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A Common Experience for All Undergraduates

Spark Seminars Fall 2019

The following Spark Seminars will be offered during Fall 2019.

Students will be able to enroll in one of these seminars to fulfill the SPARK General Education Requirement. *For first year students beginning Fall 2018. (Updated 07/24/19)

Agnotology: An Anthology

Taught by: Christa Fraser

Agnotology, or the study of ignorance and doubt, is a dive into the realm of antiknowledge, unknowledge, and skepticism. In this course, we will examine historical and contemporary news and literary sources for evidence of ignorance, anti-intellectualism, miseducation, and doubt--whether unintentional, intentional, willful, or induced, particularly in the United States. The course will provide a survey of historical and contemporary anti-intellectual and miseducation movements and moments. The course will also investigate agnotology as both a discipline and as a way to investigate the sociocultural currency and context of knowledge and lack of knowledge. In the course, students will learn how to generate research questions related to depictions and manifestations of ignorance and miseducation in folklore, mythology, fiction, nonfiction, art, religion, and news media. The class will look at case studies illuminating the dynamics of ignorance and doubt, beginning with Plato's Allegory of the Cave and moving into fake news and contemporary spreading of misinformation and disinformation via the internet and social media campaigns. Examples of anti-intellectual case studies are the anti-vaxxer movements, the Flat Earth Society, climate change deniers, and the Sokal Hoax, among other examples.

Archaeology in Popular Culture

Taught by: Holley Moyes

This course in the field of archaeology interfaces with science, history, and popular culture. The goal is to encourage critical thinking and teach you the social context of the discipline of archaeology. It incorporates components of reading, writing, and basic research and library skills. It will examine how archaeology is presented to the general public, explore the myths about archaeology and archaeologists, and contrast these popular constructs with archaeological realities. It provides an overview of archaeological epistemologies including basic archaeological history, theories, methods, and practices including the ways in which data are recognized, recovered, analyzed, interpreted, and presented. By taking this approach, the course seeks to encourage better consumers of not just archaeological media but of all media by teaching critical thinking skills. You analyze public representations by evaluating the sender, the media, and the message. The course also encourages an appreciation of historic preservation efforts and hopes to instill in you a proprietary sense so that you will take a proactive stance in the stewardship of the faint, fragile and irreplaceable archaeological record.

Art of Buddhism

Taught by: Karl Ryavec

This seminar examines the main themes in Buddhist art that was created across Asian cultures from its birthplace in South Asia to Southeast and East Asia. The main focus will be on classic depictions of the Buddha and related persons and deities during the Classical to Medieval periods, such as in statues and paintings. Short weekly essays will be required on students’ interpretation of how Buddhist art related to its historical and social context, and the cultural landscapes where it was produced. Class discussions will revolve around the weekly readings. The main goal of the seminar is to introduce freshman to the importance attached to discussing and writing in academia, and to help students develop and improve their own writing styles through feedback on the weekly essays.

Belief in Conspiracy Theories

Taught by: Stephen Nicholson

In this seminar, we examine why people believe in conspiracy theories and misinformation. We ask why people hold and/or spread conspiratorial beliefs, who is most likely to hold such beliefs, and why people persist in maintaining these beliefs even when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Lastly, we ask what, if any, are the consequences of holding conspiratorial beliefs. The seminar will approach these questions drawing on research from political science and psychology.

Central Valley Stories

Taught by: Christa Fraser

Becoming acquainted with the diverse communities in the Central Valley can help develop an appreciation of the rich history of the area and an understanding of the differences within the broader communities. Likewise, helping others tell their stories can create a sense of empowerment in a community. This seminar will help students engage Central Valley residents in telling their stories. Students will work in collaboration to choose a community and interview community members. Then, students will write research journals, develop character sketches, and create a creative response to what they learned about the community members they interviewed.

Community Mapping

Taught by: Mary Soltis

A key to understanding the intricacies of any community happens through exploration and interaction. In this seminar, students will have opportunities to interact with community members through Community Mapping, an inquiry-based method of collecting, analyzing, and understanding resources and artifacts within a chosen community. Students will become “mappers” to discover, gather, and analyze a variety of resources in a specific geographic location while developing a new understanding of the cultural practices and those resources that make up the community. Students will learn and use various mapping techniques, and in collaboration with community partners, will develop research questions within their field of study to better understand the challenges that communities experience.

Computers and Education

Taught by: Angelo Kyrilov

This seminar will explore different issues related to the use of computational technology in the instructional process. We will survey existing literature to learn how instructors from different disciplines use computers in their classrooms to improve their teaching, and explore the effects this technology has on things like student performance and motivation. Each student will identify a research question from their own field and develop the proper research methods to answer it. This will involve writing a research proposal in the early stages of the seminar, and producing a research report by the end.

Confronting the Urban Century

Taught by: Tommy Tran

By the middle of this century, the majority of the world's population will be living in urban or urbanizing regions for the first time in world history. Aside from serious environmental fallout, which we are already experiencing in the form of air pollution and water and soil contamination, the demographic shift brings many new uncomfortable realities such as heightened economic inequality and rising social tensions. How are we to prepare ourselves for this new reality and confront the many challenges that will come in the next few decades? How can we develop our own creative solutions to address the failures of urban development? What kind of cities do we want to live in? This introduces students to the various interdisciplinary possibilities for studying and researching cities from traditional archival and library research to more recent applications of historical scholarship, cultural geography, GIS (geographic information systems), and urban studies. This course also invites students of all backgrounds to consider how to best use their own experiences and majors to contribute to the ongoing urban debates.

Creating Change with Ethnography

Taught by: Tea Lempiala

In this seminar, you will explore with conducting ethnographic studies and observing real-life situations in an analytical manner. Through this exploration, as well as course materials and discussion, you will gain insight into what kind of value ethnographic methods can offer in various disciplines. Ethnography refers to the systematic study of culture and people. The primary goal of ethnography is to understand why things are done the way they are, and what social rules human behavior follows. While conducting ethnography the researcher aims to “make the familiar strange”, which means that s/he questions the taken for granted rules of our social life. Ethnography has its roots in anthropological studies, but ethnographic methods are nowadays used in various disciplines, such as organization studies, technology studies, and consumer research. We will particularly think about applying ethnographic methods to research questions related to innovation, sustainability and technology, while all disciplines are welcome. During the seminar, students choose an issue they are passionate about and conduct an ethnographic research project on that topic. The aim is to challenge some relevant assumptions in that topic area, and to come up with novel perspectives and solutions to a current problem found in that domain. More generally, we will think about how ethnographic approaches can help develop better solutions and discover relevant problems. Training the ethnographic approach will provide you with a lens you can utilize in your later studies – and life in general. Be prepared to discuss, reflect and try out becoming an ethnographer and innovator!

Criminality and the Detective

Taught by: Ryan Page

In this course, students will read and analyze works encompassing the history of the detective fiction genre and its precursors, from the eighteenth century to the present. In examining these texts, we will be exploring the historical development of this generic cultural form, studying the components of this form, and especially considering the target audience or readership for such works. Students will then be asked to contextualize these fictional narratives by researching the historical circumstances surrounding the production of such works, including the development of modern law enforcement agencies, actual criminal cases, and the evolution of sociological theories about crime and criminals. Given the continuing popularity of the detection crime genre in contemporary media, we will obviously be addressing the reasons for the success and durability of these sort of stories, but the particular focus of our work in this course will be on the nature and attributes of the criminal (the detective's nemesis) in the genre. How, in the very particular species of crime fiction called the detective story, is criminality envisioned, in terms of class, gender, ethnicity, and volition? What is the relation of these features of the criminal to the detective? Or to the reader? Or, especially interestingly, to the projection of the author? As G. K. Chesterton once claimed, "the criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic."

Disease, Medicine, and Stories

Taught by: John Hundley

From a variety of perspectives, narrative is the means by which both physicians and patients understand disease. In this course, you will research, read, and compose narratives concerning illness from both clinical and personal standpoints. In doing so, you will consider historical views, such as John Snow’s discoveries in London’s 1854 cholera outbreak, contemporary social perspectives, such as the current opioid crisis, as well as non-western understandings of illness and curing from Hmong, Miwok, and Mayan cultures. Additionally, you will conduct research using library database resources as well as websites such as the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Class work also includes in-class assignments, quizzes, and two oral presentations. By examining the topic of disease through a narrative lens, you will come to a broader and more carefully considered understanding of the role of disease in life and society.

Economics of Innovation

Taught by: Justin Hicks


You will be introduced to fundamental ideas of economic tradeoffs, costs and benefits, and value creation. We will then journey into how entrepreneurs convert ideas into salable actions or products, and how capitalism puts into place real incentives to innovate to try to produce profits. We'll talk about economic measures and the goals that policy makers put into place, and the intended versus unintended consequences. We'll talk about economic growth and how natural resources are viewed and used as a result of prior schools of thought and resulting policies. Finally, we'll delve into why new ideas come into being, and how those new ideas flow around the globe, much like a neural network. This will set the stage to talk about how innovation can be classified, and whether innovation is a fluid phenomenon or rather, a step-wise phenomenon.

Economics Through Sports

Taught by: Jason Lee

Economics is about how individuals and firms make decisions under uncertainty and scarcity. Sports provide a rich variety of examples and data that can be used to test existing economic theories. This Spark Seminar will introduce students to a selection of research topics in economics that use sports as a laboratory and introduce students to the rich data sets available in sports. Some of the topics to be discussed include how player salaries are determined and how they relate to player productivity, a look at wage discrimination in sports based on race and gender, the costs and benefits to cities in building sports stadiums or hosting major sporting events, and examining the value of college athletic programs to both the university and student athletes.

Education and Identity

Taught by: Derek Merrill

This class will explore the intersections between learning and identity formation. Specifically, it will inquire how our desire to learn transforms our sense of self. We will learn how to generate research questions based on our learning experiences at UCM and through considering how cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic background shape these experiences. Some questions we will explore to generate research topics are: Who are we in the classroom? Who are we outside the classroom? What, if any, is the gap between these two identities? Which one feels more authentic and why? We will read essays, short fiction, theories of the self, and watch short documentaries about people who have been challenged to feel a sense of belonging in higher education as a means to investigate how desire bridges this gap. Desire in this context refers to the human drive to feel “complete.”

Energy Future

Taught by: James Bernard

The primary objectives are to learn how to formulate questions about energy production and consumption scenarios, how to use simple physics and existing data sources to develop models to answer those questions, how to think and write clearly and logically about energy (or anything else), and how to work cooperatively to achieve important goals. To achieve these, you will read about energy production and consumption and design questions regarding future energy scenarios; work in small teams to develop simple quantitative models to answer those questions and write short reports on the basis, logic, and results of each model; form teams that represent competing interests and debate future energy scenarios; collaborate with the entire class to write a document that uses the results of the models and the debate to assess various scenarios and recommend a plan of action.

Engineering Inspired by Nature

Taught by: Sachin Goyal

If birds didn't exist, would engineers ever conceive of inventing a plane? Nature has evolved over geological time scales to achieve such intriguing mechanisms that engineers strive to learn from even today to develop new technologies. In this seminar course, you will brainstorm and investigate how nature can inspire engineering research. We will explore cutting-edge examples of such research from within UC Merced and beyond. Can we surpass nature in our engineering designs? Do we really understand how nature has solved a specific engineering problem? These are the types of questions that we will debate in the context of those research examples.

Evolution of Electronics

Taught by: Sushma Shrinivasan

If we look around us, most gadgets and devices that play an almost indispensable role in our everyday life are built on electronic technology. This ranges from simple calculators to complex medical equipment such as an electrocardiogram. As the world gets more and more automated, the footprint of electronics keeps becoming larger. This seminar will provide a historical perspective (worth more than 100 years) of the evolution of electronic devices beginning from the invention of the vacuum tube (by J. A. Fleming) in 1904 to today’s cutting edge inventions in microprocessor technology that will find its way into our society in the near future. Several electronic systems will be provided as examples throughout the course, including applications where the role of electronics is sometimes not so obvious. The trajectory of future electronic research will be discussed based on current needs and constraints. Contact activities for the course will include group discussions and hands-on activities using basic electronic components that will help students learn to perform basic experiments, collect data, analyze and present them in a suitable form. Students will also be required to write a research paper on an electronic technology of their choice (with inputs from the instructor). As part of this assignment, they will be required to read and understand relevant literature, identify significant research questions, propose potential solutions (if possible) and present them to a general audience (in both oral and written form). The students will also gain experience in critiquing their peers’ work through the peer-review of the research paper and the presentation.

Exploring Leadership

Taught by: Charles Nies

This seminar will introduce students to theories and models of leadership. Through a review of leadership literature, an interview with a community leader, and reflection on how theory and lessons learned frame the students' understanding of their personal capacity for leadership. Additionally, the link between community engagement and leadership will be explored as students volunteer in the community and develop a proposal for a community-based project. Finally, students will use various disciplinary lenses to look at contemporary issues that shape and impact the ability to effectively lead and to create positive social change.

Exploring the Sky and Stars

Taught by: Venkattraman Ayyaswamy

Humans have always been interested in knowing more about the vast open space above us. While early studies on space utilized a telescope to understand the dynamics of celestial bodies, we have evolved a long way with our ability to observe other planets and their satellites from close quarters. This seminar course aims to introduce the beginner to star-gazing and space exploration along with a historical perspective. Specific topics covered in the course will include a description of what we observe in the night sky (including the moon, stars, planets and constellations) and how they change with seasons. Other topics covered will also include past, current and future space missions spearheaded by various agencies around the globe. Contact activities for the course will predominantly include group discussions and video demonstrations of topics relevant to space exploration. Students will also be required to write a research paper on a related topic of their choice (with inputs from the instructor). As part of this assignment, they will be required to read and understand relevant literature, identify significant research questions, and present it to a general audience (in both oral and written form). The students will also gain experience in critiquing their peers’ work through the peer-review of the research paper and the presentation.

Film and American Culture

Taught by: Justin Gautreau

This course explores the phenomenon of popular film in the United States. Rather than viewing movies as mindless entertainment, the course approaches cinema as one of the most powerful arbiters of mass culture in U.S. history, shaping perceptions of gender, race, class, and sexuality for nearly a century. By learning to identify the "invisible" elements of the classical Hollywood style, you will study American film's historical tendency to naturalize structures of power within its narratives. At the same time, however, the course will encourage you to recognize the way Hollywood films can sometimes challenge dominant ideology. To this end, you will practice reading and writing about popular film (and thus popular culture more broadly) against the grain while also examining the significance of its historical context. You will leave the course with a more sophisticated awareness of not only your own media-saturated landscape but also its role in shaping your identity.

Global Grand Challenges

Taught by: Valerie Leppert

Humanity faces a myriad of critical challenges to tackle in order to improve and even sustain life globally. In this course, we will examine the central issues and solutions for 14 Grand Challenges - grouped into the thematic areas of sustainability, health, security and the joy of living - that have been identified by the National Academy of Engineering as some of the most pressing issues facing society in the 21st century. Although the NAE Grand Challenges are taken as a starting point for discussion of viable approaches to global problems, this is not an engineering course. We will examine challenges using the knowledge, research methods, and perspectives of the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts, in addition to engineering. We will develop an appreciation for the important role that the basic sciences, economics, policy, culture, communication and technology all play in understanding and tackling global challenges. Course activities will include reading academic sources and the popular press, viewing video presentations, participating in classroom discussions and debates, writing exercises, and a final research paper and oral presentation related to a specific Grand Challenge.

Human Development: Who Are We?

Taught by: Pamelyn Gingold

This course will explore aspects of human development from birth to death; borrowing on the theories of psychology, social psychology, and aspects of families and societies. Topics will range from how humans attach, learn to read, make friends, develop relationships and create new families, to aging and preparing for the end of life. Students will reflect on developing identity, culture and counter-cultures. Building a classroom community by sharing stories and insights, there will be films and field trips, observation of infants, children, families, and elders. Students will choose a personal research topic (a time of life), conducting interviews and expressing themselves through art, presentations and a final research project.


Taught by: Iris Ruiz

This course will explore how particular social concern in the Central Valley can be better understood through an intersectional analysis. Intersectionality is one of the most useful contributions of third wave feminist theory; however, in the University, its potential application is still limited. Furthermore, intersectionality is a complex tool that requires skill and training to use. While intersectionality wields the power to help make feminism the inclusive framework it purports to be, and is a powerful paradigm that can be leveraged in multiple fields studying and seeking to change cultures and societies, it is still not widely used beyond feminist circles. This course will further develop an intersectional approach to knowledge and research and promote your ability to apply an intersectional praxis toward research that will address the limitations of singular foci research studies. Furthermore, this course will prompt you to learn to apply a multidisciplinary, multidimensional, and multifaceted intersectional approach to local social problems in the Central Valley as intersectional theory is recognized as a viable theory for understanding multiple sources of social influence, oppression, and experience.

Memory, Narrative & (Hi)story

Taught by: Paula DeBoard

In the past, it was said that history was written by the winners—those who, through positions of power and privilege, shaped a narrative that was widely understood to be the truth. Today, with access to a multiplicity of perspectives and voices, we know that historical truth is much more complex. Through primary and secondary research, we’ll look at the story part of history and examine how personal experience (our own and others) shapes our understanding of the world.

National Parks and Landscapes

Taught by: Jeffrey Jenkins

Landscapes are a useful lens for inquiry into the history of nature and culture in the national parks. In this course we will explore how national park landscapes have been represented and communicated in popular culture through writing and visual media. Students will learn to think critically about how historical heritage, societal values, political interests, market forces, and environmental change have shaped interpretive, recreational, conservation and management outcomes to produce the physical and cultural landscapes of national parks.

On Meritocracy

Taught by: Toby Napoletano

It is often assumed that our society is broadly meritocratic--the smartest, most talented, and most hardworking are the ones who are the most successful. It is often assumed, further, that this meritocratic arrangement is a good thing. But are these assumptions true? How well do our economic and educational systems select for merit? What is merit in the first place, and would a true meritocracy even be a good thing? This seminar aims to critically examine these questions, confronting philosophical questions concerning the nature and value of merit, in additional to empirical questions concerning our economic and educational institutions. We will look critically as a group at the meritocratic policies that have directly affected our own lives, and to the extent that luck or structural systems interact with these meritocratic principles. This may involve looking at policy documents for places of work, schools, or other extra-curricular activities we have had involvement in, as well as procedures for determining local positions of political power.

Planet or Plastic?

Taught by: De Ette Silbaugh

National Geographic published an expose in June, 2018, titled " Planet or Plastic?" and since has created podcasts that dive deeper into this argument. We will use these texts as a starting point to look into the plastic explosion that is overtaking our world. We will verify the facts, explore the social consequences, question the economics, research various approaches to resolution, and consider solutions both past and present. All to bring us to the question: Planet or Plastic? Do we have to choose? Note: Natl Geog after publishing this article pledged to wrap their magazine in recycled paper instead of plastic. This eliminated 30 million plastic bags a year. Easy, yes, question, why did it take so long?

Politics of Political Reform

Taught by: Nathan Monroe

Political reform is an important and many times necessary approach to solving inefficiencies of government. However, the consequences of such reforms are not always straight forward. Reforms sometimes fail to meet their objectives and often manifest unintended consequences that can be worse than the original problem the reform was intended to solve. This class is designed to help students engage in understanding political reform from a systematic, analytical evaluation of political reforms.

Race & Ethnicity in Film/TV

Taught by: Maria Martin

Film and television play a central role in how we understand race, racial categories, and ethnic cultural identities. This Spark seminar explores the historical, social, and political forces that shape the representations of race and ethnicity in film and television through an interdisciplinary analytical lens that will encourage students to critically examine and question the meaning of race and ethnicity. We will explore race and ethnicity by asking questions like, how have race relations and racial/ethnic minorities been represented on popular screen? How have filmmakers, screen writers, and media-practitioners of color responded to these images by developing different kinds of aesthetic choice and modes of storytelling? The goal is for students to become more literate about the power of film and television to reflect and shape ideologies of race and ethnicity, and to analyze how these identities impact the diverse experiences of individuals and groups in our society. In a broader context, we will analyze how the meaning of race and ethnicity, and their intersectionality, has shifted and changed across time and space, and how film and television has contributed to these shifts, particularly for African American, Asian American, Latino, and Indigenous populations.

Race and Ethnicity in the US

Taught by: Maria Martin

Race and Ethnicity in the US will be an interactive journey into an analysis of issues of race and ethnicity in the US, using hip hop teaching methods, to create cultural awareness. Students will discuss issues of race in the US alongside topics such as hip-hop feminism, Black Wall Street, mass incarceration, economic inequality, policing, social critique within hip hop culture, and the art of remix. This course focuses on building skills in writing, analysis, critical thinking, research design, and oral presentation through completing five core writing projects. Students will navigate this immersive experience using a variety of platforms such as twitter, YouTube, video/audio recordings, class discussions, and oral presentations.

Renewable Energy Facts & Applications


Taught by: Abbas Ghassemi

This course introduces the key concepts of renewable energy technologies focusing on wind, solar, bio-based fuels and geothermal resources. The focus will be on technology, the system and its design, as well as conversion and storage devices for renewable energy sources. This course will assess both current and potential future energy systems. It will cover the quality, availability, use, innovation, extraction and conversion of resources, emphasizing meeting regional and global energy needs for the 21st century in a sustainable manner. The overall educational objective is to demonstrate multi-disciplinary, strategic thinking in a sustainable developmental context considering diverse constraints. You will learn how to conduct research, interact with one another as a team, ask questions, and identify/communicate strategies. Additionally, you will develop a team based quantitative framework to aid in the evaluation and analysis of energy technology systems in the contexts of engineering, political, social, economic, and environmental goals.

The Border and Chicana/o Texts

Taught by: Alicia Contreras

This course explores the "border" as both a concept and physical space in Mexican America. In order to examine the border's complexity, you will learn to produce and grapple with relevant research questions; write creatively and critically on the subject; and discuss and deliberate the subject's ambiguous meaning. Such acquired skills will improve your ability to think, write, and communicate clearly and effectively, especially as you deal with a common yet contested term like the "border." This course will give you the opportunity to read and view an array of Chicana/o novels, stories, and films that contemplate the border in various ways. These texts range in setting and topic, beginning with the borderland U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-1848 and ending with the contemporary city life of a Mexican daughter trapped within her family's borders. To enhance your analytical skills, you will also read critical essays on how the border functions interculturally and intraculturally, as both a physical space of conflict and potentially ideological place of healing. Finally, this class will equip you with the intellectual tools needed to investigate and understand how the border or the "wall" exists, changes, and persists in American politics and society today.

The Creative Process

Taught by: Vipawee Limsakoune

Technological innovation and artistic creativity are rooted in common ground. We will explore how successful engineers, scientists and artists, from various cultures and at different points throughout history, transformed society by communicating and/or implementing good ideas. We will learn techniques for maximizing inspiration, with a particular focus on the inspiration provided by nature. We will practice essential library and internet skills for collecting and organizing the background information needed to support creative projects. The roles of peer-reviewed publication, copyright, and patents in protecting intellectual property will also be addressed. Assignments will include identifying everyday irritations that might be solved by a simple gadget or a clear message, and then devising solutions that are communicated through discussion, writing and digital photography.

The Economics of Globalization

Taught by: Jesus Sandoval-Hernandez

Economic Globalization is broadly defined as the interdependence of world economies resulting from the growing scale trade of commodities and services, international capitals flows, and rapid spread of technologies. For more than fifty years, the process of globalization has profoundly changed national economies and international relations. Globalization has enabled many regions of the world to emerge from underdevelopment, as well to boost world production and lower prices. However, recent political developments in several parts of the world suggest a backlash against globalization. The rise of nationalistic movements constitutes a trend towards more protectionism and isolationism. The debate on the economic benefits of this process and on its negative effects has been a constant in the past, but recently has intensified. The course provides with an introduction to key aspects of economic development and basic economic analysis to explain the globalization phenomena. We will review the past waves of economic globalization and their setbacks to understand the current globalization process. Then, we will study these aspects of economic globalization: global trade, international financial integration, foreign direct investment, the role of multinational corporations, regional agreements, and international institutions. Students will examine real-world case studies which illustrate international market integration. Students will also be exposed to Economics methodological tools. This Spark Seminar will challenge students to discover the global chain of economic relationships that affect their everyday lives. What they will find is that their daily milk involves a lot more than just cows and that their Smart Phones are incredibly multicultural. The course will encourage students to critically advance the globalization debate beyond the talking points of “globalists” and nationalists.”

The Promise of America

Taught by: Rebecca Antoine 

In this class, you will examine a variety of texts (fiction, nonfiction, film) that present narratives of the "American Dream" representing native and immigrant experiences. We will discuss how race, class, gender, and ethnicity intersect, inform, and complicate the notion of social mobility that rests at the heart of the “American Dream." This course will strengthen your critical skills through analyzing text as well as your creativity as you construct your own “American Dream” narrative.

Trauma & Resilience Narratives

Taught by: Elizabeth Cunningham

This course will trace the evolution of trauma theory through literary representations of individual and collective trauma. In this course, you will learn how to identify and complicate historical models of trauma theory, apply these models in response to literary texts, and strengthen collaborative learning and presentation skills. To those ends, you will read and analyze fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and theory, draft and revise original essays, and collect and reflect on evidence relating to contemporary sociocultural issues. We will examine a multiplicity of contexts, likely involving World Wars I and II (including Holocaust literature), Caribbean literature, African-American history, 9/11, and others. Rather than focusing singularly on trauma, we will also discuss conceptions of resilience as they relate to literary production and coping.

Vaccines, Health and Society

Taught by: Marcos Garcia-Ojeda

This Seminar will examine current and past issues concerning vaccines, including: a) the history of vaccines, focusing on different strategies used during the past two centuries to make them; b) the science of vaccines, including methods of attenuation of various pathogens; c) the impact of vaccines on health, both in the United States and abroad; d) the risks, both real and perceived, of vaccines; and e) the controversies surrounding vaccines, specifically that vaccines cause autism, multiple sclerosis, neurodevelopmental delays, diabetes or other chronic problems. This seminar study will cover the biological development, immunologic concepts, and methods for vaccines as well as methods of delivery and administration. Specific topics may include new technologies for vaccine development, novel adjuvants, and methods to increase vaccine stability. Delivery systems for vaccines will include current technologies as well as novel technologies presently under development. The underlying biological roles of the innate and adaptive immune systems will be studied relative to the new types of vaccines and delivery systems. Finally, the process of manufacturing and bringing vaccines to market will be covered including government oversight and licensure.

Weird Math and Human Behavior

Taught by: Jack Vevea

In this seminar, we examine numerical oddities that affect, and sometimes distort, humans' interactions with the world. Examples include strange behavior rooted in our misunderstanding of probability, distortions in our memory that actually improve the accuracy of memories, misleading graphical portrayal of data, and questions about causation. The semester concludes with a debate about the mathematics and ethics of racial profiling.

What Do Things Mean?

Taught by: Maria DePrano

In our world we are surrounded by things - clothing, technology, transportation, eating utensils. What do they mean? Why do they have the design they have and what does that tell us about ourselves? Many everyday objects we use today were used by people in past societies, but they looked incredibly different. Why? What did those things mean to people in past societies? And what does their drastically different design tell us about those past people and cultures? In this course we will examine everyday things to understand what they mean, how they function, and what they tell us about different societies and time periods. You will write two related research papers of medium length and will make an oral presentation at the end of the semester. To consider people’s possessions, we will think about the design of objects, using art history tools, but we will also consider their function by looking at societal practices, trade, gender roles, religion, science and politics.

Who is  V for Vendetta?

Taught by: Michelle Toconis 

Uses of dystopias/utopias. What does dystopia mean? The word dystopia sits in opposition to utopia. Utopia is a place, state, or condition that is ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs, and conditions. Dystopia is a futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. In this course, students will learn how: to take the controversies raised in utopian/dystopian literature and film to generate real-word research questions, identify problems, and formulate tentative solutions; students will practice the use of multiple interdisciplinary analytical tools to identify, interpret, and evaluate textual and media information; students will work independently and collaboratively applying their research and analysis using written, visual, and oral modes of communication to convey ideas; and students will learn to identify the ways in which cultural, political, economic, technological, and environmental dimensions of society interact understanding that conflict is inherent and welcome in diverse learning communities.