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


William Alba is Director of the Science and Humanities Scholars Program, where he serves as the primary academic advisor for students until they declare a major and continues to serve as an advisor throughout their academic careers, especially on matters of General Education. With the SHS Student Activites Council he plans and facilitates various metacurricular programs and activities. During the fall he teaches Revolutions of Circularity (.pdf), a history of ideas seminar focused on the circle as viewed through Western classics in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, physics, and literature. During the spring he teaches Meaning across the Millennia (.pdf), an interdisciplinary course in which case studies and group projects enable students to explore time capsules and communication with potential extraterrestrial intelligence. Previously at the university he taught an independent study on Ancient Greek to several SHS students, and co-taught a course on the science and history of optics. He has participated in the Big Questions project since its inception, discussion groups incorporating faculty into student residences.

He serves on several college and university committees, including the University Student Affairs Council and Faculty Senate Executive Committee, advocating for general education revision, academic program development, course innovation, multidisciplinarity, and lifelong education. He is Director of the Advanced Placement Early Admission Program, in which high-school students from around the world enroll in Carnegie Mellon summer classes; and Fellow of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.

Before arriving at Carnegie Mellon in 2005, he was Associate Dean of Studies at Bard High School Early College in New York City; 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.

William Alba is founder of Earth Tapestry, which seeks to identify and commemorate locations conveying the richness of our planet. Locations will be determined by crowdsourcing, with a website to collate suggestions and data analytics methods to aggregate individual preferences. The information will be preserved in redundant deep archives, including on the surface of the Moon with Astrobotic’s lunar robot in 2015. Global in content, massively participatory, and enduring for millions of years, Earth Tapestry is the first project to involve humanity in active conversation with itself about communicating with distant intelligences. In addition to Earth Tapestry, he is in the early stages of other projects that span humanities, engineering, science, and design. Some of this work is affiliated with the campus Moon Arts Group. 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 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 wife and two children.