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Pomona College Awarded $800,000 Grant to Support Cognitive Science Program

Pomona College has been awarded a grant from The Fletcher Jones Foundation in the amount of $800,000 to support its cognitive science program. The funds will be used to build state-of-the-art facilities for the program in a new building slated for construction in 2005, and to support independent study and research opportunities for students.

Pomona College’s program in cognitive science is part of the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, established in 2000, which offers a multidisciplinary approach to the study of language and mind. By creating the department, and its major in cognitive science, Pomona College enabled its students to investigate the human mind using a multidisciplinary approach. Only a handful of other liberal arts colleges have fully structured cognitive science majors.

“Pomona has made a major commitment to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to linguistics and cognitive science,” says Pomona College President David Oxtoby. “In addition to being closely linked to the College’s program in neuroscience, cognitive science also draws upon faculty in the departments of philosophy, psychology, music and mathematics/computer science. The curriculum affirms the faculty’s belief that integration of material from these disciplines is required to explain the operations of the human mind, especially those that involve language.”

The grant money will help fund a two-building complex that will begin construction during the 2005–06 academic year. The planned complex will provide office, laboratory, and classroom space for the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, as well as the intercollegiate departments of Black Studies, Chicano Studies, and Asian American Studies (programs of The Claremont Colleges), and for Pomona College departments of environmental analysis, psychology, geology, neuroscience and computer science.

Funds from the grant will also help Pomona College meet the growing student demand for research opportunities in the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science. Enrollment in the introductory courses offered by the department has doubled since the last academic year, causing the college to offer more sections of the courses this year. Student summer research opportunities with faculty in the department have proved so popular that some applicants have had to be turned away. This grant will help to fund additional positions for students to engage in collaborative research projects with cognitive science faculty on campus each summer.

Cognitive science arose as a specific field of inquiry only two to three decades ago. Mind and brain researchers pursuing independent lines of study found that their work increasingly touched on other disciplines, and they began to explore a concerted approach. The time was right, says Jay David Atlas, Peter W. Stanley Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics at Pomona College. “The neuroscientists were making great progress. The linguists had been making great strides. And cognitive psychologists had been very successful in discovering all kinds of new ways to study the brain.”

The goal of cognitive science is to explain the operations of the human mind—its ability to perceive the world, to think and talk about the world, and to think self-consciously about its own thoughts. The investigation of these fundamental issues has implications for some of the most important human problems; for example, how to maintain cognitive ability in the face of neural degradation, how to enhance learning in children and adults and how to use artificial intelligence to enhance human functioning.

The Fletcher Jones Foundation is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit committed to the support private colleges and universities in California. The Foundation is governed by a distinguished eleven-member Board of Trustees drawn from the ranks of business, law, finance, banking, education and government.

Pomona College is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, offering a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.