“A polymath is one who not only mastered one or several disciplines, but one who uniquely synthesized them, integrated them.” — Sidney Harman



for the Sixth Annual Harman Academy for Polymathic Study

Student Retreat on Catalina Island

March 13-15, 2020


  The deadline to submit your application has been extended to Sunday September 29. 


The USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study at the USC Libraries announces an exciting opportunity for intellectually curious and creative students.  Four to six participants will be selected to form an intensive, multi-disciplinary committee for the planning and organization of the 6th Annual Harman Academy Student Retreat on Catalina Island, March 13-15, 2020. 



The Harman Academy offers a variety of programming that encourages an integrative approach to problem-solving that draws from across the disciplines. The annual Student Retreat lets students take the lead in identifying a topic for discussion and in formulating a weekend retreat at USC’s Catalina facilities. In spring 2016, twenty-five students grappled with a variety of issues under the rubric, “Narratives and Environments;” the 2017 retreat explored ideas around “Generating the Future;” the 2018 retreat approached “Perception” as a polymathic concept, and last year’s retreat interrogated “Entropy and Stability” as the framework for inquiry.  At these retreats, students and more than a dozen faculty discussed and interrogated multiple modes of inquiry through structured daytime and evening sessions, outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, and games, and late-night continuing vibrant discussions. All events are free for USC students.


A panel of student organizers will be chosen in the fall via an application process to select the theme, review submissions, and organize the participants for the spring 2020 Student Retreat. The entire conference will be student organized and led, with professors and other guests participating by student invitation. The Student Retreat has already proven an exciting addition to Academy programming that allows students to become engaged in polymathic thought and discussion at a deeper and more sustained level. We look forward to seeing what this year’s committee designs.


For more information about the Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, please visit our website.



The committee will consist of four to six USC undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds who will meet overall several months to organize, plan, and coordinate the retreat in March 2020. The planning meetings will vary based on committee members’ availability and the workflow of the planning process but require a firm commitment from committee participants.


With guidance from the Harman Academy leadership team, the committee will be entirely responsible for the genesis and execution of the retreat – from determining a theme, to reviewing applications and selecting participants, to inviting faculty and other guests. The shape and nature of the weekend will come entirely through the committee’s efforts, fulfilling the Harman Academy’s desire to create an undergraduate retreat that is both by and for students. The retreat will reflect the Harman Academy’s commitment to synthesizing and integrating diverse and multi-disciplinary viewpoints. This is an opportunity to shape an exciting part of Harman Academy and USC programming for you and your peers.



We are inviting applications for undergraduate scholars to plan and organize the conference. We are looking for a diverse mix of creative, intellectually curious individuals who will energetically embrace this unique and challenging opportunity. Participants will be expected to attend planning meetings as needed beginning in October 2019 through the culmination of the retreat in March 2020.


Committee member duties include: formulation of retreat theme and panel topics; issuing a creative call for applicants; review of applications and selection of student retreat participants; extending invitations to faculty and guests across USC and beyond; and working with the Harman Academy staff on event logistics and budget.


To apply, please send a CV, indicating two references and your answer to the following two questions:

  1. What potential theme would you propose for a polymathic (integrated interdisciplinary) retreat? What makes the theme engaging or relevant, and what type of activities might you include?  (200-250 words)
  2. What relevant experiences do you bring to the planning committee?  (100-150 words)

Applications deadline has been extended to Sunday, September 29th. Please send all materials (pdf) to Dr. Karin Huebner, Academic Director of Programs, USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study Selected participants will be notified by Tuesday, October 8th.



Please read this thoughtful piece by polymath Mana Afsari about her experiences as a member of the Catalina Student Retreat Planning Committee: 

     We were strangers to each other. Four of the six of us had never heard of the Polymathic Academy before we applied to design and organize its annual retreat. The other two of us had just become acquainted with the Academy, which had given us so much already through its class on Los Angeles, but which still brimmed with ever more promise and possibility.

     The delightful comforts of interacting with students of our own discipline, students in our distinct fields, were forgotten that day in the poorly-lit basement room of Leavey Library. We found ourselves surprised by how much we related to, how much we liked, how much we found fascinating the disciplines of our fellow Catalina Retreat Planning Committee members. The scholar of Classical Chinese literature saw erudition and likemindedness in the Cognitive Science and Computer Science student. The BFA candidate in Multimedia Art found a collaborator (and sometimes intellectual combatant) in the International Relations and Film double-major.

     What I'm describing, however, could happen in the Polymathic Academy on any given day, at any occasion, just as much over a slice of pizza during a Polymathic Pizza or a cup of tea at the Quadrants series. That's the nature of our vast and various community. The Catalina Planning Committee, though, organizes a select group—of brilliant breadth—to create and conceive three days of discussion, deliberation, debate, and contemplation of a given topic or way of looking at the world. That contemplation and debate flourishes in the sublime backdrop of Catalina Island, where, morning or night, students continue their discussions perched on the cliffs overlooking tides crashing dramatically into boulders on the shore.

     The topics never fail to be broadly, profoundly, and ambitiously conceived and elaborated: In 2018 we had "Perception," and in 2019 we explored "Entropy and Stability." Rare is the campus community that so unabashedly and sincerely interrogates such foundational, rather than topical, themes.

     The Polymathic Academy aims to strike at, interrogate, and understand the foundations of thought, creative impulse, intellectual continuity and change. We invite you to dive in, to cast and craft your own interrogations into a Polymathic Retreat to share with students and professors who share your interest in locating the foundational within a field, and making the particular subject polymathic.

Mana Afsari