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Honors Program

Honors Fireside Chats

In Spring 2017, the Merrimack Honors Program launched a new initiative — a series of faculty- or alumni-hosted discussions called “Fireside Chats” — to great success. In addition to providing a venue for informal interaction between faculty and Honors students, and sometimes even alumni, the Fireside Chats serve to engage conversation in current interesting worldly events and promote student participation in our living learning community.

Discussion topics for Fireside Chats are at the discretion of the hosts.  The events occur on Sunday evenings at 7pm and are typically held in the Sanctuary Café located in House #6 of North Residential Village.   Although these events are targeted at our upperclassmen residents living in NRV, ALL program students may attend as space permits.  (Space is limited in an effort to keep discussion intimate.)  Prior sign up is mandatory.  

For more information on Fireside Chats, please contact Dr. Ellen McWhorter at

Important notes about Fireside Chats:

  • Be sure that you are available to attend on the posted date and time before registering for the specific chat.
  • Priority is given to upperclassmen Honors students living in NRV because they are required to attend 2 designated LLC programming events per semester. Beyond this, all events are first come first served, so early sign-up is encouraged. 
  • Please sign up via Google Forms. 


Spring 2018 Fireside Chats:


Cyber Security and International Politics

with Alison Russell, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies Program


Sunday, April 15, 7-8 pm at the Sanctuary Café

Cyberspace and cyber security are a critical part of international politics…but the why and how cyber affects relationships between countries is still being worked out. What does cyber war look like? Has it happened yet? How should cyber attacks be used by countries? What is appropriate response to cyber attacks on governments, corporations, processes, or individuals?  These are some of the questions that we are grappling with and hoping to develop policies to address.

Lessons from the Other Side: Work, Career, and the Business of Making a Life

with Mary Papazian, Managing Director of Mucci Labs, The Girard School of Business


Sunday, March 18, 7-8pm at the Sanctuary Café

Mary Papazian is well-known on the Merrimack campus for her role as the Managing Director of the Mucci Capital Markets Lab as well as a Finance professor that teaches all her classes from a real-world perspective. Her 20-year career as a woman in the male-dominated field of corporate finance has included working as senior vice president at Silicon Valley Bank and vice president of Fleet Global Capital Markets at Fleet Bank. She was a foreign exchange trader during the time the euro currency was introduced and served as an investment consultant during the recent financial crisis. But did you know that Prof. Papazian originally wanted to be a second-grade teacher? In this Fireside Chat she discusses how we come to find a career that fulfills us and shares her wisdom on how to navigate the “big” life decisions.

Graduate School Panel

With Gabriella Angelini ’14 Biology Major, Masters in Science in Genetics, UNH 2017 currently working as a Research Associate at the Broad Institution of MIT and Harvard


Nicholas Santouosso ’16 Double major in Economics and Political Science, Masters of Science in Economics, Tufts University 2017 currently working as an Analyst for Analysis Group


Emily Thomas ’16 Double major Education and BioChemistry, Master of Education, Merrimack College Fellowship 2017, Haverhill High School Chemistry Teacher


Sunday, March 4, 7-9 at the Honors Commons

These alumni will talk about their experiences applying to graduate school, including the application requirements for their particular programs; their experiences as graduate students and with graduate studies; and how their respective programs are preparing them/have prepared them for their careers.

The Concussion Crisis: Myths, Media and Medicine

With  Dennis Fontaine, Clinical Education Coordinator of the Merrimack Athletic Training Education Program in the School of Health Sciences


Sunday, February 11, 7-8pm at the Sanctuary Café

Join Dennis for an interactive discussion on the myths, media and medicine on today’s head injuries. Ever wonder how head injuries are changing the world we live in and the games we play? Dennis will discuss changes in youth, amateur and professional sports due to the increasing number of concussions.

Fall 2017 Fireside Chats:


Overcoming adversity as an immigrant in America today

With Honors Alumnus, Dr. Kennedy Ndamba ’14,  Doctor of Physical Therapy at Physical Therapy Innovations


Sunday, September 17, 7-8pm at the Sanctuary Café

Envision being forced to go outside your own country to seek refuge in a nation unknown to you. Besides your own nation’s betrayal, think of the pain of living without peace, wondering and hoping you find freedom in a place that is guided by the conviction that all people deserve lives free of oppression. As a Ugandan living in a small village of East Africa, I always pictured America as my heaven on earth. I dreamed and longed to come to America. In 2005, I was blessed with the opportunity to come to the United States. With so much currently happening in the political arena and in the media nationwide, I have started to wonder if the American belief of helping others regardless of their differences is slowly fading out of existence? We will explore what your perception of an immigrant is? Do you think our current society has a strong negative attitude towards immigrants? What challenges do immigrants face in America today?

Evolving Standards of Decency? Innocence & the Death Penalty in the U.S.

With Dr. Alicia Malone, Assistant Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice


Sunday, September 24, 7-8pm at the Sanctuary Café

Did you know that there have been over 150 people in the U.S. released from death row due to evidence of their innocence? Some of these men have spent more than 20 years on death row for a murder they did not commit. There are another 13 men who have been executed and are now thought to be innocent of the crimes they were put to death for. Advances in technology and DNA testing have increased our ability to identify the “real” perpetrator during a murder investigation. But what happens when there is no DNA or forensic evidence to test? What then? Join Dr. Malone in a compelling discussion about how our justice system has failed time and time again to not only protect the innocent but to bring the true perpetrators to justice.

Engineering Against Natural Hazards: Promoting Resilient Infrastructure in the Face of Uncertainty

With Dr. James Kaklamanos, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering


Sunday, October 1, 7-8 p.m.   at the Sanctuary Café

Earthquakes.  Hurricanes.  Tornadoes.  Floods.  With each passing year, homes, businesses, and infrastructure lifelines throughout the world are adversely affected by natural hazards.  Failures in civil infrastructure may lead to loss of life and property, and can result in societal impacts that may last for decades.  Although natural disasters cannot be prevented, we do have the ability to design systems that can withstand the effects of natural disasters.  In this informal chat, we will discuss the different types of natural hazards affecting our society’s infrastructure, how infrastructure can be designed to survive the effects of extreme loadings, and the interconnections of various natural hazards from a design perspective.  Although there are considerable uncertainties in predicting the likelihood and effects of these disasters, one thing is certain: natural hazards will continue to occur, and we must be as prepared as possible for the next ‘Big One’, wherever and whenever it may occur.

From Balance to Burnout

With Honors Alumnus, Elie Ibrahim Ata, MD ’12,  Lawrence Family Medicine Residency


Sunday, October 22, 7-8 p.m.  at the Sanctuary Café

How do we maintain physical, emotional, and mental well-being when it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day? Think of some of your worst stressors; now think of your coping strategies, you have plenty of different stressors from multiple parts of life. Couple that with feeling stressed and pressured to succeed most of the time.  When does that stress become toxic? What behaviors are appropriate responses? What behaviors are even further detrimental to your health? What stressors can lead to burnout and what exactly is the difference between being stressed and becoming burnt out? Join Dr. Elie Ata, M.D. from the class of 2012 to discuss some of the worry signs and symptoms of burn-out, and how you can take a step back from it all and refocus without feeling overwhelmed, discuss some of the more common stressors together and learn each others strategies to stay successful.

Fake News/Real News: What Information Sources Can We Trust?

With Dr. Melissa Zimdars,  Assistant Professor of Communications


Sunday, November 12, 7-8 p.m. at the Sanctuary Café

News and media organizations play a huge role in the functioning of our society and our democracy, but overall levels of public trust in news is at an all time low. Whether we trust or distrust “the media” depends on multiple factors, including the news source, who’s sharing it on social media, assumptions about its political bias, and our own personal points of view. Distrusting news may make us more likely to read and share fake news as well as more amenable to those in power labeling actual news organizations like CNN, ABC, and The New York Times the “real” fake news. But can and should these news organizations be considered fake news? What are the differences between fake news, partisan websites, and news? How can we determine which news sources are credible and trustworthy? Finally, how can we work towards or maintain a skeptical trust of news without becoming cynical about our hyper-mediated and hyper-partisan era?  

Spring 2017 Fireside Chats:


Electing President Trump 

With Dr. Gavril Bileve, Assistant Professor of Political Science


Sunday, January 29, 7-8pm at the Sanctuary Café

The election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency surprised and shocked many observers. It poses quite a few challenges to political science in terms of theory and explanation. What happened, why it happened and what does it mean for the American political system are questions that will be discussed, debated and researched over the next few decades. Professor Bilev will try to provide a glimpse of some of the largest and most important of these questions in an informal chat. He will offer a comparative perspective of similar phenomena across the advanced industrialized world and discuss a few of the major political science arguments that pertain to this election.

From One Millennial to Another: Understanding the development of Millennials

With Dr. Katelyn Kurkul, Assistant Professor of Education


Sunday, March 5, 7-8pm at the Honors Commons 

There are many factors that influence a person’s development. One factor that is often overlooked is the influence of an individual’s prescribed generation and the generations that preceded it. In this fireside chat One Millennial (Dr. Kurkul) will talk about her own experiences as a member of the Millennial generation and discuss data about differences across generations. For example, did you know that 50% of parents who are Millenials intentionally purchased toys that were gender neutral for their children, while only 34% of baby boomers bought gender neutral toys? Come and chat about OUR generation and what makes us unique.

Gaining a Global Perspective: Memoirs of a Girl Who Understood China in 98 Days

With Myriam Philitas, International Studies Major (’17)


Sunday, March 26,  7-8pm at the Honors Commons

In terms of physical and cultural distances, China is far away from the United States. However, it is no secret that this country has become one of the major powers in the world. Globalization has helped shape China, while nevertheless allowing state traditions and local customs to further stimulate its development. International Studies major Myriam Philitas will share with us her observed phenomena and immersion in China, using personal experiences and observations to address her personal ideas. Topics such as cultural integration, urban environments and urbanization, social dynamics, and diversity will be addressed. 

Surprising Nutrition Controversies and Myths

With Dr. Juliana Coen, Assistant Professor of Health Sciences


Sunday, April 2,  7-8pm  at the Sanctuary Café

Many people think they know what constitutes a “healthy diet” but does research back this up? Dr. Juliana Cohen will discuss some of the more unexpected nutrition controversies and myths as well as what some of the newest cutting edge nutrition research is finding. Please join for a lively, interactive discussion that will give you “food for thought.”