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Northwestern University

Where the Journey Begins

First-year seminars explore intriguing topics and the Northwestern mindscape

Entering Weinberg College students almost always anticipate a course schedule featuring traditional classes in English and economics, philosophy and political science, sociology and statistics.

But then, a few unexpected — and idiosyncratic — courses appear on their radar.

The Chemistry of Food. Death of the Dinosaurs. Medical Marijuana. Rubik’s Cubes, Square Dancing & Mathematics.

These are first-year seminars, a key component of the opening-year experience at Weinberg College. The seminars cover a unique range of out-of-the-box topics designed to advance students’ writing, discussion and critical thinking skills, while simultaneously helping students acquaint themselves with university life.

“These first-year seminars are not only about intriguing topics and developing key academic skills, but also about welcoming students into the College,” says Lane Fenrich, the Weinberg College assistant dean who oversees first-year students and transition programs.

New students are required to take two first-year seminars during their rookie year on campus. They have more than 150 diverse options to choose from this academic year, including fall-quarter offerings such as:

Buddhist Psychology. Marcia Grabowecky, a research associate professor in the Department of Psychology, offers a guided tour of the mind from both Buddhist and traditional Western psychological perspectives.

The Edible Word: Reading & Writing about Food. For people who love food — eating it, cooking it, visiting restaurants and more — Jeanne Herrick, assistant professor of instruction at the Cook Family Writing Program, helps students explore food’s connection to love, culture, religion, family and more.

Experimenting in the Social Sciences. Under the guidance of assistant economics professor Scott Ogawa, students study the basic tools of game theory and then use those tools to examine various topics across the American landscape, including sports, politics and evolutionary biology.

How to Become an Expert in Roughly Ten Weeks. A nationally recognized leader in business communication, Cook Family Writing Program instructor Barbara Shwom helps students develop and communicate informed opinions that will persuade others to consider — and even accept — those points of view.

Music and the Mind. David Smith, distinguished senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology, blends research and theory from cognitive, social and developmental psychology to help students investigate music’s valuable function in everyday life.

Pickpockets, Poets & Other Sad Marvels of City Life. Associate English professor Averill Curdy challenges students to examine the idea of the City as a kind of paradise — and to embark on urban explorations of their own.

Psychology and Weird Beliefs. A perennially popular first-year seminar, professor of instruction Sara Broaders pushes students to probe “weird” beliefs ranging from witchcraft and alien abduction to ghosts and superstitions as well as the rationality of those offbeat convictions.

Sleep. Eric Mosser, an assistant professor in the biological sciences program, inspects the mystery of sleep, a fundamental need for every human, yet one that sparks more questions than answers.

Teens, ’tweens and Adolescents. How does the experience of youth today differ by socioeconomic status, gender and race/ethnicity? Associate sociology professor Karrie Snyder ponders that question and more, including the ever-lengthening road to adulthood.

What is College For? Philosophy professor Sanford Goldberg leads students on an examination of the aims and value of a college education, touching on arguments from humanist, economic, sociological/political and skeptical perspectives.

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