University Honors Program

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Honors Seminars 2023-24

*Seminars will be added throughout the year so check back often.

Spring 2024

HNRS 299-01: Wednesdays 3:10-4pm
Agroecology at the CAFES Experimental Farm
Department of Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences 
Agroecology is an integrated approach that applies ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agricultural systems. In this hands-on seminar, we will study the science and practice of agroecology at the CAFES Experimental Farm. We will learn practical gardening skills while also participating in ongoing agroecological research projects.  Come learn about the intersection of nature and agriculture.  All majors welcome.
HNRS 299-02: Mondays 1:10-2:00pm
Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Variation in Sexual Anatomy and Behavior Among Animals Including Humans
Department of Biological Sciences
Evolution favors individuals who pass on their genes to future generations. This involves different things for different species, from broadcasting eggs and sperm directly into the environment, to advertising for mates, to minimizing the damage caused by sexual conflict. We will discuss how different animals meet these challenges, using an evolutionary framework. This will include discussions of variation in genitalia, reproductive organs, and advertisements (visual displays, vibrations, calls, pheromones, and odor cues). We will use these examples to bolster the idea that variation, rather than the binary, is the norm in most species. This will allow for a discussion of humans, and the spectra of sex and sexual behavior we exhibit. Through popular science readings, small group discussions and exploration of media, we will explore biodiversity as it relates to sex.
HNRS 299-03: Wednesdays 9:10-10:00am
Structural Queens - Telling the Stories of Women in the Built Environment
Department of Architectural Engineering
Course co-developed by Graduate Students: Kira Tolman, she/her and Paige Van Rossum, she/her

Ever heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Rice or Bill Baker? What about Mardith Baenziger, Ruth Schnapp or Emily Warren Roebling? You are probably more familiar with the former than the latter, because women have long been a marginalized group of the structural engineering industry and the built environment. This course unveils the often-overlooked narratives of women who have played pivotal roles in shaping the built environment through engaging lectures, interactive discussions, and case studies. The critical tools used in this course will appeal to students who are interested in graphic design and creating multi-media resources such as podcasts, articles, videos, etc. Whether you're a budding engineer, architecture enthusiast, or simply curious about the untold stories behind both iconic and obscure structures, this class provides a captivating journey into the intersection of creativity, resilience, and female excellence in the world of structural design. 

HNRS 299-04: Fridays 10:10-11:00am
Social Robots, Social Agents, and the Internet of Things
Department of Mechanical Engineering
A multitude of factors have led to the development of socially assistive robotic (SAR) systems. SAR systems are robotic systems designed for direct interaction with humans for therapeutic and/or communicative purposes. They also happen to be humanoid. So, if we are to design such systems, should they look like Wall-E? Should they behave like C-3PO? Should they move like the Terminator? It turns out that there are multiple scientific factors that govern how we design these systems, and how humans respond to them. In this seminar, we will explore concepts that led to the design of socially assistive robots and agents and will discuss how we can proactively design these systems to help humans. We will take a research-based approach, with each students crafting a short deliverable for the end of the course. We may also delve into overlapping domains of rehabilitation science, sports psychology, wearable sensing, and neuroscience!
HNRS 299-06: Thursdays 5:10-6:00pm (This seminar will be offered synchronously online)
The F Word: Theorizing (Against) Fascism Today
Department of English
In this seminar, we will read some recent works of critical theory that attempt to come to terms with our political present through the diagnostic and analytic framework of fascism. Our aim will be twofold: first, to understand as precisely as possible what constitutes fascism as a political category, in itself and in relation to its political others (e.g., liberal democracy, communism). Second, to determine what dimensions of our historical moment this category enables us to understand and critique. In particular, we will consider the roles that race, and gender play in contemporary fascist ideologies. Our two major texts will be Alberto Toscano’s Late Fascism and Judith Butler’s Who’s Afraid of Gender.

Winter 2024


HNRS 299-01 Tuesday: 11:10am–12:00pm
A Beginner’s Guide to Doing Your Own Research in Psychological Science
Department of Psychology & Child Development
What questions do you have about human behavior? Doing your own research project can help you answer them. During this seminar, we will be designing our own research studies and collecting data on topics YOU choose. We can work as individuals, small groups, or as a whole group, depending on your preferences. Past HNRS 299 groups have looked at depression among pre-med students, cross-cultural time perspectives and anxiety, vaping attitudes and behaviors at Cal Poly, and the effects of COVID-19 on relationships. Our studies have been presented at professional conferences and undergraduate research conferences and have even been published in scholarly journals. If you’ve always wanted to explore your ideas scientifically, this seminar will get you started. You don’t have to be expert in psychology or in research methods. We’ll walk through all the necessary steps together.
HNRS 299-02: Thursday 9:10am-10:00am
"Animal Magnetism" in Fiction and Poetry
Department of English

“All the world wished to be magnetized” during the era of Mesmerism, a phenomenon that trafficked in ideas and practices akin to but much more complex than what we now would call “hypnotism.” What we know as pseudoscience seemed like just-plain science to many observers at the time, with astonishing reverberations for believers and non-believers alike. Late 18th and 19th-century literary writers took advantage of their readers’ fascination and, sometimes, of their credulity to write tales and poems within spooky settings highlighting mesmerism’s scientific theories, political struggles, obsession with dominance and submission via mesmeric “influence,” spiritual implications, and social implications, including for gender performance, sex, and consent. Readings may include selections from Franz Mesmer, Elizabeth Inchbald, Harriet Martineau, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot (nee Mary Ann Evans), Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Pauline Hopkins.   

HNRS 299-03: Tuesday 10:10am-11:00am
Love-Weight Relationship: Origins of anti-fat messaging and how to address it in today’s society
Department of Kinesiology & Public Health
Stigma, bias, and discrimination based on weight and obesity play a major role in our society, from inescapable diet ads to disparities in wages, healthcare access, and mental health issues. Understanding the historical context that led to mainstream weight bias will help us identify ways companies and institutions benefit from contemporary weight bias. This course will examine the perception of weight and obesity in every aspect of our society, especially as it impacts already marginalized communities. Some topics include: the role of BMI in the healthcare industry, size-inclusive access to services on the Cal Poly campus, and the ways companies use both weight stigma and body positivity campaigns to sell you products. We will also cover the historical context of human obesity, current weight research methods, and a modern understanding of metabolism and nutrition for a well-rounded overview meant to engage students in every field of study. Finally, as weight stigma also plays a major role in mental health in college students, this course will provide students with resources that they can use to take care of their mental health.
HNRS 299-04: Wednesday 1:10pm-2:00pm
The Divine Artist in the Renaissance
Art History, Art and Design Department
This seminar studies the emerging self-awareness of Renaissance artists as quasi-divine in their ability to emulate nature; capture the likeness of the living and the dead; portray heavenly beings; and visualize the wonders of ancient myth. Taking specific case studies, students will investigate the rise of artistic status, with artists traditionally being seen and treated as craftspeople, and trace their aspiring roles as courtiers, dignitaries, and geniuses. This seminar will also focus on the important impact of women in Renaissance art, with artists such as Clara Peeters and Artemisia Gentileschi casting themselves as embodiments of painting in their works. Designed for non-majors, the weekly meetings will include lively group discussions and activities.
HNRS 299-05; Wednesday 9:10-10:00am (This seminar can be used to substitute for HNRS 261)
Leadership and Group Dynamics
Department of Experience Industry Management
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.  This interactive, learn by doing course is focused on leadership and group dynamics. Students will gain understanding of leadership, followership, group dynamics, communication, human development, values and ethics, decision-making, and much more.  Students will examine their own leadership philosophy and perspectives while applying information they learn from class into papers and projects.  Come join this thought provoking examination of leadership and group dynamics. The class will also include a community service component. 


Fall 2023


HNRS 299-01; F 11:10am-12:00pm
Ways of "Seeing": Variation in Perceptual Worlds Across Species, Individuals, and Cultures
Department of Biological Sciences

Organisms are constantly being bombarded by information transmitted through light, sound, vibrations, and chemicals. Sensory systems filter and retain just a small fraction of this information, giving each species, and even each individual, its own unique perceptual or sensory world. In this course, students will be encouraged to break out of their own sensory bubble and consider the world as it is experienced by both other humans and non-humans alike. We will seek a deeper understanding of how our own senses shape our lived experiences, as well as discuss some of the remarkable senses that we do not possess such as echolocation, thermal imaging, and magnetoreception. Throughout, we will build connections between sensory science and its application to healthcare, technology, psychology, business, art, and some of the most pressing environmental issues. 
HNRS 299-03; M 4:10pm - 5:00pm
Creativity 101
Assistant Professor
Communication Studies Department
Do you consider yourself to be a creative? A non-creative with creative tendencies? A non-creative through and through? If you identify as any of these, this seminar is for you! Creative thinking is a set of skills which can be used to illuminate and expand any problem, in any subject area and in any discipline. Together we will explore what creative thinking is and how to harness, nurture, and act upon your own creativity for both personal and professional endeavors, with the goal of achieving a more creative mindset through experiencing, imagining, critiquing, journaling, creating, observing, communicating, and sensing. Learn how to think, not what to think. All majors are welcome. Artistic ability not required. Will you join us?    
Disclaimer: This class takes a hands-on approach to teaching and learning. A willingness to embrace the creative process is required. Students will not be graded beyond participation, effort, and completion of assignments; no exams or quizzes will be given.
HNRS 299-04: R 10:10am -11:00am
Vetus Libro Renasciture: Bringing Life Into An Old Book
Graphic Communication Department
What’s the oldest printed book you have ever held? How did it come in to being? What significance did it bring to humanity? What of it now? In this seminar, we will study the history of letterpress printing and the creation of the printed book. We will learn about the industriousness of printers who brought life to books and we will explore books of old in physical form for purposes of awareness, fascination, and enlightenment. Additionally, we will spend time in the Shakespeare Printing Press Museum in a hands-on practicum involving the setting of type and letterpress printing.
HNRS 299-05; T 11:10am- 12:00pm 
(This seminar can be used to substitute for HNRS 261)
A Roadmap for Your Career Journey
Laura Hunkler, Counselor, Cal Poly Career Services (she/her)
Career Development is a lifelong process of learning and decision-making that brings you closer to a meaningful career and lifestyle. This course will focus on the main components of career development and readiness. We will examine how your identities, values, interests, and personality connect to and help you explore careers of interest. With a focus on interpersonal communication, building professional connections, leadership development, resumes, and interview skills this course will equip students with a roadmap for their career journey at Cal Poly and beyond.
HNRS 299-06; W 2:10pm-3:00pm
Department of English 

Aristotle’s observation of an alliance between madness and creativity has enjoyed a remarkable endurance. Literary artists, in particular, seem especially keen to riff on the philosopher’s sentiments, and writers otherwise separated by space, time, and temperament find a curious solidarity in the creative expression of mental anguish. The history of literature may very well be a history of madness, but why, after all, should an aesthetic discourse be so very invested in a psychiatric one? In this seminar, we will examine the mutually constitutive relationship between these fields by engaging with a range of work from the areas of literature, cinema, history, psychology, and psychiatry, focusing specifically on the ways madness and the myriad mental illnesses it signifies are represented aesthetically and situated historically. 


Honors Seminars in Previous Years

Honors Seminars 2022-2023


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