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Arts and Sciences students have the unique opportunity to join the College Scholars, a cohort of learners who define their own academic paths.

May 13, 2021

College Scholars Continue Multidisciplinary Work Throughout the Pandemic

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As the spring semester winds to a close, a new cohort of College Scholars finished its first few months with the program and continuing Scholars build their projects. Crafting their own interdisciplinary majors, they’ve begun the process of research and curriculum-building that defines the College Scholar program.

The program, housed within the College of Arts and Sciences, selects fewer than 20 sophomores each year after reviewing a research proposal for the student’s  desired course of study and explaining their desire to work outside a traditional major. 

After being accepted, students start in the spring, taking COLLS 2001: The College Scholar Seminar  and beginning to work with a faculty advisor to prepare for a mandatory senior project or honors thesis to be completed during their senior year.

In a University press release, Prof. Michael Goldstein, psychology, the program’s director, expressed hope that the College Scholar Program will allow students to leverage all of the expertise across the departments in the College of Arts and Sciences to produce innovative and interesting research.

The 2023 College Scholars have expressed excitement in their ability to study creatively and explore all their academic interests.

Though she initially began at Cornell as a government major, Lia Sokol ’23 quickly realized that her interests went beyond political science to international studies, sociology and anthropology. 

“I’m intrigued by what motivates citizens to vote, protest, volunteer for political campaigns and become otherwise involved with politics, especially if there is no clear, tangible reward for doing so,” Sokol wrote to The Sun. 

As part of her research, she aims to compare motivations for these actions across different types of governments and political structures. She plans to use a combination of historical analysis and fieldwork, such as interviews and opinion polls.

Sokol applied to the College Scholar Program because of its flexibility and support from faculty advisors. She thought it could allow her to hone in on the intersecting topics she was interested in and is in the process of developing her research project with her faculty mentor. 

Samantha Sasaki ’23 described the experience of applying to College Scholars as exciting and intimidating. Having heard about the College Scholars program in high school, Sasaki came to Cornell hoping to study how music could be a force for social change. 

Similarly, Micaela Carroll ‘21, who transferred to Cornell as a classics major, was intrigued by the potential to study language learning, particularly how humans learn new patterns in language and in movement — including dance and Brazilian jiu jitsu. 

After having a conversion with Goldstein to discuss her ideas, Carrol decided to apply. Goldstein has been her advisor for three years, allowing her to run studies on how people learn to recognize and produce a series of movements.

Although COVID-19 forced the Scholar’s mandatory seminar to go virtual this year, students within the program still engage with in-person activities, such as taking a trip to the Johnson Museum, to start the research planning process. 

“COVID also sometimes made it difficult to stay motivated, without the usual human contact with teachers and other students,” Carroll said.

Originally, Carrol had planned to run a study in-person and gather video recordings of dance sequences as data. With COVID, she had to convert everything to an online format, which has made the data she has collected weaker and the process of collecting videos was more tedious. 

Ultimately, Carroll found the College Scholars program a joy. 

“I’m hoping that my project will be a springboard for future work on how people learn to produce series of movements,” she said. “I know for me it’s been one of the main ways I’ve found my social footing here and gained confidence. I hope my work can help others develop effective strategies for teaching skills to others.”