First-Year Seminar

All students in the College of Arts and Sciences take a First-Year Seminar during the first semester developed around a particular topic. Courses fall under three categories: Pop Culture Analysis, Storytelling/Journaling/Communication, and Psychological/Societal Exploration.

You register for the course that is of most interest to you. The purpose of the seminar is to help you improve your writing and presentation skills, while you learn to work in small groups and adjust to the expectations of college. At the end of the semester, you and your team present a final project to faculty, staff, students, and alumni, at the annual First-Year Seminar Symposium.

Fall 2024 First-Year Seminar Topics

The following First-Year Seminar courses (FYS 100P) are scheduled for the Fall 2024 semester.


Pop Culture Analysis

Nels Highberg

TR 3:35

EDM exploded as a twenty-first century genre because of the popularity of superstar DJs such as Calvin Harris and sold-out festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival, but there is not too much new about electronic dance music. In this cultural history of EDM, we will dissect the electrifying roots, or history, of EDM by examining the twentieth-century genres from which it was built and the hidden routes, or places, where EDM has been formed and transformed. Whether itʼs the disco and hip hop grooves of NYC, the futuristic pulses of techno in Detroit, or Londonʼs underground raves, weʼll trace the beats and meet the drops.


Jack Banks

MW 2:103:25 p.m.  

US teenagers spend an average of over seven hours each day using media for entertainment, and tweens devote almost five hours a day, according to a report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization. This doesn't include time devoted to using screens like smartphones and computers for school and homework.

This large amount of time spend paying attention to media for entertainment raises important questions about the role of media in the lives of young people like you. What kind of values and ideas are presented in media? What underlying ideas do media convey about sex, relationships, success, wealth, social responsibility, freedom, individualism, crime, and poverty? Do media present cues about what people should look like and how they should act? How are various groups in society are portrayed in media such as different economic classes, racial and ethnic minorities, genders and sexual orientations?

We will explore these questions from several directions, examining media production, media content, and viewer interpretation. We will read and critique scholarly articles about these topics, screening documentaries about images and portrayals in popular culture, and critically examining excerpts of these media. Students will create their own group project about one kind of media content where they respond to what authors and documentaries say about media.


Nicholas Ealy

MW 11:20-12:35 

What exactly is love and how have artists and writers explored and defined it? Why is it still a popular topic in movies, songs and novels? Can new love stories ever say something “unique” about this human experience? In this course, we will explore these questions by looking at a variety of literature, songs, television shows and films, all the while seeking to understand why love continues to hold a prominent place in cultural production. We will also give special emphasis to creative writing, academic writing and the work it takes to "think through" topics worthy of analysis and discussion.

Branko Kovacic 
MW 3:35-4:50   

Google has achieved consecrated status within the popular culture in the United States and many other countries. Google amplifies a belief that everything that is important is on the Web, and that all that is important to human beings can be achieved through information and communication networks. Google has become “the online Church of Google” that provides stability when everything seems to be in turmoil. And many of us have deep faith in Google. Why is it so? How did we live before Google? Were we better off? One way to answer these questions is to situate Google within a network of the four most powerful IT and communication companies in the world – Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Another way to answer these questions is to situate Google within a networked culture revolving around spreadable media. We need to examine Google’s cultural impact by focusing on the tensions between the economic/commercial and the social/noncommercial logics of media content production and exchange.

Amy Weiss

MW 11:20-12:35

How can literature and film inform our understanding of the American past? While fictional accounts (including short stories and novels) emphasize the use of the imagination, history instead relies on the interpretation of multiple sources to determine the truth. This course examines American literature and cinema, together with historical accounts of defining moments in World War II history, to learn how fiction can teach us to empathize—and how non-fiction can help us reconsider our present and future. 


Katharine Owens

MW       8:30-9:45

For centuries voyagers, scientists, and naturalists have kept journals of their expeditions and adventures exploring the world. They have used tools including mapmaking, journaling, collecting specimens, sketching, and painting to catalog their environment and chronicle their experiences. In this class, we will dive deeply into the journals of dozens of voyagers including Rose de Freycinet, Charles Darwin, Adela Breton, Zheng He, and Tupaia, and the artwork of naturalists like Maria Sibylla Merian and Ernst Haeckel. Fueled by this new knowledge, we will use similar tools, approaches, and strategies to create a voyager’s journal of the first semester of the college experience.  

Erin Striff

TR 2:10-3:35

Want to make a connection or leave a mark?  Tell a story. In this class you will learn storytelling secrets from film and fiction that will help you tell stories in a variety of situations and genres. You will also have the opportunity to collect a piece of oral history from someone whose life is meaningful to you.  This is a great class for those who want to improve their speaking skills, learn to build narrative, develop creativity and listen to others’ stories

Abe Hefter

TR 9:55-11:10 

In this class, students will be put into groups with other like-minded students to produce a series of shows in the form of audio podcasts. Students will explore a theme of their choice (within the course criteria) over the course of the semester. You will be given the opportunity to tackle show topics related to sports, entertainment, the environment, true crime, politics ... and more. Programs/Assignments will be produced both during and outside class time. The only piece of equipment that you will be required to have is a mobile phone that can record audio (such as the IOS 'voice memos' app.) You will also have the opportunity to produce audio content in the recently renovated and expanded podcast studio in the Harry Jack Gray Center. Students will come away with an understanding of the audio production process and an appreciation of the commitment necessary to live up to a rigorous programming/show schedule in a group setting. 

Bryan Sinche

Two Sections:

TR 12:45-2:00

TR 2:10-3:35

Communication is easier today than any point in history, but human beings have always wanted to record and share thoughts, feelings, and stories, and this desire has driven a great deal of technological innovation. This class will look at the tools and materials that have made written communication possible: From stone tablets to paper making to the printing press to the computer. We will learn about the history of communication, but we will also spend our time creating. We’ll make paper, set type for printing and use a real hand press, we’ll also learn above image printing and maybe (if we’re lucky) carve some wood blocks. Be willing to get your hands dirty.


Psychological/Societal Exploration

Paola Sacchetti

TR 12:45-2:00

Welcome to College! You are about to embark on a personal journey to expand your knowledge and prepare you for the career of your dreams. This semester should be an inspiring moment! Why are you anxious, then? This first year comes with social, emotional, and practical changes – increased responsibilities, multiple deadlines, new friends, new classes, new experiences, and new doubts. Do you have the tools to help you succeed? This course will help you build resilience and new habits to prepare you and help you navigate a potentially stressful college life. Using different sources of inspiration (social media, websites, magazines), we will examine various forms of self-care, research best practices, and apply them. In addition, we will evaluate the validity of these techniques through analysis of scholarly research in psychology and neuroscience. Throughout the course, you will practice and compile a list of different activities that help you manage the many stressors of your new college life and be more successful. The course will be based on readings, class discussion, first-hand activities, presentations and a collaborative class project.

Jonathan Gordils

MW  9:55-11:10                          

In this class, we will examine the impact of economic inequality on how we think, feel, and behave. We will examine research on economic inequality (e.g., income, wealth), as well as how different configurations of inequality (e.g., Black/White) shape psychological functioning. This class is designed to foster critical thinking, engage in scientific discourse, and promote student collaboration.

Amanda Walling  

Two Sections:

TR 9:55-11:10

TR 11:20-12:35

Monster tales have emerged in almost every culture as a way of entertaining us, defining our values, confronting our fears, and exploring how we understand ourselves. In this course, we will explore myths, novels, and films that represent monsters as the sinister double of the hero, the scientist, or the civilized self. How do the demons we battle tell us more about who we are?

Adam Chiara  

TR 11:20-12:35

Social media has transformed communication, society, and our daily lives. While many of these changes are enriching, it has also caused repercussions. 

We will explore how this new media altered the world and what may still come from it. We will cover how it has affected brands, politics, sports, news, entertainment, personal communication, and other topics. By the end of the course, you will have a greater appreciation of how powerful and dangerous social media can be and learn the ways you are a part of its evolution. 

EB Caron

MW 9:55-11:10

What does it take to become a competitive speed jigsaw puzzler? How can jigsaw puzzles benefit our brains? In this course, students will work individually and in teams to improve their speed puzzling, do close reading and discussion of research articles related to the topic, and collect, analyze, and visualize data on their progress.

2022 First-Year Seminar Symposium

Students enroll in the seminar that they find the most interesting.

The symposium is attended by alumni, faculty, staff, and students from the College of Arts and Sciences.

The presentations are judged by alumni and faculty.

FYS students improve their writing and presentation skills, while learning how to work in small groups.