First Year Programs

Fall 2019 FYS

FYS TitleFYS Big QuestionFYS DescriptionInstructor
Movies of the Middle East: Exploring Contemporary IssuesHow can contemporary Middle East award-winning movies convey Middle East's history, culture and contemporary political, social, economic issues as well as dominant stereotypes? Through the examination of a variety of contemporary Middle East award-winning movies, students will be introduced to the Middle East's history, culture and contemporary political, social, economic issues as well as dominant stereotypes. We will spend two weeks analyzing each movie, relying on readings that introduce students to countries and contemporary issues from countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Territories. Nahed Eltantawy
Theories of ComedyWhat is the purpose of comedy?What makes something funny? Is there a serious purpose to comedy? Do the plots of comedies and the structure of jokes share a similar form? This first-year seminar sets out to answer these questions by exploring both ancient and contemporary theories of comedy. Students are asked to apply comic theories to classic and contemporary comic media (Aristophanes, Plato, Shakespeare, The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Stephen Colbert, etc.).Clint Corcoran
The Nature of Human NatureWhat is the essence of human nature?The Judeo-Christian human-animal dichotomy establishes humans above the rest of the animal kingdom. This often translates into an exceptionally benevolent view of human nature. But is humanity uniquely good? This is the big question of the course: what is the essence of human nature? Students will be introduced to biological, psychological, sociological, and spiritual perspectives on human nature and apply these perspectives to three historical periods of mass murder (the Holocaust, Rwanda, Sierra Leone) through film and 1st-person non-fiction literature. Using these materials, students will develop evolving evidence-based reflections on the nature of human nature.Joanne Altman
Science Fiction & PhilosophyWhat is the nature of human consciousness?Stimulating understanding and wonder of various philosophical questions, this course investigates fundamental philosophical questions in a colorful way. For instance, venerable Cartesian questions regarding the nature of reality will be explored through the lens of Matrix. Descartes question, “How can we know we’re not dreaming?” will be considered through the film Inception. The problem of Other Minds will be illustrated through talking through advanced “Chatterbots” that mimic the Turing Test, while also illustrating Searle’s Chinese Room Argument.Matthew Brophy
Marketing & Popular CultureWhat are the professional and ethical boundaries of product placement (and other marketing techniques), which are increasingly insinuated into popular media, such as movies and television? This first year seminar addresses the marketing concept of positioning and the controversial rise of product placement in popular media such as film and television. Using a variety of examples, this course seeks to emphasize how product or brand placement in popular media is used to position products in the consumer’s mind. Students will be challenged to think critically about these types of placements and to question the ethics and effectiveness of such positioning attempts.Larry Carter
Digital Disruptions Impacting Privacy and Security in our Analog WorldHow should advances in information technology impact the balance between individual privacy and collective security? In this course, students will explore the often unintended or unforeseen consequences of the digital revolution. A focus on the conflict between the privacy of personal information and the increasingly Orwellian reach of electronic security measures will force students out of their comfort zones as they try to find a peaceful middle ground. Within the context of a multi-dimensional framework, students will be able to identify appropriate security countermeasures to threats directed at information confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Heavy emphasis will be placed on researching and analyzing the numerous attacks and vulnerabilities that permeate headlines on a regular basis. These breaking stories will require students to demonstrate mental agility as they engage in intellectual sparring matches with their classmates. Students will have multiple opportunities to research, write, and speak in front of their classmates. Ultimately, each student will have to support their answer to the big question: How should advances in information technology impact the balance between individual privacy and collective security? William Suchan
That’s My Jam!: Entertainment and the Common Good“What role does entertainment play in the common good? And what is our public responsibility through our engagement of that entertainment?"Our society has produced remarkably sophisticated consumers of entertainment yet not particularly sophisticated reflectors. The task of this course is to enable students to turn a reflective eye and ear toward their daily diet of entertainment—movies, music, t.v., and video games—with the intention of moving them from mere consumers into thought-provoking critics for the common good. We will focus on close analysis of several forms of entertainment—while allowing students to pursue a form of their choice—with an eye to the question, “Does entertainment serve a common good? And, if so, what is our responsibility to engage that public through our choices of entertainment?” A substantial piece of this class will be an examination of “community” as an amalgam of on-line and face-to-face interactions and readers. We will be exploring the pros and cons of various on-line platforms for public criticism and how those advance or deter public engagement.Nathan Hedman
13 Going on 30How does consumer culture and childhood intersect, and how ought it to be changed? Bras for babies. Jeweled lingerie and chino miniskirts. The fashion industry’s recent focus on the young teen demographic has led to the development of an array of clothing and accessories encouraging children and young teens to look like an adult. At the same time, magazines, music and television targeting the tween demographic provides social scripts for how to think, feel and behave in an adult like manner. Working within a developmental framework, this course will integrate elements from business, mass media and marketing to investigate why young adolescents appear to be most vulnerable to the highly sexualized imagery and products available to them. We will also examine the development of specific marketing techniques used to attract adolescent consumers that stem from advertising’s recognition of the relative sensitivity of adolescent cognition, particularly with respect to the development of a positive social identity and peer social status. Adolescents’ reliance on mass media has thus led to dramatic increases in poor self-esteem and body image, and risky sexual behavior within this population. In addition, we will explore the physical, social and emotional impact the internalization of these messages has had on adolescents’ well-being. Specific topics will include understanding why adolescents may be more susceptible to messages transmitted by mass media than other age groups; how consumption of media has affected adolescents’ perception of their body image, popularity status, peer and romantic relationships, and the roles that the peer group and parents play in moderating these relationships.Kirsten Li-Barber
Forging Frontiers in the Classical WorldHow do the accounts of ancient pioneers illuminate human nature (psychologically, morally, culturally, etc.) in our desire to explore the unknown?How did ancient people imagine and investigate the places where the known world ended? Which pioneers ventured to explore the ends of the earth, and what stories did they tell when they returned? This first-year seminar examines how authors and eyewitnesses from Greco-Roman antiquity described the geographical and metaphysical limits of their world, as well as the trailblazers who attempted to traverse them. We will compare historical, literary, and scientific approaches to study of the unknown, and investigate what anxieties and attractions pattern human exploration into the present. Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne
Tyrants, Dictators, and DemocratsHow do political leaders come to power, exercise their will, and establish their historical legacies across different types of societies? How do political leaders come to power, exercise their will, and establish their historical legacies across different types of societies? This course uses academic research, biographies, and film portrayals of how leaders make difficult decisions, as well as a hands-on simulation of political leadership in response to major crises, to analyze various patterns and techniques of social control and effective leadership. We will address questions such as why good leaders frequently make irrational decisions, why many authoritarians and tyrants are beloved by their citizens, and why heads of democracies in certain situations are more likely than other leaders to start wars.Samuel Whitt
Detective Fiction and the Quest for KnowledgeHow does detective fiction illuminate the social and psychological forces that drive our desire to know?In this course, we will resist the notion that detective stories are merely page-turners or guilty pleasures by posing a fundamental question that lies at the root of all mysteries: What social and psychological forces drive the desire to know? In pursuit of this “big question,” we will have to address several other questions that help us analyze the genre’s enduring appeal and place it in its historical, sociological, cultural, and literary contexts: When did the detective story originate and how has it evolved? Why do most mysteries revolve around the crime of murder? How do famous literary detectives both reflect and challenge the values of the societies in which they work? How do the particular plot devices of these stories help us comprehend the basic narrative structure of concealment and revelation? The syllabus will include works by the following authors (among others): Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett. Course assignments will also invite students to explore the genre through television series and films such as the BBC’s Sherlock and Christopher Nolan’s Memento.Matt Carlson
Do you See What I See? Signals, Symbols, and SemioticsHow can we insightfully use semiotic concepts and methods to analyze a variety of cultural products, from fashion to television to news to literature?Semiotics, the study of signs and sign systems extends the notion of text beyond the written page to any artifact that can “stand for” something else—not only pictures, sounds, gestures, and body language, but also objects and even the spaces between them! Semiotics is therefore the study of making meaning (both “encoding” and “decoding”) in its widest possible sense. It is concerned with the description of sign systems and the codes (“rules” and conventions) that structure meaning, as well as the particular instances or events in which signs are constructed. Semiotics has its contemporary origins in the work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Based on the work of these two men, semioticians have sought to understand the signs and sign systems underlying many aspects of human culture. In this course, we will focus on the work of semioticians in the areas of myth, photography, film, television, and subculture and consider how semiotic concepts and methods can be used to analyze a variety of cultural products, from fashion to television to news to literature. Tony Kemerly
One of Us? The Meaning of Citizenship Today“What, if anything, does citizenship mean today, and why? One of the most noticeable developments in recent decades is the increase in human mobility across borders. As more and more individuals live beyond the borders of their country of birth, we are forced to ponder the continued meaning and relevance of one of society’s most enduring political institutions: what, if anything, does citizenship mean today? This seminar will examine citizenship in the modern world from an interdisciplinary perspective. Drawing on key texts from political philosophy, political science, history and sociology, as well as experiential learning such as naturalization exams and ceremonies, students will explore how and why citizenship has been used to designate political belonging across countries and over time. The course will engage in a critical analysis of the competing definitions and merits of citizenship, the criteria by which one becomes a citizen, the rights and responsibilities attached to citizenship, and whether it citizenship has any meaning or relevance for us in the modern era.John Graeber
Sport and IdentityWhat is the nature of sports communities and how ought they to affect individual, collective, and national identities?By identifying as a fan of a particular sports team, an individual enters a community that shares certain values that transcend sportsmanship and games. This course seeks to question the nature of those values and the ways in which they affect individual, collective, and national identities. Students will read texts related to nationalism and community as a way to critically approach the concept of a "nation of fans." The course will focus especially on professional and national sports teams in the United States and in Spain.Adam Winkel
Harry Potter: Understanding Good & EvilHow ought we to define "good" and "evil"?The struggle between good and evil has plagued academics and everyday people for centuries. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, writers, and others have attempted to determine what it is that makes something—or someone—good and what makes them evil. In this course, we will examine this debate through the lens of J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter series, and see how she, and her readers, utilize elements of the debate between good and evil.Elizabeth Hupfer
A Missing Link: Literary DarwinismHow do modern dystopic narratives evince how we are storytelling animals who need stories to help us survive and flourish? Wonder why we surround ourselves with stories? We devour a favorite book, our hearts pound watching a scary movie, and we delight in the telling of a good yarn. Our earliest memories revolve around make believe; we create/consume narratives our entire lives. Some say we are “wired” for it, but why? How do stories help us survive? This course examines Literary Darwinism, a theory built upon the concept STEAM (Arts within the framework of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Exploring evolutionary history through the juxtaposition of ancestral heritage and modern dystopic narratives, we’ll build intellectual STEAM, solidifying our place as the storytelling animal and proving why we can’t live without stories.Allison Walker
China RevealedWhat is the future of the youth in China?Students will explore the ideas and struggles youth in China today have been experiencing as they try to identify themselves as a new generation in comparison with the old generation, as China has been going through tremendous economic and social changes after the Open Door policy has been carried out. The course will involve an analysis of some historical events, such as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, their effects on modern China, as well as the events in modern China, such as the Open Door Policy, the One Child Policy, etc. Literary readings, Chinese films, documentaries, class discussions, presentations, research papers etc. are to be involved in this course. Four credit hours. Judy Danley
Speaking of SexHow ought we to understand notions of “sex” and “gender,” in examination of biological and an intellectually Christian perspectives? This course traces the influence of scientific, medical and religious texts on society’s binary views of sex and gender. Paying special attention to modern reification of sexuality and gender in a rigidly-fixed binary of male and female, we’ll consider how biologists and Christian intellectuals have spoken about gender and sexuality in various ways through history. The possibility that sex and gender exist on a continuum (ranging from masculine to feminine), and how that might change contemporary language, description, and approaches to non-typical gender and sexual expression, will be examined through student-centered analysis and discussion of primary scientific, medical and religious texts.Angela Bauer
Movies that Made a DifferenceWhat is the intersection between movies and societal change, and how should movies, if at all, make a difference?Cinema as aural and visual means of storytelling has a long rich history as both an art form and entertainer of the masses. In reaching its audiences, “movies“ often reflect on our societies, our cultures and the times in which we live. Such films can, in turn, impact the lives of audiences and/or society as a whole. This course takes the student on a journey of discovery by examining selected films that might have mattered in such ways and looks further into the why. Students develop a broader understanding of how film and society may intertwine, and examine how one may affect and create effect in the other. James Goodman
Chance, Data, and Decision MakingWhat is a fact?In a world awash in information, the ability to be a critical consumer of quantitative data is imperative. When faced with competing claims, how does a person decide which one is more plausible? This course seeks to understand how individuals’ notions of chance and data impact decisions in everyday life and in scientific research. Using real-life applications, we will develop methods for evaluating the quality of quantitative information. We will also examine the role of cognitive biases in decision-making. Lisa Carnell
Why is America Hungry? How ought America deal with the prevalent issue of chronic hunger at home?In this course we will examine food insecurity versus food security in the United States and how it affects quality of food choices. We will discuss ethical issues that occur with hunger and poverty in the United States such as eligibility requirements for food assistance and access to healthy food options. We will discuss the role food has in overall health and in our lives. We will also examine the chronic diseases that individuals put themselves at risk for when eating energy dense filling foods.Rosemarie Tarara
Love & Hate In CyberspaceHow has romantic life been shaped and redefined by technology, and what are its positive and negative impacts? This course examines the influence of technology on romantic relationships, specifically how romantic life has been shaped by electronic and/or computer-mediated methods (e.g., e-mail, Facebook, texting). Drawing on theory and research in social and personality psychology, we compare the dynamics which operate in electronically-mediated social relationships and interactions with those that occur when partners are face-to-face. Topics include interpersonal attraction, communication processes, impression formation, and relationship maintenance, as well as negative behaviors like cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying.Sadie Leder Elder
Samurai and Shamaness: How Traditions are MadeWhat is Tradition?What’s at stake when we say something is “traditional”? Calling something a “tradition” does many things: it suggests that the tradition has been continued in recognizably “the same” state over a given period of time; it implies that the tradition has the approval of part or all of a community; it can activate feelings of nostalgia for the past; it can justify, in some cases, the avoidance of practices that would run contrary to that tradition; and many other things besides. How do traditions arise, and how are traditions sustained? What does a community want from its traditions, and conversely what does a tradition want from the community in which it obtains? Using two case studies from Japanese history—the samurai and the shamaness—in this course we will consider what it means to say that a given practice is “traditional.” By interpreting creative works—medieval tales (monogatari), Noh plays, the jōruri (puppet theater), modern fiction, manga, and anime—in the light of critical essays about tradition, culture, and historiography, students in this course will examine how they themselves both shape and are shaped by the traditions in their lives.Beth Carter
Talking About Freedom: Civil Rights, Constitutional Culture and the First AmendmentWhat are the various ways to understand "freedom" in America?This course is also about race relations or, more specifically, how the struggle for black civil rights can act as a metaphor or model for anyone yearning to be free. Using the story of race relations in America as an organizing narrative, this course is intended to shed light on the larger story of America in surprising ways. It might surprise you to learn, for instance, that every significant juncture in the evolution of Constitutional law in America was triggered directly or indirectly by events related to race. And it might surprise you to learn that it is not judges on the bench but people working outside the courts – from politicians in Washington to activists at the local level, from lobbyists and business groups to journalists and legal scholars – who are the main drivers of change in constitutional law. They are the non-judicial actors who shape and re-shape America’s ever-evolving constitutional culture.Dean Smith
Biological Agents, Bio-Terror, and Quarantine How ought society make decisions when an outbreak occurs? And if necessary, should the few be sacrificed for the many? The First Year Seminar: Biological Agents, Bio-terror, and Quarantine is a course focused on the Big Question: How can society meet the needs of the many during an outbreak without sacrificing the needs of infected individuals in a quarantine? To begin to answer this question, students will explore the history, economic impact, medical outcomes/treatments, and ethical issues underlying biological agents capable of inflicting terror in the human populace.Todd Lyda


Dr. Matthew Brophy
Chair of First-Year-Seminars
(336) 841-9656