University of Southern California

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The USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study Welcomes Its 2013 Fellows

By Cristy Lytal Friday, June 14, 2013

Student Warren Tichenor II (right) shares his polymathic perspective with Professors Kevin Starr and Karin Huebner.Photo by Lillian InsalataStudent Warren Tichenor II (right) shares his polymathic perspective with Professors Kevin Starr and Karin Huebner.

According to Professor Kevin Starr, George Bernard Shaw was wrong about youth being wasted on the young. “Youth is not wasted on the young. The young maximize it and use it very well,” he said, acknowledging the 2013 fellows of the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study.

Twenty USC undergraduates and one Ph.D. candidate earned this distinction at the May induction ceremony held in the Harman Academy’s wood-paneled quarters on the second floor of Doheny Memorial Library. As director of the academy, university professor and associate dean of USC Libraries, Starr joined Dean of USC Libraries Catherine Quinlan and the academy’s Director of Programs Karin Huebner in presenting the inductees with cardinal stoles and certificates.

Since its founding in 2011, the academy has offered a series of panels and discussions to inspire undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral students and faculty members to integrate multiple fields of learning and adopt an interdisciplinary, or polymathic perspective. After attending at least 10 meetings across two semesters, students become fellows who have explored the four “Quadrants of Polymathic Inquiry:” critical and integrative thinking, communication, study of the great polymaths, and “tapestry” — or the interweaving of technology, art and philosophy.

This year’s inductees completed polymathic projects such as composing a concerto for taiko drums and writing a poem in Anglo-Saxon meter. Their post-graduation plans range from attending Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship to serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps.

At the ceremony, inductee Pavitra Krishnamani, a psychology and global medicine double major who did a project about influenza vaccination in Morocco, gave a speech reflecting on the academy’s role in her USC education.

“I’ve always put my heart into a variety of different activities,” she said. “I call it having a passion for life; having a passion for art, history, music, dance, biology — all things that make us human and jointly all things that help us understand what it means to be human. Engaging in interdisciplinary discussions at the Harman Academy has helped me gain a better understanding of exactly that, of humanity. I truly believe that it’s a place where we can celebrate life.”

Warren Tichenor II, an economics and aerospace engineering double major, also shared how the academy encouraged his personal growth: “If I leave you with one sentence about what the academy’s meant to me, I’d like to say it’s encouraged me to think unbounded and to live my dreams. Because without that, you’re not going far.”

During the 2012–2013 academic year, the Harman Academy hosted discussions with the Honorable Jane Harman, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. and former U.S. Representative; William Fain, architect; Dana Gioia, Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Ronald D. Sugar, member of the USC Board of Trustees and chairman emeritus of Northrup Grumman Corporation; and Maja Matarić, USC professor of computer science, neuroscience and pediatrics.

“The distinguished researchers and practitioners who have led academy sessions this year have shared their discoveries and revealed how philosophy informs robotic engineering, how contemporary multimedia studies inform historical investigations, and how videogame design communicates messages and creates meaning for players,” said Quinlan.

Thanks to these unusual adventures of the mind, this year’s fellows matured as intellectuals. “They’ve learned how to look at whatever their field is from multidisciplinary ways and whatever their interests are,” said Huebner. “They’ve also learned how to communicate more articulately — no jargon-filled narratives. And they’ve learned to collaborate with fellow students.”

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