To learn more about how the human mind and brain processes information, choice, emotions and language, Amy Pestenariu is studying cognitive science.
With a gift of $7.7 million from Marshall Weinberg, a U-M alumnus, longtime donor and volunteer, hundreds of students will have the same opportunity to study how the brain works at the new Weinberg Institute for Cognitive Science in LSA.
The institute is a cooperative effort between the departments of Linguistics, Philosophy and Psychology. Courses are also offered through the departments of Statistics, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Political Science and Computer Science. This interdisciplinary approach will help students examine complex issues surrounding the mental functions of the brain and mind.
"Over the years in talking to students and faculty, I have realized that interdisciplinary learning has the most meaningful impact," Weinberg said. "As a result, I created the Weinberg Cognitive Science Symposium, which has explored a variety of cognitive issues. That success led to the formation of the institute. It is my hope that Michigan students will continue to unlock secrets of the brain."
Pestenariu, the first student to declare an undergraduate major in cognitive science, which will now be housed within the new institute, says "studying cognitive science gives me the opportunity for the exploration of multiple fields that interest me and relates them all to the central and largely-unanswered questions of how and why the mind works."
The Weinberg Institute will ultimately offer a graduate student certificate for students pursuing interdisciplinary opportunities. A $2.5 million dollar fund will generate graduate student awards and prizes. Graduate students from the supporting disciplines will work with undergraduates in teaching and lab situations. Faculty and students will all benefit from this unique collaboration.
A $2.5 million teaching and innovation fund will support interdisciplinary team teaching, visiting faculty and innovations in cognitive science. The $2 million director's fund will support operations, research and faculty initiatives. A previous $700,000 gift from Weinberg for philosophy and cognitive science will be transferred to the institute.
"Marshall Weinberg's vision and exceptional generosity will create unprecedented opportunities for students and faculty to examine the human mind from an interdisciplinary perspective," said Susan Gelman, interim dean of LSA and the Heinz Werner Distinguished University Professor of Psychology.
"The Weinberg Symposia have examined significant and timely issues, such as bilingual brain research, the rationality of thought, and the use of neuroscience data in legal judgments of guilt and innocence. The creation of the institute will enable faculty and students to examine more of these important and provocative questions."
With his latest gift, Weinberg's lifetime giving to the university totals more than $14.28 million, including $10.7 million to LSA, $1.6 million to the School of Natural Resources and Environment and $1.8 million to the Institute for Social Research. He has also made gifts to the U-M Museum of Art, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and for financial aid for students.
Weinberg will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Spring Commencement at Michigan Stadium on May 3. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy in 1950. In 2008, he received the David B. Hermelin Award for Fundraising Volunteer Leadership, the university's most prestigious award for volunteers.
"Cognitive science is where cutting-edge empirical research and perennial philosophical questions collide," said Laura Ruetsche, chair of the Department of Philosophy and a professor of philosophy. "As he has many times before, Marshall Weinberg has spotted a significant institutional need and stepped forward with outstanding generosity to enable us to act on his vision."
Sam Epstein, director of the Weinberg Institute, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of linguistics, praised Weinberg's vision for "recognizing not only the deep intellectual challenge of and inherent human fascination with cognitive science but the importance of developing a scientific understanding of who we are as thinking, feeling, conscious creatures."
Robert Sellers, chair of the Department of Psychology and the Charles D. Moody Collegiate Professor of Psychology, said the gift is an "extraordinary and forward-looking recognition of the increasing importance of multi-disciplinary approaches to understanding the human mind and brain that are having a transformative effect across the field."