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Freshman Seminar

Spring 2022 Freshman Seminar Course Descriptions

FSEM 101-01 “Environmental Hazards” 
Professor Simon Ghanat
TR 11:00-12:15

FSWI 101-01 “Environmental Hazards”
Professor Tom Plichta
MWF 11:00-11:50

Human-made (“anthropogenic”) environmental hazards are an inter-disciplinary area of study that involves various aspects of natural sciences, applied sciences and social sciences. Professor Ghanat’s seminar will focus on the critical review of scientific literature for environmental impacts, especially chemical contamination caused by anthropogenic disasters. Basic scientific concepts of human-made environmental hazards will be explained throughout the course and will be enhanced by discussing various case studies derived from films (i.e., Flint Water Crisis, A Civil Action, Love Canal, and Erin Brockovich).  

Professor Plichta’s linked writing-intensive class affords students the opportunity to demonstrate both written communication and inquiry/analysis skills while investigating the historical and contemporary impact of synthetic pesticides and chemical/radiological pollutants on the planet and its inhabitants.  Students will have an opportunity to read and discuss Rachel Carlson’s landmark book Silent Spring which was among the first to bring environmental concerns to the public’s attention.  Exploring Jonathan Harr’s national bestseller, A Civil Action, students will research, analyze, and report on the legal maneuverings which forced two large corporations to pay for the largest chemical cleanup in the northeastern United States.  Additional discussion and analysis opportunities will focus on case studies of the Bhophal chemical leak, toxic waste dumping in Côte d'Ivoire, the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and other ecological disasters.   The course will include extensive writing opportunities including low-risk in-class writing, contextual analysis, and a final research project.

You should sign up for FSEM and FSWI 101-01 if you

  • Enjoy reading and learning about environmental and structural disasters
  • Care about the safety of your drinking water and environment
  • Enjoy watching environmental disaster movies and engaging in follow-up discussions
  • Are interested in exploring interfaces between science, citizen action, public health, and the U.S. Legal System
  • Like working on team projects and going on field trips
  • Want to focus on improving your writing with the opportunity for revision and one-on-one guidance

FSEM 101-02 & 101-03  "Digital Citizenship"
Professor Elizabeth Connor

MWF 11:00-11:50, MWF 9:00-9:50

FSWI 101-02 & 101-03  "Digital Combat"
Professor Licia Hendriks

MWF 9:00-9:50, MWF 11:00-11:50

These linked courses will focus on digital identity in two ways: through the experience of the digital world itself, and through literature and film related to the digital world’s challenges and conflicts.

As the COVID-19 global pandemic revealed, evolving technology inevitably works to shape our interactions with one another and the world at large in ways we can no longer prescribe or predict.  Virtual meetings and the production and exchange of recorded content (audio and video clips, vlogs, memes, and livestreams, for instance) suggest a degree of autonomy over how one is perceived by the online community. However, the consolidation of the digital self tests the limits of subjectivity in interesting ways: to what extent is one’s web-based identity within one’s own control? What is it about the internet that makes some people act antisocial? What aspects of virtual interaction facilitate the building of common ground?  What role, if any, does confirmation bias play when we form opinions based on online content? What roles do social media play in the court of public opinion? How has the internet modified our expectations for timely interactions and service responsiveness? How do online stereotypes (race, gender, culture) contribute to cyberbullying and digital outrage? 

Professor Connor’s class will focus on roles, responsibilities, and challenges related to being a digital citizen. We will use case studies, films, and current news stories to explore the benefits and perils of online identities; and articulate the societal value and impact of crowdsourcing, peer production, and collective intelligence.

Dr. Hendriks’ linked writing-intensive course will explore the assorted challenges and conflicts that surface and proliferate in the navigation of the digital universe, primarily through the consideration of Eleanor Burgess’ provocative play The Niceties (2019). In negotiating what I want to call Wars of the Words, online combatants all too often engage in discourse that turns hostile and escalates from the private domain to the public stage. In analyzing such incidents, students will enhance their ability to generate and refine ideas, and practice how to express those ideas in clear and effective argumentative prose. 

You should sign up for FSEM and FSWI 101-02 or 101-03 if you:

  • Enjoy technology-oriented reading, writing and discussions
  • Enjoy watching films about technological innovation
  • Like debating, analyzing, and engaging with opposing viewpoints
  • Are interested in becoming a better writer
  • Are interested in thinking critically

FSEM 101-04  “Chinese Utopian Thought”
Professor Keith Knapp

TR 11:00-12:15

FSWI 101-04 “Western Utopian Literature”
Professor Thomas Horan

MWF 11:00-11:50

We tend to think that Chinese are a practical and hard-working people not prone to idealism.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Chinese past and present have envisioned better worlds and taken active measures to reach or create them. In the far past, some people searched for Daoist paradises located on islands, on the edges of civilization, and in mountain caverns.  Others believed that the end of the world was at hand and attempted to establish heaven on earth through revolutionary violence.  Members of the Confucian elite tried to institute utopias through political, ritual, and economic reforms.  In modern times, leaders who had utopian visions have had the greatest success in drawing people to their causes, most particularly Hong Xiuquan who created the ill-fated Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace and Mao Zedong who enacted the disastrous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. The purpose of this class is to see the manifold ways Chinese have envisioned a better world and then endeavored, sometimes catastrophically to bring it about.  If you are interested in how utopianism has influenced our behavior and shaped our imagination, you should sign up for FSEM 101-04 and FSWI 101-04.

FSEM 101-5 & 101-6 “Fun with Statistics”
Professor Renee Jefferson
TR 09:30-10:45 & 11:00am-12:15pm

FSWI 101-5 & 101-6 “Data Driven Writing”
Professor Elizabeth Connor
TR 11:00am-12:15pm & TR 9:30-10:45

These linked courses will focus on the practical and fun use of data to understand and solve real-world problems.

Contrary to common belief, statistics can be exciting and fun. So, what is it about numbers and datasets that excite some people and frighten others? What role, if any, does bias play when we form opinions based on data?

Dr. Jefferson’s course will explore how statistical reasoning impacts modern society (e.g., business, sports, military, and politics), what it means to be random and how the idea of randomness affects our daily decisions, and the basic principle of statistical reasoning (i.e., if something is highly unlikely, do not believe it, especially if there is a much more likely alternative explanation).

Professor Connor’s linked writing-intensive class will focus on visualizing and representing data in written communications and images. We will use digital technologies, films, and current news stories to explore the benefits and dangers of our data-driven lives, and articulate the societal value and impact of decisions based on numbers.

You should sign up for FSEM and FSWI 101-05 & 06 if you:

  • Enjoy making decisions and predictions based on data
  • Are interested in thinking critically and analytically
  • Like debating, analyzing, and engaging with opposing viewpoints
  • Like data-oriented reading, writing, discussions, and films
  • Are interested in becoming a better writer

FSEM 101-07 & 101-08   “Military Ethics”
Professor Robert Craig

MWF 09:00-09:50  MWF 1100-1150 

FSWI 101-07 & 101-08    “Invictus: Know Yourself, Own Yourself”
Professor Jennifer Adair

MWF 11:00-11:50  MWF 900-950

Military Ethics is the systematic analysis of values, principles, and tactics in the profession of arms.  Specifically, we analyze the profession of arms and its history and then move into the Just War Theoretical traditions beginning with Thucydides, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant and Niebuhr.  After that, we begin the tactical ethical concerns such as private armies, drone warfighting, and cyber warfighting. 

How do those rare few people manage to remain calm and resolute in dangerous conditions while others panic or shut down? This class will introduce you to the basics of how people’s minds and bodies respond under extreme stress and how to better control your own thought process in daily frustrations. After learning about the individual’s performance under stress, we will move to how to lead others, taking insight from long-held POWs, former Navy SEALS, and Army Rangers. While the main skills developed in the class are writing and critical thinking, you will explore history, philosophy, and other readings to help understand how to build a resilient mind. Using short reflective writing, formal writing, and a research paper, you will create a portfolio that begins to anchor your personal and leadership philosophy.

FSEM 101-09 “Military Technology in Society”
Professor James Righter 
MWF 11:00-11:50

FSWI 101-09 “Military Technology and Society’s Future Trajectory”  
Professor Tom Plichta
TR 11:00-12:15

These linked courses will look at warfare through the twin lenses of its technological underpinnings on one hand and its relation to societal values on the other.

Professor Righter’s course will explore the evolution of military technology and the ways in which that technology is created and subsequently finds application in civilian as well as military contexts.  Military leaders are always looking for an advantage over the adversaries.  Some have looked for new weapons or systems that the enemy does not possess.  Engineering has often provided that advantage in warfare. Often times, that same engineering application has found its way to society and become commonplace.  Historically, technology has been of significant value to military leaders.  This course will provide a broad overview of several engineering disciplines and in doing so will show how engineering and technology have been used for military applications. To some extent, it will provide a brief historical summary of technology applications in warfare, from bows and arrows through contemporary weapon systems. Students enrolled in this seminar will learn about basic military technology and take away enough understanding to see connections and applications to civilian society. 

Many texts, fiction and non-fiction, have explored the intersection of military technology and society through various genres, including satire, speculative fiction, particularly science fiction, war literature, and film. Students will be able to explore both historical and contemporary issues and develop arguments via essays, research papers, and classroom debate scenarios. 

Professor Plichta’s course will examine the intersection of military technology and society through the lens of what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls the GNR (genetic, nanotechnology, and robotics) revolution.  Students will have an opportunity to read, analyze, and discuss historical and contemporary issues involving the development and application of military technology as reflected in literature, non-fiction, and film, including science fiction.  Through an examination of works ranging from Asimov’s Foundation series and the three laws of robotics to Cameron’s apocalyptic Terminator franchise, students will consider the potential impact of sentient artificial intelligence on both the conduct of warfare and society’s future trajectory. From designer babies and human cloning to graphene superlattices and grey ooze, the course will interrogate the ethical implications of the exponential growth of research in genetics and nanotechnology with particular emphasis on military applications. Finally, guided by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future, students will explore a vision of the next century and discuss how, as future leaders in business and the military, they will negotiate the challenges and opportunities of the next 100 years.  The course will include extensive writing opportunities including low-risk in-class writing, literary analysis, and a final research project

You should sign up for FSEM and FSWI 101-09 if you…

  • Have an interest in military technology.
  • Like to understand the connectivity between military and civilian technology.
  • Have interest in history and contemporary issues involving the development and application of military technology as reflected in literature and film, including science fiction.
  • Have an idea or could develop one to research and debate a historical or contemporary issue involving the development and application of military technology
  • Would like to read, analyze, and debate historical and contemporary issues involving the development and application of military technology as reflected in literature, non-fiction, and film, including science fiction.
  • Want to explore the individual and societal values that govern such matters as willingness to participate (or not) in particular war efforts, the ethics involved in such choices, and the attitudes toward particular wars that linger in retrospect.

FSEM 101-10  "Video Game Culture"
Professor Nathan Washuta

TR 11:00-12:15

FSWI 101-10  "War and Crime in Popular Culture"
Professor Anthony Licari

MWF 09:00-9:50

The popularity of video games has increased exponentially since the introduction of Spacewar! in 1962. These games, now considered a normal part of popular culture, exert considerable influence on the decision-making of many people. This course will provide an overview of video game history and design from several perspectives, including technological advances, in-game physics, real-life effects, and business approaches. Students will be asked to think critically about open-ended issues related to video games such as the importance (or unimportance) of historical accuracy and will be encouraged to develop their own approaches to complex situations.

Two genres pervade the modern video game industry: war and crime. War games like Call of Duty have now become generational blockbusters with budgets and profits that dwarf most Hollywood titles. The Grand Theft Auto series has pushed the envelope of censorship and crime since its debut over twenty years ago. It has spawned a genre of criminal role-playing games like Mafia, Yakuza, and Empire of Sin. A hundred years ago, popular culture was similarly fascinated with war and crime. During the First World War, literature became submerged in the conflict. After the war ended, however, the American public grew tired of the subject and instead turned its attention toward tales of scandal and vice. The two worlds of war and crime collide in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic, The Great Gatsby. We will analyze the role of the Great War in this great social upheaval, why some veterans chose a life of crime, and why the American mind is drawn so strongly to the bloody trenches and the dark alleys.

You should sign up for FSEM & FSWI 101-10 if you…

  • Enjoy playing and talking about video games.
  • Enjoy reading, writing, and discussing science fiction.
  • Are interested in historical and contemporary issues involving treatment of video games alongside film, television, and written literature.
  • Are interested in the effects of new technology on society.
  • Are interested in how to define what makes a "good" game.
  • Have ideas on how to build your own fictional worlds

FSEM 101-11  "The History of the FBI"
Professor Melissa Graves
TR 11:00-12:15

FSWI 101-11  "Decoding Murder Mysteries: Writing About True Crime and Obsession"
Professor Katja Pilhuj
MWF 09:00-09:50

Professor Graves’s seminar looks at the history of the Bureau since its inception in 1908: its early years fighting criminal gangsters; forays into Latin America to hunt Nazis during World War II; its Cold War mission to preserve democracy amid a raging Soviet Union; its struggle against the Radical Left in the 1970s; finally, its shift to the War on Terror, both domestically and abroad.  We will examine who has told the FBI’s history and exactly how they’ve done so—the sources they used, their views of the Bureau’s “culture,” and how the time in which they wrote influenced how they saw the FBI.

Making a Murderer. My Favorite Murder. Murder was the Case. These three titles stand in for the hundreds of creative and investigative works focused on real-life crimes, particularly murder. Why are we as a culture so fascinated by such horrific acts that we produce art about them, read and watch books and programs on it, and enjoy fictional portrayals of real murder? This class will allow you to develop your writing skills as we explore four infamous murder mysteries that have not been satisfactorily solved and continue to inspire speculation and recreation--even beyond their lack of a clear culprit.  Examining the Jack the Ripper murders, the Lizzie Borden ax mystery, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and “who put Bella in the Wych Elm,” we will try to explain why murder, and these murder mysteries in particular, can be so captivating. We will read original news accounts, editorials, and more recent perspectives, as well as listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, fictional films, and even look at cartoons and paintings. As we consider these documents and artifacts, we will use discussion and writing to investigate some major questions: how were these mysteries initially reported and depicted in the press? What elements seemed to fascinate the public, and what does that fascination reveal about that culture? How have the crimes been depicted over time, up to the present day? Why do we continue to be fascinated by these mysteries, and what does that fascination say about us? 


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