Skip to content Skip to navigation

Spark Seminars Spring 2019

The following Spark Seminars will be offered during Spring 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 01/02/19)

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 students 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. Students 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 the students a proprietary sense so that they will take a proactive stance in the stewardship of the faint, fragile and irreplaceable archaeological record.

Arts as Social Activism

Taught by: Tess McIntire

In this course, you will explore the ways that artists use visual composition to shed light on issues of social inequality. You will develop and refine strategies for understanding text and performance using a variety of research methodologies while improving your ability to communicate through various genres of expression. To accomplish these goals, you will read historical studies of activist art, view documentaries that engage in mixed methods research, survey and analyze works of activist art and music, and research an important figure in the social justice movement, gathering data for qualitative and quantitative analysis. You will also attend gallery and/or performance events and engage in research activities such as taking field notes, writing analytic memos, and compiling field reports. Your research will culminate with written, verbal, and visual components.

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.

Big Sugar

Taught by: Stephen Wooding

Sugar consumption is skyrocketing, and no wonder - it tastes great, it feels great, it's convenient, and it's inexpensive. Unfortunately, these pleasures come at a cost. Sugar packed products are displacing healthy foods, overeating is rampant, and obesity rates are soaring. How did we get to this point? What can we do? Big Sugar takes on the challenge using the multidisciplinary tools of public health research. Beginning with an investigation of the origins of the sugar cane plant, its biology, and its use by ancient peoples, we will move toward an understanding of sugar's place in modern life. We will explore the biology of taste perception, the starting point of sugar's pleasure, and taste's surprising roles in our bodies' responses to sugar as we eat. We will probe the nutritional effects of sugar consumption (it isn't always bad) and the impact of its prominence in our daily diets. And we will delve into the social landscape of sugar consumption, including the success of business strategies for promoting it, government strategies for reducing it, and the significance of community structure and home economics to both. Throughout the course we will question assumptions and sugar myths: Is sugar always bad? Can it boost your energy level? Is it responsible for disease? Is natural sugar safer than processed sugar? Together we will find out.

Central Valley Stories

Taught by: Dawn Trook

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.

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.

Criminality and the Detective

Taught by: Staff

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."

Economics of Immigration

Taught by: Gregory Wright

In this course you will learn about the impact that immigrants have on labor markets and communities and will learn how to apply this knowledge to generate empirical research questions related to immigration topics. Along the way you will learn to design an empirical research project, collect and work with large datasets obtained from a variety of public data sources, implement a research design and write an academic-style research paper. We will explore the current scientific literature on the impact of immigration on local economies and communities within the context of current public debate surrounding the topic.

Economics of Innovation

Taught by: Justin Hicks

Students 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, 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 examine the value of college athletic programs to both the university and student athletes.

Energy Future

Taught by: Staff

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.

Ethnography and Innovation

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!

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, students will study American film's historical tendency to naturalize structures of power within its narratives. At the same time, however, the course will encourage students to recognize the way Hollywood films can sometimes challenge dominant ideology. To this end, students 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. Students will leave the course with a more sophisticated awareness of not only their own media-saturated landscape but also its role in shaping their identities.

Flesh and Bone: Forensic Science

Taught by: Christina Torres-Rouff

This course is an introduction to the broad and varied fields in the forensic sciences with an emphasis on forensic anthropology – the application of the theory and methods of biological anthropology to the legal setting. Students will be introduced to human osteology, the techniques and underlying theory used by anthropologists to recover skeletal remains, reconstruct a biological profile from the skeleton, interpret skeletal trauma, and assist in the identification process as well as developing an introductory understanding of the forensic setting. We will highlight the integration of this osteological evidence with other forensic disciplines related to human identification and death investigation, including crime scene investigation, forensic pathology, odontology, entomology and other lab-based forensic science fields.

Food Deserts in Merced

Taught by: De Ette Silbaugh

In this course, students will look at the impact of food deserts in the City of Merced. Students will engage in their own narrative in relation to food, will learn how to negotiate demographics and statistics, will understand and participate in research, and will be able to determine reliable sources and utilize information within the context of their communication, while improving their ability to read, write and think critically in an academic environment. To accomplish these goals, students in small groups will consider food deserts from a myriad of disciplines by reading about different causes and solutions, analyzing and synthesizing written material and drawing questions and connections from a variety of sources. By the end of the semester, students will have considered multiple directions to view a single [yet diverse] issue impacting the world today. Students will have also learned and appreciated different points of view by sharing research, synthesizing information and researching potential answers to questions they develop from their findings and ultimately sharing this information in collaborative presentations. In addition, students will not only become familiar with looking at issues from different presentations, but individual and group responsibilities, time management, respect for others and voicing their opinions and listening well to others. And perhaps the most important is realizing their individual stake in being good guardians of our earth.

Gaming the System

Taught by: Heather Devrick

Games are nearly cultural universals. This course examines the cultural and historical background of games with an emphasis on game development and play in contemporary Western Culture. The course will also introduce students to theories of game play and its importance in the human experience. Students will examine various game genres and styles of game play, such as such as tabletop, role-playing, and video games. Students will also consider how game goals reflect cultural values. The course will require the analysis and deconstruction of games from a variety of critical perspectives. Students will also collaboratively research and design their own game.

Global Grand Challenges

Taught by: Valerie Leppert

Humanity faces a myriad of critical challenges to tackle in order toimprove and even sustain life globally. In this course, we will examinethe central issues and solutions for 14 Grand Challenges - grouped intothe 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.

Incarceration and Gentrification

Taught by: Tanya Golash-Boza

Our understanding of urban areas is incomplete without a dual analysis of two trends that have transformed cities: mass incarceration and gentrification of the central city. In this seminar, students will read scholarly articles on incarceration and gentrification, learn qualitative and quantitative research methods to understand incarceration and gentrification, and develop research questions related to these trends.

Intersections of Art & Science

Taught by: Susan Varnot

In this seminar, students will examine the cross-pollinations that occur between disciplines, in particular the marriage of science and the arts as a means of representing and communicating ideas to wider audiences and to use metaphor and analogy -- visual, linguistic, and cross- disciplinary -- to create a reflexive dialogue between disciplines to see what each has to offer the creative, thinking, and presentational processes of the other. Students will explore their personal academic interests and work with others whose interests diverge from their own to develop talks and materials to connect with wider audiences in an effort to get them to care about topics they might otherwise dismiss.

Legendary California

Taught by: Phillip Lovas

In this class we will explore the politics of ethnicity, class, and gender in their social and cultural contexts through the stories we tell about ourselves and others. We will study many different folklore genres—tall tales, rumors, ethnic humor, personal experience narratives, family folklore, and urban legends—as articulations of current and historical social, cultural, and political conflict. In short, our stories provide a lens through which we can understand our society since they often emerge from social stress, anxiety, and concern. They tell us that there is something awry in our community. Students will be encouraged to collect and analyze oral narratives from their own families, friends, and communities. Analysis will consist of understanding the context, text, and texture of the item they collect.

Medical Physics

Taught by: Toni Stone

In this course you will learn the the physical details of recent advancements in modern physics, and their impacts on medicine, biology, and public health policy. You will also learn about the fundamental physics mechanisms underlying these breakthroughs, ways in which to quantify and analyze those mechanisms, and techniques and approaches for synthesizing these details to make meaningful quantitative predictions. These new perspectives will encourage you to ask important questions and will help you develop research questions that are important to your career and academic goals. To accomplish this you will read assigned basic physics and science literature from medical physics, biomedical and health journals, and other sources as appropriate, all of which will directly demonstrate the applications of these science advancements to modern medicine. In particular you will explore the new treatment protocols and diagnostic procedures that have resulted from these advancements. You will watch animations and simulations of the applications of important medical physics and biomedical advancements and their impacts in diagnoses and imaging, and longevity of the population. Summarizing through composition, and oral presentations, you will develop and improve your ability for research, scholarly writing, and critical thinking and you will enhance your ability to identify the interdisciplinary nature of science, technology, and applications to modern medicine in particular and modern life in general.

Morality, Self and Community

Taught by: Peter Vanderschraaf

In this seminar we will explore the relationships between morality, self- interest and community interests. Philosophers have discussed how following moral requirements might be connected with serving one’s own interests or the interests of one’s communities since at least Plato’s time. How self-interest or community interests might be related to morality is not at all obvious, since while many claim that morality and self or community interests must go hand in hand, in many situations it appears they are in direct conflict, so that in order to “do right” one must act against one’s own good or the good of the community. To help motivate our own discussion, we will look at works that analyze how morality and self and community interests are connected from both philosophy and the social sciences. We will consider some of the classic skeptical challenges against the prudential rationality of justice by Plato, Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, as well as some of the leading recent discussions of moral norms and individual and community interests by philosophers and social scientists such as Cristina Bicchieri, Elinor Ostrom and Robert Sugden.

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.

Of Explorations 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.

Our Implicit Experience

Taught by: Jason Emory

Humans often live with the assumption that our experiences, attitudes, and behaviors are the result of very explicit conscious thought processes. There is now a vast literature across a variety of fields that suggests much of our understanding of the world is the result of implicit unconscious processes that are outside of our explicit control or awareness. In-class discussions will center around exploring ways in which unconscious thought processes can help foster a deeper appreciation of topics such as art and politics (among others). Weekly readings, as well as multimedia and other in-class demonstrations, will serve to reinforce topics of discussion. Students will complete a research paper over the course of the semester in which they will perform independent research on a topic of interest that can be viewed through the lense of research in implicit thought processes. The course will conclude with an oral presentation to the class detailing the contents of their research paper.

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.

Power of Teams and Groups

Taught by: Emily Langdon

Leadership trainers and management textbooks often quote Margaret Mead when promoting group work and collaboration: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; ndeed, it's the only thing that ever has. However, anyone who has tried to get something done in a group knows there are plenty of doubts about the efficiency and effectiveness of teamwork and groups projects. The ability to work effectively in groups is a critical skill in the 21st century workforce. “At best, IQ contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80 percent to other forces” (Goleman, 1995, p.34). These other forces are sometimes referred to as “soft skills” and include ways to manage people, relationships, teams and groups to positively impact the organization. This seminar will take a multidisciplinary look at teams and group work, including scholarship from psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science and management to better understand how tasks can be accomplished and change can be created by people working together. Students will learn basic tenets of qualitative research (participant observation) to ask and answer a research question about the nature of groups. In addition to studying other groups, students will self-assess their teamwork skills and strive to increase their own capacity for teamwork, a highly regarded skill in the world of work.

Renewable Energy Facts and Appl.

Taught by: Abbas Ghassemi

This course is multi-disciplinary. No Pre-Requisites or Co-Requisites are required. 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. Students will learn how to conduct research, interact with one another as a team, ask questions, and identify/communicate strategies. Additionally, they 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.

Resurrecting Lost Narratives

Taught by: Christa Fraser

In this course, we will look at differences between historical texts about significant events and first-person singular and plural narratives about the same events in order to investigate the ways in which individual and cultural narratives become appropriated, subsumed, or erased in favor of the dominant historical record. The course will have a particular focus on California narratives, offering students the opportunity to investigate the displacement of people during the Dust Bowl, the Bracero program, the Chicano Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the American Indian Movement, the United Farm Workers’ Movement, and the settlements and resettlements of refugee, immigrant, and migrant populations. (Students can select historical events that occur in other states or countries for their project, however, with the permission of the instructor.) The course will look at the California Gold Rush as a case study of the fossilization of an account that is missing many narrative voices and at the Manzanar National Historic Site's Museum Collection as a case study of efforts to justly collect, store, and share all relevant first-person narratives and historical artifacts.

Science of Science

Taught by: Alexander Petersen

Why do science? This seminar introduces the modern research university through a systems analysis of the inputs (e.g. money, labor, knowledge, infrastructure) and the outputs (human, social, technological and intellectual capital). Thematic concepts explored are the scientific method, university-industry-government relations, careers, publications/patents, mobility, teamwork, prizes and priority. Special focus and examples will be drawn from the University of California system, including statistical analysis of its funding and publication records from 2000-2015. Students will integrate course content into a final team project consisting of a "dream lab'' funding proposal.

Shakespeare's London

Taught by: Susan Amussen

What is the relationship between literature and the society in which it is written? In this class, we will explore this question with a focus onvLondon between about 1590-1620. We will examine plays by Shakespeare and some of his contemporaries in relation to social andvcultural issues in England at the time. How did Shakespeare’s contemporaries see the world? What assumptions did they make – about class, gender, race, or family, love, and marriage? What did they think about work? Who lived in London? What kind of entertainment was available? Who attended plays? What political issues animated discussion? What literary, dramatic, and intellectual traditions were available at the time? These questions, and others you generate, will guide our discussions through the semester.

Should I Donate a Kidney?

Taught by: Kurt Schnier

Currently, the available supply of organs for transplantation is far outpaced by the demand for these organs. In this course, we will discuss the current psychological, ethical and political barriers that exist to reduce this rift and develop research questions regarding the efficacy of future solutions. The course will cover the history of organ transplantation, the biological factors influencing organ donation and transplantation, the ethics surrounding potential solutions, the prior efforts made to address these growing needs, the current policies in place to promote organ donation across the globe and the potential future needs for organ donation in the context of global change and demographic transition. Students will be challenged to answer a number of key questions including: What changes to our current system will increase donation? What solutions are ethical and which ones are not? Why do some cultures differ in their views regarding transplantation? In this course students will be required to conduct independent researchthrough the collection of data and subsequent analysis, write short papers on key questions in organ donation from multiple perspectives, communicate their findings in both written and oral form, participate in group projects and summarize their work in a final paper. The course will encourage students to critically evaluate the current organ donation system and encourage them to creatively develop solutions that will help us meet society’s future health care needs. At the end of the course everyone should be able to answer the question, should I donate a kidney?

Social Media and Society

Taught by: John Bultena

In this course, you will learn how to generate research questions related to social media, practice strategies for understanding texts and how social media networks present information, use composition as a tool for exploring and learning, improve your ability to write successful academic papers on any subject, and improve oral delivery skills. To accomplish these goals, you will examine and critique social media networks and articles about them, keep up with contemporary and news regarding social media, be aware of the ethics concerns of social media, and hear from professionals in social media. In addition, a consistent and constant concern throughout the class will be the role that social media plays in all our lives and the world.

Sustainability and Consumption

Taught by: Martha Conklin

Surviving in today’s world means consumption of goods and services. Decisions that we make can have negative consequences on environmental and social systems. These decisions will be become more critical as the human population grows to nine billion, particularly in our time of climate change.  This course uses an environmental and sociological lens to evaluate the consequences of our consumer economy. We will use environmental science to provide insight into changes to the Earth system due to our consumption and we will use social science to understand the patterns of consumption and how resource extraction affects social sectors.

The Creative Process

Taught by: Christopher Viney

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.

The Psychology of College Life

Taught by: Ross Avila

This course will explore many different aspects of college life for students at UC Merced, using the lens and practices of social psychology.In this course, you will examine psychological aspects of what it means to be a student and what determines students' academic success, mental health, or other aspects of student life. This is something you (as a student) obviously have first-hand experience in, but you may find that by conducting research on this topic, you will discover things you never knew about yourself and other students here at UC Merced! As part of this course, you will engage in collaborative research on a topic related to college life. This will involve the development of basic research skills, critical thinking skills, and oral and written presentation skills. These skills are applicable to almost any course at UC Merced and will help to prepare you for future work at this research- and community- focused university. We will also explore social psychological topics that are related with everyday life at UC Merced, which can be applied to make a student's college experience more successful, positive, and personally meaningful.

The Public Constitution

Taught by: Thomas Hansford

This Spark Seminar will investigate how the American public understands the U.S. Constitution, both in terms of direct content and as how it has been interpreted and applied by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Value of Music

Taught by: Jayson Beaster-Jones

This course explores the cognitive, social, and psychological values of music for people all over the world. We will engage with musical performance and reception in a variety of local, national, and international contexts. These will include religious and social rituals, multimedia products (such as films, podcasts, and video games), and in social-biological reproduction. Students in this course will come to recognize how music is much more than entertainment: it is a fundamental component of the human experience.

Trauma and Resilience

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.

Turning Down the Heat

Taught by: Tom Harmon

Global warming and the associated climate change is a major challenge to humans, and it is now time to face this challenge. The past two centuries have seen staggering advancements in our civilization through innovation and industrialization. However, the byproducts of our resulting fossil fuel based economy, like carbon dioxide, continues to increase the greenhouse effect and warm our planet. Our warmer atmosphere is already producing more intense conditions, as evidenced by increasingly severe of droughts, floods, wild fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. In this seminar, we will critically examine numerous strategies to reverse global warming. We will explore the problems from socio-environmental perspective, addressing issues of energy, food, land use, sustainable buildings and cities, transportation, and green materials. Students will learn to: (1) question and research proposed strategies at local, regional and global scales, (2) communicate their own strategies, and (3) integrate the knowledge they gain into future curriculum choices as well as their daily lives.

Visual Piety

Taught by: Staff

Spirituality continues to remain a key part for human self-expression. Our current day and age of digital technology and consumer culture have not diminished but rather enabled new ways for people of different faiths to reinterpret spiritual meaning. This course draws from the Hindu concept of darśan and the Sufi concept of baraka – both terms referring to one’s experience with a spiritual presence – in understanding how people use the arts to express the human desire for meaningful connection with the universe. Students will engage on a virtual world tour of multiple spiritual forms and philosophies in everyday life from the elaborate altar goods of Latin-American botánica shops right here in the western United States, to mystical graffiti representing local saints in urban Senegal, and to contemporary shamanism in hyper-digitized South Korea. This course will also introduce a variety of concepts in folklore and religious studies, philosophies of aesthetics, and is thus intended to introduce students to interdisciplinary methods including in ethnographic and historical research of material culture, museum studies, and religion. A key project in this course is to collect, document, and analyze the spiritual practices and folklore of friends, neighbors, family, and community members.

Violence in Spanish Films (Wednesday meetings are scheduled for required film screenings)

Taught by: Jill Robbins

This course will focus on the representations of violence in film from and about Spain. We will consider the following types of violence: 1) war, including but not limited to the Spanish Civil War; 2) torture and other state-sanctioned violence; 3) children and violence; 4) gender violence; 5) terrorism; 6) violence as spectacle; and civilization as violence. Another primary objective of the course is to introduce students to major directors in the history of Spanish film.

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.

Who's Laughing

Taught by: Mariana Abuan

In this course, we will explore humor as a topic of academic inquiry by asking questions like, when is a joke not funny? Who does this joke negatively impact? What beliefs, stereotypes, or practices does a joke perpetuate or aggravate? By examining jokes and comedic performances through critical lenses and contexts, we will learn how to generate research questions about the ethical, racial, cultural, and political implications of certain types of jokes and humor today. We will learn how to rhetorically analyze written and performed comedic pieces, 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 delving into the origins, histories, and contexts of jokes we will not only develop a deeper appreciation for this form of entertainment but also try to determine what kind of humor should be preserved and what kind should be abandoned.

Why People Believe Weird Stuff

Taught by: Jennifer Howell

This course is organized around the idea that the beliefs we hold -- about ourselves, about others, and about the world -- are often closer to quickly constructed and poorly tested hypotheses than to established fact. This is particularly true for a category of beliefs that we will call "weird." We will cover beliefs in things most people might call "weird" like extrasensory perception, UFOs, ghosts, magic, as well as beliefs that may feel a bit close to home: in fad diets, homeopathic medicine, religious cults, superstitions, and even extreme political views. Because our beliefs shape everything from the life decisions we make, to the way we interact with others, to the governmental policies that are implemented, we have an obligation to critically evaluate our own beliefs whenever possible. This can only be accomplished with the use of critical thinking skills. One goal of the course is therefore to learn critical thinking skills and apply these to our own and others' weird beliefs. A second goal is to use standard psychological science and its methodological tools to examine paranormal beliefs and thus to gain an understanding of the origins, functions, and survivability of such beliefs. Thus, in this course we will explore psychological processes that contribute to irrational beliefs, superstitions, and erroneous beliefs and behavior.