2014 First-year Seminar Descriptions

Please study the following course descriptions and submit your top six choices using the first-year preference form, which also contains answers to frequently asked questions. For further information or assistance in making your course selection, you may also contact Kate Fashimpaur, Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising. 

First-year Seminar Titles

  • Diversity: An Evolutionary Perspective (BIO 108)
  • Chemistry of Global Health Issues (CHE 108A)
  • Markets and Social Networks (ECB 265)
  • Reading Film, Reading Reality (ENG 202)
  • Introduction to Creative Writing (ENG 215)
  • Gender, Power, and Identity: An Introduction to Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies (GSS 171)
  • Baseball: The American Game (HIS 252)
  • Foundations of Kinesiology (KIN 111)
  • Opera goes to the Movies: Opera and Film (MUS 109)
  • Ethics and Climate Change (PHI 109)
  • Solar System Astronomy (PHY **)
  • Intro to Politics (POL 111)
  • Psychological Insights into Environmental Problems (PSY 256)
  • Explorations in the Study of Religion (REL 101)
  • Topics in Sociological Thinking: Studying Society Through Film and Visual Media (SOC 102)
  • Hispanics in the U.S. (in English) (SPA 109)
  • Fundamentals of Theater Design (THE 160)

First-year Seminar Descriptions

Diversity: An Evolutionary Perspective (BIO 108)
Marty Condon, Professor of Biology

What is diversity and why should you care? This course is designed to encourage students to read, discuss, and think about diversity—from a biological perspective. We will examine the diversity of life and life histories. Students will learn about diverse patterns of reproduction (sexual and asexual), gender, and interactions among predators, prey, and parasites within biological communities—including human populations. We will compare patterns from an evolutionary perspective and discuss implications.


Chemistry of Global Health Issues (CHE 108A)
Cynthia Strong, Professor of Chemistry

Unsafe drinking water, malnutrition, infectious diseases, industrial pollution—these are all serious global health concerns. What is the chemistry behind these problems? How can an understanding of chemistry help us evaluate possible solutions?  This course will begin with a basic introduction to chemistry and move into an examination of the chemistry behind global health challenges such as the provision of clean drinking  water, the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, and the production of food to feed the world. Intended for non-science majors: no previous experience in chemistry required.


Markets and Social Networks (ECB 265)
Santhi Hejeebu, Associate Professor of Economics & Business

Networks pervade our tech savvy society. This course introduces the science of networks, integrating ideas from economics, sociology, and mathematics. We will learn how to identify important people and relationships within a social network. We will measure the importance of nodes and the strengths of ties and learn how to predict the formation of new links among members. The course examines how information and economic behavior cascades across a network. Throughout the class, students will visualize networks and apply course concepts to network data acquired from social media websites including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Students will create their own social network analysis projects and present their findings.


Reading Film, Reading Reality (ENG 202)
Shannon Reed, Associate Professor of English

“It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.” 
―Roger Ebert

Ok, so Roger Ebert was a film critic, not a college professor, but he’s absolutely right. And in this course, we will spend some of our time discussing what films are about, but we will spend more time thinking, discussing, and analyzing how the film is “about it”; in other words, how does the film create its effects. During the course, we will watch, discuss, and analyze films—from animated shorts to documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters. We will pay particular attention to how film has created, shaped, represented, or challenged our view of reality. Because film is an institution and a cultural practice as well as an art form, we will occasionally meet with a sociology class to compare notes and find out what sociologists do with film. 


Introduction to Creative Writing (ENG 215)

Rebecca Entel, Associate Professor of English

In this beginning course in creative writing, students will explore a myriad of writing techniques and approaches to writing in a variety of genres. Students will write, share work, and offer critiques. The course also includes the study of published authors as models for student writing, as literary historical context for artistic creation, and for the study of creative theory. Students will learn to analyze texts from a writer’s perspective, which they will apply to their own writing and to the study of literature.


Gender, Power, and Identity: An Introduction to Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies (GSS 171)

Aparna Thomas, Associate Professor of Politics & Women's Studies

This interdisciplinary core course in the Women's Studies program analyzes how notions of race, gender, sexuality, class, nation, physical ability, and other aspects of social location materially influence people’s lives. To conduct our analysis, we will consider various strands of feminism, divergent positions among queer theorists, and arguments drawn from other identity based fields (e.g. ethnic studies, American studies, post-colonial studies) in order to survey and compare several perspectives on gender, race, sexuality, race, and class.


Baseball: The American Game (HIS 252)
Phil Lucas, Professor of History

In many interesting ways the history of baseball from the mid-1800’s onward reflects the history of the United States. This seminar will examine the origins of the game, its evolution to a professional sport and then big business, legal aspects of the game, integration, and unionization. Students will write several papers and do a little research project about baseball and American society. Find out how Cornelius McGillicuddy, Jackie Robinson, Alexander Cartwright, Curt Flood, John Montgomery Ward, Alta Weiss, and Andy Messersmith—ballplayers all—reveal something important about American history and society.


Foundations of Kinesiology (KIN 111)
Ellen Whale, Professor of Kinesiology

Historical and philosophical foundation of physical education. Current issues in research and literature. Biological, physiological, and sociological aspects of sport and exercise.


Opera goes to the Movies: Opera and Film (MUS 109)
James Martin, Professor of Music

The topic of "Opera and Film" has become one of the “hot” areas of scholarship in the past fifteen or so years. Both opera and film use a conglomeration of other constituent arts to create what Richard Wagner called a Gesamtkunstwerk or total artwork. (In fact, many of the first efforts in film were derived from opera and more specifically, Wagner.) My intention with this course is to explore the intersections between opera and film, using theories and practices of both genres, as well as numerous specific examples of the interplay between them.


Ethics and Climate Change (PHI 109)
Jim WhiteProfessor of Philosophy

The threat of climate change raises urgent questions about what we ought to do—i.e., questions about morality. We will spend some time considering climate science and questions raised by controversy about that science. What should we believe about the claim that human activity is threatening the climatic stability of our planet given apparent disagreement about the truth of that hypothesis. We will also spend time considering the moral challenges the risk of climate change generates: what is the nature of our obligations to prevent harm to people distant in space and in time; what responsibilities do nations of the industrialized world have to respond to threats generated by climate change; what does it make sense for such nations to do given the uncertainty of some outcomes of climate change; what should we, as individual citizens of such nations, be doing? We will read material of all sorts about these questions—we’ll look at scientific reports, economic analyses, and philosophical/ethical arguments, for example—and talk and write about what we make of the issues.


Solar System Astronomy (PHY **)
Kara Beauchamp, Professor of Physics

In this course, we’ll explore the solar system and our place in it. We’ll study the historical development of our understanding of the solar system, from the time of the Ancient Greeks to the present day. We’ll discuss the advances in science and technology that have made possible our current understanding, and learn about the composition and evolution of the solar system and it constituents, including the sun, the planets, and the moons. We’ll explore these ideas through readings, computer simulations, and first-hand observations, including evening observing sessions.


Intro to Politics (POL 111)
Hans Hassell, Assistant Professor of Politics

Although you may not realize it, every one of us is involved in politics on a daily basis. We each have experienced parents and children haggling over the rules governing curfew or use of the car, employees and bosses negotiating behaviors at work, and organized crime families disputing turf wars (ok, maybe not that last one). Yet, in one way or another, politics is a part of our lives regardless of whether we are interested in Congress, political parties, or international negotiations. Politics is the process by which individuals and groups reach agreements on a course of joint action—even if they disagree on the intended goals of that action. This class discusses the problems that groups need to overcome to reach agreements on a joint course of action, and looks at the political institutions and other political processes and incentives that enable groups to overcome those barriers here in the United States and internationally.  


Psychological Insights into Environmental Problems (PSY 256)
Alice Ganzel, Associate Professor of Psychology

Human behavior is at the root of almost all environmental problems: We drive gas guzzling cars (contributing to both global warming and depletion of natural resources), produce tons of refuse, deplete water resources (build golf courses in the desert). This course explores facets of psychology that can help explain why we act as we do and how we might change behavior toward greater sustainability. We review some basic psychological principles as they apply to the environment: What are the thinking processes that lead some people to accept and others to reject concepts like global warming? How do people develop their basic value systems, and how do things like emotions and culture impact this? Even when people want to change their behaviors, what are the barriers that make change difficult? Course includes an analysis and application of these principles to a local issue.


Explorations in the Study of Religion (REL 101)

Steven Sacks, Associate Professor of Religion

Our course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the study of religion in a college setting. We will examine a variety of topics that inform our understanding of the meaning and place of religion, including sacred place, space, action and time, the relationship of religion to reason, and comparison of practices and beliefs across religious traditions. 


Topics in Sociological Thinking: Studying Society Through Film and Visual Media (SOC 102)
Erin Davis, Associate Professor of Sociology

“This is life…You haven’t seen enough movies. All life’s riddles are answered in the movies.” —Davis, character in 1991 movie: Grand Canyon

Film and other visual media are crafted to produce particular messages about and representations of social reality. Film and visual media present the world to us in specific ways and shape our view of society. As such, media can be understood as a form of cultural practice, and in this course we will use visual media as texts to explore the social world. We will view, discuss, and analyze films and other visual media from a sociological perspective—examining the consumption of media, the cultural meanings and practices presented, and the social implications of such representations. We will also explore the extent and ways media reflects, heightens, and/or challenges social patterns, differences, and inequalities. In order to understand the various disciplinary perspectives on media, we will occasionally meet and work with students in the English course on film studies. While we will bring a sociological perspective to our media analysis, film studies examines how films communicate, focusing on the production and specific artistic elements to film. 


Hispanics in the U.S. (in English) (SPA 109)
Marcela Ochoa-Shivapour, Associate Professor of Spanish

This course is an interdisciplinary study of Latino/as in the United States (the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group). The course will provide a foundation on Latino/a identity though a survey of works of U.S. Latino/a writers, thinkers, musicians, politicians, filmmakers, etc. We will discuss the Latino/a experience as a group and as individuals from different perspectives, studying issues of history, race, politics, and culture. 


Fundamentals of Theater Design (THE 160)
Scott Olinger, Professor of Theatre

Exploration of the role and process of design as it relates to theatrical production. Students complete practical exercises in scenic, costume, lighting, and sound design, and learn to critically analyze and respond to design work with the elements of design vocabulary.