Twenty sophomores in the College of Arts & Sciences will design their own interdisciplinary courses of study as the newest members of the Robert S. Harrison College Scholar Program.
Their research interests and early proposals — which range from “Injustice, Heritage and Identity Resilience” to “Black Maternal Mortality and Radicalized Medical Malpractice Throughout History” — will guide them as they select classes and eventually complete a senior project.
Harrison College Scholars design their own interdisciplinary major, organized around a question or issue of interest, and pursue a course of study that cannot be found in an established major.
“Our students are smart, innovative, and creative, but their intellectual journey is just beginning, so we work on bringing them together to support and learn from one another,” said Michael Goldstein, professor of psychology (A&S) and director of the program. “A theme of the Harrison College Scholar Program is that our students are independent but not isolated,” Goldstein said.
Shelby Williams ’25 is majoring in government, as well as College Scholar.
“For as long as I can remember, I have had a lot of interdisciplinary interests. I’m interested in health care policy, medical racism and medical malpractice law,” Williams said. “As an African-American, my symptoms and pain have not always been taken seriously.”
She’s taking classes related to the U.S. healthcare system, as well as classes in government, anthropology and feminist, gender and sexuality studies, among other areas.
Aside from the opportunity to design her path of study, Williams said she appreciates the camaraderie of the College Scholar group.
“Coming from a smaller school to Cornell was a little bit overwhelming, so having this close-knit group of students who are also trying to do something challenging has been great,” she said. “You have this group of people who are studying things you hadn’t even conceived of, and being able to learn about what motivates them to pursue that is a boon to my education.”
Alexander Burnett ’25 came to Cornell interested in history and government, but during his first year he also discovered a passion for anthropology, “where you’re looking at the holistic lens of human experience,” he said.
His College Scholar proposal includes research in the areas of religious studies, history and Asian studies, among other areas.
“I’m interested in the study of religions because it’s something that for all of human history has impacted people’s lives in the deepest sense possible,” he said.
Aindri Patra ’25 knew coming into Cornell that she wanted to apply to become a College Scholar. Her interests lie in biology and medicine and using sociology and data science to ensure better outcomes for patients.
“I want to work on how we can improve the current medical diagnostic process, through a scientific lens but also using medical data to see what groups are diagnosed improperly,” she said. “And I’m interested in the human side of things. There are a lot of cultural implications when you’re dealing with medical diagnoses, and I want to make sure those aren’t ignored.”
During a weekly College Scholar seminar, students share their projects and offer feedback. “People have had different experiences and they’ll offer up ideas for professors we should meet or classes we should take,” Patra said.
College Scholars pursue their subjects using advanced, often graduate-level, techniques. As a capstone to their studies, all Scholars undertake an independent senior project, usually culminating in an honors thesis.
Jack Donnellen ’25 wanted to become a College Scholar to pursue a variety of subjects – law, government, linguistics and statistics. He also looked forward to the idea of working on his thesis, which will focus on variations in the interpretation and rule of law in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English
Shuqian Lyu ’25 has interests in visual studies, film and design, but she’s also focused on climate change and political justice.
“I think documentary films are not well represented in film and media studies, and I want to work on something that can make a change,” she said.
Lyu learns something from each scholar who shares their work during the weekly meetings, she said. “I’m not only focused on my own work, but I learn about other people’s mindsets, methodologies and how they chose a topic.”