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First-Year Seminar Program

About the Program

Hood College takes reading and writing seriously, and your professors want you to be able to communicate well on a college level. Our program offers first-year students an opportunity to sharpen their presentation and writing skills while exploring fascinating interdisciplinary subjects within small classroom settings. The first-year seminar will teach you how to pose intellectual questions, how to research them, and how to deliver your findings in both written and spoken forms. You'll quickly discover that the small class size will allow you to work closely with your professor and your fellow students in ways that will prepare you for success here at Hood and in your future professional career.

The first-year seminar can replace one category of second tier Methods of Inquiry (except for lab science) in the core requirements. No first-year seminar will count toward a major.

First-year seminars are designed to have broad appeal and are not highly specialized. They reflect the interests and expertise of the professors who teach them. Each seminar is limited to 15 students. Choose a seminar that interests you from the 13 varied topics below.

For more information on the program, contact Martha Bari, Ph.D., director of First-Year Experience, by calling (301) 696-3576, or send an e-mail to

Course descriptions for the fall 2012 First-Year Seminars:

FYS: 101-01: Approaches to the Past, From the Valley of the Kings to the High Sierra*

Emilie Amt, Ph.D., professor of history and chair of the department of history
Jennifer Ross, Ph.D., associate professor of art and archaeology
From King Tut's tomb to American pioneers who turned to cannibalism, case studies from history and archaeology reveal many different ways of studying the past. In this course, students will use case studies to learn about a variety of past time periods and places, including ancient Egypt, medieval England, early Maryland and the American West. Historical and archaeological approaches will include qualitative and quantitative analysis of historical sources, including medieval coroners' reports, wills, estate records and eyewitness narratives; stylistic analysis of art; archaeological excavation and interpretation; and forensic science.

*By registering for this seminar, you will automatically be signed up for the Living Learning Community LLC 101A: Dwelling in the Past. To learn more about Living Learning Communities, visit

FYS 101-02: Politicians and Pundits: How the News Media Influence American Elections

Elizabeth Atwood, Ph.D., assistant professor of journalism
Students will explore the news media's role in democracy by examining news coverage of presidential campaigns. Using coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign as a starting point, students will examine the interplay between politicians and journalists and study the impact news stories, editorials and advertisements have had on presidential elections since early in the 20th century. Students will learn to analyze the key elements of a news account, distinguish news from opinion and use primary sources to examine news coverage of political campaigns in history and of the 2012 election. They also will write and present original research that examines the role of the news media in a presidential campaign of the 20th century.

FYS 101-03 Thinking Machines

Aijuan Dong, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science
This seminar will examine some of the history, ideas, and concepts associated with computers and the Internet. Students will explore the lives, works, and manifestations of the works of key figures in modern computing; experiment with some of the computing concepts using an accessible programming environment; and understand the risks and errors of computing systems.

FYS 101-04: Bong Hits 4 Jesus: Doing Battle with the First Amendment

Janis Judson, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and chair of the department of political science
What does the phrase, "Bong Hits for Jesus," have to do with the First Amendment and the United States Constitution? This seminar will try and answer that very question. We will address three free speech issues of particular interest to matriculating high schools students and college undergraduates—freedom to articulate opinions and beliefs in the public forum, liberty of expression for social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and finally, freedom from book censorship by restrictive curricular standards. Since freedom of speech is not an absolute guarantee, we examine some of the more logical ensuing questions: what are the boundaries of free speech? How does the state determine what restrictions on speech serve a 'compelling government interest'? How does the law achieve a balance between safety and order in schools on one hand and tolerance and liberty on the other? Through literature, nonfiction and case law analysis, students will explore the tensions and paradoxes of this most sacred of political and legal rights.

FYS 101-05: Illuminating the Wild: Writing Natural History*

Eric Kindahl, Ph.D., associate professor of biology
From humble beginnings as philosophical discourse on nature or travelogue of exotic lands, natural history writing has blossomed into myriad forms addressing a range of audiences. In exploring the earth's diversity of organisms, habitats, and natural processes, we will draw upon the writings of modern and classical naturalists, as well as our own experiences of nature in our backyards. As campus naturalists, our first hand observations will be a critical experiential component of this seminar. Bring along your curiosity about nature, and we'll explore writing as an invaluable tool for organizing ideas, sharpening observational skills, enhancing descriptive abilities, and communicating not just information about natural history, but also the excitement of doing natural history. Students planning careers in the natural sciences will find this seminar particularly illuminating.

*By registering for this seminar, you will automatically be signed up for the Living Learning Community LLC 101D: Exploring the Natural World. To learn more about Living Learning Communities, visit

FYS 101-06: To Probe or Not to Probe: The Psychology of Near-death Experiences, Out-of-Body Experiences and Alien Abduction

Shannon M.A. Kundey, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology
Paranormal phenomena such as near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences and alien abduction have long fascinated us. Psychology seeks to explain human experience, including phenomena that at first may seem unusual or inexplicable. We will jump into the fray, critically exploring the way that psychologists handle claims and human experiences falling outside the bounds of known science. Using the standards of the scientific method, we will attend specifically to the psychological processes and mechanisms thought to contribute and underlie such phenomena.

FYS 101-07: Explorations Through the New Yorker

Roger Reitman, Ph.D., professor of sociology
The New Yorker magazine contains some of the best investigative journalism and social/historical commentary in the United States today. An iPad version of the magazine will be the only curricular materials required for the course and will be the basis for classroom discussion and oral and written presentations. While weekly topics will vary, recent issues contain articles on politics (a profile of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney), international conflict (the civil war in Syria), review essays (a review of the Book of Revelations), and critical essays on literature (JRR Tolkien), art, music and film. The New Yorker also is a source for some of the best new short fiction (the current issue has a story by Alice Munro).

FYS 101-08: Science in Art and Archaeology

Christopher Stromberg, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and chair of the department of chemistry and physics
While most people see art and archaeology as being at the opposite end of the spectrum from the sciences, collaborations between these fields are leading to important and interesting discoveries. From identifying the food last kept in a 3,000-year old bowl found in an archaeological dig to identifying forged paintings, scientific tools have been invaluable to understanding the past and present of art and archaeological artifacts. This course will explore the intersection of these disciplines and how science can help uncover the past.

FYS 101-09: Explorations in Renaissance Culture: the Cities of Florence and Siena

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, Ph.D., assistant professor of art and archaeology
This seminar will focus on the history and culture of two rival cities, Florence and Siena, and how their different geographic and political contexts affected city planning, political structures and artistic monuments. Students may choose from a very wide range of research topics within the Renaissance culture of these cities, including medicine, politics, religion, the visual arts and literature of the period. The class will include a field trip to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

FYS 101-10: Representations of African Americans in Popular Culture

Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and African American studies
This course will examine ways in which African Americans are depicted in popular literature, film and music. In the class we will reflect on critical studies of popular culture, especially those that pay close attention to the political significance of these representations. We will address questions such as: What are some of the common recurring depictions of black people in film, literature and music? Do they reinforce or counter stereotypes? How do they respond to the political context? How has black popular culture been beneficial to and/or a detriment to black political empowerment? We will also examine some of the public discourse/debates about black popular culture such as the role of hip hop music in politics; the classic Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright debate and the more contemporary debate between film makers Tyler Perry and Spike Lee.

FYS 101-11: Let My People Go Surfing

Jerry Van Winter, Ph.D., assistant professor of management
Using Yvon Chouinards' book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman as a framework, we will explore critical topics related to business and society. Chouinard is the founder and owner of Patagonia, a company that is often cited for its values-led business practices. Topics that will be covered from multiple perspectives include entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility, environmentalism, leadership, surfing and quality of life decisions. To gain a richer appreciation of these subjects, we will visit with and host local entrepreneurs and civic leaders. A trip to the Chesapeake Bay is tentatively planned to meet with a former liberal arts student who co-founded a company that sold for more than $100 million and is now directly involved in bay restoration efforts.

FYS 101-12: Menus, Restaurants, Cookbooks, and Diets: What They're Selling and Why We Buy It

Stephen Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor of religion and philosophy
This course will analyze the texts—ingredients, recipes, images, ambiance and experiences—that constitute the data of food marketing. We will look at both the nature of the self-images and worldviews the food industry markets and the mechanisms by which they make different modes of satisfaction, belonging, cultural affiliation and/or health attractive. Students will get exposure to many different kinds of analysis—visual, textual, commercial, cultural and psychological—when asking the following types of questions. What types of life seems possible in a restaurant decor or fitness regime? Who are the authorities implied in a website menu or competitive cooking TV program? What worldviews compete with the worldviews that are being sold in these venues? What types of resistance do the forms of persuasion used have to overcome in order to make a sale?

FYS 101H, Sections 01-03: Evil: Realities and Representations (Honors 101)*

Karen Hoffman, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy
Trevor Dodman, Ph.D., assistant professor of English

Jay Driskell, Ph.D., assistant professor of history
This team-taught course takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding various historical, philosophical, and literary perspectives on the nature of evil and some of the ways that evil is expressed in the modern world. In addition to large group sessions, students will move through three rotations, spending several weeks in small groups with each instructor. Through the various rotations, we will discuss the fragility of humanity and the evils of dehumanization. Looking to past, the course raises questions about exploitation, genocide, and human suffering, through readings that cover issues pertaining to slavery and unfree labor, the Holocaust, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Looking to the future, the course raises questions about the ethics of genetic enhancement and the possible resulting posthumanism. The course will culminate with collaborative group presentations that address evils in our shared present.

*Only available to Honors students and required of all first-year students entering the Honors program