The inaugural 14 students in the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity had the chance to swap stories with new College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ray Jayawardhana during a welcome dinner for them Sept 5.
On his second day as dean, Jayawardhana listened as each of the scholars described how they hope to combine their interests in technology with humanities and social sciences topics – everything from philosophy and film to economics and politics.
“I would like to focus on machine learning or artificial intelligence then maybe someday create an AI that could compose music,” said Aidan Cuite ’22, who plans to double major in music and computer science. Computers are already creating music, he said, but it’s highly structured; with more data, there are endless possibilities for more creative compositions.
Jayawardhana shared his diverse interests in the liberal arts and how he continues to combine his love of writing – he’s written books related to his astronomy research, “Strange New Worlds” and “Neutrino Hunters,” and has a children’s book forthcoming.
“My freshman summer I had an internship writing for The Economist,” he told the students. “But then the second summer, I did research with an astronomy professor on campus. And I liked that too. So, while I mostly pursued a career in astronomy, I’ve continued to write for broader audiences as well.”
The Milstein program was launched in October 2017 with a $20 million gift from the Milstein Family Foundation and is a partnership between A&S and Cornell Tech in New York City. It offers students a multidisciplinary curriculum, access to a variety of special classes and speakers, and two summers of study at Cornell Tech.
Milstein students have taken part in special orientation events during the last few weeks, including a meeting with Tapan Parikh, faculty director of the program, at the Cornell Tech campus; a day at Cornell’s challenge course; and meetings with Shivank Nayak ’21, peer mentor for the group.
“One of the reasons I applied is I really like the idea of being in this cohort and having the chance to share our experiences during our four years together,” said Tiffany Zhong ’22.
During the semester, the Milstein students will meet once a week in an advising seminar taught by Amy Villarejo, faculty director of the Milstein Program and professor of performing and media arts, and the two Milstein faculty fellows, Sarah Kreps, associate professor of government, and Jeremy Braddock, associate professor of English.
“It’s exciting to see the program off and running with the arrival of this wonderful group of freshmen,” Villarejo said. “Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be busy showing them how to make the most of what Cornell has to offer: going to see Ni’Ja Whitson’s dance performance, meeting the famous Chinese artist Xu Bing and more. We’re happy to see the students hanging out in our new space in Rockefeller Hall, getting to know one another and settling in.”
Milstein students will choose majors in A&S but also take a multidisciplinary and specialized curriculum to help them gain proficiency in computer science during the school year in Ithaca. Summer sessions at Cornell Tech will feature courses in algebra, data analysis, functional programming, statistics, critical theory, and information science or human-computer interaction.
Another 11 first-year students will be named in spring 2019; in subsequent years, 25 students from each incoming class will apply for and be selected into the program.
“A lot of times schools emphasize specialization, but this program emphasizes bringing together the sciences and the humanities,” said Zhong, who has interests in film, history and computer science. “One of the ideas I find really interesting is combining computer science with film and history to introduce children to a world where they can experience historical events. I wanted to be a teacher at one point.”
Reza Madhavan ’22 said he’s enjoying the opportunity to choose from among the more than 2,000 classes in A&S. He plans to major in computer science and Asian studies.
“I took CS in high school so that interest comes from my academic life,” he said. “And my family is from Malaysia, so we go every year to visit family and travel all around Southeast Asia. I really love it there; the culture is so different from here. So, when I was applying to schools, I was looking for schools with good Asian studies and computer science programs. And no other schools were offering something like the Milstein program.”
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.