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 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.

HONR 162 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.

American Gangster – Robert Reginio

In this course we will ask: is the gangster in pop culture only an "honest" portrayal of the capitalist values that drive our society? Does the gangster genre indulge our desire for a life lived by codes of honor and loyalty, or are these facades hiding darker truths? We will watch classics in the genre like Little Caesar, Scarface, and Public Enemy and then compare these films with more modern classics like The Godfather, GoodFellas, and The Sopranos. We will consider appropriations of pop culture imagery of “La Costa Nostra” in the rap albums “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” by Raekwon and Ghostface of the Wu Tang Clan and “American Gangster” by Jay-Z. Projects will include a series of group presentations on the changes in the representation of the gangster in film and music over the years and what these changes have to tell us about American society.

As Gaeilge: Irish and Irishness – Karen Donnellan

Forget your stereotypes. This course will delve into contemporary Irish culture in and from Ireland.  Film, food, theater, art, dance, music, sport, perhaps some history and definitely an introduction to conversational Irish language (Gaeilge)- these are just a few of the topics we will cover over the course of the semester. Coursework will feature hands-on workshops, readings, films, class discussions, individual and group projects as well as a possible field trip.

Too Gouda To Be True – Myles Calvert

Soft and drippy triple cream brie, or a hard and pungent gruyere?  Sample a weekly cheese while learning about its origin, production, and suggested serving.  Students will present on their preferred cheese to the group, allowing for discussion, analysis, and investigation of taste, texture, and smell. The semester will culminate in the class’s production of a digitally bound, laser-cut, Swiss cheese triangular book - graphing, scoring, and mapping the multitude of sampled cheeses.  Purchase of ONE cheese required per student to share and a $15 lab fee to cover accompanying snacks, beverages, and book production.

HONR 163 - Bodies: Trained, Perceived, and Experienced – Colleen Wahl

Pop-culture shapes perceptions and experiences of the human body. This class looks at popular ways of training, portraying, and understanding the body in the 20th and early-21st centuries including: physical culture and fitness, advertising, and mainstream medical science. Through a theoretical and embodied survey of these worlds, students will learn about how popular Western thought on bodies and movement influences perceptions of the body—what it can do and how we experience physicality. Assignments: one paper and one presentation.


HONR 155 - Cut - Bend - Fold – Bind—Myles Calvert

Exploring paper, fabrics, and pigments, this course will dive into different techniques of making hand and machine-bound books.  A wide variety of stitches will be explored, as well as some advances in technology with the use of the digital glue binder and fabric printer.  Assignments involve physical book creation / design, discussion / critique, and cumulate in a pop-up exhibition.  Exploration and discussion of artists’ and rare books in the Scholes Library will be used as inspiration.


HONR 165 - Data Structures and Algorithms using Python -- Zong Dai

As artificial intelligence and automation transform industries, demand for data-savvy employees is far outstripping the available supply. This course will introduce beginning students to data structures and algorithms using Python, one of the most widely used programming language in computing. It allows students to focus on problem-solving skills and algorithm development. The primary activities include lectures, discussions, and labs. The course will be evaluated based on class participations & contributions (25%) and lab exercises (75%). By the end of the course, students will be able to use Python to manipulate data and run basic data analyses.


HONR 131 - The Science and History of Alcohol—Garrett McGowan

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.


HONR 159 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 partake in pumpkin carving, haunted houses and ghost tours.


HONR 176 - Cult(ure) – Katarina Riesing and Lydia McCarthy

This course will delve deep into the world of cults. By examining famous cults in recent history, we will begin to unravel the cultural, political and social contexts that have allowed for these fanatic new religious movements to thrive. Apocalyptic end times, civil rights, psychedelics, sexual deviancy, megalomania, symbolism, art, fashion, music, film - these are just a few topics we will cover over the course of the semester through lectures, films, readings and projects. For the final project each student will define and develop their own individualized cult with a focus on a written manifesto, ritual and cult fashion.

Basic Facts

The Honors Program is an enrichment program, providing a more stimulating intellectual climate or community for our brightest and most motivated students.

Basic Facts & Honors Application

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Juliana Gray

Professor