First-year Seminar Descriptions

After reading the descriptions below, please return to the Advising Questionnaire to list which seminars interest you the most. For an explanation of the ESP general education codes at the end of each description, please refer to the Education through Skills and Perspectives link. Please note that the meeting time for all seminars is Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30-12:00.

Analyzing Pop Culture (4 credits)

In this class, we will examine the nature and importance of popular culture. We will look at historical development of popular culture and focus on its creation through mass media. We will analyze media texts (e.g. TV shows, music, films) and their meanings and then examine our media consumption and responses to those texts. We will learn to interpret, evaluate and critique modern popular culture drawing on academic research, theories, and argument-building process. The course hopes to examine popular culture by encouraging students to create their own critique of the culture. For example, students will be asked to present their own academic argument on the pop culture that is based on the rigorous process of academic research and argument building. Most importantly, we will be focusing on the structure of academic problem solving. We emphasize the importance of the structure that involves asking a question/stating the premise, making a response while supporting the evidence, and finally reaching a conclusion. (r)

Instructor: Professor Bratic  |  Student Success Leader: Victoria West


Biff! Bam! Kapow!: The Philosophy of Superheroes (4 credits)

Have you ever found yourself chasing after a runaway bus full of schoolchildren while your evil arch-nemesis threatens the life of your beloved by dangling her from a rooftop? If so, you just might be a superhero. In this class, we’ll consider thorny philosophical questions by looking at how they arise in the lives of superheroes. We’ll scour comic books, TV shows and movies to find stories of superheroes that address questions of good and evil, moral responsibility, personal identity, the relationship between the individual and the state, human nature, and what it takes to be a superhero. We’ll learn how these questions also apply to the lives of ordinary individuals, and we will explore special bonus content: Supervillains! (f, x, r)

Instructor: Professor Gettings  |  Student Success Leader: Rory Keeley

Consuming French Culture (4 credits)

Food is a window into the culture and values of any society, and for the French, food and culture are inseparable. Their passion for food is reflected in literary works and in luminous paintings which record an appetite for life, food and conviviality. Whether whipping up a savory quiche or creating a canard en croûte, the French are feverishly passionate about their food. What was French cuisine like before bœuf bourguignon, coq au vin and molecular cuisine? We explore the idea and reality of French cuisine through critical reflection on menus, recipes, cookbooks, cooking shows, restaurant guides, culinary history, film, cooking and tasting. The goal of this seminar is to develop a cultural perspective on the French connection to food, on the socio-economic conditions that made cuisine French, and on recent food issues. What is the French paradox? Is French baguette dying? Is French cuisine losing the race for excellence? Who are the celebrated women chefs in France today? We examine France’s complex relationship to food and the enduring importance of the culinary in French culture. Discover how terroir, the geographical characteristics of an area, or as a food critic once said, “location, location, location” contributes to the cuisine of each region. This class is a virtual (alas!) gastronomical excursion across France and a celebration of the French culinary landscape; however, we will cook and eat together and hopefully plant our own vegetables or herbs! (o, r)

Instructor: Professor Sampon-Nicolas  |  Student Success Leader: Brenna Rivett

Earliest Christianity (4 credits)

This seminar examines the earliest history of Christianity, from its origins as a small, persecuted religion in first century Palestine to its acceptance by the Roman state in the reign of Constantine. The seminar begins with an attempt to understand Jesus—and the writings about Jesus—in their historical context: What can we know about Jesus, his followers, and their beliefs? How did these beliefs become codified into Christian orthodoxy, and what beliefs (and scriptures) were rejected? How did the early Christians create an organized framework for their beliefs—a church—and how did they codify what it meant to be a Christian? (f, x, r, PRE)

Instructor: Professor Leedom  |  Student Success Leader: Morgan Blalock

Games, Puzzles and Logic (4 credits)

Games, puzzles and logic provide us with much pleasure and enjoyment. In this seminar, we will analyze problem solving strategies and determine which games do and do not have winning strategies. We will consider games and puzzles of Martin Gardner (his puzzles appeared in Scientific American for 30 years), Sam Lloyd (Game of 15) and Raymond Smullyan (Knights and Knaves), as well as present day board games (Blokus), card games (Set, Blackjack), and newspaper favorites (e.g. Sudoku, Kakuro, and Cryptograms). Along the way, we will work at strengthening our problem-solving abilities and learning how the analysis of puzzles and games can lead us to important ideas in logic, mathematics, and brain development. Come and join the fun! (o, r)

Instructor: Professor Diefenderfer  |  Student Success Leader: Shannon Ciccarello

Mothers and Daughters in Literature and Film (4 credits)

The mother-daughter relationship, whether it is a simple, loving one, or one comprised of a more complicated mixture of emotions, is typically central to a woman’s life. In this course, we will explore how this relationship has been depicted in literature, as well as in several films. A close reading of the selected literature, and a close viewing of the films, will generate the foundation for student discussions and writing. (f, x, r, AES)

Instructor: Professor Poliner  |  Student Success Leader: Mandy Moore

Organic Filmmaking (4 credits)

When thinking of the term “organic” one might envision natural food or something to study in biology. Curiously, if you scroll down the Oxford English Dictionary definition to section 6.d. you will find that “organic” is also defined as “Designating a work of art in which the parts seem naturally or necessarily coordinated into the whole.” Filmmakers sometimes embrace this term as a process or methodology that captures and presents their subject matter in an almost instinctive way. Students will produce two film projects in class that incorporate this “organic” approach to the art of filmmaking. Course work will consist of film and video shooting assignments, research techniques, oral presentations, critique sessions and screenings. $50 Lab fee required. (o, r, CRE)

Instructor: Professor Gerber-Stroh  |  Student Success Leader: Caileigh Bravo

(The) Passion for Power and the Power of Passion (4 credits)

Power and passion are forces that have led human beings to act in extreme and extraordinary ways throughout history. While the feats of powerful and passionate men abound in the annals of history, many of the women whose actions are no less impressive have been written out of the so-called “official story.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in patriarchal and third-world societies where women who have had a thirst for power or who have overstepped the rules for passion have been silenced, ostracized, imprisoned, or killed. This course will focus on a number of extraordinary women in Latin America who have, without receiving due credit, changed the course of history with their passion for life, love, and power.

  • Did you know that there was at least one female conquistador? Inés Suárez, lover of conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, was feared by the indigenous tribes of Chile for her fierceness in battle and loved by her people for her commitment to building a nation based on freedom and equality.
  • Or, did you know that behind Simón Bolívar was a fiery and passionate woman named Manuela Sáenz? She has been all but written out of the history books because of her outrageous lifestyle, but her actions led her to being named the Liberatress of the Liberator for having saved Bolívar’s life on more than one occasion.
  • Have you ever heard of Camila O’Gorman? Her love affair with a parish priest led to the ultimate downfall of the Argentine dictator Manuel de Rosas.
  • You have all heard of Evita Perón, but did you know that her passion for power continues to influence people from beyond the grave?

In this course, you will learn about these extraordinary women and many others who, through strength of character, have managed to live freely and defy the rules of their day. We will study their lives through novels, movies, articles, and music. Do you have what it takes to become a passionate and powerful woman? You do not need to have studied Spanish to take this seminar. Open to anyone who is intrigued by power and passion! If you thought the women on Wisteria Lane were powerful or the doctors of Seattle Grace Hospital were passionate, just wait until you meet the women of Power and Passion! (f, x, r, GLO)

Instructor: Professor Ridley  |  Student Success Leader: Pavithra Suresh

Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness (4 credits)

In this course, students will explore the field of positive psychology – the scientific study of strengths and virtues. Rather than starting from mental illness, positive psychology begins at mental wellness, focusing on factors that help individuals thrive. It uses scientific studies, validated tests, and interventions with demonstrated effectiveness. In this course, students will learn about various aspects of happiness and factors that contribute to these aspects. Students will reflect on these principles in their own lives and learn skills for enhancing their own positive experience that they can use in college and beyond. Students will also gain an understanding of psychological research methods and contemporary research findings on positive psychology. (f, x, r)

Instructor: Professor Pempek  |  Student Success Leader: Emily Dodson

Stitched and Bound: Explorations in Papermaking and Books (4 credits)

Paper and books, which we often take for granted, have a rich history and wealth of creative potential for artists today. In this seminar, we will have the hands-on experience of making paper and learning how to bind books while also exploring the role of both in other cultures and in the artists’ hands. We will look at rare books in the library and talk about how format transforms and creates meaning. This is a class for folks not afraid of rulers, sewing needles, and getting your feet wet! (r)

Instructor: Professor Anderson  |  Student Success Leader: Kyri Lorenz

Taking the Crooked Road Through Virginia’s Musical Heritage (4 credits)

“Taking the crooked road” is a phrase for playing a particular type of fiddle melody. These tunes are thought to be among the oldest in Appalachia. The tunes are surprising, breaking the “rules” of musical composition. In recent times, The Crooked Road refers to a stretch of highway that connects the Blue Ridge Mountains to the coal fields of the Cumberland Mountains. The music along this road speaks of every aspect of mountain life – coal mining, farming, dancing, describing love and loss, recounting the Civil War, enduring poverty, building railroads and expressing spirituality and faith. We will explore this heritage through in-class lectures and research projects and by traveling on the Crooked Road to attend live performances, visit instrument makers and interview musicians. (o, r, AES)

Instructor: Professor Krause  |  Student Success Leader: Deborah Rogers

Women/Bodies/Voices (4 credits)

This class works from the premise that “knowledge is power” to the conclusion that self-knowledge leads to personal and community empowerment. Reading from a feminist perspective, we’ll think about how literature helps us better understand ourselves and our communities. Course texts include fairy tales, stories, essays, and novels by authors such as Margaret Atwood, Eve Ensler, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Barbara Kingsolver, Robin McKinley, and Peggy Vincent. This is a seminar for women who love to read and write, who are interested in learning more about how the physical intersects with the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, and who are open to thinking about the ways they are shaped by and can shape their communities. Students will develop their skills as writers and thinkers, participate in experiential workshops, and become part of a community of women committed to supporting and challenging each other. (f, x, r, AES)

Instructor: Professor Pfeiffer  |  Student Success Leader: Lydia Price