December 23, 2009

Honors program expands course offerings

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Students in the University Honors Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have an expanded choice of honors classes for the spring 2010 semester. Not only will two extra sections be available to accommodate more students, but also nearly half of the semester’s honors courses are offered for the first time.

Lori Merrill-Fink, director of the program and an associate professor of theater, said new classes have increased by 50 percent in recent years due to a call to the professors to develop new courses.

Students in the University Honors Program may earn an honors degree or an honors certificate. The honors degree requires students to enroll in a University Honors Program course each semester. Because of that requirement, Merrill-Fink said, offering course variety is crucial.

“Our student population is so diverse, and these courses substitute for their core curriculum courses, so variety is a priority,” she said.

John C. McCall, associate professor of anthropology, will teach Africa in African Cinema for the first time as an Honors course this spring. He described the course as the best he’s ever designed “in terms of the integration of themes, the variety and depth of the films, the cutting-edge topic, and the fact that the class is a product of my current field research project.”

Students will study 14 full-length feature films about Africa made by African filmmakers. Lectures, presentations and readings round out the course to provide students with a context and background so they can better understand the films. McCall noted that the material does not focus exclusively on African tragedies, such as famine and violence, but also on comedy and romance.

“I hope most students finish the class with a sense that they have a new and much deeper understanding of the problems and promise of Africa and Africans,” he said. “I hope they will also acquire a life-long interest in Africa and African arts, and they will continue to follow developments in African media.”

Matt Schlesinger, associate professor of brain and cognitive science in the Department of Psychology, offers “Intelligence in Minds and Machines” as a new course this semester. He said the goal of the class is to “design a robot that can convince humans that it thinks, feels, and has the same kinds of experiences that we do.”

As students design their (on paper) robot, they will explore how we define intelligence, and how psychologists, biologists, computer scientists and philosophers study intelligence.

The class will also look at existing prototypes such as R2D2, Wall-E and Hal.

A new course in “Theater Performance and Feminist Theory” incorporates an SIUC theater production of “Intimate Apparel,” a play by Lynn Nottage. Anne Fletcher, assistant professor of theater, said the course will focus on plays by and about women examined through a feminist critical lens.

“I hope the students will gain facility in applying theory to literature,” she said. She noted that the theater production would give students a chance to apply theory to a live performance as well.

“(The) Great War in Popular Imagination,” takes a whole media approach to an investigation of how World War I and its aftermath affected those who lived through it, and how its legacy continues to exist in the imagination of Europeans today.

Michael R. Molino, associate professor and chair of the English department, said the course “examines the war from two perspectives -- one contemporary with the war and the other contemporary with the students.” Students will study film, poetry and fiction, historical documents, war propaganda, visual art such as recruitment posters, music, and more.

“The variety of media as well as the shocking clarity and detail of much writing and imagery about the war should give the students insight into the lives of those who lived through the war at home and at the front in a way that will reveal why the First World War is the historical event that marks the dawn of the 20th century,” he said.

Molly Edwards-Britton, a lecturer in the Department of Theater, offers “Yoga and You,” a course that begins with a stress release program and moves on to a specific yoga technique. Students will also study the history and philosophy of yoga.

Edwards-Britton said the course will help students recognize the effects of stress along with methods to cope with it. The course will also teach students about the historical and philosophical background of yoga.

Other new courses include “August Wilson and the African American Experience,” (Mary Bogumil, Deparment of English), “Church, State and Injustice,” (J. Tobin Grant, Department of Political Science), and “Sound Empowerment,” (Ron Coulter, School of Music).

For more information about the University Honors Program, including requirements and course listing, visit