Honors Signature Seminars are inquiry-based interdisciplinary courses that push the boundaries of any individual major on campus. HONR 3000-level Honors Signature Seminars are open to Honors students from any major at any level. Other than Honors status, there are no prerequisites. These are upper-level courses, but no disciplinary knowledge is required. These seminars can be used to satisfy Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) requirements.

Because we are frequently developing and prototyping new Honors Signature Seminars, the University Catalog does not have detailed descriptions of each unique signature seminar.

The following are current and recently offered Honors Signature Seminars.

Experiencing Philanthropy

Have you ever received a scholarship and wondered where it came from and why you received it? Who gave the money and why did they do it? Here’s your chance to learn about the world of philanthropy and how you can make a difference!

Philanthropy plays many roles in our communities, from alleviating crisis situations to encouraging strategic, systemic change. Nonprofit organizations are the intermediary’s connecting donors to community needs. Working with grants from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation and the Honors College students have the opportunity to practice philanthropy by serving as grant-making board to award $10,000 to local nonprofits in Greater Lowell.

Students will learn about nonprofit organizations, different styles of philanthropy, and effective nonprofit management; how to think about and evaluate impact as a philanthropist; how to evaluate a community program; how to read nonprofit financials and assess nonprofit organizational health and potential; sources of philanthropic news, and thinking, and trends in philanthropy and nonprofit management. Students will design their own process for evaluating focus areas as well as evaluating grant applications. The process of selecting grant recipients will bring students very close to the local community.

Energy and the Developing World

Investigating the science of energy requires a thorough approach covering a broad range of topics such as fossil fuels, biomass, nuclear energy, and renewable energies such as solar, wind, and hydropower. This seminar course will address the fundamentals of energy with discussions involving the forms of energy, energy conversion and scalability of energy production with a global perspective. Invited speakers will include individuals with field specific expertise and international experience in each type of energy to detail the technological challenges of efficiently harvesting energy resources and establishing distribution and storage networks at home and abroad.

There are no prerequisites for this course. However, students should come prepared to pursue and evaluate topics in the science of energy through the skills of inquiry, research, critical thinking and problem solving.

13 Ways to Slay a Vampire

This honors seminar takes an interdisciplinary approach to the figure of the vampire. In addition to literary and film studies, disciplines from across the humanities, fine arts, and social sciences will guide us in new ways to understand the vampire. We’ll read some of the classics (Polidori’s The Vampyre, LeFanu’s Carmilla, Stoker’s Dracula) and some lesser-known tales, and talk about the vampire’s move to other media (theatre, film, television, video games, and beyond). Students will have the opportunity to explore a personal area of interest with a final project.

Graphic Design Concepts

This introductory Graphic Design course is for students interested in visual communication, type, and its use. This is a project-based course which contains visual, written, and research components. Students will be introduced to the software used in contemporary design practice. Content will address environmental sustainability as well as other social justice issues.

Our Planet, Our Selves: Writing About Climate Change

How does one write about the rapidly changing world that we inhabit? How does writing help us to engage with all the complex thoughts and feelings that this change provokes in us?

This seminar will introduce writing as a tool for understanding what it means to be a witness to our transforming planet. Grounding ourselves with mindful and experiential practices, we will experiment with the reflective essay genre, a genre that allows writers to center feelings and engage abstract ideas. As we explore climate emotions and the power of individual action for individual and planetary well-being, we will collectively hold the door open for critical engagement with the extractive and exploitative systems that have led to climate change. We will read widely, examining the narrative and reflective choices that other writers make in essays about nature, environment, and climate change. Students will compose three essays and a creative project.

Game Gambit

Learn about the history of games, elements, and principles of what makes an engaging game as one learns to create their own games. Games engage our brains, hands, and hearts. Games encourage and support learning, growth, imagination, and healthy brain development. The games in this course will be real, 3D tangible tabletop games. Join us to create n’ play. Watch Prof. Roehr talk about her seminar in the Honors Seminars YouTube Playlist.

World Cinema

Approaches to the study of film are numerous, and seemingly limitless in their possible areas of focus and concern. This is understandable, as people have been thinking about the nature of film since the medium's earliest days. One of the greatest contributing factors to this multiplicity of approaches has been this discipline's great inheritance from the other arts, and the accompanying insights, practices, and theories that these "others" have themselves generated for centuries.

A world cinema course such as this one calls for a great deal of discernment on our part, in both our film selection and our thematic approach. With this in mind, and as a group throughout, we shall follow a pedagogical approach which is twofold this semester. First, we shall explore select films from around the world in search of aesthetic, epistemological, ethical, and ontological points of both connection and concern. Second, in and through this exploratory approach, we shall advance several novel ways of reimagining our various conceptions of ‘perception’ and ‘world cinema.’ Watch Prof. Hersey talk about his seminar in the Honors Seminars YouTube Playlist.

* World Cinema may be petitioned to count as a World Ready elective

Race and Rupture in Early 20th Century American Literature

One hundred years ago the United States experienced a period of crisis rooted in rapidly developing technology, immigration and changing ideas about race.  This seminar will focus on early 20th century American literature—especially that of the 1920s—as representations of this rupture in the social fabric, writing that at times celebrates and at others fears pluralism, that questions and crosses borders, and that invents new ways of voicing diverse American experiences. We’ll begin by learning about the dramatic demographic changes in the U.S. at the turn into the 20th century before looking at how they shaped the literary culture of the time. As we turn to that literature, mostly short stories and novels, we’ll consider the following questions, among others: How do people of non-Northern European descent navigate their positions within the dominant culture of the U.S.? In what ways do they manipulate traditional and expected literary forms to express subversive or critical perspectives of that culture? How do the expected and the revisionary come together to form new modes of representation? How do writers from the dominant culture respond to the drastic changes taking place in the early 20th century and increasingly common encounters with the Other? In what ways do the drawing and erasing of borders inform the literature of the time? Authors may include Langston Hughes, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Maria Cristina Mena, Sui Sin Far, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Zitkála-Šá.

Gender, Work, and Peace

"Gender, Work and Peace" will explore the relationship between human rights, gender and nonviolence in the 21st century. We will examine how current and future reality can be shaped by related policies, specifically those on the micro and macro level concerned with gender. Today we live in a period of global transition comparable to the period that followed the Industrial Revolution. It presents us with enormous challenges and opportunities regarding factors we will address in class: economic globalization, government restructuring, work-family balancing, environmental safety at work, gender inequalities and the connection between human rights and dignity at work.

Public Speaking

The thought of standing up and making a presentation in public is nerve-wracking to many of us. Yet, this skill is critical for our success as professionals, citizens and community members. In fact, “ability to communicate well” is consistently ranked as the top priority for new hires by businesses, and that’s not surprising. You may have great knowledge you want to share, a commitment to social change, or a desire to be given responsibility for an exciting project. You might want to motivate others to join you in a cause, or to fund your ideas. To do any of those things well, you’ll need to communicate your ideas clearly and convincingly, usually in a public forum. The good news is that great speakers are made, not born. In this course, you’ll learn how to make interesting, informative, and even inspiring presentations. You’ll learn how to make nervousness work to our advantage. You’ll study recent research about oral communication and persuasion as well as the great classical theories of rhetoric. You’ll listen to speeches from political, military and business leaders as well as activists for social causes. Through a variety of readings, videos and discussions, you’ll learn how to present facts, when to and how to employ emotions, when to tell stories and use examples, and how and when to use visual aids. You’ll have the opportunity to teach your classmates something, to persuade them to donate money to a charity, to explain a complex issue and to persuade your audience to action. You’ll develop your own speaking style in a supportive environment, with helpful feedback from the professor and your classmates, and you will most likely have some fun doing it! Watch Prof. George talk about her seminar in the Honors Seminars YouTube Playlist.

Design Thinking and Scholarship Application Workshop

This asynchronous online course prepares motivated students to pursue their life goals and achieve their potential by extending their intellectual development beyond your UMass Lowell (UML) education. The course focuses on self-reflection, constructing effective fellowship and scholarship applications, portfolio development, gaining admission to graduate school, and identifying and preparing strategies to acquire the skills required for entry into careers in your field. Together, we will walk through every step of the process, reflecting on and refining your goals, researching appropriate fellowships and graduate schools, crafting strong curriculum vitae (résumés), writing compelling research proposals and personal statements, interviewing well and assembling helpful letters of reference. This is your life: what do you want to do beyond your time at UML?

*The Scholarship Application Workshop welcomes Honors and non-Honors Students and is facilitated by UML National Scholarship Advisement.

Coming of Age in America

This class will explore the transition from adolescence to adulthood through 20th and 21st century literature and popular culture: novels, short stories, poems, and film. We’ll start by thinking about the bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, as an established form in literature before we unsettle and complicate the genre by looking at coming-of-age stories from perspectives outside of the dominant culture. In what ways do one’s social class, racial or ethnic background, sexual orientation, and gender identity affect one’s coming-of-age? This should lead to some interesting questions about the pressure for young people to conform to societal norms, what happens to those who refuse to be pigeon-holed, and alternative pathways to adulthood. Authors may include Sandra Cisneros, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, John Updike, Julia Alvarez, James Baldwin, Sherman Alexie, Alison Bechdel, and Tobias Wolff. Watch Prof. VanderVeen talk about his seminar in the Honors Seminars YouTube Playlist.

Designing Your College Experience

In Designing Your College Experience, you will learn about the many resources and activities available to you through the Honors College and the University of Massachusetts Lowell. You’ll explore major/career (dis)connection, develop plans for your university career, and take a deep dive into what college is for.

You will have an opportunity to engage with interests beyond your intended or current major, consider ways to find purpose and meaning as a student, explore careers, and produce a few career pieces, such as a resume and LinkedIn profile. You will also learn about ways to become active members of the campus community, shaping its culture, and contributing to its growth and future. Watch Prof. Kowalik talk about her seminar in the Honors Seminars YouTube Playlist.

International Relations in the News

“What is going on in the world? How does the media influence how we perceive and analyze international events? In this class, students will learn more about current world news and the analytical and theoretical frameworks necessary to understand them. From TikTok to the New York Times, from the United States to Russia, we will learn about the way media influences diplomacy, power, and shapes international relations.” Watch Prof. Mendes-Fakhoury talk about his seminar in the Honors Seminars YouTube Playlist.

Our Colleges, Ourselves: The Economy of Higher Ed.

This interdisciplinary asynchronous online seminar provides an in-depth examination of the history of funding higher education, academic opportunity and access, and looks at the current state of student debt and educational spending from a variety of sociocultural and political perspectives, as well as issues of academic access from Oberlin to Operation Varsity Blues to the Great Online Experiment of COVID-19 to censorship, legislation, and college sports. Beginning with an overview of the founding of public and private universities in North America and the Morrill Land Grant Acts of the late 19th century and a survey of academic philanthropy, this seminar then considers the long-range impact of the post-World War II GI Bill, the Higher Education Act of 1965, and the growth of open learning and alternative education on colleges and universities. In this course you will also examine the motivations and purposes behind higher education, take an introspective look at funding and getting the most out of your own education, explore student loan repayment strategies, research government and private funding opportunities and practice developing strong questions of inquiry and literature reviews.

Call to Adventure

The call to adventure marks the beginning of the monomyth, or the hero’s journey, one of the more recognizable narrative arcs, a story structure found across multiple cultures and epochs. But what is it about this particular narrative trope – an individual leaving behind a familiar world to set off into the unknown – that so resonates? Why do writers and filmmakers continue to people their work with these well-known archetypes? And what is it that readers and audiences seek when they turn to them? Are there political reasons for the monomyth’s resurgence in popular culture? Who is served by the propagation of this storyline of self-realization and self-actualization and which peoples are relegated to minor, supporting roles?

Through literary theory and critical analysis to literature, film, poetry, music, and art we will seek to answer these questions and many more while examining various representations of the call to adventure, all the while further developing our ability to speak in public settings and our critical reading and thinking skills, with an emphasis placed on analysis and academic writing.

Illuminating the Middle Ages

Using visuals, this class will explore medieval history through the illuminated manuscripts and art of the period 500-1550 CE. We will discuss medieval religion, politics, war, economics, and delve into deeper issues like sexuality, gender roles, and social traditions and rituals.

Game of Thrones: Fact and Fantasy

This course will explore the European Middle Ages using the HBO show Game of Thrones as a guide. We will cover traditional topics such as social structure, warfare, and religion while also exploring niche areas like gender roles, sexuality, disability, and societal rituals.

Medieval England

This course explores the political, religious, cultural, and economic issues of England from the Roman occupation to the end of the Wars of the Roses. We will look at politics, war, art, gender, the economy, religion and explore England’s relationship with other realms in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Art and the Nazis

Why were Hitler and the Nazis so obsessed with obtaining certain types of art? How/why did they condemn and destroy art and artists that did not meet the Nazi ideal? This course will explore these questions by illuminating the artistic and cultural policies imposed by the Third Reich from 1933-1945. Topics included (but not limited to) are: Degenerate Art in Germany and German-occupied territories, Nazi art and cultural ideology, Nazi-led art looting in France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union and Allied retrieval and restitution of looted art.

Building Shakespeare (Study Abroad)

The Honors College study abroad program will give students an opportunity to study Shakespeare in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. The class will provide experiential learning to pursue the question of where Shakespeare comes from and how this body of entertainment, study, and cultural capital continually evolves to meet new norms and environments. We will consider everything from original printings of his plays from the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries to modern adaptations in film and on stage. We will explore the (re)uses of Shakespeare in the arts, in commerce, in tourism, and in politics. Learn about Study Abroad opportunities for the Building Shakespeare seminar.

American Writers in Paris (Study Abroad)

What is it that generation after generation of American writers – from our Founding Fathers to those in the Lost Generation to leading thinkers in the Civil Rights movement – sought in Paris? What had them leaving the United States and why? In which ways did Paris inspire them? How did their work alter the artistic and political landscape, both of their time and to come? How did they portray the city on the page? And what remains today of those literary representations of France’s capital? This course will attempt to answer these questions while we use their texts as our guidebooks to explore and interact with the City of Lights. Learn about Study Abroad opportunities for the American Writers in Paris seminar.

Cuban Cultural Immersion (Study Abroad)

This course’s aim is to utilize Havana and its surrounding areas as the main text with which students will discover the unique history of Cuba. Through field trips, daily excursions, on-site lectures, an examination of Cuban politics, economics, literature, cinema, sport, and art, and writing assignments that encourage analysis and mindful reflection of these experiences, students will gain a richer, more nuanced understanding of this country and its people that, though only 90 miles of open water separate it from the U.S., have remained restricted from American citizens for more than half a century. Learn about Study Abroad opportunities for the Cuban Cultural Immersion seminar.

Spanish and Basque Cultural Immersion (Study Abroad)

The Basque people’s origin remains a mystery. The same holds true for their language, which is Western Europe’s oldest. From out of this mystery, the Basques would establish one of the first democracies, become a leader in the Age of Exploration (having possibly made contact with the Americas more than a century before Christopher Columbus), and later fuel Europe’s industrial revolution, all the while preserving their unique culture.

This course’s aim is to immerse students in Basque and Spanish culture while using the stunning seaside city of San Sebastian as a text that will enlarge and enrich students’ three weeks in the city. This will be accomplished through multiple approaches: field trips and excursions, on-site lectures, examinations of Spanish and Basque history, politics, culture, geography, literature, cinema, sport, and art, along with writing assignments that encourage both a comparative analysis between Spanish, Basque, and American history, while reflecting on the moment being lived. Learn about Study Abroad opportunities for the Spanish and Basque Cultural Immersion seminar.

Stories from the Irish Island (Study Abroad)

The guiding premise for this course is: we can gain a deeper understanding of a people and a nation through recently published literary fiction. In other words, we learn about the country through the lens of its writers and the stories they tell. For the purposes of this class, we will be testing this premise against two countries: Northern Ireland and Ireland. Two countries that, when combined, total less than six million people, yet whose contemporary fiction writers are among the vanguard of world literature today.

During three weeks this summer in Belfast, students will attend the Belfast Book Festival, study on Queen’s University Belfast’s campus, and work in conjunction with the faculty, staff, and fellows at the Seamus Heaney Center. Along with this, students will also be meeting with a number of the authors whose books they will be reading this summer, providing us with yet another way to approach these texts. Learn about Study Abroad opportunities for the Stories from the Irish Island seminar.

Topics in Dutch History (Study Abroad)

This course will cover the history of Dutch speaking peoples from the 16th through 21st centuries. Topics will include Dutch and Flemish revolts against Spain, overseas trade, colonial imperialism, the first stock market, the Tulip bulb mania, engineering of dijk’s and dams, Dutch & Flemish art and architecture, religion, witch trials, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the world wars, and contemporary Dutch culture and environmentalism. Students will be encouraged to explore topics within their areas of interest or branch out into new fields. Learn about Study Abroad opportunities for the Topics in Dutch History seminar.