William Alba-Science and Humanities Scholars Program - Carnegie Mellon University

William Alba

Director, Science and Humanities Scholars Program

Office: Doherty Hall 2201
Phone: (412) 268-7333


As the first Director of the Science and Humanities Scholars (SHS) Program, William Alba is de facto associate dean for the premier multidisciplinary undergraduate program at Carnegie Mellon University. With faculty appointments in both the Mellon College of Science (MCS) and the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, he represents, leads, and advises some of the most academically nimble students at the university. At Carnegie Mellon he is also the Director of the Advanced Placement Early Admission (APEA) Program, Fellow of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, and Chapter President of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

 He has a quarter-century of professional leadership across higher education and secondary education. He has built and boosted successful programs that support the academic, metacurricular, and residential lives of students; developed and taught courses across diverse disciplines; and collaborated on projects that span the humanities, engineering, science, and design. 

 As an accomplished speaker, Dr. Alba is regularly called upon to represent the university at welcome speeches and keynote addresses. He represents cross-disciplinary perspectives for a variety of audiences at Carnegie Mellon, including among faculty colleagues. He has served on high-level college and university committees, drawing upon his expertise in general education reform, academic program development, course innovation, multidisciplinarity, and lifelong education. His areas of interest embrace the transition from high school to college, first-year and summer programming, developing students with superb and assorted academic talents, increasing college access for diverse populations, and appropriate uses of technology in education. He has created numerous metacurricular programs and activities, including the SHS Summer Colloquium Series, Victor M. Bearg SHS Speaker Series, SHS Alumni & Student Reception, APEA Faculty Meeting, APEA Faculty-Student Reception, and APEA Family Weekend.

 During the fall he teaches Revolutions of Circularity, a history of ideas seminar focused on the circle as viewed through Western classics in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, physics, and literature. In the fall he also teaches EUREKA! Discovery and Its Impact, a first-year seminar in the Mellon College of Science Core Curriculum that he helped design for young scientists to become scholars, persons, professionals, and citizens. During the spring he co-teaches Energy: Science, Society, and Communication with the University of Pittsburgh Honors College and in conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering Ambassadors Program, introducing students to energy issues through working relationships with regional experts, and developing public outreach events. Previously at the university he developed and taught an independent study on Ancient Greek, a course on the science and history of optics, and an interdisciplinary seminar in which students studied and created time capsules and projects to communicate with potential extraterrestrial intelligence. 

 Prior to Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Alba served as an academic leader and professor at distinctive institutions across the United States. He was the first Associate Dean of Studies at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan; Tutor [Assistant Professor] at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Founder and Director of the Monte Sol Writing Workshop; Assistant Professor of Liberal Arts and the Coordinator of Mathematics and Science at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Bard College and a Faculty Associate at the Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking; and Instructor of Chemistry and Physics, Search and Rescue Leader, and House Counselor at Phillips Academy (Andover). At these institutions he taught a variety of courses, including on the mathematics of biological and social phenomena, classical rhetoric, logic, the geometry of art and nature, the chemistry of food and cooking, writing seminars on utopias and dystopias and on the rise of modernism, general chemistry, physical chemistry, calculus, and astronomy.

 His research projects belong to two categories: Landmark Labs and ephemeral spectacles. Landmark Labs preserves information about humanity's relationship with place. Projects that will travel to the surface of the Moon with Astrobotic's lunar robot in 2017 include Earth Tapestry, a crowdsourced marker plaque to highlight the most significant features on our planet; Sagan Planet Walk: Moon, a wayfarer station that extends what is already the world's largest scale model; Epoch Marker, a cornerstone to inform the future when it was made; and Signed Sealed Delivered, a keepsake album that allows non-human intelligences to interpret the other Landmark Labs inscriptions. Previously he wrote and designed An Oz Album, a book of concete poetry.

 Dr. Alba holds a bachelor's degree summa cum laude in Chemistry from Cornell University, where he was enrolled in the College Scholars Program, attended Board of Trustees meetings, and lived in Risley Residential College for the Creative and Performing Arts; and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. He has also studied at the Santa Fe Institute, Old Town School of Folk Music, and National Outdoor Leadership School. He was born in the Bronx, raised in small-town Ohio, and enjoys living in Pittsburgh with his family. He writes a blog that mirrors his professional interests.