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Nicole Agaronnik '19

Nicole is a passionate advocate for the rights of the disabled

The Class of 1964 JFK Memorial Award winner for 2019 is Nicole Agaronnik, Nutrition Sciences major in the College of Human Ecology.

Nicole came to Cornell from a non-traditional background, having spent several years as a professional ballroom dancer. She won both national and international tournaments until a scoliosis diagnosis derailed her career. This experience fueled her passiona for disability advocacy, which began as she became a certified wheelchair ballroom dance instructor. "Together with my dance partner, I developed an initiative that uses wheelchair as a creative method to educate physicians about providing patient-centered care for people with disabilities", she says.

Over the course of her Cornell career, Nicole was lead author on four peer-reviewed articles in medical journals, taught at independent living and and adapted sports centers, organized Cornell's first disabilities studies symposium and addressed Trustees for a disbillities cultural resource center. She says that lecturing and demonstrating her craft across the country and interning at Mass General in Boston gave her an "opportunity to take the lead on my dream project, which involved research on the knowledge and understanding of practicing physicians about caring for individuals with disabilities. This critical research area seeks to address a startling gap in graduate medical education."

A Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar and recipient of the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, Nicole credits her Cornell mentors who "taught me the importance of remaining resolute in my convictions and committed to my endeavors even when change seems far away, and I believe that this dedication will help me along the path to a career in public service", she adds.

One of Nicole's referees noted her empathy with and advocacy for persons with disability who confront "persistent social and environmental barriers to securing their basic human rights." The referee spoke to the heightened empowerment experienced by Nicole's students and concludes that "Nicole Agaronnik has demonstrated a multi-level, creative and passionate commitment to advancing the civil and human rights of persons with disability, supporting their full participation in community life."

As of July, 2019, Nicole is spending a gap year working at Mass General on an NIH grant and preparing to apply to joint MD/MPh Programs.

For more photos and videos, see Nicole's website here.