Honors College Speaker Series


The Honors College hosts a number of different speakers series designed to put Honors students in touch with exciting leaders and thinkers from the worlds of art, science, medicine, business, and academia. Typically, when the Honors College underwrites a visiting speaker, it arranges a separate meeting for the speaker with a group of Honors students, in addition to hosting a lecture for the larger campus community.

Honors also offers a variety of alternative, informal learning opportunities for students as a way of exposing them to topics they might not encounter in the course of their formal studies and as a way of allowing students to meet and talk with professors in a setting that is conducive to relaxed conversation.

The Pizza with Profs speaker series is designed to give Honors students a chance to interact with professors and other speakers in an informal, relaxed setting that encourages a free exchange of ideas about a particularly relevant topic of discussion. This is just one of many ways in which the Honors College builds community outside the classroom and exposes students to a range of diverse speakers and ideas. As always, the pizza is free and the discussion lively. In addition to the annual fall Pizza with Profs meeting on graduate school, past sessions have been devoted to topics like terrorism, the film industry, the notion of wilderness, and perceptions of America from abroad. Students must RSVP to the Honors director to secure a spot in these lunches.

Past Events

Medical Ethics

Dr. Jay Jacobson, chief of medical ethics and humanities at the University of Utah School of Medicine, talked about how and why doctors make mistakes. He led a lively discussion that asked students to think about what we mean by the word "mistake," how the medical profession is getting better at asking hard questions about rates of error, and what patients can do to decrease the possibility that they might suffer the consequences of a medical blunder.

The Film Industry

Hollywood lead camera operator Paul Babin—who has shot over 20 films, including Magnolia, Bugsy, Terminator 2, and the Abyss—met with Honors students in a Pizza with Profs session to give an insider's view of the film industry. He told students about his own climb up the Hollywood food chain and shared a number of charming stories about filming on the set, including being kissed by Julia Roberts.

The Science and Psychology of Avalanches

Computer science chair, experienced backcountry skier, and field observer for the Utah Avalanche Center, Professor Greg Gagne, educated Honors students about the nature of avalanches, the science of snow, and the potential dangers of heading into the backcountry without being aware of the risks. He gave an extensive presentation—which featured dramatic pictures—and led Honors students Marie Robinson and Seth Simonds through a mock rescue using avalanche beacons in the hostile environment of Nunemaker.

Perceptions of America from Abroad

Hildy Benham, Fatima Mujcinovic, and Kelvin Willoughby—who have spent more than 50 years living and working in countries like Bosnia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and China—met with Honors students to discuss the various ways in which people around the world view America and its inhabitants. They highlighted the massive influence of American popular culture abroad and the various misconceptions that hegemony sometimes engenders.

Wilderness and Exploration

Chair of the English Department and avid mountain climber, Jeff McCarthy, presented a slide show that historicized American notions of wilderness. He also placed his discussion in a contemporary setting by sharing stories about his own expeditions around the world, including tales of flying through One Shot Pass in Alaska and outfoxing national park rangers who were trying to impede his climbing.

Honors College Visiting Speakers are typically speakers who have been invited to campus because they have some area of expertise that dovetails with a subject currently being covered in an Honors seminar. Honors professors are encouraged to work with the director of the program to match course topics with visiting speakers that will be of interest to students. Recent visiting speakers have included former White House staffer Daniel Benjamin, historian Patricia Heberer of the United States Holocaust Museum, Harvard musicologist Thomas Forrest Kelly, the biographer and activist Rajmohan Gandhi, and filmmaker Paul Babin, who met with Richard Badenhausen's film and fiction Honors seminar to discuss filmmaking technique and then hosted an evening screening of his movie K-PAX.

Past Speakers

Thomas Forrest Kelly

Harvard University musicologist Tom Kelly visited Westminster College to give a public lecture about Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Earlier in the day, he met with students in the Honors Arts in Performance seminar to lead a wide ranging discussion of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. Kelly, who has published half a dozen books, is especially known for his famous class at Harvard on the "first nights" of prominent musical pieces and for his two books on that topic. In this picture, Kelly discusses Berlioz's handwritten list of expenses associated with the premiere of his symphony, costs that came out of Berlioz's own pocket.

Sara Giordano

Dr. Giordano is an assistant professor in the College of Letters and Science and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Giordano's research areas include feminist science studies, democratic science, bioethics, community science, and interdisciplinarity. As part of Women’s Heritage Month, Dr. Giordano gave a public lecture on the democratization of science and then visited the Honors Seminar Science, Power, and Diversity to discuss bias in science and the manner in which community-based science might revolutionize the field by making research more equitable and just.

Daniel Benjamin

A former foreign policy speech writer in the White House and National Security Council staffer, Dan Benjamin had lunch with Honors students to talk about what life is like in Washington. Mr. Benjamin is the co-author of two highly acclaimed books on terrorism and since 2001 has been a senior fellow in the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he pursues studies on terrorism, American foreign policy, the Middle East, Europe, and South Asia. He began his career as a journalist, writing for Time magazine and then acting as Berlin bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Rajmohan Gandhi

Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi is an eminent biographer, scholar, journalist, and historian, who has lectured and written on a wide range of topics relating to human rights, terrorism, globalization, religion, and Indian independence. A former member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament, Gandhi has published six books to date. He led the Indian delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission in 1990 and is a jury member for the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. He is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. He met with a select group of Honors students during lunch to talk about the current world situation.

William Calvin

Brain researcher William Calvin gave a guest lecture in the Honors Social Sciences seminar, whose members spent the semester examining the brain. Calvin talked about some of the ideas in his recent book, A Brain for All Season: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change, which won the 2002 Phi Beta Kappa Award for Science, and then answered questions from the audience.

The Kim T. Adamson Lecture in International Studies is an annual endowed lecture established at Westminster College in 2001 to bring major figures in international studies, military history, and related fields to campus to deliver relevant public lectures and conduct seminars.

As the world becomes increasingly globalized, complicated issues face us every day. The lectures attempt to help people consider and navigate some of these challenging questions. Lecturers are drawn from a pool of scholars, writers, and thinkers without regard to ethnic, religious, or ideological considerations.

The annual lecture is open to the public without charge. The lecture series is funded through the proceeds of the Kim T. Adamson Endowment, a gift from Kim T. Adamson, alumna and long-time friend and supporter of Westminster College.

Several times a year, a professor in the Honors College hosts an evening screening of a film. Professors might select a film related to their own academic discipline, one that reflects an outside interest, or one that treats a timely subject matter. Usually, attendees will engage in a discussion about the film following its screening. Profs Pick the Flick was started by the Student Honors Council in 2003 as a way of offering alternative programming that put Honors students in touch with professors in informal settings. Films are shown on the large-screen presentation room in Nunemaker, home of the Honors College.

Past films have included Steven Soderbergh's Contagion (2011), hosted by Prof. Betsy Kleba (biology) and Prof. Han Kim (public health); Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski (1998), hosted by Prof. Susan Cottler (history); Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), hosted by Prof. John Watkins (economics); and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), hosted by Prof. Bonnie Baxter (biology).