First-Year Seminars are a critical part of the Common Course of Study, a co-requisite for other courses taken by students in their first semester, and a prerequisite for subsequent courses.

First Year Seminars are limited to around 16 students per section, the First-Year Seminar includes significant reading, writing, discussion, and presentation and is affiliated with the College Writing Program. Students in First-Year Seminars are introduced to the use of the library for research.

Students should select their top 5 First-Year Seminar courses in order of preference.

Students should understand that in case of a schedule conflict between a First-Year Seminar and a required major degree course, the major course will take precedence, and an alternate seminar option will be assigned.

Inside look at the First-Year Seminars

  • The program gives new college students the opportunity to think critically, write clearly, and contribute to thoughtful discussions.  Learn more.

FYS 17 Making Change Democratically

What does social change in a democracy look like? This course equips students with a framework for understanding how social change happens and allows them to identify issues in the local and regional communities surrounding the college that can be tackled through democratic action. Students will deepen their academic understanding while developing as informed, engaged, and effective civic agents. Professor Rizvi

FYS 18 Ten Ways to Know Nature

This class is a study of the different ways we interact with and thus know the natural environment. These ways include, among others, the scientific, technological, artistic, experience-based (hands-on), biographical, and religious; the forms of interaction follow from our lives as consumers, as eaters, and as thinkers, while we work, live, and play. The purpose of the course is to examine how those ways of interaction with nature influence how we know and then treat those environments. – Professor Cohen

FYS 20 Appalachia

The region of the Eastern U.S. known as Appalachia is defined by the geological characteristics of the Appalachian Mountains, but also can be characterized and described on the basis of the distinctive natural, historical, cultural, and economic characteristics of the region. It will be the goal of this course to develop the skills to recognize, understand, and evaluate and communicate the complex interrelationships among those factors that define and describe this region of the U.S.  Professor Husic

FYS 26 Plagues: Past & Present

From the Black Death to AIDS, epidemics have resulted in profound social and cultural change. Through an analysis of societies’ response to selected historical outbreaks, students will learn about epidemic diseases and the social transformations they caused. This seminar examines the ways in which different societies in different eras have responded in times of crisis. The class will also analyze contemporary pandemic preparedness policy and responses to recent health threats. – Professor Caslake

FYS 27  Death on Screens (2 Sections)

This course examines the intersections of death and screen media while introducing ways to read and respond to complex visual texts. What is death, according to cinema? How has visual media depicted mortality and how do these representations determine our collective understanding of death and dying? How do film, television and evolving digital platforms prescribe and teach audiences what to think about death? Ultimately, what does it mean to encounter and consume death on screens?  – Professor Andrew Smith

FYS 30 Pulp-It: How Paper Transformed the World

Americans use about six times more paper than the rest of the world. While paper is necessary and irreplaceable, misusing it can be destructive to the environment. How necessary is our extensive use of paper? What histories and necessities have precipitated our paper addiction, and why is it increasing? Through reading and writing about paper’s history, making our own paper and examining our own use of paper products, we will become more conscious of paper as a material and more mindful of how our use of paper impacts the environment. Professor Barbeito

FYS 37 I Cannot Live Without Books (or Liberal Arts)

Books have long been central to making and sharing knowledge, and colleges and universities have grown up around libraries and cultures of reading. How can a deeper understanding of the history of book production and use help us understand the idea of a liberal arts education? This course pursues these questions through research, creative projects, and especially hands-on work with Skillman Library’s rare books collection. – Professor Phillips

FYS 43 Charisma

Charisma, meaning “gift of grace,” denotes a deeply personal, yet anti-institutional type of authority, shared by certain cult leaders and revolutionaries, religious visionaries and political prophets, antinomians and avant garde artists. There is also the charisma of place and thing, from sacred shrines and objects, to famous art works and national monuments. The course will explore the meaning of charisma, with case studies in enthusiastic religion, political revolution, and antinomian avant garde art movements.  – Professor Schneiderman

FYS 47 Life Sciences: A Human Endeavor in the Misinformation Age

In the current age of rampant misinformation, how can we identify and understand legitimate research in the life sciences? How can we learn to distinguish among reliable information, propaganda, advertisements, and outright falsehoods?  We will explore various controversies and contemporary subjects in the life sciences, particularly those which involve the manipulation of scientific (or pseudoscientific) information as a means to deceive. The reading and writing assignments in this course explore how scientific knowledge is generated, tested, challenged, archived, reviewed, summarized, presented, discarded when necessary, and frequently abused along with the ethical issues associated with animal and human subjects research. Finally, we will also explore who scientists are in the 2020s with a goal of illuminating both the humanity and diversity of the people generating scientific knowledge and the limitations and challenges that they face.  – Professor Hines

FYS 049 Global Food

Foods are material substances that are deeply linked to human sustenance, to sociability, status and sensibility, as well as the sway of the senses-whether sparking desire or disgust. In this sense food intrinsically crosses borders and boundaries in at least two ways: first, food challenges us to adopt interdisciplinary approaches to material goods, considering them from different perspectives and adopting different lenses. Second, foods have always been mobile across the globe, shifting in form and meaning as they move between different settings; in this sense, by tracing the circulation of foods in time and space, we can explore a world of emergent sociocultural relations, seeing links between spheres of production, transport and consumption. – Professor Bissell

FYS 54 The Native Past in Lehigh Valley Public Memory

How does the violence of conquest shape how Americans see themselves today?  How has the Native American past been erased or otherwise altered in local places?  This course explores local sites of memory that inscribe a Native presence on the land, with a focus on the Lehigh Valley.  Which Native pasts have non-Natives recognized in public spaces?  Which pasts are erased or distorted?   What roles do these images of “the Indian” play in shaping how non-Native Americans see themselves and their sense of belonging to their new home?  In this course, we explore public sites of memory in the Lehigh Valley, including place names, burial grounds, museums, and historical markers, examining which stories these sites tell and which stories they erase.  We will conduct several field visits, writing field notes and preparing a class WordPress site compiling our results.  These collaborations include work with students taking a similar FYS at Muhlenberg College. – Professor Andrea Smith

FYS 56 Worlds in Cookbooks: A Sociocultural Approach

Cookbooks are much more than simple collections of recipes. When approached critically, they allow us to analyze patterns of daily life, domestic ideals and practices, and power relations in the societies that produced and consumed them. In this seminar, we will answer the following questions: 1) What is a cookbook? 2) What can cookbooks tell us (and not tell us) about the societies in which they circulated? 3) What subjects can cookbooks encourage us to (re)consider? In examining these questions, we will explore topics including cookbooks as biographies and domestic advice, as well as genres of cookbooks including ethnic, commercial, and community cookbooks. Therefore, in terms of content, the learning objective of this course is to broaden your understanding of scholarly sources by learning to unpack cookbooks as complex worthy of serious scholarly consideration. – Professor Luhrs

FYS 58   Invention

Youtubers. TikTokers. Podcasters. These are just a few of the names given to an emerging class of “celebrities” who make a living by sharing their creativity online. Much like famous inventors from history, contemporary content creators take advantage of new technologies to influence culture. But, are influencers inventors? Or, are they something different? This class considers what it means to be an inventor. By creating our own content, we will explore the nature of modern invention by attending to issues of creativity, authenticity, and work in digital environments.  – Professor Mitchell

FYS 59 Feed the World: Challenging Hunger

This course offers an interdisciplinary look at our food from planting to harvest, distribution and packing, to our tables. Emphasis on combining a social sciences perspective with an engineering human-centered design process to define and address problems of world hunger. Focus on investigation, problem definition, and project-based learning of issues related to global hunger.  –Professor Stewart-Gambino

FYS 061 Your Immune System: Friend or Foe

Your immune system is necessary for your survival, but it can also cause many different diseases. This course will shed light upon how your immune system can be both good and bad. We will cover a broad range of topics, including the way social, economic, and political factors influence our views of vaccines, allergies, autoimmune diseases and bacteria. – Professor Kurt

FYS 063 Jewish Humor

This course examines Jewish humor within the context of theories of humor and the comedic and as a window to Jewish culture. It explores examples of Jewish humor past and present in literature, film, television, skits, stand-up comics, cartoons, and jokes. It considers questions such as: What makes us laugh? What is distinctively Jewish about Jewish humor? How does American Jewish humor differ from older European Jewish humor and contemporary Israeli humor? Do you need to be Jewish to “get” it? How is Jewish humor like and unlike other ethnic, religious, or minority humor? How do stereotypes and self-deprecation figure in the humorous? How did humor function as a coping and survival mechanism in the Holocaust? – Professor Rice

FYS 064 Global Justice (2 sections)

While few people would deny that we have special, and sometimes quite demanding, obligations to help our friends, family, or even our fellow citizens, it is controversial whether we have these same kinds of obligations to complete strangers. The guiding question of this course will be what, if anything, do we owe such people? Three main topics will provide the focus of discussion: international economic inequality, climate change, and war. – Professor Jezzi

FYS 68 Mobilizing Science

Scientific research plays a critical role in the way societies overcome challenges and respond to crises. How do societies mobilize scientific activity in the face of such challenges? Who foots the bill? Who decides the priorities? The reading and writing assignments in this seminar will explore the complex interplay between different social forces that mobilize science toward specific ends and examine the moral and ethical quandaries scientists often face when deciding how and whether to participate in the resulting research effort. – Professor Thomas

FYS 69 Resistance is Life: Popular Culture & Politics

The phrase “resistance is life” echoed throughout the Middle East in various contexts, in support of the Kurdish People’s Protecting Units resisting ISIS at Kobane (Syria) in 2014. Popular culture has the capacity to take a resistance effort articulated on paper or in a speech and splash it onto a creative canvas that, then, spreads throughout communities. This course will look at popular culture in the Middle East as a means of propagating political resistance. – Professor Goshgarian

FYS 75 Technological Citizenship (2 Sections)

What is the social impact of new technologies? Who in society benefits and who is harmed by the rapid development of modern science and technology? How is scientific knowledge created, and how does the public engage with science and technology? This first year seminar examines the rights and responsibilities of technological citizenship by fostering inquiry into how technology is developed and distributed, and how technology and society interact with each other. Drawing on readings from science, engineering, and the social sciences, students will reflect on technology’s role in their lives and its relationship to human values. – Professor Rossmann

FYS 080 Creature: Animals in Contemporary Culture

Why are animals and “animality” becoming more frequent themes in recent literature, performance, and visual art? How is this trend to be understood in relation to global climate change, habitat loss, extinction, ecological ethics, and “pet” economies in contemporary culture? This course begins with a broad introduction to the ways animals have been theorized within our own (Western) intellectual tradition, engages major critical questions within animal philosophy in recent decades, and then applies these rubrics to contemporary texts, performances, and artworks that ask us to think about animals in provocative ways. – Professor Rohman

FYS 82 Staging Science, Playing Technology

“All the world’s a stage” and holds a mirror up to humanity in flux. Advances in science and technology create moral and ethical issues the theater acts out on stage. How does this most communal and public of art forms connect with the many individual selves that make up an audience? In this course, we may encounter questions without answers and problems without solutions, but we also will explore the ways theater can portray new challenges facing humanity in a live, shared space and in real time. – Professor O’Neill

FYS 87 Sustainable Cities

What is the “built environment” and how does it affect our lives? How has infrastructure both created and ameliorated inequities and injustice? Sometimes it makes our lives better (with access to clean water, for example), sometimes it is destructive (such as when highways are built through neighborhoods), and sometimes it is both at the same time. This course examines the bi-directional relationship between people and infrastructure – we shape our infrastructure and our infrastructure shapes us. Professor Sanford

FYS 102 Color: History of Making & Meaning 

Learn about the tantalizing history behind some of your favorite colors. Together we will travel to the lapis mines of Afghanistan in search of ultramarine blue and trek across the deserts of Mexico to find a tiny insect that fueled a global market in carmine red. We will study medieval recipes for pigments, read about the human cost and history of producing color, and discuss how this background impacts our understanding of material culture. This seminar will include hands-on instruction and assignments. – Professor Hupe

FYS 111 Social Justice and the Birth of the Interfaith Movement

Interfaith dialogue is fundamental to understanding the role of religion and spirituality in our increasingly globalized society. Understanding the significance of religious and spiritual traditions around the world through engagement in interfaith and interreligious dialogue is becoming a vibrant and integral part of a liberal arts curriculum. This first year seminar will explore social justice issues through the lens of the interfaith movement. Students will explore ways in which religious identity plays an integral role in other intersectional, social, and political identities. – Chaplain Hendrickson

FYS 116 Manipulation of Appearances

Social commentators lament an apparent new rise in dishonesty, the inauthentic” and “spin” in contemporary American society. Such critics are late to the party-individuals and institutions have manipulated appearances for their own ends for centuries. In this seminar we will ask: How do people manipulate appearances successfully? What are some consequences of rampant deception in everyday life? To explore those questions we will study theories of deception and impression management and analyze examples like deceptive advertising political spin and lying in social and work relationships.” Professor Shulman

FYS 117 Demonstrating Science

Scientific demonstrations are used in lectures, science museums, and television shows to explain scientific principles and inspire wonder about science. How important are such demonstrations to a true understanding of science? Is seeing believing? Is seeing understanding? In this course we will explore the science behind some popular demonstrations and consider the ways in which such demonstrations have educated, obfuscated, or inspired their audiences.  – Professor Boekelheide

FYS 136 Learning Science

Learning is central to our lives as students, professors, and citizens. This seminar will focus on the science of learning and how it is applied by individuals and institutions. Sources drawn from psychology, sociology, and other social sciences will inform our discussion of how you can improve your own academic performance and how institutions of higher education can support those goals. – Professor Talarico

FYS 138  Theatre and Social Justice

For thousands of years, the theater has both entertained and provided a forum in which social issues can be explored. This seminar will investigate, through readings and performances, how theater provides an immediate and strong voice to debate social and political problems. Students will have opportunities, through writing, discussion, and theatrical performance, to explore social and political issues and the ways in which dramatic works can inspire social change.  – Professor Lodge

FYS 141 Mathematics of Social Justice (2 Sections)

Alexander Hamilton said, “The first duty of society is justice.” Today there is vociferous argument about the prevalence of justice. To what degree is society just? Are there practical ways to make it more just? This course considers the importance of understanding data and applying mathematics to ask these questions and to explore meaningful answers. Using mathematics that everybody is taught, we’ll try to make sense out of conflicting opinions, so as to discover the importance of quantitative literacy for all citizens in a democracy. – Professor Root

FYS 143 Coffee

Coffee has a ubiquitous and somewhat unique role in our society. While some tend to think of it merely as a vehicle for caffeine, it is also the basis on which cafe culture originated and exists, a highly-traded commodity crop with huge economic impacts and worldwide sourcing, and a finely-calibrated culinary subfield that draws on myriad engineering and chemical approaches to generate wildly different sensory experiences. The sheer level of integration of coffee into every aspect of our lives makes it a highly suitable interdisciplinary topic to consider and explore. This course aims to train students in information literacy via the investigation of coffee from several scholarly angles: a social approach, where students ask themselves (and others) the values and importance of the ritualistic nature of coffee and how it fits into their everyday lives; a scientific approach, where different flavor and texture experiences are explored; an engineering approach, where aspects of a coffee extraction are modulated to yield vastly different results; and finally, a humanist approach, which ties together what they have observed over the semester, and asks them to express their ideas of what defines a positive coffee experience.  – Professor Woo

FYS 150 A Plastic World (2 Sections)

Plastic: Greatest technological advance of the 20th century or ecological scourge? Plastics, or polymer, are so pervasive in our everyday lives that their use and disposal often are taken for granted. As a result, their environmental impact is scrutinized heavily. In this course, we will discuss the science, history, pop culture, and social impact of this controversial material. Most importantly, we will think critically about the future of plastics in the context of environmental concerns. – Professor Van Horn

FYS 158 Nonviolence: Theory and Practice

This course explores both the theoretical development of nonviolence and the practice of nonviolence as a means for waging and resolving conflict. Using the examples of Mohandas Gandhi and India’s independence movement, the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, the power of music in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, as well as the personal testimonies of individuals and various groups pursuing nonviolent change in the Lehigh Valley, this course explores the principles of nonviolence in action. – Professor Fabian

FYS 161 Songwriter’s Voice

In this course we will examine songs and songwriters with an eye/ear for how music and lyrics come together to create songs of social relevance.  We will see how songwriters like Bob Dylan, Dar Williams, Beyoncé, and Kendrick Lamar use music to impart important social issues to their listeners.  We’ll look at song lyrics and music, as well as learn from visiting artists, to gain a deeper understanding of how music and lyrics can come together to create songs that matter.  Students will also have the opportunity to try their own hand at songwriting, either individually or collaboratively.– Professor Torres

FYS 162 Music in European Society

The course does not assume knowledge of music on the students’ part; nor does it require that they master notation or become conversant with musical analysis. Rather, the course examines developments in European history that have left their traces in the music. It relates music to developments in European culture and explains the distinctive characteristics of the music of a period in relation to those larger developments that underlie its cultural productivity.– Professor Cummings

FYS 169 The 1960s:  The Causes and Effects of Social Change

The Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movement, the Space Race, and, of course, Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll…Through an examination of written and oral histories, documentary film, the poetry, music and visual arts of the Sixties, students will explore the underlying causes for change during the nation’s most tumultuous decades. In addition to the causes, students will determine for themselves the influences that the 1960s have had on the present day. – Professor Newman

FYS 173 Latinx

Popular media from the news to film is filled with references to Latinos and Latinas, but what do we really know about them? This course explores the Latinization of the United States, highlighting the social, demographic and cultural forces that have shaped Latino/a experiences in recent decades. Specific course content includes social scientific studies of Latino/a immigration and community formation, and representations of and by Latinos/as in novels, essays, TV and movies.  – Professor Donnell

FYS 179 Leveraging Social Entrepreneurship (2 Sections)

Market-based social entrepreneurship as an approach to addressing poverty, unfreedoms and the lack of localized agency among the poor in economic development has seen a rise in prominence. This is often attributed to the failures of national governments, multi-lateral agencies, and conventional philanthropy to respond dynamically to the challenges posed by changing global and technology landscapes. These failures also reflect a reliance on an outmoded development paradigm that is both inattentive and unresponsive to the modern needs of income poor people to be primary owners of their development experiences, a possibility made more realistic because of globalization and technological change. In essence, as first noted by Adam Smith and reported in Amarta Sen, freedom of exchange and transaction is in itself part and parcel of the basic liberties that people have to celebrate, and as Sen himself points out, “the freedom to participate in economic interchange has a basic role in social living.”  – Professor Hutchinson

FYS 195 Russia Today (2 Sections)

“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” is how Winston Churchill famously described Russia. Decades later, after the Cold War and amidst the resurgence of Russia’s influence on the world stage, this FYS asks the question: what is Russia today? Taking into account conservative and liberal currents, we will study mass media, contemporary literature and cinema, and activism under Putin with an eye to challenging our assumptions about Russian culture, identity, and history. – Professor Sanborn

FYS 196 Exploring Chinese Culture

What does it mean to be Chinese? What are some central aspects of Chinese culture? How do the traditional values and beliefs continue to shape contemporary China? Through a combination of lectures, discussions, and cultural events, this seminar will provide the students with a grasp of significant cultural achievements in China and the critical vocabulary that is essential to discuss and analyze Chinese culture and related issues in an intelligent and informed manner. – Professor Luo

FYS 197 Deconstructing “Africa”

This first year seminar addresses popular images of the African continent with the intention of getting beyond media stereotypes of poverty, hunger, and ethnic conflict. It tackles these problematic ideas by reading African novels and watching African films in order to better grasp how writers and artists from across the continent have imagined “Africa.” Classic works by Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Bessie Head, J. M. Coetzee, and Chimamanda Adichie will be assigned, as well as films by Ousmane Sembène, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and Mati Diop. Students will have weekly writing assignments as well as a research paper to gather their reflections and develop critical analytic skills which they can apply to future coursework.  – Professor Christopher Lee