Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center Update, 8/2018

6 08 2018

I don’t typically follow renovations, but figured I’d play the role of curious alumnus and drop in to the newly renovated Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center at Noyes Lodge on the north shores of Cornell’s Beebe Lake.

The 7,646 SF Noyes Lodge originally opened in 1958 as a womens’ dining hall, and over the years was re-purposed to become the Language Resource Center, with audio carrels and other equipment for those with linguistic coursework. Cornell decided to shift facilities, moving the LRC to Stimson Hall and renovating the lodge into a campus welcome center, which opened in June. This is now where student tour guides gather their broods, vs. the old days when they would congregate at Day Hall. The lower level hosts conference space, utility rooms and offices.

The Tang family have long been trustees and major donors to the university. The $3 million gift in October 2016 was in response to a challenge grant created by mega-donor Atlantic Philanthropies (funded by Charles Feeney ’56), which offered up to $3 million in matching funds to donations towards the new welcome center – so with $6 million secured, the renovation’s financing was secured and will be able to move forward. Cornell has long considered a reception and exhibition space by the gorges, having mulled over but ultimately backing away from a plan penned by architect Richard Meier in the late 1980s. Tang, Class of 1970 and now retired, was a venture capitalist based in Hong Kong, and the regional chairman of a recruitment firm for business executives.

JMZ Architects of Glens Falls, a favorite of the SUNY System, was the design firm in charge of the renovation and re-purposing. The exhibition space is the work of Poulin and Morris Inc. of New York City.

With that all said, here’s a story.

When I first visited Cornell, it was for Cornell Days: cold, windy and kinda desolate. My mother and my uncle made the trip with me, since I had just been accepted to the university – my family did not have the money or time to visit schools unless I was already given an offer. Out first stop was RPCC on North Campus. On a Powerpoint on a TV screen were two sailors kissing; it was part of a promotion for a campus LGBTQ organization.

Having come from a blue-collar and fairly conservative town north of Syracuse, my mother was shocked into silence, and my uncle proceeded to have a crisis of moral conscience on whether his nephew should attend such a school. You have to keep in mind, it was still controversial for many of our town’s older generation that the high school A.P. Government teacher was openly gay. The kids didn’t care, and I couldn’t have cared less that day either.

Anyway, what warmed my mom up to Cornell were “the castles”. Sage Hall. The Arts Quad. Uris Library. But as for me, I didn’t feel like I fit in. My tour group was a bunch of wealthy kids, one of whom loudly grumbled his disappointment that he didn’t get into Yale and his mother didn’t like Dartmouth. Why would a 17 year-old want the constant reminder that he’s not cut from that cloth or a part of that world?

So I wrote out a deposit check with my money from waiting tables to SUNY Geneseo. And Geneseo was the check that had been put out in the mail. Until my mom took the envelope out of the mailbox and tore it up, putting one out to Cornell in its place. We had some fights after that. She wanted me to give “that big money Ivy League school” a chance, I was not as keen.

When I first arrived at Cornell, I was pretty sure I’d transfer to Geneseo after the first semester. I didn’t feel comfortable there. But then I started to meet other people who didn’t feel comfortable there or fit that upper-crust Cornell image, and we became friends. Suddenly, the urge to leave was much weaker. Mom had resigned herself to the idea of me transferring by Thanksgiving, but when she found out I hadn’t completed the paperwork, she was pretty happy.

As for me, well, I was required to attend a fancy dinner a few weeks earlier where an older gentleman who had funded one of my scholarships urged me to visit his old Cornell fraternity, and I went to their Thanksgiving dinner as a polite gesture. I found it to be a down-to-earth place filled with people with backgrounds like mine, that’s how I ended up coming back for rush week and in Greek life – something I managed to hide from my mom until graduation day. I steadily came to know more people, get involved in different activities on campus, and things went from there. And a growing fascination with “the castles” and their history led to Ithacating. I guess in some sense it all worked out eventually.




11 responses

6 08 2018
Bruce Lane

Great story!

7 08 2018

Great story! Thanks for adding that personal touch. Really enjoy your reporting.

7 08 2018
local person

It is Martin Tang, not Marvin.

7 08 2018
B. C.

Whoops. It’s fixed.

7 08 2018

Really enjoyed your story Brian. I recall exploring Cornell with friends when I was a kid. It was great to see all the “neat stuff” hidden away in the old buildings. There was never any problems of access, I guess it was a different era. Noyes Lodge was one of the places we never explored. Must have been in a hurry to get to Beebe Lake. 🙂

7 08 2018

Very nice story. Wondering what you think of how the new building might change first impressions of Cornell?

7 08 2018
B. C.

It shows off the natural environment (Beebe Lake) and projects a contemporary, upscale image. I can’t speak for everyone, but going back in time and into the shoes of that 17 year-old, it would not have done much for me, but my family would likely have been somewhat more impressed than they were by Day Hall’s interior, even if Noyes is farther from “the castles”.

7 08 2018

Brian, really enjoyed your personal story. It made me remember mine, back in 1970 when I was an 18 year old female applicant to The Hotel School. At the end of the required personal interview, the professor interviewing me said, “Well if you were a male sitting in front of me, with your grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities and industry experience, I’d tell you don’t even bother applying to any other colleges. But you’re female, so it’s a different story. You must understand that our mission is to supply the hotel industry with potential top-level managers and the industry is mostly male. So we can accept very few women into the School.” The women’s movement was just beginning then and coming off 12 years of Catholic school, my consciousness certainly hadn’t been raised yet. So I simply nodded and said of course I understood. I hadn’t been 100% sure anyway that I wanted to be a Hotelie (though I loved Cornell.) After the interview I decided that given the long odds, if I was accepted, it would be a sign that I should go there. Not only did I get in, but they gave me a scholarship, too. And that’s how I became a Cornellian, married a Cornellian (Aggie) and have two children with three Cornell degrees between them. When I showed up that fall, there were 10 of us women in a freshman class of about 100. How times have changed!

8 08 2018
B. C.

That’s a great story! Thanks for helping to blaze that path.

30 09 2018
Fred Conner

I’m late to this party, Brian, but thanks for sharing your stories, observations, and especially all the local updates.

12 02 2020
Ruth Gottesman

One correction: Poulin + Morris started the project but the lion’s share of the design and implementation of the exhibit were done by Herter Design Group, also in NYC.

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