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Online academic project brings alumni, students together to discuss Manhattan Project

By Tim O'Keeffe on January 17, 2014
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advent of the atomic bomb
Alumni ranging from the Class of 1952 through 2013 will be interacting with each other and with current students through an online academic project based on The Advent of the Atomic Bomb course taught by Associate Professor of Geology Karen Harpp.

More than 330 alumni have signed up so far (registration remains open) for the experimental project that will explore the science, history, politics, and ethical questions surrounding the Manhattan Project.

Harpp has taught the popular course for several years and often included alumni in online discussions. Now, she hopes to build on those interactions to benefit the 30 undergraduates and the alumni participants.

“Our primary goals are to provide a dynamic learning environment for students and alumni, centered on these fascinating historical events. Of equal importance, we hope to foster new connections between alumni and students, strengthening the Colgate community in the process,” said Harpp.

Harpp partnered with Information Technology Services, Office of Alumni Relations, and others to develop the program and interactive opportunities that will be delivered through the EdX open-source platform.


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Colgate also offers alumni the opportunity to engage with faculty through LW Online, an interactive program that provides forums and live webcasts that feature discussions about some of today’s most well-respected writers. English professors Jane Pinchin and Jennifer Brice will again offer that engagement opportunity this fall.


There will be online discussions, a collaborative timeline, a wiki, a Twitter project to re-enact events in “real time,” and possible videoconferences. Harpp stressed that she will be asking participants to not only take part but to provide feedback as the university experiments, for the first time, with the EdX platform.

Alumni can join for free. There are no grades or exams for them, unlike the undergraduates, and the project is designed to provide maximum flexibility.

Harpp pointed out that this is not a massive open online course, known more widely as MOOCs.

“We are trying to construct a venue — just for alumni and current students — for extended, sophisticated conversations and connections with an intellectual purpose,” she said.

That idea appeals to Christopher Nulty ‘09, who majored in history and geography at Colgate and now manages communications for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

Nulty was a tour guide on campus and Advent of the Atomic Bomb was always one of his favorite courses to discuss with prospective students.

“To me, it epitomized Colgate: cross-disciplinary academic study with an international perspective and the opportunity to study abroad. Even though I never took the class, I lived vicariously through friends who had — listening to them debate over lunch at Frank Dining Hall and through incredible pictures of their trip to Japan.

“And so, after talking about the course on so many tours, this opportunity just seemed too good to pass up. I’ve always been fascinated by the politics of the Manhattan Project and I am looking forward to delving into that aspect further, especially as our country faces big questions around international security and atomic capabilities.”

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