned to navigate. With the help of strong female mentorship, resilience, and patience, Claudia has been able to self-advocate and hold space where minorities have been historically excluded. Her commitment to her work is apparent when she talks about her decision to major in civil engineering: “I have always been passionate about having an impact. I have always found buildings interesting and when I was in high school I truly started to understand the importance of resilient infrastructure. Especially because I was able to visit my family in Cuba after several years and the difference of infrastructure there from Miami really hit me. As time has gone by, my dreams have evolved from making an impact to working toward how to integrate sustainability with building practices and increasing accessibility of such practices.”

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, Claudia didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy her last semester as she imagined. As a first-gen student, graduation meant a celebration not only of hard work, but also of sacrifices and her different identities. However, she is happy with her experiences and the memories she made at Cornell: “The situation has been tough on everyone. I am sad to have rushed to say goodbye to my closest friends with no definite idea of the next time I would see them, as we all live so far from each other. I am sad to not have gotten time to say goodbye to others who meant a lot to me and left their mark on me, even if we did not talk much. This semester had been the semester I purposely took time to have fun and I had many more plans with friends before graduation. Yet, I am grateful my family and loved ones are safe and healthy for now. I am grateful for the people who have crossed my path while at Cornell. Overall, I have hope that we will all get a graduation in which we get to celebrate all of our accomplishments in full. My diploma is as much for myself as for my family and all the other first-gen immigrants striving for a better tomorrow.”

After graduating, Claudia plans to work in the civil engineering industry for some years and then attend graduate school.

Claudia Ponce de Leon profile