Academic Core

First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminar combines academic skill development with an expansive approach to learning. Many First Year Seminars involve field trips to such destinations as the Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield in nearby Hyde Park and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Students’ classroom experience is further enriched by guest lecturers, such as a talk by Survivor contestant Terry Deitz, and even by students taking a leading role in coordinating on-campus events, such as a student-run conference on JFK and his legacy. Coursework in the FYS can even lead to scholarly conference presentations, as it did for Christopher Ravosa ’21 in March 2018.

Spring 2020 First Year Seminar Courses

FYS 101: Course Titles and Descriptions

*denotes FYSH 101: Honors section available

111, 112: Numsense: Data & Daily Life

In this course, we will look at data sets and see how data are used in various fields such as sports, finance, and economics. Students will explore the relevance and utility of data in everyday activities and how they can enhance critical thinking, writing, effective communication, active learning, and engagement. Basic statistics such as sample mean, standard deviation, mode, and median will be taught in conjunction with foundational skills for college success.  Additionally, skills such as group work, writing, presentations, and information literacy will also be emphasized.

Instructor: Nguyen

113, 114: Mathletics

What do all those sports statistics mean?  How are the statistics calculated?  How do coaches use the statistics collected?  How does an athlete’s training in the off-season translate to performance on the field?  Why do some countries do better in certain sports in the Olympics? Are you curious about this information?  Are you interested in athletics?  Want to watch games as part of your classwork?  Come join Mathletics for the semester! We will explore the territory where math and sports meet, using this topic to hone writing, information literacy, research, and public presentation skills. Our reading will consist of a broad array of sources, including the bestseller, Moneyball. 

Instructor: Martensen

115,116: Murder, Madness, & Mental Mayhem

This seminar will focus on the recurring motif of madness and mental illness in literature, film, television, and society in general, and address the question of how madness challenges traditional assumptions regarding individual identity. Through an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore the nature of the human mind and cultural representations of madness in a variety of contexts. Students in this course will consider how madness is a very ordinary human possibility which can be creative and/or destructive, which can be a breakdown and/or a breakthrough. We will examine the significant presence of madness in society and question how central madness is to human life. Students will study both social/intellectual components and cultural/emotional/expressive aspects of mental illness.

Instructor: Neilson

117, 118: Gender in Crisis: The American Civil War

The Civil War transformed gender as perhaps no other event in American history.  During this time, American writers began speaking of “embattled manhood” and of the “woman’s question” in new ways.  The war gave women options socially that they had not had previously—nursing, spying, political activism, and, yes, even soldiering—just as it redefined men’s lives by suddenly testing their previous definitions of what it meant to be a man.  Sexual mores changed dramatically as well.  Gender in both the North and the South was redefined by a war in which hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives.  Thousands of women suddenly had to confront a life without their husbands, brothers, lovers and sons, i.e., those who had previously defined who they were and what society expected of them.  Family life and childhood, both North and South, both Black and White, altered irrevocably. 

In this course, we will examine what became of America as a result of this crisis in gender, of this world of houses divided, of a nation scarred by battle.  This four-credit course explores this crisis from both literary and historical perspectives, looking at works from the Nineteenth-Century to the present.  The three main themes of this course include Imperiled Domesticity, Beset Manhood, and the intersections of Race and Gender in 19th Century America during the time of the Civil War.  Class activities will include lectures, discussions and workshops.

Instructor: Morreale

119, 120: Greening America

We will consider how a range of American writers frame human interactions with “Nature,” and explore their various representations of the natural world. How have cultural values shaped conceptions of nature? How has “Wilderness” been imagined? How do authors construct language to shape the way readers think about the environment? What vision do these texts offer about the relationship of individuals to society, and about progress, industrialism, and technology?

As a multi-disciplinary course, we will ask: What occurs when findings from Natural History are combined with notions from Literary Transcendentalism and Romanticism? We will examine Native American stories, early accounts of natural history, diverse representations of flora and fauna, memoirs of the local, essays on urban nature, and narratives of exploration. “Nature Writing,” often combines rhapsody and science and runs the gamut of the scientific, philosophical, psychological, aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual.

We will consider authors such as Gilbert White, William Bartram, John James Audubon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Leslie Marmon Silko, Joseph Bruchac, Julia Butterfly Hill, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, and Terry Tempest Williams. In this class you will construct essays based upon the course readings, your own observations, and your classmates’ presentations. The texts we will analyze directly consider the relationship between human beings and their environments over a range of diverse habitats and places, from deserts to rainforests to Alaska, to dorm rooms and malls and cityscapes. Many species and natural phenomena are represented.

Instructor: Mercier

121, 122: Me, Myself, I: Exploring Autobiography

What is autobiography? The word itself comes from “self,” “life,” and “write;” but is autobiography a way of writing that only centers on the self? What are we really doing when we explore the “I” in first-person narratives? How do we move from the introspective gaze to an exploration of the world? This course will focus on the personal, intellectual, and physical journeys of various types of narrators with widely different motivations for writing about themselves. Through these readings and our own writing, we will discuss the differences between related genres such as autobiography, diary, testimonial narrative, memoir, and travelogue.

Instructor: Romero

123: The Frankenstein Myth in Popular Culture

This course examines the historical and literary origins of the Frankenstein story, following it through the innumerable adaptations for stage, film, and television as it developed into what many call "the first modern myth."  Students will also explore the relevance of Frankenstein as applied to many social, scientific, and religious issues of contemporary times.  

Instructor: Bass

124, 125: Greek Myth & The Other

How do we understand myth-making in contemporary times? What role might it play in shaping an understanding of ourselves and the world we live in? In this course, we will take a closer look at myths of Greek antiquity and their reception in the realm of contemporary philosophy in order to open a dialogue around the questions of myth, meaning, and otherness. Centering on the themes of creation myths, the outcast, the scapegoat, the ideal state, divine encounters, the power of masks, ethical obligation, alterity and power, students will explore how, through myth (both stories and criticism) and philosophy, an attempt to negotiate the encounter with otherness is a necessary endeavor of our times.

Instructor: Biro

112*, 126: Happiness Embodied

The search for happiness gives rise to humanity’s basest behaviors and its noblest pursuits. This religious studies and philosophy course examine the connection between happiness, identity, and belonging through the lens of the active human body.  We examine how our physicality influences religious depictions of human excellence and the construction of our relationships and groups. More specifically, we will discuss topics ranging from gender and sexuality to martial arts, communal prayer, and ritual practice.  While this course focuses on examining religious and philosophical texts, students in this class will also be invited to participate in physical forms of experiential learning, such as breath meditation or Tai Chi. This experiential learning culminates with the creation of a choreographed flash mob as a way of understanding how ritual functions to transform gathered individuals into bonded groups.

Instructor: Loh

111*, 127: The Haunted 19th Century

In this course, we will read, discuss, and do research about nineteenth-century American Gothic literature. In addition to learning about the conventions of the genre, we will examine the social and historical issues that writers used dark, mysterious tales to expose and critique. We will read works by authors such as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Henry James. We will also consider film adaptations of several works that we will read. Our analyses will focus on issues of race, gender, class, and religion and will touch on themes such as marginalization, imagination, and social injustice.

Instructor: Tarantello

128, 129: Family Matters

Families: we all have them, be they adoptive, biological, or chosen. We have relationships to our parents or caregivers, siblings of various sorts, and many face the question of whether to start families in the future. Although we don’t always consider them, these relationships raise a host of philosophical questions and concerns, which we will explore in this class. Should one have children? Do parents have a special obligation to their children that they do not have to others? If so, why? Who should do the caretaking? How should parents raise their children, in terms of gender norms or religious expectations? What should parents do when their children are grown? What obligations do children have to their parents? Taking the Philosophical Parent, by Jean Kazez, as our central text, we will read chapters and related articles from contemporary philosophy that aim to challenge and enrich the students’ thoughts about parenthood and family in general.

Instructor: Muller

130: Between a Rock & a Hard Place: A Critical Exploration of Disparities in Health, Education & Society

Disparities in society continue to persist in the United States; we will learn about the effects of the dominant culture on individuals from diverse and marginalized backgrounds. Through readings, multimedia, research, and case studies, we will develop answers to understand “Who gets what, and why?” We will investigate ways in which racism, sexism, economic injustice, ageism, and other forms of discrimination influence health, education, and society as a whole.  This course will encourage students to think critically and expansively about themselves, the social world, and the conditions of humanity. Collectively, we will explore the dimensions of identities and critically reflect on how our identities shape our societal experiences and our future.

Instructor: Fields

113*, 131: JFK: Famine to New Frontier & Beyond

The "Kennedy years" in 20th century American politics were a time of cultural transformation, global tension, and political turbulence. How did the Kennedys carve out a place of political prominence in what historians have labeled the “American Century,” and what is their social and political legacy? This class begins with a brief consideration of the Irish Famine and traces the Kennedy family's political ascent through Joe Kennedy’s lifetime. It explores the actors and policies of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and the political priorities of Robert F. Kennedy. Topics we will examine include religion and American society, women’s activism, foreign policy and politics, environmentalism, and Civil Rights. Students can expect to enjoy ample reading, active class discussions, and opportunities to research Kennedy related themes for papers and presentations.

Instructor: Dwyer-McNulty

132: Myths of Africa: Past & Present

The record-breaking movie, Black Panther, has ushered in a plethora of tweets, blogs, and videos, many focusing on the film’s success in debunking fantastical and false depictions of Africa. Examples of such myths can be found in early European literature. During the first century CE, the Roman scholar, Pliny, stated that the inhabitants of north-eastern Africa were "said to have no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts." In the early nineteenth century, the influential German philosopher, Hegel, described Africa as an "unhistorical" and "underdeveloped" continent on the "threshold” of world history.

Using films, such as Black Panther, as well as primary and secondary material, this course will challenge such myths that seek to portray an ahistorical, underdeveloped, and isolated continent. Attention will be paid to the African diaspora, particularly in the Americas, including the notion that enslaved people were unable to establish cultural institutions based on their African heritage. In doing so, this course will enhance your understanding of the continent and its diaspora, both past and present.

Instructor: George

133, 134: Gendered Bodies, Alien Relationships

Have you ever heard the phrase “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”? This phrase originates from the title of a book written by a relationship counselor in 1992 that sold an astonishing 50 million copies. But the success of this book, and the adoption of its title phrase as popular wisdom, posed a troubling question for American society at the end of the 20th century: after a nearly 100-year period that saw major advancements in social and political equality, why did such a large number of Americans see the opposite sex not as fellow human beings but as something akin to aliens from outer space? What were the interpersonal effects of this mutual alienation? And does this sense of gendered alienation carry on into the 21st century?  Students in this first year seminar will explore questions about gender definitions and roles both historically and today through study of what is commonly termed “speculative fiction.” These speculative works (novels, stories, films, television shows, and other cultural products) will provide us strange and often provocative lenses through which to examine gender issues in American society. By introducing us to alien peoples, genderless cultures, third sexes, advanced technologies, alternate histories, and both utopian and dystopian worlds, this literature will reveal to us the potential detriments of a rigidly gendered society as well as the possibility of a future free from gender's restrictive influence. Readings extend from the late 19th century to the beginning of the 21st, with selections from major speculative authors like H. G. Wells (The Island of Dr. Moreau), Joanna Russ (The Female Man), and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale).

Instructor: Canino

135: Gender in Crisis—The Body in Sickness & Health

This course will begin with a general refresher of the scientific method and will progress with a description of many of the major body systems, spending time along the way on various homeostatic imbalances of those systems. We will also debate some recent controversies in health and medicine, and compare and contrast the writing styles of two books: The Great Cholesterol Myth, and Atherosclerosis Risk Factors. The course culminates in a research paper corresponding to a timed oral presentation.

Instructor: Paskell

A Message From Robyn Rosen, Director of First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminars we offer at Marist are designed with you in mind--a brand new college student. These classes not only broach topics, ideas, theories, systems, ideologies, cultures, time periods, and literary genres that you may never have had the opportunity to explore in high school, but they also provide support to you as you adjust to a new set of academic standards and expectations.

With your help, we create a dynamic classroom environment to stimulate curiosity and enhance your knowledge, skills, and level of comfort in your new community.  This class may take you in unexpected directions, and it will surely be a sturdy foundation upon which to build your academic career at Marist. Make the most of it!