Cornell Fraternity Serves the Ithaca Community

“Service” is a word bursting with meaning for the Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter Service Team, as we have learned first-hand here at The Sophie Fund.


A little more than a year ago, we decided to organize a cupcake baking contest in the Ithaca Commons. Our idea was to raise some money for mental health initiatives, bring some cupcake joy to Ithaca, and fight the stigma around mental health and treatment. Sophie (’14) was an avid baker and loved baking cupcakes from an early age.

An APO brother came across some publicity for the contest and quickly contacted us. She said she would encourage APO Gamma brothers to bake some cupcakes, but she also wanted to know “if there was any way our brothers could help out.”

Our answer was “Yes!” The truth was that we had thrown the contest together at the last minute, and we desperately needed help with logistics on event day. APO Gamma dispatched a dozen or so brothers to the Bernie Milton Pavilion who helped with everything from registering scores of contestants, inventorying the cupcakes for panels of judges, preparing awards certificates for the winners, and mopping up the site afterwards. The flood of contestants was much more than we anticipated. The 1st Annual Cupcake Baking Contest was a big success.

APO Gamma, we couldn’t have done it without you!

In January, APO Gamma was ready to start talking about how they could support the 2nd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest 10 months away. In numerous meetings at Starbucks downtown and at Willard Straight Hall on campus (not to mention countless emails), APO Gamma helped us design a sequel that included a fun fundraising element—collecting donations for mental health initiatives and giving donors “cupcake buttons” in return.

Starting in late September, APO Gamma squads fanned out to Ho Plaza, GreenStar Natural Foods Market, and the Apple Harvest Festival to advocate for mental health, take donations for this year’s cause—suicide prevention—and promote the cupcake contest to be held in the Commons on October 14. APO Gamma raised more than $500, well above our expectations.

More important, the brothers’ presence on campus and in the community generated further awareness and prompted conversations that make a difference and could save a life. We know from Sophie’s experience with depression and anxiety, which led her to take a health leave of absence only six months away from graduation, how important it is to know that there is help, that people care.

At The Sophie Fund, we are overwhelmed not only by APO Gamma’s aid with fundraising and contest logistics, but by the heart that the brothers put into their service to the community. We know that APO Gamma is involved around the clock in so many other projects supporting mental health. It is truly something to admire.

We’re expecting a larger turnout for the 2017 cupcake contest. Once again, it wouldn’t happen without APO Gamma.

(Editor’s Note: This blog post written by The Sophie Fund originally appeared October 10, 2017 on the Service Blog of Alpha Phi Omega—Gamma Chapter)

Photo Caption: APO Gamma brothers volunteering for the 2016 Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest

Cornell’s Walk for Suicide Prevention

Cornell University’s Phi Sigma Pi (PSP) national honor fraternity sponsored a suicide prevention walk on April 28 to benefit The Sophie Fund of Ithaca and the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“Phi Sigma Pi organized this walk because we wanted to increase campus conversation about mental health,” said PSP brother Elizabeth Cavic (’18), who studies Human Development in the College of Human Ecology. “We believe that people not engaging in these critical conversations about mental health perpetuates the stigma surrounding poor mental health, which contributes to further stigmatization.”

Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund, thanked Cavic, her fellow PSP brothers, and all those who participated in the walk. “We’ve had the honor of working with Phi Sigma Pi on other mental health projects, and are very grateful for the support it gives to mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts,” he said.

MacLeod and his wife Susan Hack established The Sophie Fund in 2016 to support mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca area. The fund is in memory of their daughter, Sophie Hack MacLeod (’14), who died by suicide in Ithaca in March 2016.

PSP is a co-educational fraternity open to undergraduate students that embraces the ideals of scholarship, leadership, and fellowship. The PSP Beta Nu Chapter at Cornell was founded in 1994 and has about 80 active members in a given semester.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

Vijay Pendakur’s Story

Vijay Pendakur, the new dean of students at Cornell University, pronounces himself an active advocate for student wellness. It’s a position that seems driven from personal experience.


During a talk on February 2 at Cornell’s Center for Intercultural Dialogue (reported by the Cornell Daily Sun), he revealed how he and his sister were harassed and bullied growing up in Chicago as the children of immigrants from India. He spoke candidly about how he struggled socially and benefited from seven years of psychotherapy.

From the Cornell Daily Sun’s report:

He recalled moving to the north side of Chicago as “challenging” and “transformative,” because he and his sister experienced harassment and bullying as minorities in their community.

Even after moving out of Chicago, Pendakur said he continued to face microaggressions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, he said he was challenged to adjust to a predominantly white, rural student population.

Pendakur also struggled to make friends and used hypermasculinity as a coping mechanism to face his fears.

“As a man, I did not talk with anybody about how I really felt,” he said. “I was deeply scarred and troubled inside but the outside was just like chip on my shoulder all the time because that was the learned behavior for me to stay safe.”

Pendakur said his academic pursuits in American history, Africana studies and gender studies helped him contextualize his struggles. While he continued to struggle socially, he found a mentor through a job at the campus multicultural center, which eventually led him to find a vocation in social justice and diversity education.

During his career he received psychotherapeutic help for seven years—a decision he made after a low point in his late 20’s—and found that he was able to “rewrite [his] history.”

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “For me, the psychotherapeutic process allowed me to actually go back and turn the mirror inward.”

In an interview with the Cornell Chronicle published January 18, Pendakur addressed the mental health struggles of today’s college students:

Across higher education, we are seeing a rising prevalence of complex mental health concerns, stress and medical needs. Wellness is part of the fundamental investment college and university campuses need to make to enhance learning. For example, if you are not sleeping, or are dealing with a body image issue or a deep sense of isolation, your organic chemistry or calculus class becomes secondary.

Pendakur comes to Ithaca from California State University, Fullerton, where he served as associate vice president for the Division of Student Affairs. He earned a B.A. in History and East Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 2001, an M.A. in U.S. History from the University of California, San Diego, in 2005, and an Ed.D. from DePaul University in 2013.

From The Cornell Daily Sun


The Cornell Daily Sun, April 19, 2016

Sophie MacLeod ’14 Dies After Battle With Depression

By Josh Girsky

Sophie MacLeod ’14 died the weekend of March 25 from a prescription drug overdose while on medical leave from Cornell after a long battle with depression. She was 23.

“Many of you will remember Sophie as a vibrant young artist, a talented violinist, and a young woman with a unique global background and perspective,” said Dean Kent Kleinman in an email sent to students and faculty in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. “We mark her untimely passing with sorrow.”

The daughter of American foreign correspondents, MacLeod was born in Johannesburg and lived in South Africa and France before attending high school at Cairo American College in Egypt, where she was a member of the national honor society, sang in the choir and played violin in the orchestra, according to her father Scott MacLeod.

At Cornell, MacLeod studied Fine Arts in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning and brought a unique perspective to her studies, according to the email.

In addition to her studies at Cornell, Sophie also worked at the dessert bar at Madeline’s restaurant for a year and a half and at Argos Inn, where she was affectionately known as “the chemist” for her “craft cocktail concoctions,” according to MacLeod.

Rachel Donohue, a high school friend of MacLeod remembers how passionate MacLeod was.

“One of the biggest characteristics I really loved about her was how passionate she could get in how much she loved her friends or her family or even greek yogurt,” Donohue said.

Donohue remembers specifically how much MacLeod loved baking.

“It was artwork when she baked anything. Everything looked like it should come out of a magazine,” she said.

Aliana Heffernan ’14, said that after meeting MacLeod when they lived together in Risley Hall, MacLeod’s became one of her best friends.

“She had such a creative mind, from her photography to her cooking,” Heffernan said. “Sophie just had a certain way of seeing things. She also had the weirdest sense of humor, but she could always crack me up even if I was absolutely miserable. Her creativity and her off-color humor, that’s what I’ll miss most.”

Her father added that most of her friends believed Sophie would succeed in her battle with depression.

“It was a struggle she was determined to win, and nobody around her doubted that she would do so,” he said. “She touched the hearts of everyone in her intersecting circles of friends, mentors and family members, who she loved dearly and who so dearly loved her.”

The MacLeod family has established The Sophie Fund under the umbrella of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, which will help support the fight against mental illness in young people, according to the fund’s website.

Her father said Sophie will be remembered for her many wonderful qualities including her “sweet smile” and her “unwavering attachment to friends.”

“Much much too short, Sophie’s was a wonderful life,” her father said.

University Resources: Members of the Cornell community seeking spport can called Gannett Health Services’ Counseling and Psychological Services (607-255-3277), the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (607-255-2673), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or find additional resources at


From the Ithaca Journal

Ithaca Journal, April 9, 2016

1992 – 2016 Obituary Condolences

Sophie Hack MacLeod, age 23, died in Ithaca, NY, on Saturday, March 26, 2016. She was on medical leave from Cornell University, and was an employee of Argos Inn in Ithaca. Sophie was born in Johannesburg on August 23, 1992.

As the offspring of two American foreign correspondents, she spent her childhood living overseas, first in South Africa, then France, and eventually Egypt. She spoke French and Arabic as well as English. Her lifelong involvement in the creative arts included 15 years as a violin student in the Suzuki Method, 11 of them in the Cairo Opera House Youth Talent Development Program; she performed in many concerts in Paris, Cairo, and Ithaca, including a solo performance at the Cairo Opera House.

Sophie graduated in 2010 from Cairo American College, where she was a member of the National Honor Society, performed in the school orchestra, sang in the choir, played water polo, soccer, and volleyball, and served as class vice president. At CAC, she participated in school trips to Russia, Spain, and Vietnam; she counted knitting caps for the children’s cancer hospital in Cairo as one of her most fulfilling experiences.

Earlier, Sophie was an elementary and middle school student at the Lycée Français du Caire, and earned a brown belt in karate in the school’s martial arts program. In 2010, she enrolled as a Bachelor of Fine Arts candidate in Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and lived in the Risley Residential College. She excelled in artistic media from painting and drawing to photography and printing.

While at Cornell Sophie’s zest for baking and her distinctive creative talent merged into a professional pursuit in the culinary arts; for one of her first sculpture assignments she created a gingerbread house in the form of an ornate mosque. She ran the dessert counter at Madeline’s Restaurant in Ithaca for a year and a half, and was exploring a career as a pastry chef and bakery owner after completing her degree at Cornell. She was working on a cookbook about craft cocktails provisionally entitled The Prep: Handbook of Spells, Hexes, and Poisons. Sophie also operated an online vintage clothing business, EerieVintage.

With her prodigious appetite for life, Sophie enriched the lives and touched the hearts of everyone in her intersecting circles of friends and mentors in Ithaca and far beyond. She will be remembered for her fierce independence; her defense of justice and equality especially for those marginalized by society; her unwavering attachment to friends; her quirky and mischievous manner; her sweet smile and laugh; her original sense of style; her fondness for Ithaca and its vibrant restaurant scene, farmer’s market, and organic grocery stores; and her devotion to Bagel, her beloved cat.

Sophie is survived by her parents, Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, of Cairo, Egypt; her grandparents Melvin and Rosalinda Hack, of Chicago, IL; her uncle Andrew MacLeod, of St. Simon’s Island, GA.; her aunt and uncle Laurie and Walter “Skip” Knoll, of Erie, PA; and her cousin Rachel Schneider, of Pittsburgh, PA. She was preceded in death by her grandparents Robert MacLeod, of Coraopolis, PA and Jeanne MacLeod, of Erie, PA.

Friends may call at the Burton Westlake Funeral Home, 3801 West 26th Street, Erie, PA on Friday, April 15, from 6-9 p.m., and are invited to attend a service celebrating Sophie’s life at Lakewood United Methodist Church, 3856 West 10th Street, Erie, PA on Saturday, April 16, at 12 Noon. Interment will be at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made by check payable to the “Community Foundation of Tompkins County,” 200 East Buffalo Street, Suite 202, Ithaca, NY 14850. Contributions should be designated for the “Sophie Fund,” which will be used to support mental health services for young people in Ithaca. For more information, contact the Community Foundation at (607) 272 9333 or by email