After 2 years, Franke Program evolves

Though many Yale students view the humanities and the sciences as opposite ends of the academic spectrum, the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities promotes interdisciplinary academic experiences such as workshops on the philosophy of biology, or the overlap between physics and dance.

The program, which celebrated its second anniversary this month, has hosted various events and is now working to engage more undergraduates by developing an undergraduate fellowship program that had its first application deadline earlier this week.

“We’ve been putting together lots of programs that have filled lots of little niches,” said ornithology professor Richard Prum, the program’s director. “There’s no corner that we’re calling out of bounds.”

Prum said he is excited about continuing the program’s agenda of providing interdisciplinary opportunities for all levels of the University — but in particular, he is looking forward to attracting and engaging students from Yale College. Towards this end, the Program initiated the Franke Undergraduate Fellowship this year, which provides funding to rising seniors interested in conducting interdisciplinary research that bridges the gap between the sciences and the humanities.

Prum also said he hopes the program’s events can bring together more Yale undergraduates who major in the sciences but want to satisfy their interests in the humanities, and vice versa.

“We’re eager to ensure that our programs are welcoming to undergraduates, and they’re going to continue to be a really important part of our planning and strategy,” Prum said.

Franke Program Assistant Director Justin Eichenlaub said that though the program has already hosted a variety of events, he and his colleagues still look at it as similar  to a start-up company. In addition to holding lectures and workshops, Eichenlaub said, this year the program may also begin hosting day-long events with an overarching topic, such as computers in the humanities.

Prum also noted that because 2014 will mark the anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the program may sponsor a performance of an obscure, 19th-century symphony inspired by passenger pigeons as part of a larger series on extinction.

Sarah Demers, an assistant physics professor and a member of the program’s Interdisciplinary Arts and Science Research Working Group, said the program has also tried to “support the art-science collaboration already in place on campus,” particularly by sponsoring certain student theater productions. Though she acknowledged it can be difficult to work within the constrains of Yale’s packed calendar, she said the program has brought “an additional richness” to the existing science-humanities dynamic at Yale.

The Franke Program was funded by a gift from Richard Franke ’53 and Barbara Franke, who wanted to foster interdisciplinary research between sciences and humanities. Though the program has a physical and administrative home at the Whitney Humanities Center, it receives no direct financial support from the Center and has independent programming.

The next Franke Program event will be biology professor Gunter Wagner’s talk, “The Metaphysics of Homology: the Molecular Basis of Character Identity” on April 1.

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