The Odyssey Project in Champaign-Urbana

IPRH Research Prizes

The Odyssey Project offers free University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign courses in the humanities to income-eligible adults in our East Central Illinois community.

Please Note: Historically, our classes have met in person, but in response to COVID-19, we are moving our class online for Fall 2020. We hope to resume in-person classes in Spring 2021. In lieu of the normal dinner and bus fare we provide, we are offering grocery vouchers while the course remains online.

Odyssey students can earn up to eight transferable college credits in an environment designed to support non-traditional students. The program provides integrated support, including course materials, dinner and transportation. As important, Odyssey students and alumni have access to both academic and career advising.

Students enrolled in the Odyssey Project take a two-part series of core humanities courses that introduce them to Literature, Philosophy, Art History and U.S. History taught by University of Illinois instructors. These face-to-face, discussion-focused courses offer Odyssey students the chance to learn in a supportive, interactive classroom environment with instructors whose expertise and pedagogical commitments provide a rich and dynamic learning environment rooted in humanities values and practices. The courses also devote significant resources to reinforcing critical thinking and writing skills in the context of the subject-matter covered.

Offered in the evenings, Odyssey courses are free to enrolled students, and include books, dinner, and transportation. The program is open to students 18 or older, regardless of whether they have completed a high school education at the time of enrollment.

Interested in the Odyssey Project?

Prospective and current students can e-mail us at or call the Odyssey Project Advisor and Student Experience Coordinators, Valerie O'Brien or Michelle Awad, at (217) 300-3888.

Other  questions may be directed to Assistant Director for Education and Outreach, Dr. Alaina Pincus, at or (217) 265-6330.

2020-2021 Courses

HUM 110 (Introduction to the Humanities I: Philosophy and Art History) and HUM 111 (Introduction to the Humanities II: Literature and US History) are non-degree, credit-bearing foundation courses in the humanities for adult learners in the Odyssey Project program. Together, they form a two-course sequence that constitutes the full Odyssey Project first-year curriculum at Illinois. We recommend that students complete HUM 110 in the Fall before enrolling in HUM 111 in the Spring, but the courses may be taken in either order.

Students who complete the coursework will receive University of Illinois credit (4 hours per course, with two non-degree courses offered) that will be transferrable to a two- or four-year institution.

2020–2021 Instructors

HUM 110, Art History: Associate Professor of Art Education Jorge Lucero is an artist who tests the pliability of the institution as material. For this work—which he sometimes calls “teacher as conceptual artist”—Jorge makes everything from teaching and publications to installations and events.

HUM 110, Philosophy: Dr. Shelley Weinberg is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her interests are more broadly in the history of early modern philosophy (17th and 18th centuries) with a past focus on psychological, epistemological, and metaphysical issues in the philosophy of John Locke.

HUM 111, Literature: Valerie O’Brien is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Illinois specializing in twentieth-century Anglophone literature. An award-winning instructor, she has taught a variety of literature and composition classes at the University, including Introduction to Fiction, Modernist Poetry, Science Fiction, and Fairy Tales and Gender Formation. In addition to the Odyssey Project, Valerie currently teaches at the University Laboratory High School.

HUM 111, U.S. History: Kathryn Oberdeck teaches U.S. history, with emphasis on cultural history, histories of working-class history, public history, urban history, and social theory in the Department of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also co-coordinates the department’s Public History initiatives and a humanities-oriented community engagement initiative.

Critical Thinking and Writing (both HUM 110 and HUM 111): as part of his MFA in Fiction at the University of Illinois, Azlan Smith is revising a novel and a series of novellas. He also created Voices, an English/Theater project that aims to bring communities together, and has facilitated the project in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Illinois. He holds a BA in English and Philosophy from Amherst College. Previously Azlan taught high school English and Drama in the United States and abroad. He writes and reads to find the places where we meet, and, by meeting, where we can work toward compassion.

Odyssey Administration

Alaina Pincus, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach, oversees the Odyssey Project. Additionally, she directs and coordinates IPRH’s education and outreach initiatives across the University and in the Champaign-Urbana community.

Michelle Awad, Odyssey Project Advisor and Student Experience Coordinator, is a graduate student pursuing her Master's in Secondary Education and High School English Teaching License. She initially joined the Odyssey Project as an intern when she was an undergraduate student in 2017–2018. She earned a BS from the University of Illinois in Education Policy and Arabic Studies. She is currently also an advisor for student activists at the University of Illinois through the University YMCA. Her interests stem from making both higher education and opportunities to engage with the humanities accessible for everyone.

About the Odyssey Project in Champaign-Urbana

Managed by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH), the Odyssey Project was established in Champaign-Urbana in 2006, in partnership with Illinois Humanities, as a Bard Clemente Course in the Humanities. The program retained its Bard affiliation until fall 2019, when it began a new chapter as a University of Illinois credit-bearing program, with courses offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) and enhancements provided by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Odyssey students in Champaign-Urbana are now University of Illinois students with access to the educational resources of a world-class research institution. The grant also provides for a Public Humanities Fellowship for a doctoral student in the humanities and for 2 humanities undergraduate interns who will serve as classroom support for Odyssey students during the evening course sessions. And students will have an opportunity to learn from one artist or creative writer in-residence each semester.

Learn more about supporting the Odyssey Project.

Odyssey Project Brochure