Milstein Students Welcomed to Campus with BBQ, Adventures

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
September 10, 2018

The inaugural group of 14 students in the Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity had the chance to swap stories with new Arts & Sciences Dean Ray Jayawardhana during a welcome dinner for the students 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 a variety of 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 (AI), then maybe someday create an AI that could compose music,” said Aidan Cuite ’22, who plans to double major in music and computer sciences. Computers are already creating music, he said, but it’s highly structured. With more data, there are endless possibilities for more creative compositions, he said.

Jayawardhana shared his own story of having diverse interests in the liberal arts and how he continues to combine his love of writing – he’s written two popular books and has a children’s book forthcoming – with his love for science.

“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 last October with a $20 million gift from the Milstein Family Foundation and is a partnership between the College of Arts & Sciences and Cornell Tech in New York City. It offers students a unique 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, the faculty director of the program at the Cornell Tech Campus, a day at Cornell’s challenge course and meetings with Shivank Nayak ’21, who is the 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, exercising on a ropes course and learning about wellness strategies, 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 within the college of Arts & Sciences, 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 the spring of 2019, then 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 Arts & Sciences. 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.”