Please study the following course descriptions and choose your First-Year Seminar course. This will be your Block 1 class. For further information or assistance in making your course selection, you may also contact the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising

First-year Seminar Descriptions

INT111 The Whole Picture: Diving Into the Deep End

This first-year seminar is divided into four sections taught by Professors Jim White, James Martin, Jim Freeman, and Jai Shanata. 

Where are we? How did we get here? Where do we want to go? Answering these kinds of questions requires curiosity and a base of skills, knowledge and perspectives. This first year seminar is designed to provide an intellectual foundation and introduce a set of learning skills essential for success at Cornell and for life beyond. The course will provide opportunities for careful reading, for creative and critical thinking, for oral and written communication, and for engaging with others in a shared conversation about stimulating material. Students will play a major role in creating the goals that will define their success at college and develop strategies for effective engagement with courses as they begin to explore the whole picture. The course will involve discussion of works drawn from different times, different fields of study, and even different media, chosen to prompt thoughtful reflection on enduring questions, on what really matters, as we consider the sorts of lives we want to live.

ANT102 Truth and Lies: Anthropology, truth telling, fake news, and academic success

Professor Misha Quill

What is the truth? Does fake news matter? In 2016 and 2017 we learned that all kinds of people were falling for and even promoting fake news stories on Facebook and other social media sites. For some, “fake news” became an insult to hurl at journalists. For others, there is real concern about how inaccurate, misleading and/or manipulative online reporting seems to proliferate with ease. In this FYS course, we will learn about the history of journalism, the psychology of fakery, and how cultures around the world approach the practices of truth telling and lying. Course materials will include comic and satirical "news" as well as intentionally distorted or biased reporting and ethnographic writing about dissembling in different social contexts.

BIO108 Food and Sex: An Evolutionary Perspective

Professor Marty Condon

Life on Earth is all about food and sex. What is food? How do we know? What is sex? Is sex the same as reproduction? Why care? In this course, you will read and discuss different books and papers that examine food and sex from various biological perspectives. We will compare patterns from an evolutionary perspective and discuss implications.

CSC131 Augmenting Human Intelligence: the beauty and joy of computing

Professor Leon Tabak

Machines now augment human intelligence by interpreting images, generating and recognizing spoken words, discerning patterns in the habits of consumers and voters, navigating in the physical world, offering advice to experts as they try to solve complex problems, and tutoring students. Can machines learn? How are they changing the ways in which we learn? How might biologists, psychologists, and computer scientists learn from one another? What are the keys to learning in machines and people?  We will examine what scientists have discovered about how people learn. That knowledge will guide our development of skills and habits for effective learning. We will practice strategies that support effective learning in a gentle introduction to methods for creating software. We will create our own applications for the web. No computer science background is required for this course, just curiosity.

ECB109  Economics of Crime

Professor Jerome Savitsky

At the heart of the field of microeconomics is the axiom that people are rational–that is, they always choose the best available option when making decisions and respond to economic incentives in predictable and systematic ways.  So, are criminals rational?  Do they behave in predictable and systematic ways when deciding to commit crimes?  Do they respond in predictable and systematic ways to laws and public policies intended to reduce criminal activity?  We will explore the economic causes and consequences of crime, with emphasis on crimes against property, crimes against persons, and victimless crimes.  We will also examine, in some detail, the economics of the market for illegal drugs, beginning with the first link in the supply chain and ending with the final consumer.  We will employ a variety to data sources to identify crime and punishment trends over time as well as race-based and gender-based differences in criminal behavior and punishment.  Seminar activities will include class discussions of assigned readings and a series of data-driven projects and writing assignments culminating in class presentations.

ENG105  Shakespeare and Freedom

Professor Katy Stavreva

What good is Shakespeare in personal and political quests for freedom?  What kinds of freedom do his plays dramatize? What are the complexities—moral, familial, politicalthat make Shakespearean freedom an exhilarating vehicle for self- and social sovereignty, a rallying cry for social change, as well as a profoundly tragic concept?  In this seminar we will focus on a couple of plays, such as The Tempest and Coriolanus, whose dramatic action is propelled by quests for freedom. We will read them closely, and will also study their appropriations by progressive political movements, from anti-colonial resistance to youth movements in the new European democracies calling for the restoration of ethics to politics. Thus we will begin to explore a question vital for liberal education, what good are the arts in an era of seemingly insatiable consumer appetites?

GEO 161  The Scientific Secrets of Crystals and Gems

Professor Emily Walsh

The beauty and rarity of crystals and gemstones have lead them to be coveted and controlled by the wealthy, powerful, and famous. However, their true value lies in the secrets they hold about the history of the Earth. Diamonds, for example, form more than 100 miles underground and are carried to the surface by superfast volcanic eruptions. Rubies are created by the same massive tectonic collisions that lift up mountain ranges. Emeralds, tourmalines, and amethyst grow as a result of magma cooling under volcanoes. These different origins imbue each gemstone with unique physical and chemical characteristics, including their dazzling array of colors and crystal shapes.

In this hands-on course, we will study a variety of precious and semi-precious gemstones to better understand the scientific links between chemical composition and physical properties (like color, hardness, or crystal shape) and between plate tectonic settings and particular gems. We will explore the department’s impressive mineral collection; observe minerals under the microscope; grow and examine our own crystals; collect semi-precious gemstones in the field; and visit the Chicago Field Museum for a behind-the-scenes look at their amazing gemstone collection.

GSS171  Gender, Power, and Identity

Professor Rebecca Wines  

What is intersectionality? What is privilege? What is social constructionism? This interdisciplinary course will help you understand the issues explored in the field of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. We will examine the layout of this academic field, survey its history, address some of its core ideas, and engage cultural questions that it highlights. We will analyze how notions of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, nation, physical ability, and other aspects of social location influence people’s lives, while paying close attention to their political, cultural, and economic contexts. Through assigned readings, class discussions, and films, this core course in the GSS program will introduce you to current debates surrounding the body, relationships and the family, the labor market, and activism.

HIS255 Lives of African-Americans

Professor Phil Lucas

African American heroes and voices continue to influence the trajectory of our nation as we grow and evolve.  We will get to know their voices and stories through autobiographies and biographies that shaped African American history.  There will be a particular focus on slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Readings will include works by Frederick Douglass, Phillis Wheatley, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  As a class we will discuss the particular challenges they encountered, victories they secured, and how their lives and work have created social dialogue and impacted social change.

INT 166 Energy and Society: consumption and the environment

Professor Kara Beauchamp

Our society depends on a variety of energy sources to power our devices, heat our homes, and fuel our transportation. Where has energy come from in the past, and what are options for the future?  What are the impacts of our energy use, and how has energy use changed over time?   In this course, we will investigate these questions and develop an understanding of the connections between energy use and standard of living, both in the United States and in countries around the world.  In addition, in order to support you in developing skills and habits that will promote your success in college, we will examine what scientists have discovered about how people learn and practice strategies that support effective learning.

KIN111: Foundations of Kinesiology: building an Olympian

Professor Justus Hallam

Olympians are not simply born; it takes years of dedicated training to achieve Olympian status. There is much more to this than meets the eye. Elite physical performance is more than simply muscles and bones. Training the body as well as the mind is vital to peak performance, while at the same time providing an environment that is conducive to the success of all athletes. We will complete an overview of kinesiology, both as a profession and an academic pursuit by exploring the history of kinesiology from its origins in the ancient world to today. We will introduce kinesiology’s sub-disciplines and consider related scientific, philosophical, and educational issues. This course is designed and intended for students who plan to or are interested in a possible major in Kinesiology.

PHI 105 The Morals of Our Stories

Professor Genevieve Migley

This course will examine ethical theories and notions embedded in the discourse of storytelling. Moral lessons and norms are conveyed in the pages as the tale unfolds and the characters develop. Through the use of fable, fiction and film, the ethical principles of major philosophical systems will be discerned and analyzed. As a first year seminar, emphasis will be placed on academic expectations, coursework integrity, and vital critical reasoning skills in writing and discussion.

POL142 International Politics

Professor David Yamanishi

Can we save the world from war? Is lasting world peace possible? Diplomatic strategies and blunders have led to wars that have killed millions: Germany’s “blank check” before World War I, Britain’s “peace for our time” before World War II. We will discuss why diplomacy fails and why it succeeds, why states make peace and why they make war, and how recent changes in the world—new technologies, new economic and social interconnectedness, new international organizations—affect and may affect yet more the fundamentals of international politics: state sovereignty and the system of states. We will especially focus on the diplomacy preceding the start of the First World War and the United Nations' recent efforts to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbors, where millions of people have died during the past twenty years with scant attention from outsiders.

PSY109 Psychological Insights into Environmental Problems

Professor Alice Ganzel

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, and 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. Additionally, through the course students will be introduced to current research in cognitive neuroscience that fosters effective learning, and will practice the varied skills and habits that foster success in college, and lay the foundation for the transferable skills that employers value the most.

REL101 Introduction to Religion

Professor Steven Sacks

Religion is a cornerstone of humanity, but what is it? Why does it exist? And what similarities and differences do we see across religions from different cultures? We will explore the place of religion in human civilizations and cultures, examining the ways human beings create and engage meaning. You will encounter myth and rituals from disparate areas of human history and culture in order to understand the significance of religion as a way of thinking and encountering the world. While exploring these topics, you will practice the varied skills and habits that foster success in college while developing an understanding of the transferable skills that employers value the most. Specifically, this course will introduce students to research in cognitive neuroscience on how we learn most effectively.

SPA109  Latin American and US Latino Literature and Film

Professor Michael Mosier

Latin America has long been intricately entwined with the United States, yet to many in the US, Latin America is an unknown entity. In this course we will expand our awareness and explore major trends in recent Latin American and US Latino literature, film, and culture. Through our readings and films, we will examine major questions and concerns recently grappled with by Latin American artists and intellectuals. We will concentrate on historic tensions with the US in addition to the intersections of immigration, poverty, and constructions of race and gender. Some of the authors we read will include Junot Diaz, Gabriel García Márquez, and Yuri Herrera.

THE160 Fundamentals of Theater Design

Professor Scott Olinger

What does it take to bring a script to life on stage in a way that captures the audience’s imagination and pulls them into the story? How do you build that experience?  What components are considered?  We will explore the role and process of design as it relates to theatrical production.  In this course we read and analyze texts, explore painting, rendering, drawing and model building skills, and complete practical exercises in scenic and costume design while learning to critically respond to design work with the elements of design vocabulary.  At the end of the course you’ll be prepared to assist with the design of a Cornell or community theatre production.