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Students for All
Seasons

 

USC's newly created Renaissance Scholars program rewards undergraduates who pursue theireclectic academic interest.

"DO YOU UNDERSTAND string theory in both physics and cello?” the brochure asks. “Do you hear Whitman in your head while watching the birth of stars?” Students who answer “yes” could be $10,000 richer come graduation day.
Starting May 2000, exceptional USC undergraduates can sample the tangible rewards of becoming a Renaissance man or woman. At next year’s commencement exercises, the university will award as many as 20 USC Renaissance Scholar Prizes to graduating seniors who have distinguished themselves in two or more “widely separated” fields of study.
Believed to be the first award of its kind in American higher education, these $10,000 prizes will be conferred every year by a special USC faculty panel.
The Renaissance Scholars program is the latest example of ways the administration is encouraging undergraduates to take advantage of educational opportunities unique to USC. Thanks to the diversity and strength of its professional schools and the scope of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, USC boasts the broadest range of undergraduate minors at any university in the country, according to President Steven B. Sample.
“A student can major in French literature and take a minor in business or cinema-television or architecture or engineering,” Sample says. “That kind of high-quality ‘breadth with depth’ simply will never be available at Harvard or Stanford or most of our peer universities.”

LEONARDO DA VINCI – considered the archetypical Renaissance man – was a painter, architect, engineer, physiologist and musician. That’s a tough act to follow, but current USC undergraduates have come up with imaginative combinations of their own, double-majoring in biomedical engineering and political science, economics and philosophy, and psychobiology and philosophy. One particularly energetic undergraduate has two majors – classics and philosophy – and two minors – piano performance and German.
“It takes extra effort for students to stretch themselves to study two different areas in depth,” says Joseph Hellige, vice provost for academic programs. “So we want to acknowledge the students who do so with great distinction.”
Renaissance Scholar candidates will have to meet rigorous requirements. A special faculty panel will evaluate their course work for breadth and depth in two or more divergent fields. Majoring in business and minoring in accounting probably wouldn’t make the cut, says Hellige, because the two disciplines are so closely related.
“The objective is not just breadth in the conventional sense – not just well-roundedness,” Sample explains. “Rather, the object is breadth with depth, and the extraordinary release of intellectual energy that comes when two widely separate fields of thought are brought together in the same mind.”
Once certified, candidates will need to graduate in no more than five years with a minimum 3.5 GPA. If they achieve all this, the Renaissance Scholar designation will be reflected on their transcripts.
“Like summa cum laude or magna cum laude [status], the honor will be a signal to graduate and professional schools and future employers that they are looking at a uniquely accomplished person,” says Katharine Harrington, USC director of undergraduate programs.
To be considered for the $10,000 prizes, Renaissance Scholars will have to leap an additional hurdle. In their senior year, they’ll need to obtain faculty recommendations and compose an essay discussing how their studies in widely separated fields have affected their intellectual, social and professional development. A faculty panel will choose $10,000 prize winners from among this pool.
“Anyone who receives this prize is going to be a very accomplished student in the broadest sense – a true Renaissance person,” says Harrington.

– Meg Sullivan


 

 

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The Renaissance’s Fairest

“A man can do all things if he will,” wrote 15th-century Renaissance man Leon Battista Alberti, describing the ideal he himself best embodied. An accomplished architect, painter, classicist, scientist, poet, mathematician as well as a fine horseman and athlete, Alberti was truly l’uomo universale.
The concept flowed from the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered humans the center of the universe, limitless in their capa-city for development. It followed, therefore, that individuals should embrace all knowledge and develop their powers as fully as possible. Flowers of the age include sculptor-painter-architect-poet Michelangelo, composer-physician-poet Thomas Campion, astronomer-classicist-physician Nicolaus Copernicus and explorer-historian-poet Sir Walter Raleigh. The 19th-century writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was perhaps the last European to attempt the many-sidedness of the great Renaissance personalities. A critic, journalist, painter, theater manager, statesman, educationalist and natural philosopher, he achieved in his 82 years a wisdom often termed Olympian, even inhuman.


Illustration by Matthew Martin

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