Combining the love for his people with his skills and knowledge, Isaiah Murray (’19) is on the path to build and lead cities that create spaces of opportunity for all those living there.
Born and raised on the south side of San Antonio, Texas, Isaiah is a first-generation college student with a major in urban and regional planning and minors in information science and inequality studies. Isaiah grew up in a neighborhood where his house resembled a community center and his upbringing was like a village raising a child. Small businesses are a vital part of his neighborhood, but economic opportunity is lacking. He is passionate about learning the social implications of how cities are built and aims to reframe popular perception on low socioeconomic communities.
Isaiah is a leader and at the same time, easily collaborative, genuine about helping others, and versatile in this strengths and skills. His main campus involvements include multiple leadership positions on the Sabor Latino Dance Ensemble, as well as being a McNair Scholar and a Meinig Scholar. He is also involved with the Intergroup Dialogue Project, Alternative Breaks, the Pre-Professional Program, and the SWAG Mentorship Program.
Isaiah has dived deep into his scholarly and community-oriented work since the beginning of his Cornell career. He was chosen as a Meinig Scholar during his application process to Cornell because he exemplified the qualities of an emerging leader. Meinig Scholars make up less than 2% of the Cornell student body, and Isaiah has used their resources to complete a service trip to the Bronx, and to work with a start-up.
Isaiah is also a McNair Scholar, a prestigious honor for first-generation college students who are part of traditionally underrepresented groups in graduate education. During his sophomore year, he demonstrated strong academic potential and plans to contribute to the program’s goal to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society. “I want to get a PhD to understand the links between digital and physical space in cities for a diverse, unified stance on politics and municipal direction.” He has done research for the Social Dynamics Lab and currently does for the Border-Tech Lab.
Outside of the Cornell bubble, Isaiah has experience working in Ivy Taylor’s office, San Antonio’s former mayor – and the first African-American woman in the role. Through his involvement with McNair, he was able to work on a community project with the Chicago Housing Authority and has conducted research at the Urban Future Lab think tank in San Antonio. Isaiah is currently thinking about pursuing a PhD in Media Studies in the near future, and plans to eventually run for office back in his hometown.
It is clear that Isaiah actively pursues opportunities to advocate on behalf of marginalized communities, but his own path has not been completely smooth. Coming from both an African-American and a Mexican background, Isaiah has struggled to define his identity and find his place on campus and at-large. He’s learned the importance of creating your own space and credits his many friends and mentors in helping him find his home on campus.
He expressed his gratitude to Sabor Latino for being the community he had been searching for, and recalled his favorite memory at Cornell—the 2017 Sabor Latino performance.
During his junior year, Isaiah served at the president of Sabor Latino, the first Latinx-dance group on campus, and was in charge of their annual winter concert. “I think the best moment was when everything came together at the end and you get to see the team come together around this idea that ‘we all did it.’ ”
Not only did the performance run smoothly, but there were many dances that honored Latinx African and indigenous roots. For the first time ever, Sabor was able to bring back one of the founders of the group from 25-years prior, and held a banquet for the current members and alumni.
If there is one piece of advice Isaiah would like to share with incoming freshman, it would be to create your own path. “One of the things my grandpa always told me growing up,” recalled Isaiah, “was ‘where this is a will there is a way, but first you have to find the will and then you will have the way.’” He explained that there is a lot of pressure at Cornell to achieve things that you’re not passionate about, whether they be jobs, majors, or awards. Isaiah deeply believes that a key to happiness is taking time to discover who you are in order to pursue what you care about.
“Get to know yourself. Once you do, there’s nobody that’s ever going to stop you from reaching your goals.”