Ithaca, N.Y. — Cornell announced Friday that two students had died over the course of the spring semester — one in January and another in April.

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Lisa Cimbaluk, 35, died on Jan. 8 in California; and Valerie Mae Paurus Ota, 30, died on April 3 in Brooklyn, according to a statement written by Susan H. Murphy, Cornell’s Vice President Student Academic Services.

No cause of death was listed. It wasn’t clear why the university decided to disclose the death of the two students — who appear to have been graduate students — only this week.

“As we close the semester, I am deeply saddened to tell you of two losses to our community,” Murphy’s statement said. ”

“While both of these students were off campus at the time of their death, the impact of their passing is as present as if they were right here in Ithaca.”

“On behalf of the entire Cornell community, I offer our heartfelt sympathy to Lisa’s and Valerie’s family, friends, colleagues and mentors. Please join me in remembering Lisa and Valerie and acknowledging our loss.”

Lisa Cimbaluk

Here’s what Murphy’s statement said about Cimbaluk:

“Lisa was an insightful social science researcher and a gifted teacher. Her work as a doctoral candidate in development sociology focused on the production and reproduction of geographic inequalities in the United States.”

“Lisa’s research addressed a range of topics, from fiscal devolution in county governments to spatial and temporal determinants of United States poverty rates.”

“In addition, she published a paper on family change and poverty in Appalachia with Policy Analysis and Management Professor Daniel Lichter. Among Lisa’s greatest strengths was her facility with quantitative methodology, which she employed in her research and shared more broadly as an employee with the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER).”

Valerie Mae Paurus Ota

Here’s what Murphy’s statement said about Ota:

“Valerie was passionate about social justice and environmental sustainability. As a doctoral student in development sociology, she studied subsistence agriculture, agroecological approaches to climate change adaptation, and community development.”

“These interests coalesced in a study of food security, nutrition and gender inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa, which Valerie explored through a participatory research project in Tanzania and Malawi.”

“Her academic pursuits were inspired by her earlier work on food security and sustainable agriculture in the Philippines and community-based projects in Chicago that examined the interconnections between education and health, and urban food production and community access to healthy foods.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.