Multiple Degrees of Preparation
Fourteen seniors reap the rewards of eclecticism as USC awards the first $10,000 Renaissance Scholar prizes.
JENNY HUIJU YIEE has always known she would be a doctor someday. Unlike many college students, though, she thirsted for knowledge that couldn’t be pumped from a single well. One major just wasn’t enough.
“I knew I’d have the rest of my life to be in science and medicine,” says Yiee, who is the USC Class of 2000 salutatorian, “so I wanted to choose a major that interested me personally. I’m a people watcher. That’s why I chose anthropology.”
Yiee is one of 14 winners of USC’s first Renaissance Scholar Prizes – $10,000 awards given to outstanding graduating seniors who have distinguished themselves in two or more widely separated subjects. A Las Vegas native with a 4.0 GPA, she epitomizes what USC President Steven B. Sample meant when, in announcing the scholarships last year, he spoke of the “dramatic things that can happen…at the boundaries and bridgings of two disparate fields.”
Indeed, who but Jenny Yiee could have dreamed up an anthropology project exploring Kenyan perceptions of plastic surgery? She conducted her research during a semester abroad in Nairobi, in the wake of an embassy bombing that maimed thousands.
“What was intended to be a four-year dalliance [with anthropology] has turned into a life-long commitment,” she wrote in the essay she submitted to the faculty committee that chose this year’s Renaissance Scholar prizewinners. Other research projects of this violin-playing biologist/ anthropologist have probed the effects of bacteria on burn patients and the effects of multicultural arts education on inner-city seventh-graders.

YIEE IS IN EXCELLENTcompany. Another Renaissance Scholar prizewinner is the Class of 2000’s valedictorian, Marshall Scholar and USA Today’s All-USA College Academic First Team member Jacob Chacko – a biology-gerontology major, health policy management minor who was profiled in the Spring 2000 issue of USC Trojan Family Magazine.
“These students exemplify the Renaissance ideal – what we at USC like to call ‘breadth with depth,’” said Sample, recognizing the prizewinners at the 117th Commencement in May.
Sample clearly articulated the philosophy underlying the scholarships in his commencement remarks: “Due to extraordinary anticipated advances in medical science,” he told the sea of cap-and-gowned graduates, “I would expect that most of you will live beyond the age of 100 and work past the age of 80. You will probably have three or four different careers during your lifetimes…. USC has tried to prepare you for this new reality.”

AFTER THE RENAISSANCE Scholar program was announced in 1999, scores of students stepped forward with far-flung combinations of intellectual pursuits. Among the more colorful of these was Adam Levine’s blending of biomedical engineering and creative writing.
“Whether I’m writing a free-style poem or a C++ program, the beauty lies not in the writing itself but in the rewriting,” observes Levine, who begins another pair of degrees this fall, in medicine and public health policy. (His expository skills may come in handy should he ever fulfill his ambition of running for political office.)
Last winter, 79 such eclectic seniors were certified by a faculty committee as Renaissance Scholar candidates. In February, 55 of the eligible candidates applied for prizes. All, in the words of the committee, were “extremely accomplished,” with GPAs ranging between 3.5 and 4.0 and transcripts showing clear evidence of breadth with depth. The following 14, however, proved “particularly outstanding,” and in May the committee saluted their achievements with $10,000 prizes each:
Jacob Chacko, biology and gerontology major, health policy management minor.
Tatyan Clarke, biology major, theater minor.
Peter Danenberg, classics, philosophy and German major; piano minor.
Sally Ha, business and art history major.
Lindsay Harrison, political science and gender studies major, cinema-television minor.
Adam Levine, biomedical engineering and creative writing major.
Mary Lewinski, political science and phil-osophy major, Russian minor.
Alex Lin, political science and biology major.
Devin Mitchell, biology major, classics minor.
Aditi Nag, economics major, natural
sciences minor.
Han Nguyen, biomedical engineering and political science major; economics minor.
Rebecca Orozco, Spanish and psychology major, natural sciences minor.
Joshua Wolfsohn, humanities/music and biology major.
Jenny Yiee, anthropology and biology major.

ALL THE RENAISSANCE Scholars share a clear-eyed vision of the importance of their eclectic learning. There’s art history and business double-major Sally Ha, who regards her merging of financial sense and aesthetic sensibility as prerequisites for a future attorney working in a museum setting.
There’s Mary Lewinski, who believes her philosophy, political science and Russian studies are a superb foundation for a career in academic medicine. It will shield her from a common flaw among researchers, the tendency to “become imprisoned by their ideologies,” Lewinski writes.
Or there’s Peter Danenberg, whose mastery of German, French, Latin and ancient Greek; virtuosity in piano performance; and rigorous conceptual training in philosophy will make him a redoubtable professor of comparative literature – in his words, “a thinker rather than an academic jack of all trades.”
Eccentric as some of the combinations may seem, they make sense. Classical guitarist and future physician Josh Wolfsohn, for example, carried over elements from his musician’s regimen of daily technical drills and repertoire refinements to his scientific endeavors.
“Rather than study the night before a [biology] exam, I set aside time every week to review the material, so that I became more comfortable with it,” he writes.
A good physician, he contends, like a good musician, seeks a deeper understanding, beyond the “mere memorization of facts.”

– Diane Krieger

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