Examples of Successful Responses

These excerpts were selected because they offer critical insight on ways in which their academic disciplines interrelate with one another OR provide compelling examples of how they have applied interdisciplinary learning within various academic, leadership, and/or professional contexts.

All authors have given permission for their materials to be posted here anonymously.  As a reader, we ask you do not circulate these examples as they are the property of the writer and not meant for distribution beyond the Trojan community.

Majors: Global Health (B.S.); History (B.A.)

“While the connection between global health and history may not be obvious, their relationship is profound. Above all, global health fosters a sense of international community that transcends boundaries and barriers. When promoting universal health, the characteristics that unite us as human beings are far more relevant than those that divide us. Most of all, this discipline emphasizes empathy, collaboration, and empowerment. Creating effective and sustainable solutions to health concerns is complicated and requires the careful consideration of myriad factors, including social and historical determinants of health. Similarly, when conducting historical research, one must assess disparate materials and puzzle together the story of a person, idea, or event. Studying history has not only taught me to think more critically and write more effectively, but also how to process and evaluate information with an open mind––it is far more than memorization. Just as with global health, one must see the bigger picture and understand its nuance long before any interpretation can be made, or pattern discovered. Not surprisingly, health promotion is enhanced when built upon a historical foundation.

The critical relationship between global health and history was clearly demonstrated in 2014 when Western Africa was struck by an outbreak of Ebola. The slow response of the global community to this epidemic continues to be criticized today––it took too long to get the outbreak controlled, resulting in thousands of deaths. But why? One of the main problems faced by the global community was simply how fast the disease spread; although the virus is known to be transferred only through bodily fluids, it long remained a mystery to why it spread so quickly. It was discovered far too late, after far too many lives were lost, that a key mode of transmission of the virus was through dead bodies. In areas most hard-hit by the disease, burial rituals involving physical contact with infected corpses were prevalent. What was needed here was not necessarily another physician or politician, but more extensive cultural awareness and tighter historical connections with the affected regions. By combining a degree in history with a degree in global health, I aim to position myself as a specialist who can bridge this gap between health policy and individual communities.”

Major: Computer Science (B.S.); Minor: English

“While my CS work has mainly been the beneficiary of my English work, by attempting to mimic and understand human language with computer programs, CS has provided me the tools to investigate the level of “humanness” inherent in language, that is to say the extent to which language necessitates aspects of human intelligence not found in computers. My junior year I wrote a research paper surveying past research on poetry generation as well as past research on deep learning for creative image and sound generation. I then suggested a specific technical plan to modify existing deep learning techniques to apply to automated poetry generation. I presented this proposal at the Viterbi Student Speaker Symposium and would like to use open source deep learning tools to implement it. Automated poetry generation offers a new tool to supplement human creativity. Additionally, existing techniques to isolate the individual feature encoded by each component in a neural network could be used on the poetry generation network, providing a quantitative analysis of abstract concepts in poetry (such as figurative language).”

Major: Engineering (Environmental Engineering) (B.S.); Minor: International Relations

“The following fall of my junior year, I sought opportunities to merge these two fields together in a manner specific to my interests, intent on investigating the importance of governance to sustainable water sources. This led me to be selected for the 2018-2019 USC-UNESCO Journal for Global Humanities, Sciences, and Ethical Inquiries cohort, through the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics. Through the year-long writing process, I completed a 20-page research paper on the importance of ethics to transboundary water management systems, focusing on the Nile and Mekong Rivers as case studies. This research helped me to contextualize hydropower development and pollution within an international governance system, accounting for sovereignty and agency. Writing this paper required a background in engineering to determine feasibility of proposed solutions and in diplomacy to speculate on management regimes amenable to all parties. This experience was a culmination of three years of technical classes interspersed with international relations theory. It solidified my personal interest in this field, and I am on the path to one day be involved in building management strategies and policy for transboundary waters.”

Major: Linguistics (B.A.); Minor: Education and Society

“I have also had experiences outside of USC that have allowed me to expand my interdisciplinary approach to social justice in education. During the summer of 2018, I was an intern at the Dean of Students Office at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. To have an international experience in higher education was invaluable in helping me think about how language, culture, and education intersect. Having completed a few linguistics classes at that point, I was keen on observing the intricacies of Singaporean English that I was not accustomed to. I believed this was crucial for me to not only communicate more effectively with the Singaporean staff members, but to potentially adopt some mannerisms of their speech as a gesture of familiarity and respect. In sociolinguistics, this is often referred to as accommodation. Specific to syntax, the grammatical structure of a language, I was intrigued how they used the verb “can” as a standalone response to requests or questions, meaning an affirmative response akin to “yes, I can” or “yes, that’s okay”. Upon discovering what this meant, I incorporated more into my speech when working with my supervisor and other student leaders at the college. While slight, the positive effect this had on my sense of belonging at the institution meant that students felt they could approach me more easily as they saw me as one of their own. This is what I hope to achieve as a future student affairs professional – students feeling comfortable with me because they are able to connect with me on the basis of some shared identity or cultural practice.”

Majors: Choral Music (B.A.); Law, History and Culture (B.A.)

“Without realizing it, I had prepared myself for research in educational access in music with my double major choice. In my coursework this far, I had taken a seminar, “Educational Access & Opportunity” that allowed me to begin researching disparities and inequities in our school systems as well as “American Legal History,” where I fine-tuned my understanding of gender vs. sex discrimination, which led to a few class papers on the topics. My experiences in high school with my transgender friends came to mind in these educational inequity classes and I started to question what could be done in our educational systems to fix these issues and make choir more accessible for all, regardless of gender identity. Designing an independent research project to tackle these issues, I was selected for the USC Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship. I used this funding to conduct interviews with transgender singers, their educators and peers and then gained approval from the IRB (International Review Board) for human subject research. I compiled the results, which revealed that there was a clear set of solutions to eliminate gender within choral classrooms. These solutions included simple switches of classroom language to gender-neutral options, offering more uniform options, and changing ensemble titles. Based on this discovery of a set of practical solutions for trans inclusion, I used a second grant to design posters and graphics that allowed activism and change to come from my research.”

Majors: English (B.A.); Political Economy (B.A.); Minors: Applied Computer Security

“The reciprocity between literature and technology prompted my desire to explore technology and cybersecurity with a literary perspective –a desire I pursued via an ENGL490x Directed Research project […] This project aimed to explore speculative fiction regarding artificial agents who experience emotion, and endeavored to create a blueprint mapping out the different strands of literature that may have influenced the thinking of those who work in AI. I was especially intrigued by the white paper Microsoft published on the developments in its AI assistant Cortana, particularly the foreword, which read like a piece of speculative fiction or a snippet from a sci-fi novel. The first time I read it, I did so with an innocent eye: there was an uneasy feeling I couldn’t entirely pinpoint, but I came out of it excited for Cortana and the future of AI assistants. However, after spending a semester immersing myself in the literature on digital assistants, I re-read the foreword through a newly-tinted literary lens and started seeing what was hidden in between the lines: the implicit bias and oppression underlying these female voice assistants. It made me realize how incredibly necessary a literary perspective is in technologies that deal with aspects of human identity, especially gender. […]

The directed research project also inspired me to present a TEDx talk at USC on the implications of assigning female identities to voice assistants such as Cortana, Siri, and Alexa. A critical moment in my 490x research was reading Donna Haraway’s critical essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto”, which explored how a society’s ideas of gender shape the development of artificial beings. With the question Haraway raises in her paper at the back of my mind, I started noticing how biases show up in the technology we create, such as in AI assistants. In my TED talk, I discussed how these biases leak over from the stories of AI we all grow up with and, as a result, condition traditional gender stereotypes and reproduce the status quo. In other words, I argued that these voice assistants are designed for the society we are living in rather than the society we should be moving towards.”