Gentrain Society.

MPC Course and Faculty

The Gentrain (General Education Train of Courses) Program has been offered by Monterey Peninsula College since 1974. It is an interdisciplinary course in Western Civilization, and is presented in four four-week courses each fall and spring semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:45 to 11:00 A.M.

The entire program can be completed in four semesters. It can be taken for credit (one unit per four-week class) or non-credit. A team of four instructors discusses literature/drama, philosophy/religion, history, and art. Guest lecturers are sometimes added for special presentations. 

The Gentrain Society sponsors additional lectures, trips, and other activities that complement the material covered in the MPC course.

Current and Recent Units

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Registration for the Gentrain course must be done through the college registration procedures. 

You will need your:


Alan Haffa

Tom Logan

Stephanie Spoto

Gamble Madsen

Najm Akbar

Taylor Finell

Dr. Alan Haffa has directed the Gentrain Program at MPC since 2003. He has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and M.A.s in Comparative Literature and Classics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He studied Great Books at St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD., where he earned his BA. Dr. Haffa’s research interest was in classical Greek and Roman literature and how it was received and modified in the Renaissance. He can read Ancient Greek, Latin, and French. He earned a Charlotte Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and finished his dissertation on Supplication in Epic: Homer, Virgil, and Tasso.” In addition to teaching Gentrain and English classes at MPC, Dr. Haffa has led Gentrain travel study groups to Ashland, OR, for the Shakespeare Festival.

Tom has been an integral part of the Gentrain Program since 1991. His lectures and tours of Mediterranean countries have helped hundreds of people expand their world view. He first decided to become an ancient historian at age 11 when his father’s job in the diplomatic service brought the family to the Belgian Congo and later to Egypt and Turkey. He was blown away by the world he encountered there. When he returned to the US, he attended college, graduating from UC Berkely with a major in history and a minor in anthropology. After earning his MA at the University of Chicago, he taught in New York City, worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and participated in archeological expeditions in Egypt. Tom came to Monterey in 1981 to direct the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art and teach at MPC. He works closely with the Gentrain team, still pursuing and sharing his passion for ancient history.

Stephanie Spoto, PhD teaches humanities at California State University, Monterey Bay and philosophy at Monterey Peninsula College. She holds a PhD in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh, with her doctoral work exploring the influence of esoteric and occult philosophy on early modern literature and politics. In 2009 she was awarded The Centre for Renaissance Studies Research Grant for her study of John Selden’s De Diis Syris (1617) and she has served as peer-reviewer for Forum: a postgraduate journal and for publications from the association Concerned Philosophers for Peace. In 2010 and 2011, Stephanie served as Reader for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in Fiction and Biography, and has reviewed for The Scottish Review of Books, Comparative Civilizations Review, The LSE Review of Books, and other publications.

In 2013 she was an International Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Advance Study – Sofia (Bulgaria), with support for her project “William Lithgow (1582-1645) and Early Modern Scottish Journeys to Eastern Europe”. This project investigated encounters between Scottish travelers and Islam in the Ottoman Empire, looking at potentially unique ways in which Scottish writers and scholars interacted with Muslim cultures and texts. Her work on this project has been presented at the Centre and also at the Southern California Renaissance Conference in 2017, in her paper “Scottish Perceptions of Islam in the Seventeenth Century: William Lithgow’s Travels through the Ottoman Empire and Northern Africa”.

Her work has been published in Pacific Coast Philology, The Journal of Monsters and the Monstrous, Abraxas, The Journal of Feminist Scholarship, and the edited collection Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence. Her recent work on racism and the philosophy of perception, “Wittgenstein, Aspect Blindness, and White Supremacy”, is forthcoming in The Critical Philosophy of Race.

Stephanie has talked literature and philosophy on The SRB Podcast and Not Radio,and has been the coordinator of a community philosophy reading group at Old Capitol Books in downtown Monterey for four years.

Gamble Madsen is originally from Claremont, California and specializes in the visualization of Christian theology in medieval and Renaissance contexts. She attended the University of Southern California as an undergraduate and graduate student, ultimately earning a PhD in Medieval Art History (dissertation: images of the Trinity associated with Peter Lombard’s “Commentary on Psalm 109 [France, c.1160]”).

She also holds a degree in Museum Studies from George Washington University, and has worked in collections management for institutions in New York (Lowy Fine Art) and Los Angeles (LACMA). She came to MPC in 2012 and currently teaches surveys in Western and Asian Art along with a course focused on the Renaissance period. She has presented research in medieval and early Renaissance visual culture at conferences in the U.S. and the U.K., and has recently published an article examining medieval representations of Job within Brill’s “Companions to the Christian Tradition” series.

Najm Akbar

I am Muhammad Najm Akbar. Call me Najm.
Born in Multan, Pakistan, I had my initial education there.
In the United States, I have graduated twice from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, MA 1995 and MALD, 2011, and have a graduate degree in History from Fresno State, 2022. Middlebury awarded me an MA in Teaching of Foreign Language, in 2009.

Alia and I have lived In Monterey since 2005. Our children are married and engaged in their professional lives in New York.

Our biggest delight is our two granddaughters, the eldest turns four soon, and the youngest is about a year and a half old.

I remained part of the Pakistan Foreign Service for two decades and at the Defense Language Institute taught Urdu for thirteen years until 2018.

I joined the MPC pool of adjunct history instructors in 2022 and have taught courses in Gentrain, World History, US History, and History of World Religions. 

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Taylor teaches early and modern U.S. History, Western Civilization, and World History, as well as the history of World Religions. He has taught at De Anza College, West Valley College, and Hartnell College before settling with his wife and two daughters in Marina, CA. For his graduate work, Taylor studied a group of American chemists who worked for the U.S. Army during the First World War. His research followed them through the development of the U.S. Army’s first gas masks and precautionary measures for chemical warfare. He specializes in late 19th/early 20th century British, French and U.S. Diplomatic, International, and Military History.