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Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity selects first student cohort

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
Wed, 05/16/2018

The first students have been chosen for the new Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity and will begin as first-year students at Cornell this fall. Milstein program faculty are also refining details about the curriculum.

“One passion that I have in particular is how we might use technology to improve the quality of education on a global scale,” said Catie Rencricca ’22, a new Milstein fellow from New York City. “I love both humanities and STEM subjects, although in the past, I have often viewed them as separate areas of interest. Within the last year or so, I realized that there is an incredible amount of unexplored territory surrounding how humanities and technology might improve each other.”

Rencricca is one of 14 students in the first cohort for the program, which was launched in October with a $20 million gift from the Milstein Family Foundation. The program is a collaboration between the College of Arts & Sciences and Cornell Tech and the first undergraduate link between the Ithaca and Roosevelt Island campuses.

The program will offer a unique multidisciplinary curriculum to a cohort of 100 students, beginning with these 14 and another 11 first-year students who will be named in the spring of 2019. In subsequent years, 25 students from each incoming class will apply for and be selected into the program.

The first students selected for the program have interests varying from computer science to linguistics to philosophy to biology. Rencricca is thinking of majoring in philosophy, as well as computer science.

“I think that the ethical implications of technology have been largely ignored (looking at you, Facebook),” Rencricca said.

Nathaniel Watson ’22, is interested in programming, but also is passionate about foreign languages and culture.

“The main thing that intrigues me is the emphasis on the interdisciplinary potential of computer science, and how technology would mesh with seemingly disparate fields of study,” said Watson, who is from Cleveland, Ohio. “I will simultaneously be able to explore new interests in humanities, and gain a solid technological foundation.”

Bliss Zheng '22, is interested in biology and Chinese and intrigued about adding technology into the mix.

"I never defined myself strictly as a 'science person' or 'history person,' but saw that when I combined aspects of different subjects and mixed it all together, it only amplified the meaning of what I was learning as I got to see everything through different lenses," said Zheng, who lives in Bethesda, Md. 

“This inaugural group of students is just what we hoped for: they are among the top of the applicant pool in terms of their credentials and preparation,” said Amy Villarejo, faculty director of the Milstein Program and professor of performing and media arts. “Their academic and extracurricular interests are diverse and inspiring: from linguists to musicians to coders, they race bicycles and predict elections and travel widely. We can’t wait to welcome them to Ithaca in August.”

Students in the program will select a major among those offered by the College of Arts & Sciences and have access to a specialized curriculum to help them gain proficiency in computer science during the school year in Ithaca, while spending two summers together in New York City at Cornell Tech.

At Cornell, that specialized curriculum will include access to some already-developed courses such as Thinking Media in the music department and Data Science for All in the computer science/engineering/statistical science departments, as well as four to five new courses developed specifically for the Milstein program, including a capstone course.

At Cornell Tech, the Milstein curriculum will include a six-week summer session, featuring courses in algebra, data analysis, functional programming, statistics, critical theory and information science or human-computer interaction.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.