Honors Faculty Fellows program set for fall of 2020

What is artificial intelligence and how will robots affect your future career? How do humans respond to disasters? What does democracy mean and under what circumstances is it just?

These are just a few of the questions honors students will have an opportunity to explore thanks to an innovative addition to the University Honors Program.

Beginning this fall, a cohort of NIU’s award winning professors and cutting edge researchers will share their expertise in the inaugural Honors Faculty Fellowship program, providing engaging, interdisciplinary seminars for NIU honors students.

Andrea Radasanu, director of the University Honors Program

“The University Honors program is always looking to find new ways to improve and broaden our students’ educational opportunities,” said Andrea Radasanu, director, University Honors Program.

Radasanu said the Honors Faculty Fellowship program provides general interest seminars to engage the university’s more than 900 honors students.

“These are small classes where students have the opportunity to interact and work closely with their professors,” Radasanu said. “And our faculty is excited about taking on this unique curriculum need: engaging honors students in a general interest course that doesn’t necessarily fall into the students’ specialty.”

Andrea L. Guzman, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, is one of five professors who have been selected as part of the university’s first Honors Faculty Fellowship cohort.

Andrea Guzman, assistant professor in the Department of Communication will teach a course about AI, robots and media during the fall semester.

“As an educator, I am always excited for opportunities to share my knowledge and to learn from students in new and different ways,” Guzman said. “My course and its content are interdisciplinary, and I am looking forward to having conversations with students from across campus to hear their perspectives on the topics we will be discussing.”

Guzman’s seminar focuses on AI and robots in media – complete with a real robot in class – while the lessons apply to almost any field and to people’s everyday lives and experiences.

“We hear a lot about artificial intelligence and robots through media, including both news and entertainment, but very few people understand these technologies well,” Guzman said. “My goal is to help students better understand AI and robots based on research, not hype, and the many opportunities and challenges surrounding them.”

Members of the Honors Faculty Fellowship along with Guzman include: Trude Jacobsen, Department of History, Melanie Koss, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Timothy Crowley, Department of English and Larry Lurio, Department of Physics.  Andrea Radasanu, Department of Political Science and director of the University Honors Program, will also teach a seminar.

Here’s a look at some upcoming honors seminars being offered in the fall.

AI, Robots, & Media (HON 400D Writing Infused)
“What is artificial intelligence?” “How will robots affect my future career?” “Should I be concerned about Alexa eavesdropping?” These are a few of the questions that students will explore in this honors seminar focused on the integration of AI and robots into media industries. Most people associate media work with activities performed by journalists; however, AI, robots, and related technologies have begun to perform roles in media production and distribution. This seminar will help students better understand these technologies, their use, and their implications for media consumers, media industries, and society. Students will have the opportunity to experience interacting with these technologies, including a humanoid robot and an automated news-writing software. Algorithmic and AI literacy form a crucial competency for citizens in a democratic society.
Taught by Andrea Guzman, Department of Communication

Democratic Theory: Rule of the People (POLS 353H)
With the presidential elections in the background, this seminar takes a serious look at the concept, history, and issues of democracy. Most people today would agree that the rule of the people is the unequivocal standard of legitimacy by which a regime ought to be judged. But what does democracy mean? And under what circumstances is it just? And if popular sovereignty is just, then how is it discovered? Whose voice is actually heard in modern liberal democratic societies? In this seminar, contemporary democratic theory is studied in relation to the history of political thought with a view to assessing the desirability, fairness, and practicability of democracy as a form of government. Readings include Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Alexis de Tocqueville along with other prominent historical and contemporary scholars.
Taught by Dr. Andrea Radasanu, Department of Political Science, Great Professor award winner (2019) as well as 2012 recipient of the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Disasters: Exploring Human Responses to Catastrophes (HIST 399H)
Disasters have plagued the human existence. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, the Grote Mandrenke [“Great Drowning”] of 1362, and the Messina earthquake of 1908 are some of the better-known natural disasters. Accidents such as the sinking of the Titanic and the Nashville Great Train Wreck in 1918 so captured the human imagination that they have been showcased in blockbuster movies. The man-made catastrophes of Hiroshima and Chernobyl are similarly well known. As we end the first quarter of the twenty-first century, we face further disaster from climate change and the biological and environmental consequences this is creating. It is timely, therefore, to explore how humans have dealt with disaster in the past, and how we can use these approaches as we face the future.
Taught by Dr. Trude Jacobsen, Department of History, Outstanding International Educator award winner

Exploration of Racism, Sexism, and Other Isms in Disney Animated Films (HON 310)
The Walt Disney Company is widely known for their animated movies, particularly those that fall into the iconic Princess line. Many individuals have fond memories of watching these films during their own childhoods or lifetimes. This seminar will revisit these films with fresh eyes in order to deconstruct Disney’s appropriation and revision of traditional tales, as well as the development of new tales, to challenge the idea of these films being merely entertainment but rather educative media.
Taught by Dr. Melanie Koss, Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Ideas and Ideals in Don Quixote (ENGL 310H)
This seminar is devoted to one of the most famous and influential books in literary history: Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. This work, initially published in two phases (1605 and 1615), tends to be considered the first modern novel. At the turn of the 21st century, a group of 100 prominent authors worldwide voted Don Quixote #1 in the history of fiction. This seminar will explore this literary masterpiece and the fascinating relationships between society and human imagination across time periods and cultures.
Taught by Dr. Timothy Crowley, Department of English

Physics of Quantum Mechanics (PHYS 359H)
Quantum computing was first proposed as a new method of performing computations back in the 1990s. Physically realized quantum computers only began to emerge after 2000 or so. In the last five years, quantum computers have begun to appear as real machines and most of the major players in computing such as IBM, Google, Microsoft and Intel. In the past year, a quantum computer demonstrated “supremacy” in that it was able to perform a specialized problem faster than any conventional computer. This seminar is not a technical course on how to make or program quantum computers, but rather a survey of the subject so that students in all areas can understand this new technology and its possible impact on society.
Taught by Dr. Larry Lurio, Department of Physics

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