Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

First-Year Seminar

2016 Seminar Summaries  

by Residence Hall


Single Gender Residence Halls – Kurth for Women or Ruter for Men


Animation Salvation! - Portraying Religion in Cartoons and Comics

Animation is everywhere, and usually we view it for its humor, wit, and its biting social commentary.  But what if we can actually LEARN something from it as well?  In obvious and sometimes not so obvious ways, animation – comics, graphic novels, animated TV and film – tackles important subjects.  This seminar looks at all of these types of animation to see how they reflect and interpret ideas/ideologies about religion. What can Ned Flanders, Hank Hill, “Davey and Goliath”, or the kids from “South Park” show us about religion and the world we live in today?  Our goal is to find out.

Confucius Says: the Moral Life Examined

What is the best way to live a moral life? How can one best benefit humanity and oneself? How should one make moral choices? How should a state be organized to promote the well-being of its citizens? These questions were addressed by Confucius and other Chinese philosophers thousands of years ago and were recorded in texts that are some of the most powerful and influential texts in human history. This seminar will present an overview of early Chinese thought by reading works of early Chinese thinkers such as Confucius, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Laozi, Xunzi, and more.

I Am The Scribe: Marks and Makings of Ancient Tales

Why do some cultures keep some kinds of stories and other cultures keep different kinds? How did they go about keeping them? This is a seminar that looks at some of the oldest songs and tales, starting with China (the oldest poems) and England, and look at passages from elsewhere to see how they put them down. We will ask why and how. What letters, signs or symbols? Was there a place for personal expression? Is there a place for personal reading? We will ask.

Shady Politics: How Alexander the Great Corralled 50 Million People into an Empire

If you think that political spin today is over the top, take a look at Alexander the Great! Alexander, the crafty king who in the 4th cent. BCE combined his considerable charm with raw power to overthrow the vast Persian Empire, could school our politicians on how to sell an ideology. We will look at how Alexander the Spinmeister played the media of his day (literature, coins, architecture, sculpture, painting, etc.) to advance his world view, comparing how today’s politicians are exploiting similar techniques through modern media.

Taking a Walk In a Painting

There is an increasing use of visualization at every level in our daily contemporary life. Traditional literacy, based on the printed text, is being displaced by a culture of the screen (movies, computers, iPods, iPads, videogames, music videos, etc.).  We are confronted on a daily basis with a kaleidoscope of rapidly changing images. But what would happen if we could reverse this trend and give ourselves the time to stop and look at a single image for ten weeks?  What could we learn by “looking” at a painting for such a long time? Velasquez’s famous painting Las Meninas (1656) – considered by many “the world’s greatest painting”– will be the focus of our seminar.

The Amazing Adventures of Michael Chabon

Jewish comic book artists.  U.S. immigration quotas during WW II and the Shoah.  Suburban life and its discontents.  Life in pre-Stonewall America.  This is the stuff of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel.  By focusing on this text and a few of Chabon’s earlier works, we will explore the ways in which literature represents and shapes our ideas about ethnicity, religion, gender and sexuality.  Along the way we will also reflect upon and expand our assumptions about the role that authors and readers play in determining the meaning of literary texts.


 Coed Residence Hall – Mabee


“A Pirate’s Life for Me:” Pirates, Piracy, and Southwestern

This seminar will use our own swashbuckling university mascot as a lens through which to study history, literature, art, pop culture, the media, law, business, and the environment.  We will explore the existence and changing definitions of piracy across time and space, from its ancient roots to its Caribbean golden age, to modern piracy on the high seas and online.  From Henry Morgan to Long John Silver, Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, and Napster, who or what constitutes a pirate, why do they capture our imaginations so, and what does it mean to be one in present-day Georgetown, Texas?

Doctor Who as Social Commentary

Mixed in with the fanciful fezzes, sonic screwdrivers, and magical blue police box of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Doctor Who are complex critiques of contemporary social issues.  In this seminar, we will delve beneath the iconic images to critically analyze the television show’s social and political commentary on war, intergroup and race relations, the human-alien dichotomy, the media, nationalism, gender roles and feminism, and the in/appropriate use of violence.


Do you want to learn the scientific procedure to turn all metals into gold, to materialize spirits, to communicate with mother Earth, and to cure cancer? In this seminar, we will read and analyze the work of scientists who dedicated their lives to the study of phenomena that contemporary scientists regard as pseudoscience. Following scientists, their practices, and the cultural context where they practice science, this seminar will introduce you to the study of science as a human activity, where personal beliefs, political alliances, religious inclinations, and economic interests play an important role in the production of scientific knowledge.

Run For Your Life!

Exercise is an accessible and inexpensive way to combat a multitude of preventable diseases.  However, recent anthropological evidence suggests that physical activity and, more specifically, endurance running, appears to be a defining evolutionary characteristic of human development.   This seminar will explore this exercise-health paradox.  Initially, social, cultural and physiological aspects of running will be examined to see whether humans were “born to run.”  The seminar will then conclude with an examination of the broader implications for maintaining an active lifestyle.

Secret History: What We Know and Don’t

How do you “know” what you “know” and what does it mean you do?  What if everything you “know” is wrong…your life profoundly shaped by moments that barely left a trace in History where people  struggled to realize private dreams and desires in public counter-hegemonic space(s) and sought to gain control over the material and ideological conditions of their everyday lives. So what matters are Arabian Assassins, Mediterranean pirate enclaves, the Paris Commune, Dada, tri-racial isolate drop-out communities, Situationists, and “punks”? “Real” (hi)story found in Ginsberg’s “Howl,” 16th century Anabaptists, the Velvet Underground, silent French movie serials, Delta blues singers, Drake or Chance the Rapper…

The Simpsons: Embiggening Minds Through Satire

What can Maggie Simpson teach us about personal freedom? Is Homer Simpson a 2nd amendment crusader? Is alcohol “the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems?”  “As the longest running television show in American history, The Simpsons has tackled myriad political, social, and cultural issues. By using humor, the residents of Springfield have illuminated our understanding through the lens of satire for the past 27 years. This seminar will explore the role satire plays in incorporating complex issues into our social consciousness. Other media, including Family Guy, Weird Al Yankovich, and The Onion will also be explored.

Understanding Race and Racism

This seminar first explores the historical development of the ideas and institutions of race and racism. We then review the myth of biological race and learn the biology of human difference. The latter weeks of the seminar examine how race and racism, and the systems of privilege and oppression they generate, manifest themselves in the 21st C, a time some claim is “post-racial.”  While the seminar focuses primarily on the U.S., and looks closely at current events tied to race and racism in the U.S., it also considers how race and racism are structured in other parts of the world.

Unweaving the Web: The Internet of Things and People

How have you used the Internet today? Would you panic if you lost your phone? Computers, phones, fitness trackers and more provide a wealth of data, but at what price? When do the benefits of allowing an app to know your location outweigh the loss of privacy? What do you store in the cloud, and what exactly does that mean? How does technology change our interactions with others? The Internet is global, yet how do online experiences differ for users all over the world? This seminar will explore technical aspects, ethical concerns, and societal implications of the Internet.


 Coed Residence Hall – Brown-Cody


Fixing the Broken Mind

The prevalence of psychological disorders continues to increase with each generation. The negative impact of these disorders ranges from staggering economic costs to unparalleled emotional suffering and lost lives.  In the face of this we have the field of mental health – a loosely defined field made up of numerous disciplines all attempting to battle mental illness predominately by treating it at the individual level. This seminar will explore this battle through open-minded inquiry via readings and feature films.  We will contemplate the meaning of mental illness and grapple with the weight of a profession that holds lives in its hands.

Food, Health & French Culture

Many Americans are obsessed with healthy eating, but are plagued by food related health problems. In contrast, the French consume a decadent diet, yet enjoy a low rate of obesity and heart disease. To get to the bottom of this contradiction, this seminar examines the history and philosophy of French food culture. Concurrently, students actively research how unhealthy ingredients found in processed food affect human health. They also compare and contrast concepts and trends of their own everyday life with those of the French cultural model.

Pop-up Books:  Manipulating Life through Discovery and Ingenuity

Pop-up books are interactive illustrations rooted in history and discovery.  One of the earliest inventions of interactive illustration was a thirteenth century tool used in astrological calculations called a volvelle. Volvelles are still used today in the Arts and Sciences for calculating data. We will also explore pop-up books and the cross-curricular nature of paper engineering.  Advanced folding techniques are used today to create a myriad of life changing products and tools, which advance our civilization. The history, innovation, and artistry of pop-up books will be the foundation for research, discussion, problem solving and critical thinking as we analyze these paper engineered creations.

The Science and Art of Play: Social and Cognitive Development through Make-Believe and Performance

Children in all cultures and societies engage in imaginary play; however, the concept of play varies among different cultures. This seminar investigates imaginary play and performance from multiple perspectives, including the role of play in children’s development, cultural views of play, play in animals, and the role of performance in learning and understanding school subjects. Students will report on research about play and write and perform (for students at a local elementary school) a children’s theater scene exploring science concepts. This seminar integrates the fields of education, psychology, theater, and the natural sciences.

Tuning the Hemispheres: Music and the Brain

What happens in our brain when we listen to music? What parts of the brain are activated? Have humans been adapted for music? Can music make you smarter? What role does music play in the creation of our personal identities? How have our interactions with music changed over time? This seminar will examine the psychological and physiological effects that music has on the human brain, and consider it in broad contexts and specific case studies.  We will consider how, in the age of Shazam, Pandora and the iPhone, we communicate with one-another at an interpersonal level through music.

What Are You Saying?: Exploring Language and Communication

Is there a right way and a wrong way to say something? Do men and women speak differently? How and why does language change over time? How does the way you speak reveal who you are? In this seminar, we will explore all things linguistic, starting with the basic question of what exactly language is, and on to issues of language and identity, language and thought, language and society, language and the media, and so on. We will go on a thought-provoking journey exploring one of the most unique and fascinating aspects of human knowledge and behavior: language.