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Harman Academy welcomes new fellows

Cristy Lytalby Cristy Lytal
Warren Tichenor II, right, shares his polymathic perspective with Karin Huebner and Kevin Starr. (USC Photo/Lillian Insalata)
Photo: Warren Tichenor II, right, shares his polymathic perspective with Karin Huebner and Kevin Starr. (USC Photo/Lillian Insalata)

According to University 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 PhD candidate earned this distinction at the induction ceremony held in May in the Harman Academy’s wood-paneled quarters on the second floor of Doheny Memorial Library. As director of the academy and associate dean of USC Libraries, Starr joined USC Libraries Dean 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, postdoctoral 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 postgraduation 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 double major in psychology and global medicine who took part in 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,” she added. “I truly believe that it’s a place where we can celebrate life.”

Warren Tichenor II, an economics and aerospace engineering double major, also remarked on 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,” he said. “Because without that, you’re not going far.”

During the 2012-13 academic year, the Harman Academy hosted discussions with the Honorable Jane Harman, member of the USC Board of Trustees, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and former U.S. Representative; William Fain, architect; Dana Gioia, USC’s 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 Corp.; and Maja Matarić, vice dean for research and professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

“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 video game design communicates messages and creates meaning for players,” Quinlan said.

Thanks to these unusual adventures of the mind, this year’s fellows have matured as intellectuals, according to Huebner.

“They’ve learned how to look at whatever their field is from multidisciplinary ways and whatever their interests are,” she said. “They’ve also learned how to communicate more articulately — no jargon-filled narratives. And they’ve learned to collaborate with fellow students.”