FSEM students

First Year Seminars provide a foundation for our students’ intellectual lives both inside and outside the classroom by helping them to develop critical thinking and communication skills and practices; to enculturate themselves within the Colleges’ intellectual and ethical values and practices; and to establish a strong network of relationships with peers and mentors on campus. The seminar topics vary each year, as do the professors who teach them, so the classroom discussions are always fresh and interesting.

Each Seminar is constructed around a different interest, like magic, social responsibility or country music, and Seminar classes are small – usually about 15 students – which helps students feel more comfortable in a new environment and allows the students and faculty members to develop close working relationships.

Below, you will find a list of the First-Year Seminars being offered during the fall semester. This year’s Seminars cover a wide-range of topics and disciplines, and we are sure you will find several that interest you. After you have looked over the list and identified the courses that you find appealing, log in to the Orientation website and complete the Academic Direction Task.

First-Year Seminars


FSEM 004 Outsider Women: Activists, Artists, and Outspoken Women in American Popular Culture, Elizabeth Belanger
"When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."- Audrey Lorde. This writing instructive class examines 'outsider women:' women who worked to expose and heal deep political, economic and social rifts in American society, especially over issues of gender and racial justice, through the lens of popular culture in 20th century. Looking at popular texts produced by and about women including film, music, propaganda, and popular periodicals we'll ask: What forms of pop culture have been specifically targeted at women? What kinds of fears or anxieties about women did pop culture elicit and how did Americans negotiate those anxieties? How have women resisted or co-opted the messages they have received? How have 'outsider' women attempt to resolve long-standing political, social and economic issues regarding gender and racial justice? The course takes an interdisciplinary perspective on the questions above using students own expertise as consumers of popular culture as an entryway for exploring the diverse roles popular culture has played in 20th century history. In doing so, this class will be a space for critical engagement and dialogue regarding how forms of popular culture resist, respond to, and reveal the conundrum of race, gender, and sexuality in the 20th century.

FSEM 010 Beyond the Straight and Narrow: Identifying Heteronormativity and Heterosexism, Brandon Barile
How did the United States come to terms with the concept of sexualities? How was sex conceptualized as behavior and transformed into how notions of roles and identity? Why does who we have sex with dictate what is normal, accepted, and granted power in the United States, in the workplace, and in other communities? This course highlights how notions of sex, gender, sexuality, and gender expression have been defined, normalized, criticized, and experienced within a variety of communities, and resisted via local, national, and global movements. Intersectionality of power, race, class, faith/no faith, and other difference is explored.

FSEM 011 Britpop: From the Beatles to Brexit, Robert Carson
Pop music, by definition, is music of the moment: it crystallizes a specific point in space and time and preserves it in three glorious minutes of song. In this class, we'll immerse ourselves deeply in the history of British pop music from World War II up to the present day—from Vera Lynn to Dua Lipa, from the Kinks to the Clash, from David Bowie to Harry Styles, from the Specials to Stormzy—and we'll use this remarkable playlist as a lens to examine how British culture has evolved over the past seventy-five years. British culture can sometimes feel accessible and familiar to Americans, but in other cases it can feel altogether foreign and impenetrable. By casting our imaginations overseas for a semester, we will engage in an in-depth conversation with a culture that is a close cousin to our own; and if all goes as planned, we will come to see American culture through fresh eyes as well.

FSEM 021 Class Matters, Renee Monson
I will use the concept of class as the organizing framework or prism through which we will explore social structure, culture, social institutions, and social inequality. My intent is to ensure that from here on out, whenever you want to get to know a new place or a new set of people, you will ask: "What is the class structure here, and how has it changed in the last thirty years? How does class shape the culture and the social rules that govern behavior here? How does class affect people's everyday lives here- their friendships, their work, their family life? How does class shape what is possible for the future of this place?"

FSEM 023 Monkeys, Morality, and the Mind, Greg Frost-Arnold
What am I? What can I know? Are my choices free? Is there any reason to be an ethical person? These are traditionally considered questions for philosophy, yet many recent scientific findings may influence how we answer them. In this seminar, we will consider the impact of contemporary science on philosophy and ask: What, if anything, does evolution have to do with morality? What do psychological findings about humans? Biases show about what (and how) we can know? Is the notion that humans have free will consistent with our current neuroscientific accounts of the brain? If human actions are highly dependent on situational/ contextual factors, as several recent psychological findings have shown, what does this reveal about my identity or personality? Typical Readings: Sommers, A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain; Appiah, Experiments in Ethics; de Waal, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved; and selections from Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Consciousness Studies.


FSEM 042 FSEM 042 Face to Face: Interrogating Race, James McCorkle
Do we live in a post-racial world or a new Jim Crow society? What are the legacies of slavery, segregation, and apartheid? What is meant by white privilege? How do we value human life and what are the ways of developing emancipatory movements? This course examines the parallel structures of segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa. The basic premise is that through the lens of another culture we can come to examine our own. The causes and effects of segregation and apartheid on contemporary race relations are the central focus. How race affects gender, class, and social spaces is explored throughout the readings.


FSEM 077 Metacognition and Social Justice: Learning, Thinking, and Knowing, Susan Pliner
This course answers these questions and serves two purposes. One is to introduce students to meta-cognition, reflective practice and self-assessment. Students will explore how the continual assessment of one's own process, knowledge, and critical questioning guides learning progress and development. Students will examine learning theory including, Bloom's taxonomy. Kratwohl's effective domains. Fink's taxonomy of significant learning. Kolb's learning cycle, and Perry's meta-cognition as a means of self-discovery in relationship to identity and foundational theories of social justice. The second purpose is to apply meta-cognitive techniques to exploring and investigating to foundational principles and theories of social justice rooted in civil rights social movements, within which concepts such as social justice, oppression and liberation are central categories for analyzing, evaluating and transforming interlocking systems of discriminatory institutional structures, cultural practices, and social behavior. Issues of power and powerlessness are central to the course as they illuminate how social arrangements are imagined, constructed, and challenged. Students will be introduced to key concepts, methodologies, and competencies connected to the field of social justice studies.

FSEM 078 Sustainable Living & Learning, Robinson Murphy
We are all consumers. We buy things. We use things up. We throw things away. Often we do all of this without considering the life cycle of these "things." Think about all the t-shirts you own. Do you know what materials make up your t-shirts? Moreover, do you know what was required to get these t-shirts to you in the first place? While these questions may seem to have simple answers, the reality is that each of the "things' we consume has a complex secret life of its own, one worthy of further consideration. This course will explore the complex relationship between sustainability and consumption, paying specific attention to the myriad ways in which individual consumption practices shape global outcomes.

FSEM 094 The History of Everything, Grant Holly
Did you know that it was not until 300,000 years after the "big bang" that light occurred, or that in the year 2000, the tenth largest economic entity in the world was Microsoft (Australia was thirteenth, to put things in prospective)? David Christian's Maps of Time is an example of a recent form of historiography called "big history," because it attempts to locate human beings from the perspective of much larger contexts than the traditional historical periods. Christian's book begins nanoseconds after the 'big bang," describes the development of the universe, the formation of our planet, the origins and evolution of life, including human life, and continues to trace human history through the origins of agriculture, the development of cities, states, and civilizations, the development of world religions, etc., up to globalization and the modern world, and then it peeks into future. What this course will do is to give us the opportunity to orient and seek to understand ourselves in relation to a variety of contexts from the cosmic to the global to the national and the local, contexts which, as Christian's book shows us, no matter how vast, or distant, or alien they may seem, create the patterns that play an intimate role in shaping our lives.

FSEM 112 Through the Lens: French and Francophone Cinema, Courtney Wells
This course will be an in-depth study of French film, from its invention by the Frères Lumières in the late 19th century to the present day. Through readings, research, in-class discussions, and group viewings, students will study the history of cinema in the French (and beyond), the fundamentals of the analysis of film, and the vocabulary necessary for discussing film. Films will be shown in French with English subtitles and classroom discussions will be held in English, along with any assignments, exams, presentations, etc. Because a film cannot be divorced from the particular linguistic, cultural, and historical setting in which it is made, this course will also focus on those parts of culture and history that are relevant to the films assigned.

FSEM 139 Mars!, Nan Crystal Arens
For centuries, Mars has fascinated astronomers, writers, artists, philosophers and geologists. Today, a whole new generation awaits results from the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, which is scheduled to touch down on the red planet in August 2012. More than any other planet, Mars seems familiar, but very different at the same time. We will use Earth as a model to explore these similarities and difference. In particular we will compare and contrast the planets' internal structures, tectonics, rock cycle, hydrological cycle, sedimentary processes, glacial processes, atmospheric evolution, history and potential for life-past and present. We will explore these topics through reading and writing in the primary scientific literatures, hands-on projects that will use data coming directly from Curiosity, individual research, and presentations. This is an exciting time for Mars exploration. It is possible that in the next few months we may have an answer to the question: Was there ever life on Mars? You can be part of that discovery.

FSEM 141 The Lens of Stand-up Comedy, Jamie MaKinster
It is one person in front of an audience with the goal of making others laugh. Yet stand-up comedy is so much more. Comedians force and challenge us to look at our lives, our communities, and society in ways that we may not yet have considered. Issues that relate to the dimensions of social class, racism, sexual orientation, gender identity, cultural reproduction, and the very nature of human existence are explored both implicitly and explicitly. This course will examine the role of stand-up comedy in the human experience, the ways in which different comedians present and leverage their own lives, and what we might learn through the attempts of others to make people laugh. Text and videos will serve as context for active exploration of a wide variety of issues and topics.

FSEM 144 Parched: Past, Present, and Future of Water Water, Tara Curtin
is a necessity of life. It is nature's ultimate paradox: the softest natural 'element' in both classical and eastern thought and yet one capable of overcoming all the others. Water is an agent of purification, healing, nourishment, and mechanical power. It is also an agent of destruction and devastation. Water is the most plentiful natural resource on Earth and yet a resource that increasingly proves unobtainable when humans seek and need it most. In the midst of global climate change, environmental crises for water resources and the political debates over water, we have come to the realization of our complete dependence on water. Students will examine and draw conclusions about the nature of humankind's encounter with water using maps, biographies, autobiographies, poems, movies, novels, and scholarly articles. Through lectures, class discussion, debates, short essays, blogging, and research papers, this course will provide students with the tools to explore how the environment naturally produces safe, clean drinking water; how humans obtain and use these water resources; water quality and water pollution; water treatment processes; energy generation; and how we can sustain our water resources in perpetuity.

FSEM 194 Japan: Ghosts, Demons & Monsters, James-Henry Holland
Godzilla. Pokémon. Films like "Spirited Away" or "The Ring." The ninja magic of Naruto. The shape-shifting demons of Inu Yasha. These are all examples of the Japanese supernatural, re-packaged for world consumption. But what does the American consumer miss out on when enjoying these Japanese tales? Why is occult lore such an important part of the expressive culture of Japan? What is the historical or religious basis of the "soft Power" of "Cool Japan"? What do we learn about Japan-and about ourselves-when we shiver to a well-told Japanese ghost story?


You'll notice that some of our Seminars are also part of a Learning Community, a distinctive living and learning environment that enhances the connections between courses and extracurricular events.

Learn more about Learning Communities.



Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.