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A Common Experience for All Undergraduates

Spark Seminars Fall 2020

Students will be able to enroll in one of these seminars to fulfill the SPARK General Education Requirement. *For first year students beginning Fall 2020. (Updated 7/22/20)

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.

AI Investigations

Taught by: Doreen Danielson

If we continue to improve and evolve Artificial Intelligence (AI) potential and capabilities, will we, as humans, maintain our ethics, value, and functionality? In this seminar, you will explore the complexity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as it continues to develop in prominent fields such as Biological Sciences, Bio-engineering, Computer Science and Technology, Mathematics, Chemical Sciences, Medicine, Business, and others depending on your interests. You will develop strategical skills to identify and evaluate the many roles of AI, explore your favorite field of interest by choosing a company or product, investigate AI's ever-developing presence in your chosen company or product, and attempt to answer a research question that you develop after completing your innovative investigation. To accomplish these steps, you will closely study your chosen company or product, conduct interviews, prepare evaluative presentations, and confidently represent your primary research question(s) and chosen company or product's use of AI by submitting a final research paper.

The 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.


Taught by: Carolyn Jennings

Attention is a key part of our everyday lives. Some think we have moved from the "Information Age" to the "Attention Age," since managing attention has become ever more important, now that information is so readily available. Attention is also a central topic in the scientific study of mind. This course will cover the topic of attention in different disciplines, such as philosophy and psychology, so that students have a better understanding of what attention is and what it does. It will also cover the ways in which attention can be managed, and how attention interacts with various forms of technology. Readings will cover a wide range of topics, such as "Culture, attention, and emotion" and "Indistractible: How to control your attention and choose your life."

Black Identities

Taught by: Whitney Pirtle

What does it mean to be Black? Who, exactly, identifies as Black? Why does being Black mean a lot to one person, but very little to another? Racial identities are an integral part of our self-concept, but are shaped within societal understandings of race, identity, and inequality. In places like the United States, our racial identities become a primary social category for us, shaping how we see and act in the world. This spark seminar will provide an interdisciplinary approach, reading from psychology, sociology, history, and black studies, to understand and explore Black racial identities in the United States and around the world; delving into the diversity and beauty of blackness. By the end of the course we will have gained a more complete understanding of the leading questions, with each student conducting their own exploratory creative research project related to “what does Blackness really mean?”

Black Mirror

Taught by: Mariana Abuan 

In this course, we will use science fiction as a lens to examine technology, its implications, potential dangers, uses and abuses, and cultural impact. We will view science fiction as not just a form of entertainment but also as a springboard for academic inquiry by examining episodes of the popular T.V. show Black Mirror as well as related texts. We will learn how to generate research questions about technology, science, and science fiction; understand and interpret written and visual texts, select and incorporate appropriate information into our own research, prepare and write successful academic papers, and present information orally. By juxtaposing fiction and real scientific and technological developments using a variety of texts (scholarly, popular, and visual), we will investigate the current, potential, and unforeseen ramifications of technology on culture and society. 

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.

The Border of 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 Built Environment 

Taught by: Matthew Nye  (Second Section)

This course asks how the built environment communicates cultural values. Students will analyze both real-world architectural case studies alongside representations in literature and film to understand the aesthetic, ethical, political, and cultural desires underlying our buildings, cities, and infrastructure. Students will learn to read the ways that space shapes behavior, community, and cultural memory. Topics may include: sustainability, gentrification, environmental racism, memorial architecture, etc. In this experiential and interdisciplinary seminar, we will read theoretical texts as well as experience architecture directly to deepen our understanding of the interface between humans and our built environments.

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.

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.

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."

The Digital Age

Taught by: Elizabeth Cunningham (second section)

In 1991, less than half a percent of the world’s population were online. Two decades later, nearly half of the world’s population use the internet. The changes brought about by this Digital Revolution have informed nearly every aspect—economic, relational, educational, creative, spatial—of our lives. While the internet is still relatively young, its historical impacts are indisputable. This course will examine those impacts, and the ways in which the Digital Age shapes our self-definition. We will examine issues related to access, privacy, information overload, automation, and digital literacy. Students will monitor their own digital consumption throughout this course, and will develop a final research project based on independent scholarship.

Dungeons & Dragons Skills 4IRL

Taught by: John Bultena 

In this course, you will learn how to generate research questions related to role-playing games, utilizing Dungeons & Dragons as a focus, practice strategies for understanding texts and rules systems, how role-playing games develop collaboration, how to use composition as a tool for exploring and learning, methods for improving your ability to write successful academic papers on any subject, applications for mental health, and improve oral delivery skills. To accomplish these goals, you will examine Dungeons & Dragons and articles about it, keep up with contemporary news regarding Dungeons & Dragons, be aware of skills developed through Dungeons & Dragons, and use collaborative play and narrative generation as a method for learning. In addition, a consistent and constant concern throughout the class will be the skills that role-playing games develop that can be deployed in academia.

The Dynamic Aesthetic

Taught by: Vanesha Pravin (second section)

How do you take an idea from conception to live performance? How can sensation inspire the genesis of a creative work? How does this work evolve during the incubation stage? In this course, we will investigate the dynamic aesthetic experience by examining a wide range of sources (plays, poems, interviews, live performances, performance art, short films, plastic arts, video archives, diaries, and articles) in order to both produce original creative material (micro-plays and poems), and to subsequently perform these works. There will be a dual focus on theater and poetry, with an emphasis on creative inquiry as praxis. We will also examine various methods of synthesizing research into a creative work. During the semester, we will draw inspiration from primary and secondary sources as well as conduct field research to create original work. In addition, since both playwriting and poetry are forms of oral art, we will explore oral interpretation and phonology to sensitize you to the textures of human language that are more pronounced in the human voice than in the written word.

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.”

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.

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.

Of Exploration and Insights

Taught by: John Hundley 

Travel is more than simply the physical movement from place to place. Travel involves outward exploration of the new as well as inward reflection and insight. In this course, we will engage with the concept of the journey, the quest, from a variety of perspectives: temporal, spatial, historical, futuristic, mythological, psychological, and metaphorical. It’s going to be quite a trip. We will explore the dimensions of travel through visual and written texts, a variety of responses, discussions, a local field trip, one synthesis essay, and a “travelogue”-style class presentation featuring you as our guide. Since the idea of the quest implies a guiding question, we will investigate and develop research questions to use like a compass as we make our way.

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.

Feminism, Handmaid’s and Wild Seeds

Taught by: Michelle Toconis

Margaret Atwood’s "The Handmaid’s Tale" and Octavia Butler’s "Wild Seed", both from the genre of speculative fiction, serve as the basis from which we will examine oppressive systems, the state of being other or different, and marginality, particularly along the lines of gender and race; in addition, these texts offer alternative ways to think about self, the capacity to act independently and to make one’s own free choices, as well as the means one has to determine their own actions.

In this course, students will learn how: to take the controversies raised in speculative fiction, alternative versions of the past or projections of the possible future, from the "The Handmaid’s Tale" and "Wild Seed" to draw parallels and/or generate real-world research questions, identify problems, and formulate tentative solutions; students will practice the use of multiple interdisciplinary analytical tools to identify, interpret, and evaluate texts and various 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.

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.

Horror Literature

Taught by: Jordan Dakin (Second Section)

This seminar functions not only as a survey of the horror, gothic, and weird fiction genres, but also as an interdisciplinary exploration into why we fear what we do. What biological factors and shared social or cultural anxieties serve as the driving forces behind our attitudes towards concepts like fear, death, and the unknown? How do stories from horror’s more nontraditional voices contribute to a broad and diverse range of social and cultural anxieties, and how are these anxieties reflected within their work? Together, we will apply a variety of critical lenses to these works in an attempt to understand how these authors use the weird, the revulsive, and the horrifying as vehicles for meaning-making. Furthermore, we will explore what these works can tell us about the world we live in, and how we, as responsible citizens, navigate and respond to our shared social and cultural anxieties.

Latin America in Film/TV

Taught by: Sabrina Smith

This class engages students in topics affecting modern Latin America, with an emphasis on repression and resistance. Each week, we will watch a critically-acclaimed film associated with the weekly topic and compare multiple cultural representations including slave narratives, testimonial literature, fiction, revolutionary communiqés, speeches, and contemporary press. Subjects covered in this seminar include: the end of slavery, the Mexican Revolution, shantytowns in Brazil, sexuality and the Cuban Revolution, indigenous identity and environmental activism, democratic socialism in Chile, the Argentine Dirty War, Civil War in El Salvador, US intervention in Haiti, left-wing movements symbolized by the Zapatistas, Hugo Chavez, and Evo Moráles.

The Machine Learning Age

Taught by: Adam Croom

Data science and machine learning have become pervasive features of our lives, playing a role in determining what we watch and listen to, how we deliberate, who our friends are, and in many ways, how we think. This seminar aims to empower you to understand these technologies and reason about them using the tools of moral and political philosophy. The first two thirds of the course will be a practical overview: we will get in the lab and start building machine learning models using the computer language Python. No programming ability or mathematical background will be required, but fluency with computers and technology will be extremely helpful. The last third of the course will involve reading theoretical material about data ethics, machine learning ethics, and AI ethics. The course will culminate in a project that will involve creating a machine learning model and data analysis, writing up a description of the model, assessing moral and political implications of models of this kind, and presenting the results in a brief presentation.


Taught by: Grant Nebel

Every society has its own culture, and a conversation about that culture, from the theater of the ancient Greeks to the Bible of medieval Europe to the movies of 20th-century America to the videogames of here and now. "Mythologies" will cover this range of cultural artifacts, and how each one creates a set of values and conversation about them. The Socratic demand “know thyself” can be most easily experienced through knowing what one likes and dislikes, so this seminar will lead students to articulate their thoughts and feelings about their own culture, and to lead the conversation about its values.

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.

Our 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.

Popular Dietary Messages

Taught by: Cleo Protogerou

“Fat clogs arteries.” “Go low fat or no fat.” “Red meat is unhealthy.” “5-a-day.” “The Mediterranean diet is a miracle diet.” “Bulk on fiber.” “Everything in moderation.” “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” “Eat many, small meals throughout the day to keep metabolism high.” “Calories in – calories out.”

In most countries, messages like these are accepted and promoted by experts and laypeople, who assume that the messages are factually correct and will result in health benefits. These messages started to appear in the 1970s and 1980s, in parallel with US guidelines advocating a low-fat, high-starch type of eating. Adherence to these messages has been relatively high but expected health-related benefits did not ensue. For example, between 1971 and 2011 in the US alone, fat consumption dropped from 45% to 34% and carb/starch consumption increased from 39% to 51% of total caloric intake, with a coincidental increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Meanwhile, the general public has been consistently bombarded with dietary messages that are contradictory and confusing: One day “eggs are deadly, the next day eggs are healthy”!
This Spark Seminar puts popular dietary messages under the microscope: How well do they hold up to science? Are these messages facts or catchphrases?

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.

Prison Literacy

Taught by: Catherine Koehler

Reading and writing have played a central role in how incarceration is conceptualized, legitimated, and experienced. In this course, we will examine how literacy has figured in historical and contemporary debates about the nature of crime and the purpose of punishment, while considering prisoners' diverse literacy practices over time and across carceral spaces. With a focus on institutional genres ranging from prison memoirs to prison ledger art to prison newspapers, we will explore how prisoners have appealed to literacy and toward what ends. Using primary source materials housed in the UC Merced Library Special Collections and other regional archives, we will explore literacy within local "assembly centers" where Japanese and Japanese Americans were incarcerated in Merced and the greater Central Valley during World War II. We will also consider local prison education programs, with opportunity to engage in prison literacy work.

The Promise of America

Taught by: Rebecca Antoine (second section)

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.

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.

Seeing is Disbelieving

Taught by: ShiPu Wang

How do we navigate through a global culture dominated by imagery and the Instagram-age myth of “I am seen, so I exist”? What is the long history of the notion of “seeing is believing” and how has it been challenged by the emergence of new technologies, such as visual manipulation software and “deepfake” videos? In this seminar, we explore historical and contemporary examples of visual representation from around the world through reading, discussion, writing and creative assignments. Our topics include, among others: the science of visual perception; tricks and tropes of visual storytelling in different cultures; visual propaganda in times of sociopolitical change and turmoil; the history of gendered imagery; anime and kawaii in the shadows of atomic annihilation; contested verisimilitude in photography and digital technology; and the proliferation of global American consumerism via the power of visual media. The main objective of this seminar is to help students develop their visual literacy, analytical skills, and creativity. Students will thus apply their knowledge and create multimedia projects, which will be showcased on campus, that present critical commentary on our contemporary visual culture based on this seminar’s topics.

Social Movement of the 60’s

Taught by: Pamelyn Gingold

This course will explore the array of social movements that flourished during the 1960s and early 1970s, ranging from Civil Rights and Black Power to the struggles of farmworkers and American Indians; from the anti-Vietnam War movement to the environmental movement; from Women's Liberation to the early gay rights movement and many others. These movements brought about transformative change in many areas of American society and set the stage for so many of the issues confronting us today. Music played a crucial role throughout the 1960s, and the course will feature a specially curated selection of songs and videos to bring the era to life.

Tracing Heritage: Spain/USA

Taught by: Virginia Adan-Lifante

Why are California and Merced named like that? What is the origin of the $ symbol? Who is the man on a horse in the statue located in the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park (San Diego)? How is Spanish technology helping Texas to become a leader in eolic energy? Why does Salvador Dalí have a permanent exhibit of his work at the Museum of Monterey (CA)? In Tracing Heritage: Spain/USA, we will look for information that will allow us to answer these questions and many others, so we are able to understand the contributions of Spain to the past and present of the United States. At the same time, we will reflect on issues such as being receptive or not to different cultural influences or why in some instances we may feel rejection toward our heritage and past.

What is a Research University?

Taught by: Hrant Hratchian

What is a "Research University"? Former UC President Clark Kerr once wrote that the American research university is "... a series of individual entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance about parking." In a way that’s true, but there must be more to it! This Spark seminar will explore the role research universities have played in education, scholarship, and service. The course will specifically study UC Merced's unique and young history as the first new American research university of the 21st century and aim to understand what that moniker truly means. What are its promises? What are its responsibilities? Students will engage in a discourse exploring these questions as a research problem seeking to propose how UC Merced should develop so as to distinguish the 21st century research university from its 20th century ancestor. What should we expect of UC Merced in the next decade and what will it take to get there?

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 Counts (in) America?

Taught by: Daniel K. Thompson

Counting and quantifying populations is an important part of constructing political power and revealing (or hiding) patterns of socio-economic inequality. The way that census officials count populations has a significant impact on whose voices are heard and how issues of disparity are discussed. In this course students will critically explore the concepts of counting and categorizing populations by learning basic approaches to organizing, analyzing, and mapping large datasets such as census data using introductory computer coding (no prior experience needed). The course engages students in developing their own analyses of demographic data as a point of entry into critical discussions about segregation, inequality, "gerrymandering" voting districts, and more general issues of categorizing human diversity.