Past Explorations Courses
Explorations courses have been offered on a variety of topics. Below are descriptions of some recent offerings.
Science as Information (HONR 220: Honors Science)
Dr. Jason B. Shepherd
Assoc. Professor of Computer Science
Over the past fifty years, computing has had an immutable effect on the physical and life sciences. Viewing science through the lens of information has led humanity to extraordinary discoveries (e.g., the Human Genome Project) in part because of how easily this information can be explored and manipulated by computers. In this class, we will apply the scientific method by using computers as our lab and computer code as our tool for scientific discovery.
Meaning Monuments & Memorials (HONR 230: Honors Humanities)
Dr. Laura Bernhardt
Assoc. Professor of Philosophy
How is a sign, a sentence, or an event meaningful? What is meaning? How do signs, objects, and utterances convey information? How do we handle contested interpretations, in which symbols may bear multiple meanings that prove contradictory? How do we manage the many difficulties of translation and understanding across cultures, languages, and time periods? How is meaning related to truth?
In this class – a unique general education offering for the Honors program -- students will apply readings in philosophy, semiotics, rhetoric, and anthropology to the study of the meanings and symbolic uses of monuments and memorials. During the term, they will develop their own approaches to “meaning” through a set of applied exercises, culminating in the specific longform analysis of a unique Iowa monument -- The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend.
Developmental Economics (HONR 210: Honors Social Science)
Dr. Stan Ullerich
Professor of Economics
Looks at the roles of resources, markets, and social institutions in advancing economic well-being, especially in less developed countries. Ownership of resources, freedom to exchange, adequate nutrition, capital (investment) flows, labor force productivity, education, technological change, the (public) provision of infrastructure, and role of international participants in promoting economic growth are examined. Public choice theory applied to nonmarket decision-making is introduced.
The Wire (HONR 210: Honors Social Science)
Dr. Neal McNabb
Asst. Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice
Using HBO’s The Wire as a medium, this class is a study of modern America and many of the most salient issues that we are confronted with as a nation. Though the series is completely fictional, many of the storylines are taken from true events. This series has been described by William Julius Wilson, the world’s preeminent urban studies scholar (and author of one of your books for the class), as the most accurate fictional depiction of urban life he has ever seen.
Though each season is set against the backdrop of a police investigation, The Wire is much more than a typical “cop show.” Investigations are not neatly wrapped up in each episode, but rather go on for years. Instead of portraying criminals as bad and police officers as good, which is far too simplistic to be accurate, The Wire poses more realistic, and difficult, ideas about why people do what they do.
Minds, Fiction, & the Human Identity (HONR 230: Honors Humanities)
Dr. Steven Mills
Asst. Professor of Spanish
Students will gain an understanding of what identity is, and how it is constructed. Then, through a final project, they will be able to discuss these constructs in a literary context.
The Science of World War II (HONR 220: Honors Science)
Dr. Shawn Stone
Assoc. Professor of Physics
In this course we will explore how science influenced the outcome of WWII. Topics will include, but are not limited to, Eugenics, submarines, rockets, radar, and the atomic bomb. We will examine the people, the politics, and the science in detail through film and reading.
Issues in Black and White (HONR 230: Humanities)
Dr. Michael Whitlatch
Dean, School of Communication & Arts; Professor of Theatre
This course is designed to take a look at some of the artistic and cultural achievements of African Americans beginning with the Harlem Renaissance and culminating with the works of playwright August Wilson. We will look at the music, art, literature of the Harlem Renaissance and will also learn more about the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and the struggle for racial equality in the 1950‘s and 1960’s. The goal of the course is to make students more aware of African American achievements, and yet serve as a sober reminder of the issues that the country faced in getting us to the present day.
Native North American Arts & Culture (HONR 200: Fine Arts)
Prof. Rebecca Frates
Asst. Professor of Graphic Design
This course will explore the arts created by Native North American artists as well as the cultural significance of these artworks; including the sacred and the secular, the political and the domestic, and the ceremonial and the commercial. Works will be investigated on the communal level as well as the individual artist, their roles in society, and the cultural and social contexts of the objects they created. Study will include early, pre-contact works through present, contemporary native work stressing the concept and iconography across many centuries and a vast area. Five major subdivisions of North America (including the current United States and Canada) will be studied – the North, Northwest Coast, East, West, and Southwest – covering dozens of tribes.
Students will be required to complete daily reading as well as reflect on what they read. Classroom discussion will be expected. Each student will complete a research paper. Additionally, a beading workshop will be part of the course; each student will be taught traditional hands-on beading techniques. The workshop will be taught by Jessie Palczewski, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, MFA University of North Dakota.
Justice, Politics, and Policy (HONR 210: Social Science)
Dr. Brad Best
Assoc. Professor of Political Science
How might we estimate the moral worth of our actions? What are the obligations of citizenship, of membership in a self-governed community? What is the moral basis of individual rights and liberties? How might we discern justice in law and public policy? Should moral or religious perspectives play a role in political life? What moral and ethical questions are raised by emerging technologies? Students enrolled in HONR 210 examine these and numerous other questions amidst a close encounter with the great ideas of western political philosophy. Moreover, students enrolled in HONR 210 attempt to make sense of the present, and future, by looking to the great minds of the past – Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Rawls, and others. Classroom sessions follow a discussion and, at times, seminar format. Written essays, discussion leadership duties, and a term-length research project are used to assess learning and, most importantly, arouse in students an appetite for critical reflection on their own values and opinions.
HONR 230 Honors Humanities
The English Renaissance
Prof. Hollace Drake
An introduction to the development of English society between the late fifteenth and early eighteenth centuries - a vital period of social, political, economic, and cultural transition. Students will study the context of these transitions and have the opportunity to study in-depth a field of particular interest.
HONR 200 Honors Fine Arts
Is that REALLY Art?
Prof. Mary Mello-Nee
This is an introductory (yet rigorous) seminar in the philosophy of art for honors students. This course examines and engages in a variety of traditional and contemporary concepts for describing our experience and appreciation of visual art.
When we try to decide whether something is an artwork, what sort of considerations should we keep in mind? Should a piece of work be in agreement with current moral sensibilities in order to be recognized as art? Should it matter whether the creator of the work is human? Should it matter whether the creator intended it to be received or understood as art? Should it matter whose judgment, mine or of the others, counts whether the work is an excellent one of its type? Finally, should it matter where, when, and by whom it is seen, if by anyone?
We will be reading the writings of philosophers whose works go as far back as the ancient Greek world and are as recent as the “digital revolution.” Some argue for a definition, while others argue that a definition will not do, and look elsewhere to answer, “What makes something a work of art.”
HONR 220 Honors Science
Cryptography: The Art and Science of Secrecy
Dr. Benjamin Donath
Codes have decided the fates of individuals, alliances, corporations, nations, and even empires throughout all of recorded history. To possess the intellectual acumen to devise strong and impregnable codes on the one hand, and to defeat an enemy’s best attempts at secrecy on the other, have literally changed the course of history. The ongoing struggle between those who devise ever stronger codes, and those who bring to bear their utmost intellectual prowess to break those same codes, provides an interesting historical framework from which to view this intriguing story of human capacity and achievement.
In this course we will pursue a combination of learning about codes and cryptography within historical contexts, and actively engaging in the process of enciphering and deciphering information. Daily out-of-class reading and homework exercises, two papers, and an oral presentation will be required. Topics will range from the historically significant monoalphabetic and polyalphabetic ciphers to modern day encryption methods such as public-key cryptography.
Prerequisite: Students must have completed their Foundational Skills Requirement in Mathematics.
HONR 210 Honors Social Science
Media, Crime, and Criminal Justice
Dr. Stephanie Hays
In this course we will examine the images of crime and criminal justice that are portrayed through mass media in America. We will examine both broadcast media (television, films, music, internet, video games) and print media (magazines, newspapers, comic books). Class sessions will include a mix of lecture, discussion, media clips, and case studies. Some of the topics that we will examine include:
- The social construction of crime, criminals, victims, and punishment in the media.
- The media's influence on the level of crime and violence in society.
- The C.S.I. effect and the media’s effects on the processing of criminal cases.
- The media’s impact on criminal justice policy.
- The media's impact on public attitudes and perceptions of crime.
HONR 210 Honors Social Science
Human Sexuality with Dr. Wind Goodfriend
This course will explore a wide variety of topics relevant to human sexuality, including (but not limited to) sexual physiology, approaches to research in sexuality, psychological minorities such as people with sexual fetishes, and sexual orientation. In addition, the class will discuss various relevant debates, such as intersexed individuals and the human sex trade (i.e., prostitution). Class sessions will include a mix of lecture, discussion, and student presentations. An interdisciplinary perspective is encouraged.
HONR 230 Honors Humanities
New Research in Imitation with Dr. Matthew Packer
New and mind-boggling scientific research suggests that people copy one another in ways far more amazing and disturbing than once imagined. The implications of the recent discovery of "mirror neurons," in fact, are arguably becoming as important for the human sciences (humanities, etc.) as DNA has become for biology. Contemporary mimetic theory, drawing on this breakthrough, argues now that copy behaviors are so instinctive in humans that even our desires are shaped by 'mimesis': people want what they see other people wanting, which inevitably leads to rivalry ("it's mine!", "stop copying me!") and conflict all the way from the personal level to the global. Since our mimetic intelligence underlies nearly everything we do, we'll explore on this course topics including new modes of advertising and marketing ("coolhunting," etc.), Web culture, anthropology, rivalry in journalism and international politics, scapegoating, digital "trending" and piracy, as well as fads, bubbles, and crashes of all sorts. We'll read world-class authors, classic and modern, to navigate the enormous challenges and opportunities of this freshly-understood element of what it means to be human. Assignments will include short papers, presentations and a final research project. All honors students welcome!
HONR 220 Honors Science
Microbial Disease Challenges of the 21st Century
Dr. Brian Lenzmeier
One of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century is the threat posed by tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. The microorganisms that cause these diseases will be responsible for nearly 25% of the deaths incurred world-wide this year and all three of these microorganisms have recently developed multiple drug-resistant strains observed in patients in the United States. Rising to the challenges posed by these microorganisms will require contributions by talented and creative individuals from all academic disciplines. This course will introduce honors students to the groundbreaking scientists who first demonstrated the connection between microorganisms and disease.
Students will learn the biological complexities surrounding infectious diseases and will work with other students to employ natural, social, economic, political, and technological approaches toward a creative and comprehensive approach to dealing with tuberculosis, malaria or AIDS in a very specific location in the world. Honors students from all disciplines are invited to contribute and no previous science courses are necessary to be successful in this course.