Chatting with the newest group of 18 sophomores chosen for the College Scholar program in the College of Arts & Sciences is a little like riding a roller coaster with a teenager who’s never been on one before.
They’re a little nervous about the ups and downs, but they’re so excited to get started. And all of them feel pretty blessed to have this opportunity – to study something they care about deeply.
“When I went to my high school guidance counselor, I told her that I loved baking and I loved Spanish and I said ‘what can I do with that?’ “ said Amelia Clute ’22, who has fashioned a College Scholar project focused on food, identity, culture and language. “Now I’m studying something that I feel so deeply passionate about and something I chose. It’s so unique.”
Clute baked and sold cakes in high school and is fascinated by the way people talk about food, the literature surrounding food and the importance food plays in our cultural identities.
“The new students wrote exciting, innovative research proposals, and they come from a wide array of interesting backgrounds” said Michael Goldstein, associate professor of psychology and the director of the College Scholar Program. “I’m looking forward to working with them in our spring seminar and helping them develop their ideas.”
The College Scholars, students in the College of Arts & Sciences, are chosen after a rigorous application process. They design a plan for their own interdisciplinary curriculum around a topic that doesn’t fit into a traditional major. They also research and complete an independent project or thesis project that’s beyond the traditional senior honors thesis, with the help of a faculty advisory committee they create along the way.
Some perks for them? They don’t need to follow the Arts & Sciences distribution requirements. They have access to special funding for research, travel or conferences. And they join 30 other College Scholars in A&S as an intellectual and social community. The sophomores meet weekly in Goldstein’s College Scholar Seminar to develop their interdisciplinary research skills and refine their research ideas. They also meet with the juniors and seniors in informal gatherings, discussing their projects and lives over dinner.
“Hearing the ways that people bring out their themes and their ideas, the most unexpected things come up and overlap,” Emma Goldenthal ’22 said about the new group of College Scholars. “Being a part of a group of people who are similarly motivated and see the value in interdisciplinary studies, I’m excited for that part of the program.”
Goldenthal will study the issue of climate change through the lenses of cognitive science, environmental science and communication, with a focus on how language and narrative can shape our beliefs and perceptions.
“I want to look at the language people use to speak about climate change, how people think about it and the biases we have that make it difficult to act,” she said. “Climate change is such a pressing issue and action is one of the best ways to generate hope rather than despair.”
Although despair might be a word that some people would use to describe Luke Aslanian’s ’22 project, he thinks his work could provide exactly the opposite. Aslanian is studying mortology, the fear of death’s grip on humanity and ways to loosen it.
“I don’t want to die without having these questions answered,” Aslanian said about his project, which will include classes and research related to exploring death in literature, anthropology, psychology and philosophy, among other fields. “I will study how our fear of death affects the way we view the world and try to look at how death is dealt with beyond a strictly religious view.”
Aslanian, who is Armenian and part Jewish, said he was motivated to study the topic after losing four people close to him during high school, hearing stories from relatives who escaped the Armenian genocide and considering all that he knows about the Holocaust.
Most College Scholars say they choose the program because their interests are so varied that they have a hard time choosing just one or two majors.
That was certainly the case for Aliou Gambrel ’22, who entered Cornell as a fine arts student in Architecture, Art & Planning, but had several professors who noticed his curiosity in multiple areas and encouraged him to broaden his studies.
“(One professor) said ‘you are always pushing us to think outside of just art,’“ he said. So Gambrel printed out every major he could consider at Cornell and stumbled across College Scholar, realizing it would allow him to combine his many interests.
His project will include classes in Africana studies, economics, languages, architecture, linguistics and gender studies as he looks at the factors shaping irregular migration in western and central African counties.
While this new group of College Scholars are just beginning their work, the senior College Scholars will be finishing up their projects next semester and first-year students are invited to attend information sessions to learn more about the program. The dates of the senior presentations and upcoming information sessions will be announced on the College Scholar website. Interested students are encouraged to contact Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss the program.
Photo by Chris Kitchen
From left, Amelia Clute, Emma Goldenthal, Aliou Gambrel and Luke Aslanian.