What makes the sun shine? How can improv comedy prepare you for future careers? And after the apocalypse, what will we wear? First-Year Seminars answer these questions and more!
Find your academic path by exploring unique topics and connecting with others in First Year Seminars. These seminars are a great way to:
- Develop communication skills.
- Make connections with professors and students who share your interests.
- Explore topics that can help you discover the academic path that’s right for you!
Open to all first-year students, these small, interactive classes are limited to 19 students in each course. Some of them even offer an international component! (Scroll to the bottom of this page to see all international offerings.)
Fall 2019 First-Year Seminars
Asia Travels: Perceptions of Self, Constructions of Other
J Colleen Berry, Center for Asian Studies
Does travel create more understanding and bring people closer together? Or does it just reinforce stereotypes and generate negative feelings? This course examines how travel by both Asian people and non-Asian people shapes and reflects our views of ourselves and of others. It will challenge your assumptions and deepen your travel experiences throughout the world. This class has been approved for GenEd-Diversity: Global Perspective credit.
Game of Thrones and the Logic of Political Survival
Adrian Shin, Political Science
All political leaders face the challenge of keeping their jobs or heads. Whether you are the ruler of King’s Landing or the Mother of Dragons, your desire to survive motivates your policy choices. Using the series Game of Thrones, this seminar introduces first-year students to some of the most important concepts in political science and discusses how to maximize their chance of survival should they decide to enter politics.
Real vs. Fake: How Can You Tell?
Douglas Duncan, APS
How can you tell good from bad science on the internet? Astronomy vs. astrology? Climate change vs. climate change denial? Conventional vs. unconventional medicine? How does a nonscientist make wise choices among real and fake sources of information? This seminar broadens the curriculum to include all kinds of real and fake news. What are the tell-tale signs of each? How can you protect yourself from being "conned"? Fakes can be fun, but avoiding being fooled is serious. And what really did land in Roswell, New Mexico?!
Headwaters: Going Upriver in Literature and Film
Thomas Levi Thompson, Asian Languages and Civilizations
Taking account of river journeys as our focal point, this seminar explores headwaters in literature and film. We will also reflect on what it means to travel into the unknown, to seek out unexplored headwaters, to undertake a life-changing journey upriver. Along the way, we will discuss the works of Joseph Conrad, Tayyib Saleh, Ibn Fadlan, Francis Ford Coppola, Ciro Guerra, Werner Herzog, Toni Morrison and Rudaki, among others. This class has been approved for GenEd-Diversity Global Perspective credit.
Art & the Revolution of Everyday Life
Anthony Abiragi, Program for Writing and Rhetoric
Can art change the world? Avant-garde artists certainly thought so. In this seminar, we will examine past and contemporary modes of avant-garde visual art, but we will not limit ourselves to a purely academic study. We will expand the parameters of avant-gardism to create experimental projects that, like our artist-predecessors, aim to revolutionize everyday life. No previous experience or talent in creating art is necessary!
Investigating Art, Media, Culture & Visual Literacy Through Drawing
Tyler Alpern, Libby Arts RAP
This seminar teaches basic drawing skills together with the mechanics of two-dimensional space, and deconstructs the kinds of artistic images students commonly encounter in social media, street art, graffiti, advertising, comics and tattoos as a basis for understanding how complex visual language communicates profound meaning. Experiential learning activities introduce the practices of design thinking, idea production, the creative process and critical thinking.
East Asian Comic Cultures
Evelyn Shih, Asian Languages and Civilizations
What's your comic sensibility? How do we write about what is funny? Moving through various theories of the comic, we will test them against works of film, cartoons and literature. Students will explore philosophy, media studies, and visual analysis with cartoons and video to reflect on their own comic sensibility and locate their positions as cultural critics.
Boxing: The Original Greek Mental and Physical Fitness Program
Murray Cox, Applied Mathematics
As the philosophical Greeks understood long ago, the mind and body work as one and must be in harmony. A number of world-class intellects have used boxing as a vehicle to focus the mind, challenge the body, and face the adrenalin and excitement of athleticism mano a mano. An Olympic captain conducts training; guest speakers are gold medal winners and other world-class athletes.
Ideas of India: Intellectual Legacies of Saints, Scholars and Scoundrels
Rahul Parson, Asian Languages and Civilizations
India generates many images, associations, stories and sensations. What are the legacies of these things, how did they come to be, and how accurate are they? This course is about the cultures, wisdom and associations of a dynamic and marvelous part of the world.
Improvisation: Thinking on Your Feet
Kevin Rich, Theatre & Dance
In this experience-based course, you will learn and practice the basic rules of improvisation and be introduced to a variety of applications of improv, including long-form, short-form, Playback and red-nosed clown. Improv is often associated with comedy (because it’s fun and hilarious!) but it also provides essential skills in collaboration, creativity, and communication and is increasingly being taught in law schools, business schools, and beyond. No improv or performance experience is necessary to enroll in this course; we’ll start with the basics and work our way up, culminating in a fun final performance with your classmates that will leave you feeling more confident about public speaking, collaborating with others, and thinking on your feet!
How to Think (Philosophically) About Sex
David Boonin, Philosophy
Are violent sexual fantasies immoral? What about playing video games that feature sexual violence? Hiring a prostitute? Incest? Sexual promiscuity? And what should we say when a person’s consent to sex is compromised because they’ve been given false information or they’re moderately intoxicated or quite young? Is it wrong to be a sperm donor or pay someone to carry a pregnancy to term? Sex raises a lot of important and difficult ethical questions. This introductory-level, discussion-oriented seminar will provide a critical survey of what contemporary philosophers have said about many of these questions, and help students learn how to think, talk and write about such questions clearly, critically and constructively.
Leonardo da Vinci: Art, Form and Function—Then and Now
Rishi Raj, Mechanical Engineering
Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisain 1503 at the age of 51, but he also drew turbulent water and the human body, and created precise mechanisms for manufacturing and defense as a way to give form to his ideas. This seminar explores his mind and methods, still valid today, and applies them to molecular biology, microelectronics, robotics, energy and materials science. This highly interdisciplinary course has three aspects: immersion in the work of Leonardo da Vinci, working on and writing about specific topics within one of these areas, and constructive discussion of each other’s work.
Why Be Moral?
Brian Talbot, Philosophy
Why we should care about doing the right thing? Although discussions of this topic go back to the beginnings of philosophy, there remain to this day the fiercest of disagreements about how to answer the question. This seminar examines the variety of answers that have been given over the centuries. Students will be asked to think analytically about the question, and to reflect honestly on the question from within their own lives, so as to seek an understanding that is both intellectual and personal.
America Compared: The Greatest Country in the World?
Sven Steinmo, Political Science
We've heard a lot about the U.S. being "exceptional." But what does that mean? How and why is the USA different from other democracies, and what does that mean for our future in the 21st century?
Science and Art in an Interdisciplinary World
Jorge Pérez-Gallego, Critical Media Practices
Carl Sagan once said, “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” Similarly, art is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of work. Thus, the sciences and the arts are two complementary ways of thinking about the world inside and around us. This course examines the duality while empowering students as they embark on a new academic journey that will allow them to explore their scientific and artistic inquisitiveness. This course is rooted in NEST—Nature, Environment, Science & Technology Studio for the Arts, a campus initiative that combines artistic practice and scientific research to explore our common and disparate ways of observing, recording, experimenting and knowing.
Witchcraft in Premodern Europe and America
Celine Dauverd, History
Do you believe in magic? How do magic and religion differ? Were witches considered a real threat? This course will guide you through European and American rationalization of the persecution of witches. Cultural historians of witchcraft usually rely on archival sources, painstakingly teasing out stories from trial records, to eventually create alluring works that offer a window into an era associated with European expansion, the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. In this course, students will read witchcraft manuals, transcripts of tried witches and secondary literature, participate in skits, and practice history by writing journal entries pretending to be a witch.
Gandhi and Meditation: Practicing Peace Inside and Out
Cathy Comstock, Farrand RAP
Gandhi stunned the world by showing that nonviolence can be a force more powerful than violence, and demonstrating the power of meditation to keep us peaceful, strong and happy even in the most stressful of situations. In this class you will learn all the ways that nonviolence can transform the world. And you will learn meditative techniques that apply to every part of your life. We all have an astounding inner technology just waiting to bring us a happiness, well-being and focus far beyond that which we may have imagined to be possible.
Here Comes the Sun: How the Nearest Star Affects our Lives
Steven R. Cranmer, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences
Are you fascinated by that huge, fiery powerhouse up in the sky that sustains all life on Earth? In this seminar, you will discover what makes the sun shine, how it affects Earth's climate and biology, how we can harness its power, and how it can produce hazardous "solar storms" that may have serious consequences here on the ground. We will seek out deep connections between topics as seemingly different as rainbows, ancient myths and alien life forms. You'll also chart a unique course by designing your own group projects, writing about topics that interest you and carrying out in-class debates.
Antonio Papuzza, Organizational Leadership & Information Analytics
What are the challenges and opportunities of being a global citizen? The global environment in which economics, culture and technology converge is diverse, changing, complex and interdependent. Life, work and business, in this third millennium, urge the new generation to learn specific global frameworks and tools to keep up with life on a global level. This course provides some of the interdisciplinary perspectives necessary to understand global realities, while encouraging students to explore and develop their own ideas and talents to find their own place in the global future of the planet. This course, ultimately, empowers students through knowledge, competencies and transformative reflections to engage in a responsible and impactful way with the global dynamics of the planet.
Be Boulder: Exploring the Power of Place
John M. Ackerman, Program for Writing and Rhetoric
Welcome to Boulder! Whether you come from near or far, our seminar will explore your relation to the places that ground us, and challenge our memories and imagination, or even alter how we learn and live. We'll read, talk and write, but moreover we'll walk, touch, record, laugh and assemble the Boulder that is most within our reach. It will all seem a little less strange, and you'll end up a little more resilient, as you begin your academic journey. This course satisfies the Gen-Ed lower-division written communication requirement in Arts and Sciences.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Catherine Kunce, Program for Writing and Rhetoric
Many go to college hoping that doing so will bring happiness, either immediately or in the long run. Yet do we really know what happiness is, or how to obtain it? Join us in exploring what people, throughout history and in various disciplines, have suggested is the best way to achieve happiness. We'll test ideas about pursuing happiness through class discussions and through treks in and around Boulder, which National Geographic in 2017 named "the happiest city" in the United States.
Social Effects of Technology
David Paradis, History
Ever feel like your phone or Facebook has more control over your time than you'd like? Ever wonder what life will be like when artificial Intelligence becomes more advanced? Maybe you would like to be an inventor and wonder what kinds of obstacles inventors have faced in the past. This course will examine technology, its creators and their societies to provide some historical perspective on our growing reliance on technology.
Community as Classroom: Responding to Public Problems
Sabrina Sideris, CU Engage
This interactive and engaging course explores public problems by integrating our studies inside the classroom with an off-campus learning opportunity. Students will explore how problems are solved by innovative community leaders who think outside the box. Learners will empower themselves to make a difference by increasing their understanding of public problems, as defined by local nonprofit organizations.
Patrick Greaney, German and Slavic Languages and Literatures
What did it mean to be a radical artist in the early 20th century? Why did some modern artists and writers imagine that their creations would transform politics, gender, race, sexuality and all aspects of everyday life? This course will introduce students to the history and theory of the avant-garde in early 20th-century Europe. We will discuss original artworks and documents held in the CU Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, and Norlin Library Special Collections.
Building Sustainable Communities
Lupita Montoya, Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering
Engineering design can be used to solve technical or scientific problems and societal challenges. Through problem definition, background research, requirement specification, brainstorm solutions, solution selection, prototype, test and redesign, our goal will be to contribute our efforts to building sustainable and resilient communities in the U.S. and abroad. Dynamic multidisciplinary teams with diverse intellectual, social and academic backgrounds will tackle real problems in real communities. Students will explore concepts such as resilience, grit, growth mindset, diversity and justice to deliver the best solution to the problems they set out to solve.
Race and Citizenship in U.S. History and Culture
Seema Sohi, Ethnic Studies
Throughout American history, citizenship has been used to draw boundaries between those who are included as members of national, state and local communities, and entitled to respect, protection and rights—and those who are excluded and thus not entitled to such rights. Examining the experiences of various ethnic and racial groups in the United States through issues including mass incarceration, criminal justice and immigration, this course will explore how race, gender and sexuality have been central to determining who are treated as first- or second-class citizens, and what that says about justice and equality in the contemporary United States.
The Origin of Everything
Kieran Murphy, French and Italian
Have you ever wondered about the origins of the universe, the solar system, life on earth, human civilization and modern society? This course offers instruction from world-class experts in each area, as guest speakers from multiple departments will share the latest research in their fields. We’ll think about what all these origins may have in common, what we can and can't know about the past, and how understanding these origins can help us be better thinkers about the future.
The Vietnam Wars in Film, Literature, Music and Memory
Steven Dike, Honors/Honors Residential Academic Program
Every war is fought twice—first on the battlefield, and then in the realm of memory. We will read some of the great literature of the Vietnam War, such as Tim O'Brien's The Things they Carried, Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War, Graham Greene's The Quiet American, and the recent Pulitzer-Prize meta-novel, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer. We will look at how Hollywood told the story of Vietnam through films like Forrest Gump, Platoonand Apocalypse Now, and explore Vietnamese films like When the Tenth Month Comes. And we will listen to the music of the times to discover how soldiers and activists used it to make sense of the war.
The Biology of Sex and Gender
Sam Flaxman, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
What do the biological sciences have to teach us about what it means to be male, female, or none of the above? To what extent do scientific findings and "human nature" impact our moral and ethical views related to sex, gender and sexual behavior? We will employ a holistic approach to understanding how scientific findings fit with and potentially change our perceptions of ourselves and others, and how such findings have been used or abused throughout history. This course has been approved for GenEd-Natural Science credit. Open to Williams Village Residents - study where you live!
The Mathematics of Social Networks: Stuff That Your Friends Say About You!
James Curry, Applied Mathematics and TCP
Social networks are everywhere and used by both young and old. This course will focus on some of the underlying mathematics—matrices, graphs and networks—to learn the backstory of social networks. A lot has happened since a version of this course was first taught in spring 2016: the discovery of fake social media accounts, Facebook’s presentation before Congress and its increasingly reflective response as a company, the move from Facebook to Instagram, critical reviews by Pew Research, the presence of big data, etc. Weekly writing assignments and a final report are required to pass the course. You will learn to be a better writer!
Vilja Hulden, History
A century ago, more than 1 in 3 Americans were born overseas or had foreign-born parents. But to many, immigrants from places like Italy or Poland seemed “too foreign," and World War I raised fears about immigrant loyalty. In this hands-on class, we complete a project that takes us to that century-ago moment by focusing on immigrants in specific Colorado localities. Our end product is an online exhibit with data visualizations, document analyses and maps that illuminate the immigrant history of these places and show how it ties into a broader discussion of what it means to be an immigrant in America—and what it means to be American.
Cora Randall, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
This course explores such topics as the ozone hole, the polar vortex and climate change, introducing students to the fundamental physical and chemical principles that govern pollution, weather and climate while also studying the history of atmospheric science, policy and communication of controversial topics. Students engage in hands-on measurements of the stratosphere and analysis of NASA satellite data, and practice thinking critically and creatively about the observations and their implications. Students emerge from the class with a better understanding of some of the most profound aspects of the Earth's atmosphere, an appreciation for how scientific research is conducted, and a heightened awareness of how the media portray scientific issues related to the Earth's climate system. (ATOC)
Approved for GenEd Natural Sciences Distribution credit and counts for Space Minor and ATOC Major and Minor.
Cultural Difference Through Hispanic Literature
Mary K. Long, Spanish and Portugese
The course explores notions of cultural difference starting in the 13th century up to the present in works by authors from Spain, Peru, Argentina, Mexico and U.S. Latino literary traditions. We'll meet, among others, Lazarillo de Tormes, a rascal from 16th-century Spain who cleverly challenges the unfair structures of his era; Jesusa, a young woman who fought during the Mexican Revolution; and Ernesto, a bilingual writer coming of age in the Andes of Peru. We explore historical, political and geographical realities of the worlds depicted and reflect in the ways individuals and cultures define themselves in juxtaposition to Others.
Native American Visualities
Penny Kelsey, English
This seminar focuses on Native American records like Lakota pictographs and Mayan hieroglyphs to analyze Native pictorial writing in conversation with European alphabetic writing. Students will explore the relationship between visual expression, orality, recordkeeping and “reading” in the Western sense. The course will consider how memorization of the significant agreements, such as treaties that are recorded with wampum belts, function vis-à-vis other oral traditions, such as the Quran. Williams Village Residents - study where you live!
Liberty: Political Revolution in Colonial American Society
Jim Hodge, Military Science
Intellectual and moral change in Colonial America led to the desire for independence. We will come to appreciate the impact and result of the British government’s legacy of European conflict in the New World. As described by J. Mercierca, “Colonial Americans had once been content with their role within the empire—content with the knowledge that they were British subjects, living ‘under the best national civil constitution in the world.’” In this interactive course, we will examine the events and outcomes of what John Adams termed the true revolution, and how events abroad and domestic guided the “Founding Fathers” to a decision to abandon reconciliation and seek separation and independence. Williams Village Residents - study where you live!
High-tech Applications in Weather and Climate
Zhien Wang, ATOC
Boulder is one of the world centers in weather and climate research. In this seminar we'll review basic concepts and explore the economic significance of weather and climate; discuss techniques used in current weather and climate observation, research and forecast; and visit state-of-the-art research facilities in the region. Group projects will allow students to develop creative approaches to deal with challenging weather and climate issues. The primary goal of the seminar is to promote interdisciplinary and problem-driven thinking and teamwork.
The Science of Science Fiction
David Brain, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences
"That movie was great, but the science sure seemed wrong." Do the two halves of that sentence even belong together? This course will critically assess "movie science," in some weeks discussing prevalent themes in science fiction and in others discussing individual movies. If appropriate, we will devote one lecture to watching a current release in the theater. Students will also collaborate to devise their own scientifically accurate movie plot. Disclaimer: Movie plots will be revealed in this class!
How Should One Live?
Mitzi Lee, Philosophy
How should one live? What are the goals and essential elements of a well-lived, happy and flourishing life? One of the most profound contributions of ancient Greek philosophy to Western thought was its exploration of this question. In this course, we will begin by exploring answers offered by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, including their concepts of eudaimonia or "happiness" and of aretê or "virtue." In the second half of the course, we turn to the Epicurean and Stoic approaches to philosophy as a way of life, and will experiment with some of their recommendations for living well.
Astronauts & Innovators: Topics in Space Exploration from the Cold War to the Future of Spacefaring
Galina Siergiejczyk, Global Residential Academic Program
By exploring the history of space exploration, this seminar will equip students with critical learning skills to understand the history of the Space Race from Russian and American perspectives, and to grasp the current trends and future innovations in space tourism, medicine, commerce and law. The course examines the relationships between history, science and politics of the Space Age, beginning with the early space flight pioneers and the Cold War’s Space Race, and concluding with current advances in humanity’s interstellar aspirations.
Evil, Illusions and Androids: Uncertainty in Literature, Philosophy and Film
Lauren Shizuko Stone, Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures
How can we know what's right or even real? In this seminar, we will consider the role that uncertainty plays in our knowledge by considering questions such as whether the existence of evil challenges the idea of a benevolent creator, what role our own minds play in what we think of as “real,” and how the rise of technology and artificial intelligence might make it increasingly difficult to distinguish humans from machines. With readings from ancient and modern philosophy, literature from 19th-century Romanticism to 20th-century science fiction, and 20th- and 21st-century films, we will be able to see how definitions of morality, reality and humanity have been shaped by the limits of our knowledge.
Human Rights: Rites of Passage in Film and Literature
Masano Yamashita, French and Italian
How do human rights take into account human development and flourishing? This course will focus on the representation of transitional moments in human life (coming-of-age narratives, tales recounting moving to a new place or school, a midlife crisis, an alternative gender identity) with the view to understanding the characteristics and complexities of a life fully lived. Themes pertaining to moral dilemmas, race and gender, freedom, and authority will be a particular focus of this semester.
Monsters and Heroes: Exploring Good and Evil in Film
Elizabeth Anderman, Farrand RAP
What are monsters? Who are heroes? How do zombies, aliens, villains and bad girls reveal what society represses in order to believe in order and goodness? In this course we will screen, discuss and write about films that feature monsters and heroes, and explore how they embody what we fear. In oral presentations, creative projects and research papers, students will compare older and contemporary movies to explore how our culture's responses to and representations of good and evil change over time.
Iliad to Blade Runner 2049
Hardy Fredricksmeyer, Engineering - Herbst Humanities
This course will take an in-depth and sustained look at female and male heroes in fiction and nonfiction, from antiquity to the age of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, from Homer’s epic poem of war, Iliad, to the recent film Blade Runner 2049. We will consider heroism as an evolutionary process at the levels of sociology, biology, psychology, religion, mythology and ethics.
Comic Books & Public Pedagogy
Rick Stevens, Media Studies
Comics are one of the most influential media of the 21st century, inspiring everything from Oscar-nominated films like Black Panther to television series to video games. These spaces are thought of as entertaining escapism, but comic book narratives have always been sites of cultural education and political struggle. Students in this class will read comics, but also learn to critically engage and discuss comic texts as sites of cultural learning. Topics include fan culture, particular genres of comics, and connections between comics and other forms of visual text.
Jeffrey DeShell, English
After the apocalypse, what will we wear? This course will examine some of the themes, ideas, characteristics and techniques of recent post-apocalyptic fiction, focusing on novels such as The Road (McCarthy), Station Eleven (St. John Mandel), and Brown Girlin the Ring (Hopkinson) among others, and we’ll watch Road Warrior and other relevant films. We’ll think about the recent interest in the post-apocalyptic, and articulate a few reasons as to why this might be.
Project Manage Your University Experience
Elizabeth Gibson Engineering Management
College is more than completing a set of courses; it's the start of your adult life. Learning and applying project management skills can smooth your transition into college life. Projects have a life cycle with a beginning and an end. They are unique and filled with uncertainty about what to expect. Each project shares a common framework that includes five process groups: initiation, planning, execution, close, and monitoring and control. The focus of this course is to learn and apply project management knowledge skills as students identify, initiate and develop a plan for a successful CU Boulder experience.
International First-Year Seminars
For FYSM 1200 First-Year International Seminars only, additional fees apply to cover travel costs, and enrollment requires permission from the First Year Seminar program.
To enroll, first contact:
GlobalIntensives@Colorado.edu for more information.
Students can also learn more about available financial aid and scholarships to cover additional fees as needed.
Michaele Ferguson, Political Science
Why just study politics when you can play politics? In the fall, we will play immersive role-playing games simulating important events in American political history. Along the way, we will develop skills in critical thinking, persuasive writing, public speaking, political organizing, leadership and teamwork. Then, over winter break we take the show on the road to Paris, where we will play the French Revolution where it actually happened.
Designing the Renaissance
Anja Lange, Herbst Program of Humanities
You’ve heard of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante and Boccaccio, but do you really know who they were? Did you know that they were great artists, engineers and writers of the Renaissance, a time in history that marks the birthplace of modernity and defines who you are as a person today? In this class we learn how to read and appreciate the great art pieces of the time, study Florentine literature, and examine great architectural and engineering marvels. In January, the course will conclude with a faculty-supervised trip to Florence, Italy!