The Odyssey Project in Champaign-Urbana

IPRH Research Prizes

The Odyssey Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers students an opportunity to build their humanities knowledge base and develop critical thinking skills that will serve them in their pursuit of higher education, workforce opportunities and a lifetime of learning-based citizenship.

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.

Typically 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 Coordinator,  Valerie O'Brien, at (217) 300-3888.

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

2019-2020 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. Odyssey classes will meet on campus in Ikenberry Commons, where dinner will be provided.

2019–2020 Instructors

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. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Art Education in the School of Art + Design, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to his role in higher education, Jorge happily taught art in the Chicago Public Schools. He received his undergraduate degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his graduate degrees from Penn State University.

Literature: Valerie O’Brien is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Illinois specializing in twentieth-century Anglophone literature. Her dissertation explores inclusiveness and the representation of disability in modernist and contemporary novels written in the style of autobiography. She earned a BA and MA in English and a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. Since 2017, she has served as the blog co-editor and website manager for the International Auto/Biography Association Students and New Scholars Network. 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.

Critical Thinking and Writing: Meghann Walk is pursuing a PhD in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois, concentrating in philosophy of education. She has a BA in political science from the University of Illinois, an MSLIS from Simmons College, and a CAS in School Building Leadership from St. John's University. Previously she was the Library Director and a Social Studies instructor at Bard High School Early College-Manhattan and is an associate of Bard College’s Institute for Writing & Thinking. Her research has focused on situated information literacy and the high school to college transition.

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. Her work has appeared in Journal of the History of Philosophy, History of Philosophy Quarterly, and Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. More recently she has published a book with Oxford University Press (2016) entitled Consciousness in Locke. Shelley’s teaching interests include entry level courses in philosophy introducing students to philosophical questions concerning human nature, how we ought to live and what meaning our lives may have, what (if anything) we can claim to know, whether God exists and we can explain our experience of evil, whether we have free will, and whether artificial intelligence is possible. She also teaches lower and advanced level undergraduate courses as well as graduate level courses in early modern philosophy and theory of knowledge.

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 is the author of The Evangelist and the Impresario: Religion, Entertainment and Cultural Politics in America, 1884-1914 (Johns Hopkins UP, 1999). She is completing a history of the cultural politics of space in the company town of Kohler, Wisconsin. She also co-coordinates the department’s Public History initiatives and a humanities-oriented community engagement initiative.

About the Odyssey Project in Champaign-Urbana

Illinois Humanities (the state humanities council) began the Odyssey Project in 2000. In 2006 IPRH, in partnership with Illinois Humanities, brought the Odyssey Project to Champaign-Urbana in order to offer local income-eligible adults the opportunity to pursue higher education that might not otherwise be accessible to them. Beginning 2019–2020, Odyssey courses are official Urbana campus courses, with tuition for those courses waived by the College of LAS.

Thanks to the generosity of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the support of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and other campus partners, the Odyssey Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign is able to introduce Odyssey students to the University of Illinois experience both inside and outside the classroom. 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.