New College Scholars explore intellectual niches from Japanese cultural property to technology design

Eighteen students from the Class of 2020 have been selected as the new class of College Scholars for the College of Arts & Sciences.

The College Scholar program allows students with unique interests to design their own interdisciplinary majors, which typically focus on a wide range of topics and disciplines. This new class of scholars is no different: their projects range from issues involving food policy and identity politics to questions in theoretical physics and linguistic analysis.

Scott Partington ’20 is conducting research on a topic that many millennials will find valuable: smartphone design. Partington, a College Scholar and psychology double major, is interested in analyzing 21st century technology design by focusing on the intersection between social psychology, behavioral economics and moral and political philosophy. Through his research, he hopes to answer questions such as: how do smartphone users make decisions and develop preferences and values? How can smartphone technologies be redesigned to align our behaviors with our goals?

"Smartphones have become inescapable in modern life," he said. "How can social psychology help explain why these things are practically ubiquitous?"

Partington, who came to Cornell undecided on a major, found his passion after taking introductory classes in a number of different fields, including design, cognitive science, social psychology, philosophy and computer science. “Someone told me to take a lot of intro classes — you’ll figure out what you like and don’t like … and I ended up liking everything I took!”

Naturally, he says that the freedom to pursue a wide range of interests is his favorite part of the College Scholar program. “It’s definitely a rewarding challenge … the autonomy we have to dive into what’s interesting to us and [share] that with the world.”

In the College Scholar program, students are given the flexibility to integrate related disciplines from a broader perspective, or to focus on a narrower topic within an interdisciplinary field. They work with their advisors to select coursework and ultimately complete either an honors thesis or senior project.

Rebecca N. Clark ’20, a double major in Asian studies and College Scholar, is studying the development, identification and protection of Japanese cultural property. Her research focuses on a breadth of disciplines, including anthropology, religious studies, art history and Asian studies, and explores the relationship between cultural identities and the designation of artifacts/art as cultural properties in Japan.

Through her project, she is asking questions such as: How do developments in history, religion and philosophy line up with ideas of culture within various groups in Japan, its government and its diaspora? How do these views influence what is viewed as “important cultural property?” How is important cultural property protected or preserved by legal and social means?

Coming to Cornell, Clark had considered majoring in Asian studies, international studies or political science. In high school, she had done an independent studies project on Japanese language, and had volunteered helping Japanese exchange students from her school’s sister school in Osaka, Japan.  

That all changed when she took Introduction to Japan (ASIAN 2211) with Professor Jane-Marie Law and learned about Zen Buddhism and the Japanese arts. “Listening to her lecture about the aesthetics and the art… the light clicked,” Clark said. “I wanted to make my college career one where I could specialize in Japanese art.” She was still interested in law and political structures, however, and eventually learned about cultural property law — which would later become one of the foci of her college scholar proposal.

Law is now Clark’s advisor for the College Scholar program. Clark says she acts as both her advisor and her mentor. “She was so openly passionate about what she did, and so knowledgeable and engaging. She made me want to do something I loved that much.”

While the freedom to choose exactly what you want to study can be daunting at first, Clark said that her favorite part of the program is the potential you have to develop your own ideas/thesis. “There is a limitless potential of what you can do,” she said.  

The Class of 2020 College Scholars:

  • Damon Bogetti, Westley, Calif. – World Making and Breaking in Modern National Consciousness
  • Sourabh Chakraborty, West Windsor, N.J. – Understanding how people develop and change their beliefs
  • Kyla Chasalow, Pennington, N.J. – Human data and the history and sociology of statistics and data collection
  • Rebecca N. Clark, Nashville, Tenn. - The relationship between cultural identities and the designation of artifacts/art as cultural properties in Japan
  • Jaia Clingham-David, State College, Pa. – The Politics of Food Choice: How Food Policy and Identity Politics Shape What We Eat
  • Graham Cohen, Northbrook, Ill. – Bringing computational linguistic tools to the analysis of Spanish
  • Jack Cook, Denville, N.J. - Developing a model for olfactory sensory processing and integration
  • Peter Glass, Mercer Island, Wash. – The roots and implications of nationalism
  • Jacob Hawkes, Encinitas, Calif. – Examining the roles stories play in the formation of individual subjectivities
  • Leo Levy, Philadelphia, Pa. – Understanding the relationship between art and politics through historical, theoretical and textual analysis
  • So Jeong Lim, Seoul, South Korea – The role of visual language in transmitting trauma across cultural and linguistic barriers
  • Daniel Longenecker, Kuwait City, Kuwait – Theoretical physics and physics pedagogy
  • Adam Masters, Evanston, IL – Analyzing the socioeconomic impacts of artificial intelligence
  • Scott Partington, Ithaca, N.Y. – Analyzing 21st century technology design 
  • Cynthia Shen, Shanghai, China and Cupertino, Calif. – Technological innovation and the evolution of medicine and the healthcare system
  • Sarah Skrutskie, Earlysville, Va. – The relationship between image and story
  • John Yoon, Daejeon, South Korea and Ithaca, N.Y. – Analyzing communication technologies and the conceptual relationship between medium and discourse
  • Tianyi Zhang, Beijing, China – Intelligence Science: Analyzing human intelligence and artificial intelligence

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Rebecca Clark