Honors Seminar Spotlights

208DInsect Biodiversity: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird
Dr. Bill Lamp (Faculty Profile here)

Hundreds of bugs in a classroom would normally cause a panic, but not in this late spring session of HONR 208D “Insect Biodiversity: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird.” A few days ago, students went into the field to collect specimens from the Middle Patuxent River. Now back in their UMD classroom, they will classify, label, and preserve the insects. One group’s “prized find” – one of the few hellgrammites collected – creates some excitement, drawing other students to study it. Using guides, students diligently sort through their mayflies, beetles, stoneflies, and dragonflies as Dr. Bill Lamp, Professor of Entomology, circulates and answers questions. When a group has some trouble with an identification, Dr. Lamp takes a quick look under the microscope, pointing to certain aspects of an aquatic insect’s anatomy to help the group make the correct classification. Students love the “hands-on” experience they get in the course as they discover the diverse world of insects.

208DUndergraduate entomology courses are normally only open to upper-level Biological Science majors, but Dr. Lamp’s Honors Seminar gives Honors students the unique opportunity to explore this fascinating field without any prerequisite requirements. Thus, non-majors like Nicole White (UH, ‘19), who “always wanted to take an entomology class,” can pursue this goal in a way that still fits into her academic plans. There’s no need to worry about the lack of prior knowledge because this hands-on experience is deftly guided by Dr. Lamp, who Austin Le (UH, ‘19) says, “does a really good job of making this class as interesting and fun as possible,” especially since he is so “passionate” and “knowledgeable.” John Horine (UH, ‘20) praises the tone that Dr. Lamp sets for the seminar, saying that in “this class in particular, I can really connect with the other students and the professor, ask questions and feel really comfortable in the classroom environment.” This supportive but rigorous environment helps students broaden their horizons. Sara Mascone (UH, ‘19) took this seminar for that exact reason: in her final seminar for her UH citation, she “wanted to learn something new and do something [she’d] never done before.” And her curiosity was rewarded when she came away from the seminar with a new perspective. “I look at [insects] a lot differently,” she said. “When I’m walking around campus or back home…I look around [and think], ‘Oh wow! They’re doing a lot of good for us.”

208RLeonardo and the Science of Art
Dr. Meredith Gill (Faculty Profile here)

The Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture (here) – a space designed for collaboration across fields – is the perfect room for HONR 208R “Leonardo and the Science of Art,” a seminar that brings together scientific and artistic discourse. Using Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) as a focal figure, this seminar asks, “Can we separate art from science as a form of knowledge?” To help students explore this question, Dr. Meredith Gill prepares students to research and analyze artistic productions, encouraging them to make their own observations and arguments. In doing so, students soon discover that to “think like an art historian” often means crossing disciplinary boundaries.

208RFor instance, Samantha DeSilva’s presentation on a da Vinci caricature of five men offers several different interpretations, including one that draws from the medical field. Citing an article in a medical journal, DeSilva (ILS, ‘18) posits that each man represents a different disease (tuberculosis, leprosy, etc.). The blurring of disciplinary lines - how artistic representation and medical practice merge – is exactly what draws many students to this seminar. Biological Sciences major Juhye Kang (ILS, ’18) appreciates the different perspective this seminar offers: her “very science-heavy program” didn’t have much room for the arts and humanities, and she liked how this seminar supports STEM-based students with “no background in art history” in grasping the material and concepts. Neurobiology and Physiology major DeSilva agreed, saying that “in her entire undergraduate career she had never taken an art or history class,” so she felt more comfortable taking this seminar since it used a field she was fluent in (science) to make an unfamiliar discipline more approachable. She came away from the seminar seeing how two disparate fields intersect, “seeing where [they] meet and how they are similar.” Specifically, she says that “the way that art historians analyze paintings is similar to the way that scientists do their own experiments.” Indeed, HONR 208R demonstrates how the art studio and the science lab aren’t so far apart.

269CDigital Dialogues and the Dynamics of Intercultural Communication
Dr. Sahar Khamis (Faculty Profile here)

The internet has facilitated unprecedented communication between diverse populations across the world, revolutionizing the potential for intercultural connection and dialogue. But the internet has also created a surfeit of information, where “fake news” abounds and stereotypes supersede nuanced portrayals. How, then, can we increase our media literacy and facilitate clear communication?

Dr. Sahar Khamis’s HONR 269C “Digital Dialogues and the Dynamics of Intercultural Communication” explores this double-edged sword of new media. Specifically emphasizing the dynamics between Western culture and Middle Eastern culture, this seminar pays special attention to (mis)representations and stereotypes in the media and considers how new media platforms can foster cross-cultural dialogues. Lively and student-centered, Dr. Khamis’s classroom buzzes its own thoughtful dialogue, using student questions and reading responses to guide its sessions. Students in fields from Journalism to Government and Politics to Pre-Med comment that they found the course useful for their own professional pursuits, as they learned to better communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds. In fact, Computer Science major Vincent Choo (ACES, ‘19) said, “Of the humanities courses that I’ve taken…this one is by far the best.”

This seminar goes beyond the classroom in its pursuit of better intercultural understanding and communication. Students don’t just read about theories of media and communication – they practice it via participation in the Soliya International Connect Program. Through this innovative online program, American students “meet” with students in the Middle East and Europe to discuss issues like self-identity, media coverage, and immigration issues, exchanging perspectives and building international relationships. Clairisse Reiher (UH, ’21) found the program “hugely beneficial,” noting that “we can talk about things in a classroom, but its way different to get out there and participate.” Priya Patel (UH, ’20) agreed, stating that the Soliya program “definitely opened my eyes to different cultures.” Aicha Camara (UH, ’21)’s group bonded, and group members shared their Skype information so they could talk outside the program too. Like many students, Camara said that the Soliya program was her favorite part of the class, something that she “look[ed] forward to” each week.

278DNational Security Dilemmas
Mr. Daniel Rosenthal

One evening in HONR 278D “National Security Dilemmas,” the instructor cannot answer a student’s question about drone strikes. It’s not because Mr. Daniel Rosenthal doesn’t know the answer; on the contrary, he knows too much about the drone program. His time as the Director of Counterterrorism for the White House means that he has top secret classified information, so he “can neither confirm nor deny” some of his students’ queries or suppositions.

This popular Honors Seminar considers current national security issues like profiling, surveillance, targeted killings, enhanced interrogation methods, and detention practices. Drawing from legal sources, editorials, and government briefs, students parse the ethical considerations and practical implications involved in crafting national security policy. Students thus gain a better sense of the nuances and difficulties involved in this complicated and on-going process. Ben Johns (UH, ’21) commented that he liked learning about the complexities surrounding these issues, noting the seminar gives students “very in-depth views” on national security controversies and thus “really expands your mind.”

Of course, Mr. Rosenthal’s considerable expertise brings a unique element to the room. A trained lawyer who has worked in the White House and the Department of Justice, Mr. Rosenthal has first-hand experience with actual national security dilemmas. He still works downtown, but brings his knowledge to College Park on Monday evenings. Honors students appreciate this insight into the inner workings of the nation’s capital. Lauren Cain (UH, ’20) remarks, Mr. Rosenthal’s “first-hand perspective about all the work he’s done” offers “something you really can’t learn [from] a textbook.” Katherine Schutes (UH, ’20) agrees, stating that Mr. Rosenthal’s teaching and experience have “definitely” made this seminar her “favorite Honors Seminar that [she’s] ever taken.”