First-Year Seminar Courses

What is a First-Year Seminar? Each year Goucher offers close to 25 seminars just for first-year students. These small, discussion-based classes are designed to show you the ropes of real academic inquiry. The courses cover a wide range of topics and disciplines. None assumes prior experience with the topic. Take your time, click on the links to read course descriptions, and pick a topic that intrigues you!

FYS 100.001- Perception and Misperception of the Arab World/s  

In this FYS section, we will examine our perceptions of the Arab World and learn about the conflicts and upheavals that have shaped modern Arab society and culture. Throughout the semester, we will be introduced to a wide variety of thought-provoking Arab films, stories, poetry, and music that will spark a new understanding of the major trends and themes of this region. This will be a discussion-based seminar, in which our short essays will be geared toward developing the critical tools and skills needed for academic success in this course and beyond.

Zahi Khamis

FYS 100.002 - Imagining the Middle East  

What images do you associate with the Middle East? What assumptions do you make about the Middle East? How are these images transmitted, and how do you formulate your ideas? In this course, we will use film and literature of the Middle East as forms of political, social, and cultural commentary. We will assess the different visions and images presented by filmmakers and writers on topics that include religious and ethnic identity, colonialism and revolution, war and violence, and gender and cultural stereotypes. Understanding these issues through film screenplays, cinematography, personal narratives, short stories, and poetry helps us imagine the Middle East from multiple and diverse perspectives.

Amalia Honick

FYS 100.004 - Engineering the Future

This course is intended for students with a strong interest in the Engineering Science major and in engineering generally. Through specific examples, challenges, and projects, we will explore the process of “design”— the creation of technological systems and devices that are functional and useful for society—and investigate how technical problem-solving issues intersect with larger issues of needs, resources, and costs. We are interested not only in the scientific and technical issues associated with speculative technologies like asteroid mining or hyperloop transportation, but also in the consequences of our choices for society. We won’t study particular scientific principles here (i.e., this is not an intro science course), but we will use laboratory activities to deepen our experience with some key underlying ideas that apply to any technical field, such as the gathering and interpretation of data, experimental verification, and iterative design. The course will combine experiments, design activities, reading/discussion, and student projects.

Rodney Yoder

FYS 100.005 - Success Stories in Black and White  


Why do rags-to-riches stories resonate with so many Americans? How and when did the idea of the “self-made man” become integral to the meaning of American capitalism? What happens to our understanding of American success stories when we think about them in terms of race? Is it possible to understand the role played by success stories in American society without thinking in terms of race? This course seeks answers to those questions through an examination of classic autobiographies by Benjamin Franklin (a Boston-born runaway who became a wealthy printer, renowned scientist, and American revolutionary), Frederick Douglass (a Maryland-born runaway slave who became a famous antislavery activist, lecturer, and author), P. T. Barnum (a Connecticut-born showman and “Prince of Humbug”), and Booker T. Washington (a Virginia-born educator, fundraiser, and Jim Crow-era spokesperson for African Americans).

Mathew Hale

FYS 100.007 - Philosophy of Humor

We all like to laugh and find things amusing … but why? What makes something humorous? Why is offensive humor offensive? Can humor be unethical or wrong? What role can humor play in politics? This course will examine these questions and others in order to understand the function and importance of humor to human life. Because humor is a surprisingly complex topic that touches on a range of issues, this course will also serve as an introduction to philosophy.

Martin Shuster

FYS 100.008 -Hands in Clay

This course will emphasize hand-building, and explore the fundamental clay-forming techniques of pinch, coil, and slab. Students focus on using clay sculpturally to make work that imitates nature. You will learn to fire the electric kilns as well as participate in weekend outdoor raku firings. PowerPoints will be presented and readings will be assigned to appreciate the extraordinary history of clay’s use throughout the world and time, from Etruscan, pre-Columbian, and African, to American indigenous, and Japanese. We will visit the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Clayworks, and have class visits and demos by local artists working with clay.

Allyn Massey

FYS 100.009 - Embodying Your Creative Potential

How is the human body a powerful tool of self-expression and an extension of your intellectual and creative self? This course will challenge you to integrate your intellectual, physical, and emotional responses to the world around you by using your unique body as a powerful medium to express what words sometimes cannot. In a constantly changing world, creative thought, experimentation, and practice is integral to the development of a mind that has the ability to produce fresh, innovative ideas and fearlessly forge into unknown territories. We will transform our ideas, discussions, and individual and group research into impactful performance pieces. Movement skills will be developed and practiced through improvised and structured studio experimentation. Prior movement/dance experience is not necessary for this course. Everyone has the capacity to fulfill their creative potential and discover the power of one’s physical and creative voice.

Linda Garofalao

FYS 100.010 - Influences in Visual Culture  

 Whether we know it or not we are surrounded by things that inspire us and therefore inspire the things we create. Explore the roots of your favorite art pieces, movies, music, and more.  

Stuart Abarbanel 

FYS 100.011 - Words, Music and Meaning  


Songs are a part of the fabric of our lives from childhood; why do words and music add up to more than the sum of their parts? This class will explore how songs are created from these elements and how they function in our lives, and search for meaning in music. Basics of music theory (no prior knowledge required!), along with perspectives from sociology and psychology will guide us in this analysis. Students may opt to create songs in the final project or to pursue these lines of investigation further.

Kendall Kennison

FYS 100.012 - The Latinx Experience in the US

There are 58.9 million Latinx living in the United States, making them the largest ethnic minority group in the nation. By 2060, Latinx are projected to account for 28.6 percent of the total U.S. population. This course introduces you to the social, political, and cultural history of this vital and diverse ethnic group using a variety of primary and secondary sources to illuminate selected topics and themes from the colonial period to the present. Key topics include: past and present immigration; Latinx identity and perceptions of Latinx in the U.S., the formation and transformation of cultural identity; and the Spanish language in media and education. You will be asked to take an active role in the learning experience through participation in the community-based learning component of the course. This component will provide the opportunity for you to reflect on your views and the perspectives presented in class through interactions with Latinx immigrants from area neighborhoods.

Frances Ramos-Fontan

FYS 100.013 - Gifts of Cultural Sustainability  

This course introduces the topic of cultural sustainability and the concept of the gift, and asks you to consider culture as a key dimension of sustainability and a livable world. The vital generativity of this concept flows in four directions: to envision humanly and ecologically sustainable futures, and consider transitions to more sustainable ways of life; to work collectively, ethically and effectively to sustain valued cultural traditions, gifts, relationships and spirit; to use culture skillfully to support human thriving, and to connect and heal across lines of difference; to understand the relationships of culture to human and planetary well-being. With roots in anthropology, philosophy, cultural policy, social theory, ecology, ethnomusicology, folklore, and community arts, cultural sustainability is a form of professional practice and intellectual inquiry that considers these themes and their interconnections. To work effectively in this area requires the cultivation of ethical leadership and critical empathy, and such skills as ethnographic research, facilitation, collaboration, cooperation, and entrepreneurship. In this course, we will explore cultural sustainability, and working at Goucher and in Baltimore, create individual and group cultural projects in relationship to the concept, our gifts as a class, and your own interests. We live in a perilous time, but a time where opportunities can be grasped to strengthen our communities and reconnect as human beings through sustaining the cultural gifts and resources which sustain us.

Rory Turner

FYS 100.014 - Free Speech: Is It Really Free?  

 In this age of rapid globalization and heightened cross-cultural contacts, nations, communities, and individuals are working hard to hold on to and reaffirm their own identities and values. In the United States, one of the most precious values is free speech, embedded in the First Amendment to the Constitution and regarded as a primary tenet of American democracy. But arguments and controversies over the boundaries, if any, of free speech have become frequent and intense, and all the more so in the era of digital communication. This course will examine the dialogue that is taking place within the United States and around the world on these issues – sometimes in a civil manner, and at other times as a political or cultural confrontation that all too frequently turns violent as witnessed in the election that made Donald Trump president of the United States. Our own dialogue will hopefully remain civil, but it may at times be controversial and heated; when we examine violent music and raunchy comedy and analyze different reactions to pornography, for example. By the end of the semester, we may all emerge a little less certain than we thought we were before about what legitimately deserves protection as free speech and what does not. We will also explore this in terms of the Goucher community and our media outlets of The Goucher Eye, The Q and our campus radio station. We will discuss international and domestic protests over politically sensitive cartoons like the ones published in Charlie Hebdo, controversies over Holocaust denial, whether hate speech should be banned, whether the media can be constrained on national security grounds, whether WikiLeaks was right to publish Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails and what constitutes freedom of speech on the Internet, cell phones or in social media. Through court cases and by other means, we will examine the debate in this country over what it means to be patriotic and whether patriotism requires us to say, or prohibits us from saying, certain things. Examples of constraints on free speech in our daily lives and work will be discussed, including in the classrooms and student press platforms at Goucher. Our sources will include writings and statements made by the participants in these debates, a classical treatise on liberty by the political philosopher John Stuart Mill, media reports, commentary by scholars and journalists from different societies and cultural positions, and your own experiences about what you can and cannot say. You will have a chance to discuss and critique the work of your professor as it appears in his writing at the Baltimore Sun and commentary and analysis on CNN. The most important thing to know about the course is that we do not have a set of predetermined opinions that we are trying to convince you are correct. We are interested in your formulation of your own opinions on the basis of the readings we assign, the writing you do, and the discussions we have in class. Hopefully, we will manage to surprise each other once in a while. 

David Zurawik

FYS 100.016 - Am I Black or White? Am I Straight or Gay?: CONTROVERSY?  


Long before recording artist Prince penned these lyrics in the 1980s, America has been a space and a place demanding and mandating polarized definitions of race and sexuality. As such, this course will examine the reasoning and ramifications of this dichotomy from the Colonial Period to the present in genres that include literature and film. The focus of the course is an exploration of why and how individuals and groups resisted these racial and sexual dictates with strategies that include “passing."

Angelo Robinson

FYS 100.017 - Pride and Prejudice Here and Now  

 Published in 1813, Jane Austen’s most famous novel continues to delight audiences—and to spark creative responses. We’ll read the text in depth, then analyze a variety of screen adaptations and fiction inspired by it. After learning how to work with rare and archival materials, students will curate an exhibit featuring items from the Goucher Library’s world-famous Jane Austen collection.

Juliette Wells

FYS 100.018 - Where the Wild Things Are  

This course brings together the work of adventurers, children’s writers, environmentalists, film makers, visual artists, natural scientists, and philosophers in order to trace changing perceptions of the American wilderness. The works we’ll be studying span the continental United States and range from the Puritans’ terrified perception of the New England woods as a “howling wilderness” to Tarzan’s celebration of the dark pleasures of the jungle.  We’ll explore how works like Henry David Thoreau’s memoir Ktaadn, Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man, and Thomas Cole’s painting American Progress form a literary and visual record of changes in external but also internal landscapes: what happens to us when we step across the frontier separating the garden from the wilderness, the tamed from the untamed?

Mary Marchand

FYS 100.019 - Shakespeare on Screen

Shakespeare’s plays shouldn’t work on screen. The plays are highly verbal… film and television are highly visual media. The plays were written to be interactive with a live, present audience… film and television project to a passive and distant audience. why then are Shakespeare’s plays so often “translated” to the screen, sometimes successfully? In this course we will look at the many ways in which Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted to film, television, and, more recently, to internet web casts. The course will include a hands-on opportunity to produce a short video inspired by a Shakespeare play.

Michael Curry

FYS 100.020 - Mathematics for Social Choice

The mathematics of politics, government, and social science is more important than ever and increasingly relevant in student's civic lives. In this course, students will explore modern topics in applicable math, with a focus on both abstract theory and practical applications. This course designed for non-mathematics and non-science majors. Topics include: past and modern politics, social choice, fair-division, climate change, modeling, social networking, and finance.

Joseph Cutrone

FYS 100.021 - The Secret Life of Puppets

Puppets are arguably one of the earliest forms of performance--used to educate, incite, enlighten or just delight, they were and remain a staple of theatrical performance. A puppet is, however, a very special performer, made from humble materials, fashioned into a living form and finally animated or brought to life by the mind and body of a person either directly or at a distance. This "bringing to life", this mysterious alchemy at the heart of puppets, is perhaps why this otherwise ubiquitous theatre form often remains in the shadows. In this seminar/workshop we will look at the history, forms, uses and theory of puppets and form questions such as: Is Homer Simpson a puppet? Why do puppets go in and out of fashion? What is the relationship between the puppet and the maker/animator? What stories do puppets need to tell? What drama ensues between the knife, the spoon and the dog when the kitchen light goes out? Through creative exploration, guided improvisation and the making of original puppet performances, these questions and many more will be answered in The Secret Life of Puppets.

Allison Campbell

FYS 100E.001 -  Alternative Energy for Everyone               

This is a lecture/laboratory hybrid course designed to provide an appreciation and in-depth understanding of alternative energy. Topics will be taught in an interactive environment and will include hands-on activities/projects in the construction of selected devices related to alternative energy. As the title implies, this class is designed for everyone, which includes both science and non-science students; the one pre-requisite is an interest in the topic. This course fulfills the Environmental Sustainability component of the Goucher Commons Requirements.

Ruquia Ahmed-Schofield