Humanities Seminars Program Enters New Era

January 24th, 2022

With the right technology, a room can be a megaphone.


In the case of the Dorothy Rubel Room, major technological upgrades have transformed the longtime home of the Humanities Seminars Program into a megaphone that can broadcast small seminars with the University’s best professors to the world. And there’s something for everyone.


“We can reach anyone with an Internet connection and a love of learning,” says Micah Lunsford, HSP’s Manager of Operations. “We’ve opened new opportunities and possibilities for students and we’re excited to reach new audiences.” 


The pandemic accelerated plans to install new video broadcasting equipment—complete with interactive capabilities—in the Rubel Room so that classes can be delivered both in person and online via live video streaming. Made possible with community support, the renovations enable students from around the country and even overseas to enroll in courses.


“We rose to the challenge during the pandemic and seized the moment to innovate. Now we’re reaching more people and delivering even higher quality course content, all thanks to the generosity of our donors and committed students,” Lunsford says. “It’s tangible proof of how important this community of lifelong learners feels our program is. They gave $225,000 to make this new era possible.” 


HSP’s “hybrid” classes are now accessible from anywhere via live video streaming that allows for the same real-time participation in class discussions whether one is sitting in the Rubel Room in person or is beaming in via Zoom. Class recordings are also available to both online and in-person students, making it easy to catch up on missed sessions and to revisit particularly interesting or challenging class content.


“I am really grateful HSP continued their classes online during COVID. Those programs were a lifeline that allowed me to continue my path of lifelong learning all through the dark times of the pandemic. And as we all emerge back into social life, HSP has continued to adapt to the changing situation,” says Jo Ann Ellison. The seminars have allowed me to explore areas of knowledge that I was curious about but never had the time to delve into when I was working. The instructors are masters in their fields. They are truly inspiring and have added deeper meaning and purpose to my life.”


A sampling of recent class evaluations reveals how popular the hybrid format has become. Students were able to have relatives in other states join them in classes or continue with HSP courses after moving away from Tucson. Part-time Tucson residents who typically enroll in HSP classes in the fall or spring when they are physically present in town have discovered that they can now take remote summer courses as well.


While the program’s reach has grown, what hasn’t changed is the quality and breadth of courses, all taught by current and former University of Arizona professors selected for their scholarly accomplishments and teaching abilities. During its 38-year history, the program has offered almost 450 not-for-credit seminars to nearly 25,000 community members.


“HSP is the pinnacle of academic quality,” says longtime student Nancy Peterson. “I’m going on eight years and close to 20 classes through HSP and I am a better person for it. The variety of classes offers a diversity of thought and opinion, and the quality of the tenured professors and the flexibility of hybrid learning makes it ideal for anyone who is curious about the world and loves to explore new things.”


The HSP endowment has grown to $1.25 million, with a community of donors that over the years has ensured the program will be sustainably supported.


“I know of no other continuing education program that gives participants the range of subject matter, quality and dedication of instructors, introduction to additional outside materials, flexibility of format, and support of staff that the Humanities Seminars Program offers. It is truly one of the University’s greatest strengths,” says HSP student Suzanne Hayt.