Seminars

What Students Say...

"Honors creates a space where learning for fun comes first. It reminds me of why I love to learn." - Fenna Mandolang

Serious Play

At Alfred University, we believe that courses taken outside the major - courses that allow students to explore and discover different interests - give the college experience unexpected pleasure and inspiration. That's why for more than 20 years, our Honors Program has been based solely on electives. Every semester, our students have the chance to enrich their educations with an array of mind-expanding seminars.

Here, you won't find a single Honors course that's just a regular class with an extra paper and more homework. We take a different approach one that integrates literature and science, history and pop culture, humor and critical thinking. In the words of Professor Alexis Clare: "Honors classes buzz. It's a high-frequency, active expectancy that we are all going to find out something new. It isn't like teaching, really, it's more like discovery." In short, it's serious play.

University Scholars

To earn the "University Scholar" designation on an Alfred University degree, students must complete four Honors seminars (though many Honors students end up taking five or more). Each seminar— with enrollment limited to 15 students— meets one evening a week for two hours. Seminar topics change and evolve each semester depending on student and faculty interest.


HONR 149 The Aliens Did It? – John D’Angelo

There are theories – some thought-provoking, some baseless – that this planet has been visited by aliens for millennia and that these visitors have influenced the course of human history. In this course, we will discuss the merits of select theories, the fabrication of evidence and/or willfully ignoring reliable evidence as a form of scientific misconduct, and the search for life in the universe. Students will write a paper on an alien theory of their choosing, and the class will make and edit our own episode of Ancient Aliens, focusing on (entirely fabricated) “alien theories” related to AU.

Bad Words – Bob Myers

What’s the worst you can say or think? No matter which “bad words” come to mind, it’s more complicated than that – and more interesting. Taboo? Obscene? To whom and why? This course examines social layers of offensive language and gestures, changing meanings and functions over time with examples ranging from literature to popular culture, as well as differences across cultures. Suspending judgement and discomfort with certain words frees us to think critically about a fascinating topic. Students will write two reflective essays and one on a researched topic; they will also give a class presentation.

CAMP – Kerry Kautzman

In CAMP, we want to go beyond marginal self-presentation to explore the expressions and the experiences of an “aesthetic of artifice,” in fashion, films, life, music, novels, and theater internationally. As seen at the Met’s Costume Institute and Gala 2019, camp is a social practice of ostentation and theatricality that celebrates exaggerated performance. We will immerse ourselves in thirteen unique examples of camp. Students will design a project that embraces camp’s “love of the unnatural” as explained by Susan Sontag. Can you take CAMP far enough?

HONR 122 Culture and Cuisine, Film and Food – Becky Prophet

Food offers more than sustenance: it represents aesthetics, power, social and/or economic status, values, and religious concepts. Discovery of foods and cuisine in several cultures, accomplished by viewing and discussing films, will result in four “dinners,” prepared by groups of students. Nine films set in as many places, sample dinners, short forays into cooking shows, and two field trips lead to understanding and discoveries about different cultures. Vegetarians and vegans are encouraged and will be accommodated. No cooking experience is required; willingness to try and to experiment is essential.

HONR 131 Drinking Up: The Science and History of Alcohol – Garrett J. McGowan and Christopher Romanchock

Medicinally, as a source of nutrients, in worship and religion, and as a social lubricant,
alcohol (ethanol) has been used by people from the earliest times to present. It was likely
a fortuitous accident tens of thousands of years ago that it came into human culture, and
while abused by a minority of drinkers, most derive pleasure from its consumption. In
this course, the history and science of ethanol will be examined through a combination of
laboratory exercises and lectures, which may include “crafting a homebrew,” analysis of
beer/wine/spirits, field trips to vineyards and invited speaker visits.

Laughter Crafters: Political Cartoons & Memes 2020 – Andy Eklund and Jeff Sluyter-Beltrao

With the November 2020 elections looming, our challenge will be to analyze and learn
about issues facing the country through the lens of editorial cartoons. We'll host a
"presidential debate" through contrasting cartoons and memes, we'll mount cartoon
face-offs on controversial issues such as immigration, climate change, and gun control,
and we'll draw our own editorial cartoons (no artistic ability required!). We'll explore
current events through regular small group cartoon-based quizzes, and student teams
will produce poster presentations on the major historical event of their choice.

HONR 123 Muggles, Magic, and Mischief: The Science and Psychology of Harry Potter—Danielle Gagne and David DeGraff

Attention Muggles! Educational Decree #1836 mandates a course be offered entitled
"Muggles, Magic, and Mischief." Rowling’s world of witchcraft and wizardry provides a
window into the human psyche and the mysteries of science. Students and their
housemates will examine the human and wizarding world through weekly quizzes and
one final presentation on topics related to: the universal appeal of magic; Quidditch as a
sport; invisibility, travel through time and by floo; the unnatural biology of magical
creatures; teenage angst, friendships, and romance; the nature of evil; and
potions. (NOTE: All seven books should be read before start of term).

Alfred E. Nigmas – Garrett McGowan and Andrew Eklund

Throughout history, societies have used puzzles for relaxation and encrypting information. More recently, it has been shown that puzzles are an excellent means to flex your brain, to build cognitive ability and maintain mental health as we age. In this course, we'll study, develop, and solve puzzles of many forms – numerical, alphabetical (words), and mechanical. In addition to focusing on the history and importance of cryptography & puzzles through group presentations, ciphers ranging from simple substitution to technologically advanced systems will be discussed. Students will also design their own puzzles or ciphers.

Evolution of the DIYer – Tim Keenan

Learn about the evolution of “Do It Yourself” projects, the tools and methods utilized to learn these skills, and industries to help the weekend construction warrior. We will survey methods of the past to help appreciate the tools of the present (such as Pinterest, YouTube, and HGTV), and learn how to take on a wide variety of DIY projects. The course will include weekly videos and discussions, along with in-class group activities to learn basic home improvement skills. The class will culminate with a final presentation on how this knowledge might help the students become better-informed homebuyers in the future.

Let’s Talk About Death – Danielle Gagne

We’re all going to die at some point. How much do you actually know about this whole process? This course is not for the faint of heart – we will compare death on film vs. in reality, view an autopsy, visit a cemetery (maybe a morgue), tell ghost stories, discuss what the dead can provide crime scene investigators, and host a death café. In addition to weekly readings and reflection assignments, students will write a will, plan their own funeral, and present on a death topic of choice.

Maple Syrup: The Real Thing – Laurie Lounsberry Meehan

The production of maple syrup is one thing in our society that has endured even in today's culture of constant change; fundamentally it’s the same process developed centuries ago. This class uses “maple” and all things related as the lens to explore a variety of disciplines: chemistry, botany, forestry, art, national and local history, business, environmental science, literature, cookery and more through a mix of readings, discussion and hands-on experiences. Assignments include reflective essays, participation in class, attendance at field trips, work at the on-campus Sugar Shack and a final project/presentation.

The Science of Baking – David Marsh

We will look at how bread, cake, and pastry are so different, despite being made of the same ingredients. In the same way that chemicals are made of different combinations of elements, we will learn how to create an endless number of delicious treats with just a few things in different ratios and mixed in different ways. Class time will be devoted to baking, so you can get hands-on experience. There will be short papers reflecting on each topic, and a final project where you invent a recipe and discuss it with the class.

Can We Weather the Weather? – Tim Keenan

Take a look at some of the most devastating weather events, both past and present, and discuss observable trends, debate major policies, issues, and potential climate change factors, and ponder the ultimate question: Can we weather the weather of the future? This course will include weekly readings which will lead into weekly videos and discussions, and students will be asked to prepare one final presentation summarizing their climate views, whether or not their views have changed throughout the course, and how they believe the planet should proceed going forward.


Drinking Up: The Science and History of Alcohol – Garrett McGowan and Chris Romanchok

Medicinally, as a source of nutrients, in worship and religion, and as a social lubricant, alcohol (ethanol) has been used by people from the earliest times to present. It was likely a fortuitous accident tens of thousands of years ago that it came into human culture, and while abused by a minority of drinkers, most derive pleasure from its consumption. In this course, the history and science of ethanol will be examined. A combination of laboratory exercises and lectures will comprise this course; and may include but not be limited to “crafting a homebrew,” analysis of beer/wine/spirits, field trips to vineyards and invited speaker visits. Students will be expected to prepare short projects about a beer, a wine, and a distilled spirit; as well as briefly present on one of them in this course.


Monsters, from Folklore to Reality – Andrew Eklund

We’ll examine history, religion, culture, and science through the medium of monsters and the psychology of fear. We’ll also look at how we respond to the presence of monsters. Alpha predators, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, the supernatural, & invasive species will be analyzed using movies, television, and books (On Monsters, Monsters in America). We'll focus on the scariest monsters – HUMANS. Through group presentations, designing our own monsters, and a team trivia final in addition to sharing journal entries, we'll discuss how racism, anti-immigration, women’s suffrage, and nuclear fears are expressed using monsters. We’ll also partake in pumpkin carving, haunted houses and ghost tours.


Quest for Knowledge: Dungeons & Dragons – Danielle Gagne

Seasoned players, Dungeon Masters, and newbies can join this honorific quest for knowledge. Adventurers in this course will read not-so-ancient scrolls on topics related to the literary roots of Dungeons & Dragons, the societal impact of the game, the “backlash” from parent and religious groups, racism, sexism, the role of magic in society, role-playing and identity, morality, and why no one really likes kobolds. Join weekly quiz-quests for experience points (i.e., grades), play a bit, and create a character sheet based on your analysis of a well-known persona for the final.


The Psychedelic Experience – Lydia McCarthy

This course will look at psychedelic culture in the US from the 1950s to present day. Through firsthand accounts, documentary footage, podcasts, films, art and music, we will examine our complicated history with psychedelics and how attitudes towards them have been shifting with new research into their therapeutic potential. Material covered will include: Albert Hoffman + LSD; The Harvard Psychedelic Project; Acid Tests; Terence McKenna; The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies; Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind; and much more. Students will be asked to give a presentation on a relevant topic and create a final project.


The Psychology of Heavy Metal and Punk Rock – Steve Byrne

Black Sabbath and The Sex Pistols made Elvis and the Beatles seem quaint; Marilyn Manson and Bad Religion could outsmart Miley and Bieber six ways from Sunday. To what cultural, social, and psychological (or psychotropic) events are the “heaviest” of the musical genres responding? Must social distortion be loud? Has that disruptive vision been diluted? What should a rebellion sound like today? This course combines an exploration of harder-edged music genres with analysis of the psychological underpinnings of their artists and fans. Students will be exposed to a variety of relevant genres and will introduce new artists to the class each week via scheduled presentations. Psychological theorists, such as Jung, Freud, and Adler, will play a prominent role in discussions about the appeal of said genres, the sense of community developed by their devotees, and the alleged role of heavy music in violence and mental illness. Students will also construct a personal music profile, a multimedia work detailing their genre and artist preferences and their personal/psychological origins.