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Claire Liu ’19 presents her College Scholar senior project on the phenomenon of fake news in an event May 4 in the Physical Sciences Building.

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One of the true treasures of the college experience is the freedom to follow your curiosity and see where it takes you.

In no major is this more encouraged than for College Scholars in the College of Arts and Sciences, who as sophomores propose a project that combines their varied interests, then craft their own curriculum to follow those pathways.

For the 14 seniors from the College Scholar program who are graduating this year, those interests included artificial intelligence, juror decision-making and the Chinese tributary system. They shared their research at a May 4 event in the Physical Sciences Building.

“These students have successfully taken ownership of their intellectual development,” said Michael Goldstein, associate professor of psychology and the director of the College Scholar Program. “They worked for years on their innovative, multidisciplinary projects, and I’m really proud of them.”

Claire Liu ’19, who’s majoring in government, was always interested in misinformation and political persuasion, but her decision to study the phenomenon of “fake news” arose after the 2016 election. Her research delved into how misinformation has evolved over time, how people define fake news and how they determine which sources are reliable.

James Slater Goodman ’19 studied the Australian magazine Bulletin, and its role in constructing a national identity in the late 19th century.

“I always knew I wanted to study history and literature, but wasn’t sure how I would approach that within the existing majors,” Goodman said. 

His project allowed him to think about the two views of nationalism he saw growing up – how nationalistic rhetoric was used to justify political and military action after 9/11, and how patriotism at the Olympic Games inspired him as a swimmer. He chose to look at nationalism in Australia because of the year he spent there after graduating from high school.

Darby Tarlow ’19 focused her project on artificial intelligence, studying how people perceive the social and mental qualities of artificial agents compared to real human beings. “The College Scholar program has provided a good way for me to think about what academia is meant to do,” she said, “and how my individual research fits into a department and can cross departments.”

The newest cohort of College Scholars, from the Class of 2021, spoke about their projects at another event May 10.

Sterling Williams-Ceci ’21 is focusing on the idea that the public is under-informed about the amount of personal data available online, much of which is out of their control.

“I have always had a knack for online investigation,” she said. “In high school, I would get requests from teachers to find information about their families and friends online. This made me start to ponder the ethics of this big-data age and its effects on people.”

Williams-Ceci hopes her project will “democratize knowledge by educating everyone about big data’s influence in our lives,” and hopes to understand how it has impacted different groups of people in different ways.

The College Scholar Program is for exceptional students who want to conduct an individualized, interdisciplinary program of study and research. Students apply in the first semester of their sophomore year and work closely with an adviser to select courses that prepare them for their independent research projects and also expose them to the disciplines and methods essential to a liberal arts education.

“The program is focused on a small group of stellar students whose interests transcend disciplinary boundaries,” Goldstein said. “A traditional major is too restrictive for them. They wish to connect ideas and fields of research that are currently siloed away from each other. I really enjoy helping them develop their ideas and watching them grow as independent thinkers.”

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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