With 42 majors and over 2000 available courses, Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences boasts a variety of academic offerings. Even so, select students within the college have specific interests that surpass what is offered in traditional major curricula. The Robert S. Harrison College Scholar Program has, for the past 50 years, aimed to fill this gap.
The program, which recently admitted its new cohort, allows a group of 20 to 24 students in the College of Arts and Sciences to design their own interdisciplinary course of study to follow throughout their time at Cornell, offering the chance to study a broader range of disciplines at an advanced level.
To gain entry into the program, students must apply in the fall of their sophomore year. This application consists of a personal essay, recommendation letters and a research proposal alongside a list of intended courses. Program director Prof. Michael Goldstein is part of the board that reviews applications and chooses which students will be admitted into the program. Collaborating with a diverse group of faculty to evaluate the applications, Goldstein emphasized that reviewers aim to look at the student’s abilities rather than deciding entry based on the research proposals themselves.
“We’re not really evaluating the project — we’re evaluating the students. We want to make sure that they’re capable of taking responsibility for their own intellectual development,” Goldstein said. “We’re looking for an interdisciplinary proposal, we’re looking for maturity and we’re looking for coherency.”
The new cohort reflects this diversity in curriculum, with areas of study ranging from the Bitcoin network to warfare modeling to early childhood development.
Ella Hough ’25 first learned about the program through her academic advisor, a College Scholar herself. Hough’s course of study focuses on the Bitcoin network and its relation to human thought. She explained that without the Harrison College Scholar Program, she would not be able to properly study her academic interests.
“Bitcoin transcends every boundary — physical, digital, conceptual, etc. The study of Bitcoin cannot be contained to one or two majors,” Hough said. “The only way to study Bitcoin and the global transition underway is to do so in an environment and a community of people that rejects and disregards boundaries, which I found in the Robert S. Harrison College Scholar Program.”
Kira Pawletko ’26, another College Scholar, described first learning about the program during an information session she attended as part of her first-year advising seminar. Similar to Hough, Pawletko emphasized that her curriculum would not be possible if she stuck to traditional Arts and Sciences majors.
“I’m studying the impact of early-life adversity on child development, which is an interdisciplinary research question involving epigenetics, neuroscience, cognitive and developmental psychology, sociology, public policy, education and more,” Pawletko said. “Some of the Arts and Sciences majors, such as psychology and the neurobiology concentration within the biology major, provide a number of courses critical to my studies, but no Arts and Sciences major allows me to take courses across all of the aforementioned fields and use their curricula to study early life adversity.”
Stanislav Metkovskyi ’26, a College Scholar studying warfare, described the many disciplines the program helps him combine.
“I study history to get data and to develop intuition for strategy. I study economics as it provides a toolkit for optimization and efficient allocation of resources. I also take game theory courses through the Economics department, which allows me to study strategy and decision-making,” Metkovskyi said. “I plan to take classes in stochastic calculus and probability, as it allows for optimization in situations of uncertainty and randomness. Lastly, I study computer science to develop algorithms to solve problems with a computational method.”
Despite such a diverse range of concentrations, students are united by the structure of the program.
All College Scholars are enrolled in COLLS 3001: College Scholar Seminar after their admission to the program. In addition to teaching students graduate and professional-level research techniques, the class helps students create close bonds with those in their cohort.
“An important theme of our program is that you’re going through this with other students. That’s one of the things that separates us from a lot of other majors. It’s not just the independence of it; it’s not just being interdisciplinary,” Goldstein said. “We like to say that we’re independent but never isolated.”