A $6 million anonymous alumni donation will fund an undergraduate program targeting humanities research, Dean Ray Jayawardhana told The Sun on Monday morning.
The program — a “curated pathway through the humanities,” Jayawardhana said — will aim to highlight the humanities for students across the University. Dubbed the Humanities Scholars Program, the new initiative will open to only 30 sophomores who apply during their spring semester.
The program will provide a new space dedicated to humanities and help alleviate the conflict common for students who struggle managing their interests in the humanities and the sciences.
“It is a truly exciting academic experience for the students, and it’s a chance for us to really highlight and showcase the excellence in the humanities we do have at this university,” Jayawardhana said.
When Jayawardhana started at Cornell, he met with faculty members who initially brainstormed the idea. With the Dean’s encouragement, Prof. Paul Fleming, comparative literature and history, Prof. Durba Ghosh, history, and Prof. Verity Platt, classics and history of art developed the program over the last ten months.
When announced to the College’s chairs and directors at a retreat in January, the program received “enthusiastic support across the board,” Jayawardhana said. Since then, they’ve been tweaking details and testing out small pieces.
The program is the cornerstone of undergraduate engagement with Cornell’s Society for the Humanities.
“[The Society for the Humanities] is highly recognized as a humanities research center internationally,” Jayawardhana said. “But its activities haven’t really engaged undergraduates very much — until now.”
To help the students navigate humanities research, the program will support selected students’ research with a seminar course on methodologies, workshops on topics and mentorship from faculty and postdoctoral associates.
The program will culminate in a senior-level capstone project of independent research, to be showcased at a humanities scholars conference in the spring. This May, the Society held a small inaugural conference for humanities students who completed a senior thesis to share their research with each other.
Outside the 30 students, the program will also expand offerings to all undergraduate students to give more perspectives of the humanities. Last fall, there was a trial anthropology course called “Humanity.”
“A much larger number than the 30 students who will ultimately be in the program will benefit from the gateway courses,” Jayawardhana said. “We’re imagining 200 students per course, that first and second years can take.”
The donation — which was finalized in the last two weeks, according to Jayawardhana — will help fund the appointment of a faculty director of the program, support recruitment of two postdoctoral mentors and expand the programming for the students, including the spring conference.
It will also provide research grants for all 30 students, including support for unpaid or low-paying internships related to their fields of study.
“This program will bring humanistic inquiry to all fields at Cornell and create a signature Cornell experience,” said Fleming, the Taylor Family Director of the Society for the Humanities, in a University press release. “When it comes to the big questions facing the world, it’s important that the humanities have a seat at the table.”
The program will be open to students from every one of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges, provided that they are pursuing either a double major or minor in the humanities within the College of Arts and Sciences.
Program applications will open to the current class of 2022 in the spring.