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Honors Program in the Arts welcomes inaugural students

This quarter marks the start of Stanford’s new interdisciplinary Honors Program in the Arts for 12 inaugural students.

Participating seniors, many of whom are not arts majors, will complete capstone projects combining their majors with their interest in the arts and will also have the opportunity to graduate with an honors distinction.

The Biology Department’s Senior Reflection capstone program ­ launched in 2010 by biology professor Susan McConnell and Andrew Todhunter, current associate director and workshop leader for the Honors in the Arts program ­ inspired Matthew Tiews M.A. ‘99 Ph.D. ‘04, executive director of Arts Programs, and Stephen Hinton, director of the Stanford Arts Institute, to develop a broader version of the program that would be open to all students.

Emily Saidel, grants administrator and programs assistant for the Arts Institute, explained that the honors program had been proposed last year and was approved in May 2013.

“Students from all different majors can apply to be part of it and form one cohort of people with lots of different backgrounds,” Saidel said. “The goal of the program is to integrate the art experience with the student’s other field of study, whatever that other field of study is.”

To apply to the program, students had to demonstrate experience through courses they’ve taken in their chosen art form, write a detailed proposal for their capstone project and have a GPA of 3.67 or higher. However, administrators also said that many students took advantage of the ability to petition to apply even if their GPA was not high enough.

“There were initially 39 applications for the initial 12 spots,” Todhunter said.

Although diversity played a role when choosing applicants for the program, Hinton emphasized the importance of project proposals.

“Ultimately, I think our first criterion is, ‘Does this look like an interesting project?’ Are we hearing from the student that they will really get something out of doing this?” Hinton said.

Diverse student line-up

The 12 selected students come from a wide range of backgrounds. Their majors range from English to anthropology to computer science, and seven of the 12 students are also pursuing minors in areas that include art and art history.

In fact, Todhunter said that since the program takes an interdisciplinary approach, very few arts majors are participating.

“Because it’s an interdisciplinary program, it’s really designed more to give students who are creative but not arts majors…the opportunity to renew a creative life here,” Todhunter said.

David Grunzweig ‘14, an electrical engineering major, exemplifies the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

“I’ve always wanted to be a music double major or at least get a music minor,” Grunzweig said. “This seemed to me like the best way to really emphasize the significance of music in my life.”

Grunzweig is currently planning his project around jazz composition that incorporates modern recording techniques. He hopes to dispel the assumptions that computer music lacks expressiveness and human connection.

“I’m trying to capture some really big picture ideas with this project,” Grunzweig said. “And I’m excited to hear back from people that have…critiqued art as a profession.”

Tiffany Dharma ‘14, a computer science major, learned about the program through her participation in the New York Arts Immersion program during her sophomore year. Although still subject to change, her project also dabbles in both the sciences and the arts.

“I haven’t exactly pinned something down yet, but in my proposal…a lot of interest is in art museums and the experience people have with art in those spaces,” Dharma said.

The 12 students are divided into two groups of six, and the program’s format centers on hands-on workshops that meet once a week and may include guest speakers or field trips.

To graduate with honors in the arts, students must receive at least an A- on their projects, which will also be reviewed by an impartial panel of professional artists.

Saidel is hopeful that all the students will come out with honors.

“In some ways, this may be their last chance to really spend a lot of time focused on their art-making,” Saidel said. “In a year, they’ll graduate and go on to the next stage in life, which doesn’t always allow for the flexibility to have that artistic output.”

Contact Kylie Jue at [email protected]

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