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 18 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.

Fall 2024 Available FYS Courses


FYS 010 Anitsemitism and Racism

This course will examine the roles of images and ideas about how to see and who can see in antisemitism and racism. We will read about the history of how antisemitic and racist images came to be depicted as a part of American religion as well as how vision and visual culture have been described and pictured in antisemitic and racist propaganda. We will think about how graphic novels offer the possibility to respond to antisemitism and racism because the medium responds to this construction of our sight and expectations about how seeing influences what we can know with our senses.

FYS 017 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 learn how to connect academic skills with developing as informed, engaged, and effective civic agents.

FYS 025 Futbol: the Beautiful Game

In addition to offering mass entertainment, soccer has been used as a government propaganda machine, is the pillar of multi-billion-dollar enterprises, and has led to wars and questionable social behaviors. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore how soccer is more than just a game. Drawing on readings from sociology, economics, and politics, we will look at soccer as a sport, a form of entertainment, a tool for oppressive regimes, a form of collective identity, and a major force for social change.

FYS 026 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.

FYS 033 Gambling

In this FYS, we will interrogate the mechanisms of gambling and the games that are played while we focus on the benefits and costs of gambling, including those social, economic, and psychological. The role of technology, the ubiquity of mobile gambling, and analyses of government-run lotteries are just some of many course topics that will inform discussions around the motivating question of the course: is the proliferation of gambling good for society? Students must be at least 18 years of age by the start of the course.

FYS 036 Trials of the Century

This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the “Trials of the Century” that have captivated the general public’s attention because of the highly controversial issues they raised, the publicity they received, and the decisions that resulted. By examining these great trials, using political, historical and legal academic lenses, we will refine our critical analytical skills and better understand both our legal and political systems, and the resulting changes in law and society.  

FYS 047 Life Science: 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.

FYS 052 Weaponized Media

Social media sites have become the most powerful distributors of information in human history. They’ve become not only sites of connection and friendship but also of power struggles and violence. This course will consider how malicious actors have weaponized media to change the outcomes of elections, facilitate genocide, and spread conspiracy theories. We will focus on the methods used to exploit social media and on the consequences such exploitation has for the nature of truth.

FYS 057 Politics and Polling

DWe will study the history and the science of polling. Polling became popular in the early 20th century, with spectacular successes in marketing and politics. But low response rates present significant challenges for pollsters in the 21st century. Questions we will consider include: How are polls conducted? Do polls measure public opinion or do they influence public opinion? Are some groups of people “more important” to survey? We will learn to study the science, the history and the future of polling in advance of the 2016 presidential election.

FYS 059 Feeding 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.

FYS 069 Popular Culture and Political Resistance in the Middle East

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.

FYS 075 Technological Citizenship 

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.

FYS 078 Monsters & Monstrosities

From the Manananggal of the Philippines to Japanese Oni and Algonquian Wendigo, monsters have enchanted societies worldwide. Their elusive nature defies easy categorization, embodying a blend of forms and attributes. Are they manifestations of primal fears or reflections of the human psyche? Monsters disrupt societal norms, challenging perceptions of “normalcy” and reflecting divine wonders or dreaded curses. They defy societal conventions, prompting reflection on hidden truths and anxieties. Through interdisciplinary studies, students will analyze folklore, literature, and cultural contexts to unravel the complexities of monstrous imagery, while delving into the intriguing world of non-Western monsters and honing critical thinking and scholarly skills through immersive writing and discussion.

FYS 087 Sustainable Cities: Urban Infrastructure and Equity

Civil infrastructure (also known as “the built environment”) undergirds every aspect of our lives. However, the relationship between people and infrastructure is bi-directional- we shape our infrastructure and our infrastructure shapes us. Sometimes it is destructive (for example in urban renewal) and sometimes it is more synergistic. This course helps students develop a framework for understanding these relationships and prepares them to engage in public discourse around civil infrastructure.

FYS 099 The Way of Eating: Food in World Culture

Food, among the most inclusive, convivial products, transcends political and cultural boundaries, yet it is also a social divider due to diverse dietary laws and taboos. Focusing on the bipolar role of food, this course introduces strategies to probe metaphors of eating, culinary cultures, material substances, diet practices and prohibition, food rituals and arts, and eating etiquettes as they relate to important topics such as faith, ethics, body politics, health and healing, gender, and globalization.

FYS 100 Minding Animals

Birds who plan ahead? Fish who recognize themselves in mirrors? Octopuses who excel at complex tasks? Rats who love being tickled? New findings in the science of animal cognition are challenging traditional understandings of animals and human exceptionalism. In light of these findings, how do we think about animals, and how should we? Looking at representations of animal cognition from the humanities, and social and natural sciences, this FYS explores the ever-narrowing gap between us and them.

FYS 109 Understanding Design

We are surrounded by spaces and objects that were designed to serve one or more purposes, but not all designs are successful. By learning about what makes the design of a space or object successful and by looking closely at the designs we encounter, we can gain a new understanding and appreciation for the ordinary and extraordinary objects and places in our lives. In this seminar course, students use sketching, writing, reading, and discussion to develop their ability to observe, describe, and evaluate the designs we encounter in our everyday lives.

FYS 110 Hocus Pocus

There are few figures in global cultures as ubiquitous, and complicated, as “the witch.” In this course, we will examine imagery of and rhetoric relating to witches that have been engaged to suit particular historical, geographical, social, and political contexts. We will focus on how the figure of “the witch” has been shaped and reshaped by looking at historical and fictional representations of witches.

FYS 121 Desire and Punishment

What are the mechanisms and ethics of desiring? Who deserves punishment and who deserves reward? Furthermore, what does this tell us about the hierarchy of the “human”? This course moves through a variety of literary and cultural texts about love, eros, humiliation, rage, intimacy, and loss. Students will be expected to read, engage, and mobilize a range of theoretical concepts while also experimenting with how those concepts play out in film, philosophy, and literature.

FYS 123 Looking Within: Understanding Ourselves and Others Through Design

In this seminar, students will explore the role of individual differences such as race, gender, and disabilities, in the design of everyday things. Through readings drawn from fields such as psychology and guided by reflective writing assignments, students will investigate the effects of their own individual differences on their decisions as designers and problem-solvers. Students will also study the effects of the users’ individual differences on their experiences when engaging with designs. The seminar will set students on a journey toward understanding themselves and others through design while developing essential reading and writing skills.

FYS 127 Self and Other in Historical Asian Thought

This course follows the path of ideas about the self and society outside Western textual traditions. Focusing on exchanges of ideas in selected Asian traditions, we will consider diverse ways of thinking about our own identities and how they relate to our social lives. Along the way, we will hopefully also come to question some of the assumptions we have about who we are and how social life works.

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.

FYS 137 Not that Kind of Model

Our understanding of the modern world, and how we operate in and experience it, is influenced by models. They are used for everything from sending probes to Jupiter, predict the weather/COVID spread, decide who gets a loan/parole, assess competing climate change mitigation strategies, to make people waste more time on social media. Here, you will work to develop an understanding of what these models are, how they work, and the benefits/costs/risks associated with their use.

FYS 138 Theater 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.

FYS 139 How to Tell a Story Using Pictures

The purpose of this class is to provide students with skills, practice and exposure to telling stories outside of traditional modes. For example: when we think about storytelling we often think about texts that follow plots. In “How to tell a story using pictures” we will use images and sound to construct stories that may function intuitively, non-linearly or emotionally. Students will make/construct stories using photography, sound and VR technology to explore alternatives to text-based storytelling. We will look at multiple types of sources that include film, video art, photography, sound art and picture books.

FYS 141 Mathematics of Social Justice 

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. 

FYS 153 Designer Genes: The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing

Scientists have developed tools to directly manipulate DNA, but should we use them? In this FYS, we will examine the history of attempts at genetic modification leading up to the technologies available today. We will work along the way to separate fact from fiction in the public discourse on this topic and explore the broad range of considerations beyond just the science going into decisions about where to draw the line on allowable genetic modifications.

FYS 161 The 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, Bob Marley, Dar Williams, 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.

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.

FYS 168 Playing and Being Played

This FYS engages with Table-Top Role-Playing Games, employing critical and semiotic analysis, to evaluate varied systems of play, analyze their visual cultures, and understand them as vehicles for narrative world building, character development, and collaborative storytelling. Writing assignments and exercises will focus on expressions of social constructs within the framework of these games, as well as how participants “unpack” and “deconstruct” the visual and rhetorical elements of the worlds, characters, and stories they produce.

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. 

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.

FYS 179 Alleviating Poverty

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.”  

FYS 180 From Fred Rogers to Taylor Swift: The Influence of America’s Public Theologians

“Breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out.” ~ Taylor Swift. “You are loved just the way you are.” ~ Fred Rogers. Public figures like Taylor Swift and Mister Rogers, are people who help to embody, identify, and evaluate how theological traditions often influence public narratives. While such figures typically are not professional theologians, they can be understood as “public theologians,” i.e., celebrities, media personalities, activists, and artists whose work engages significantly with a wide variety of spiritual, religious, and ethical themes. Students in this course will consider how public theology and the work of public theologians shape culture and policy in the United States. Students will analyze and critique how public theologians call upon communal resources, insights and values to contribute to the welfare of society.

FYS 189 Silk Road and Sea Routes

From the 2nd c. BCE to the 15th c. CE, the Eurasian continent was profoundly transformed by the “Silk Roads,” a series of overland and maritime trade routes stretching between China and Rome. This course will explore not only the exotic goods that were traded, including silk, porcelain, gold, and even horses, but also the transmission of religious beliefs (Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity), artistic and musical practices, and technologies between peoples of vastly different cultures.

FYS 195 Russia Today Through Fiction and Film

 “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” This is how Churchill described Russia a century ago. In our own time and in a new era of Russian aggression, this seminar immerses students in the world of Russian culture, history, and politics through critical analysis of its internationally acclaimed fiction and cinema. How has the Putin era challenged, reshaped, and coopted what for some is Russia’s most important export: its culture? 

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? Tailored for students with limited exposure to Chinese culture, 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.