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.

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.

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

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