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.


Artificial Intelligence: Fiction and Future – Danielle Gagne and David DeGraff

“Hello. Would you like to be friends?” This question may seem innocent coming from a new roommate, but what if it came from your computer or your car? From Hebrew golems to Ex Machina, people have been both fascinated and terrified of animating the inanimate. Are we ready for technology to become sentient? What if we prefer the virtual world to the real one? Are the fears of Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking justified, or should we look to the hopeful solutions of Larry Page? This course will explore early fascinations with AI and where the future might be headed. Readings will include contemporary science fiction readings like Mindscan and Existence. Students will be expected to lead discussions related to weekly topics and present a project on modern AI.

Crochet: Pattern and Improvisation – Sara Kramer

Crochet is not only a tool for creating functional objects: it’s also a great way to model mathematical concepts (like hyperbolic space), improve your ability to move an object from inside your mind to the physical world, and create original works of contemporary art. In this course, students will learn the basics of crochet, and use those skills to create both their own mathematically-driven crochet patterns and improvised or “freestyle” crocheted works of art. Assignments will include working together to make a collaborative crocheted afghan, and creating an original artwork of the student’s own design--2d or 3d, freestyle or highly planned. We will delve into the theory of craft in contemporary art and look at and discuss the work of contemporary artists who use crochet in their practice. No prior experience with crochet (or art!) required.

From The Clash to Kendrick: The Art of Protest Music – Robert Reginio

The English punk band The Clash put it this way: “Let fury have the hour/Anger can be power/If you know that you can use it.” In this seminar we will explore music that attempts to put anger to use. We will look at specific political firestorms – e.g., the “troubles” in Northern Ireland and the AIDS crisis – as touchstones for artists who felt compelled to create in the face of injustice, rage, and confusion in the punk movement. We will then trace the rise of hip-hop as informed by a strong tradition of protest, culminating in hip-hop music of the Trump era. Ultimately, we will ask: what makes good political music? can political art be good art? what happens when revolutionary culture is co-opted, packaged and sold? We will create and DJ a radio show to be broadcast on WALF exploring the music of protest from the 1970s to today. Punk and post-punk artists may include: The Clash, Gang of Four, Minor Threat, Patti Smith, Wire, and Fugazi. Hip-hop artists and albums we will listen to are: KRS-One/Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, Killer Mike, Dead Prez, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., and Beyoncé’s performance film Homecoming. Additions as suggested by the class are more than welcome!

From Farm to Table: The Importance of Being Local – Garrett McGowan and Chris Romanchock

This hands-on Honors seminar will examine how our food reaches us through a mix of classroom presentations, cooking, and numerous field trips to local food producers. The class will offer a delicious introduction to the local food scene in and around Allegany County as well as to a wide variety of kitchen skills. Field trips will include visits to a local vegetable grower, a small organic dairy, meat producers, and a winery. Hands-on labs will include cooking locally available foods, basic food preservation, and an optional unit on butchering. Note: this course will include an additional $20 “lab fee” for supplies, and there may be additional expenses throughout the course for optional activities.

Monsters from Folklore to Reality – Andy Eklund

In this course, we'll examine the influence of religion, culture, and science on monsters throughout history. We’ll also look at how we respond to the presence of monsters, from alpha predators to other creatures stemming from folklore or reality. Monster-related topics such as genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, epidemics, & invasive species will be analyzed. We'll also focus on the scariest monsters in today's society – 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, and nuclear fears are expressed through monsters’ portrayal in literature and the media. We’ll talk about the psychology of fear, hopefully partaking in Halloween traditions ranging from pumpkin carving and haunted houses to ghost tours.

This Course Sucks: A Vampire Extravaganza – Allen Grove

As the sun sets, we’ll study vampires in fiction, television, and film. We’ll explore where these stories originated, how they’ve evolved over the centuries, and why they remain popular today. What fantasies and fears have kept these stories alive into the 21st century? From Le Fanu’s 1874 Carmilla to popular television shows including True Blood and What We Do in the Shadows, we’ll explore a broad range of topics including class, race, sexuality, disease, and mythology. Each seminar member will create a final vampire-themed project that can be creative, scholarly, or both. Donating blood is highly encouraged but not required.

Smash Stuff: An Intro to Sustainable Materials Engineering – Gabrielle Gaustad

In this course we will be smashing diverse products with a focus on electronic waste (phones, tablets, a TV, VCRs, kitchen appliances, etc.). After some stress- relieving destruction, we will endeavor to identify all of the contained materials using basic characterization techniques (no prior experience required). Discussion on Design for X (X = Reuse, Remanufacturing, Recycling) and sustainability implications will be included. Each student will submit a bill of materials for their products which will be synthesized for the entire class. The final project will be a design change to reduce the environmental impact of one of these products (the deliverable can be a presentation, report, or prototype). NOTE: This class will meet from 5:20-7:10.

Training Methodology: Ancient Spartans to Spartan Racers – Tim Keenan

From soldiers of ancient Sparta and ninjas of Japan, to marathon runners and triathletes, to today’s on-screen Batman and Superman, explore the evolution of training methodology among athletes of varying concentrations throughout history, including both the physical regimens and mental approaches, designed to achieve maximum success. Weekly readings and videos will stimulate in-class discussions, and students will be asked to prepare one final presentation summarizing which techniques they found most intriguing, and whether there are any methods they might adopt themselves

Difficult Womxn – Rïse Peacock

Difficult Womxn is a seminar that honors and explores the voices and written words of womxn who have been deemed “difficult” or disruptive during our contemporary times. BIPOC voices will be prioritized, and authors for the course will include Roxane Gay, Mikki Kendall, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks. This course will also include excerpts from the book Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity. Students will engage in critically-led discussions based on the readings and will eventually lead their sessions. Assignments will include a weekly journal entry utilizing the creative style of the commonplace journal and a self-directed project or presentation.

A Dark and Stormy Night – Allen Grove

Become a published writer! In this seminar, we’ll survey 180 years of haunting tales. We’ll read stories about haunted houses, haunted objects, and haunted minds. Each student will then write an original ghost story, and the seminar will culminate with the design, editing, and publication of an anthology of those stories.

HONR 102 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.

DO NOT PASS GO AND DO NOT COLLECT $200: What we can learn through board games – Likin Simon Romero

In this class, we will see how to use board games as a pedagogical tool. Each class will be centered about a subject (history, economics, natural sciences, social justice, morality and ethics, among others). The students will play a game in class whose theme matches the corresponding subject. They will be asked to write a short reflection about the board game that they played and its theme. As a final project, students will choose a topic and a board game, then develop supporting materials (such as brochures, reference cards, images, audio, questionnaires, etc.) that could be used in a classroom setting to teach the chosen topic. NOTE: This course will meet from 6:20-8:10 (or may be adjusted to accommodate students’ needs), and will be taught entirely online. Students who cannot meet at the regular time may contact the professor.

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.

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 judgment 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.