Skip to main content

Ryan Scholars Program

in this section

robert_ryanThe Robert L. Ryan Scholars Program is named in honor of Cornell Alumnus Robert L. Ryan (MS EE '68). Ryan presently serves on the Board of Trustees for Cornell University and served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Medtronic, Inc., the world's leading biomedical technology company, from 1993 until his retirement in April 2005. Mr. Ryan was Vice President, Finance, and Chief Financial Officer of Union Texas Petroleum Corp. from 1984 to 1993, Controller from 1983 to 1984 and Treasurer from 1982 to 1983. Prior to 1982, Mr. Ryan was Vice President at Citibank and was a management consultant for McKinsey & Company. Mr. Ryan is deeply committed to the success of aspiring engineers, especially those from underrepresented populations, and is an extraordinary role model to the current and future generations of leaders.

The Ryan Scholars Program annually enrolls a cohort of 34 students that through the admissions process are invited or required to participate in the university's Pre-Freshmen Summer Program. The average entering cohort size over the last three years (2013-2016) is 30 scholars. Through the admissions process, all of the scholars have displayed the demonstrated potential to be successful as engineering students. However, they are selected for participation in the Pre-Freshmen Summer Program due to multiple background characteristics that place them at risk and that may hinder their persistence in engineering. These characteristics include any combination of two or more the following: low resourced high school, modest socio-economic background, first generation college (FGC) student, English as a second language, single parent household, limited access to rigorous AP Math and Science coursework, etc…

 Ryan Scholars Collage

The Ryan Scholars Program has a strategic structure that provides Ryan Scholars with every opportunity to succeed as engineering undergraduate students and beyond. The program is grounded in developing a supportive community of scholars that focuses on the success of the individual as well as the success of the collective group. The core components of the program include the following:

Engineering Summer Scholars Program

The Engineering Summer Scholars Program (ESSP) is the engineering component of Cornell University's Pre-Freshmen Summer Program, a six- week summer residential program that allows pre-freshmen students to learn about the university and build a strong academic and community foundation prior to their fall semester. Students are invited to become a member of the Ryan Scholars Program through the admissions process. Those engineering students confirmed for participation in the Pre-Freshmen Summer Program are also confirmed as Ryan Scholars.

Ryan Scholars participating in ESSP enroll in three courses during the summer session including a core math course, an "Explorations in Engineering" course, and either a core Computer Science course or an intro to Computer Science course (for students with no prior CS coursework or programming experience). They also participate in semi-weekly Collaborative Learning Group sessions, which are modeled after the Academic Excellence Workshops offered by the Engineering Learning Initiatives office during the academic year. The scholars have regular group and one-to-one meetings with the Ryan Scholars Program Coordinator as well as with the undergraduate engineering Program Assistants supporting the program. In addition, the Ryan Scholars participate in other professional, academic, and community development activities focused on meeting the following objectives:

  • To create an enriching summer experience and successful transition to Cornell Engineering
  • To establish a living and learning community
  • To enhance academic skills in Calculus, Computer Science & Engineering Methods
  • To develop effective study and time management skills
  • To introduce scholars to various resources in student services in the College of Engineering and beyond
  • To foster relationships between the scholars and engineering faculty, staff, and current students
  • To develop a First-Year Success Plan


The structure of the Ryan Scholars Program provides the Scholars with the opportunity to establish strong connections within the engineering community as well as have increasingly positive experiences in and outside of the classroom.

Key goals of the program include:

  • Increasing student satisfaction and retention
  • Contributing to a holistic student support system
  • Developing meaningful connections between new and more experienced students
  • Helping students build self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of belonging
  • Creating a positive and caring community among engineering students

Proactive Advising

Throughout their undergraduate careers, Ryan scholars meet regularly with the Ryan Scholars Program Director and Graduate Student Coordinators for one-to-one advising sessions focused on developing goals and action-plans centered on their academic, personal, and professional success. In the freshman and sophomore years, these sessions primarily focus on selecting a major, study skills, time management, wellness, developing productive relationships with faculty and other topics especially relevant to the success of early career undergraduate students. In collaboration with the Engineering Advising Office, the Ryan Scholars Program Director also conducts early intervention measures with Ryan Scholars throughout their first two years of study. This means if a Ryan Scholar performs at or below the mean on a preliminary exam in a core course, they will be contacted by the Ryan Scholars Program Director so they can work together to identify and execute measures that will support the Ryan Scholar in achieving greater success in subsequent coursework and exams.

In the junior and seniors years, the Ryan Scholars Director and Graduate Student Coordinators focus these one-to-one sessions on working with the Ryan Scholars to develop and implement individual graduation and post-graduation success plans. This involves helping Ryan Scholars learn and understand the broad array of academic and professional opportunities available to them as engineering students, which includes graduate school, careers in industry and government, research experiences, and more. The purpose of these sessions is to help the Ryan Scholars to develop and clarify their post-graduate aspirations. Additionally, these sessions focus on helping the Ryan Scholars create action-plans that will help position them to be as competitive as possible when securing internships, summer research opportunities, graduate and professional school admission, and/or positions with full-time employers. The Ryan Scholars Program staff also assists the Ryan Scholars in identifying resources and opportunities within and external to Cornell that will help them achieve their goals and dreams.


As first year students, Ryan Scholars receive an upperclassman peer mentor through CU EMPower, a formal peer-mentoring program for first year undergraduate, transfer, and graduate engineering students. In subsequent years, Ryan Scholars have the opportunity to serve as peer mentors to incoming Ryan Scholars and other first year engineering students. Ryan Scholars also participate in regular group CU EMPower meetings, which provide them the opportunity to engage in group-mentoring activities with other students, staff, and faculty members.

Ryan Scholar Awards

Ryan Scholar Awards are financial awards that Ryan Scholars may use to support their participation in professional and academic development activities such as conferences and service learning opportunities; to secure individualized tutoring services; and to purchase supplemental course materials and technical aids not covered by financial aid. Ryan Scholars are eligible to apply for up to $500 per year to support their participation in activities approved by the Ryan Scholars Program Director and the Director of Diversity Programs in Engineering.


The Engineering Learning Initiatives Office, the Learning Strategies Center, and other departments on campus provide free tutoring for many courses offered at Cornell. However, tutors are not available for all courses, especially upper level engineering courses. Therefore, if a Ryan Scholar finds him or herself in need of a tutor for a course in which free tutors are not available, the Ryan Scholars Program Director will work with the scholar to identify and fund an appropriate tutor.

Spatial Visualization Skill Development

Students in the Ryan Scholars program participate in a 2-credit course entitled Spatial Visualization and Thinking for Engineers. Spatial reasoning refers to one's ability to visualize, analyze, understand and work with two- and three dimensional problems and objects. Such problems pervade science, math and engineering. Poor performance in courses that rely on spatial reasoning skills affects students' perceptions of self-efficacy, especially in women and URM students. Remarkably, a working adeptness with these skills can be learned and retained over time with a relatively small amount of instruction and practice. The NSF funded ENGAGE Project has developed, implemented and tested a proven curriculum that is the basis of this course.

The Ryan Scholars Program is sponsored in part by generous funding from Cornell Alumnus Robert L. Ryan (MS EE '68) and the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

2011 Ryan Scholars_Lockheed Martin