First-Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars
First-Year Seminars

A first-year seminar is a graduation requirement for all Penn State students. The seminars in the Liberal Arts are limited to twenty-four students and are offered in various Liberal Arts disciplines—English, psychology, history, philosophy, anthropology, political science, etc. The small size of the seminars allows for more discussion in class, interaction with the professor, and attention to writing skills. In addition to fulfilling the University’s first-year seminar requirement, each 3-credit seminar fulfills a General Education requirement in either the humanities or social and behavioral sciences.

First-year seminars allow students to learn more about the College of the Liberal Arts and Penn State. The seminars center around helping students become acclimated to the University, as well as begin to identify with the college, their peers, and their teachers. First-year engagement is an important component of every first-year seminar.

Chantel Harley leads a first-year seminar during the fall of 2022
Chantel Harley leads a first-year seminar during the fall of 2022.
Students interact during a first-year seminar during the fall of 2022
Students interact during a first-year seminar during the fall of 2022

Liberal Arts first-year seminar objectives:

  1. Introduce students to:
    1. University study
    2. Their responsibilities as part of the University community
    3. Learning tools and resources available at Penn State
    4. Penn State as an academic community, including fields of study and areas of interest available to students
  2. Provide an opportunity for students to develop relationships with full-time faculty and other students in an academic area of interest to them.

First-year seminars for the fall 2023 semester will be announced soon. 

Students in the College of the Liberal Arts who do not complete a first-year seminar in their first year at Penn State must meet with their academic adviser to propose a course substitute to fulfill the degree requirement.

Course Eligibility

  • Must be successfully completed with a final grade
  • Must be a small class (fewer than fifty students)
  • Cannot be a large lecture with a small breakouts

Instructions

To have a course reviewed for substitution, you must meet with your academic adviser and detail how the course satisfies at least three of the active learning elements below.

  1. Active use of writing, speaking, and other forms of self-expression
  2. Opportunity for information gathering, synthesis, and analysis in solving problems
  3. Engagement in collaborative learning and teamwork
  4. Application of intercultural and international competence
  5. Dialogue pertaining to social behavior, community, and scholarly conduct

Available First-Year Seminars

This course is usable toward the AFAM major/minor.

AFAM 83 has two primary purposes. First, it is designed to introduce students to college life and help them identify the resources and opportunities that will be most helpful to their future personal and professional path. Secondly, this seminar will introduce students to the interdisciplinary field of African American and Diaspora Studies. They will learn about major themes and topics in the field and meet faculty from various disciplines (History, English, Anthropology, Religion, Communication) who are researching those topics. Both aspects of the course will give students a clearer sense of the academic and personal opportunities available at Penn State and in African American Studies.

This course is usable toward the ANTH major/minor.

First-Year Seminar in Anthropology

This seminar introduces students to anthropology as a scientific discipline with ties to other social and natural sciences. Through active participation in the seminar, students will be exposed to the different subfields of anthropology to explore the origins of our species and consider the diversity and cultural variation that exists among humans across the globe. Students will be introduced to the variety of research that is performed by scholars in the Department of Anthropology at Penn State. By the end of the semester, students will see that anthropology surrounds them in their daily lives and studies. They will also have an increased appreciation for the interconnectedness of all humans today and the roles that evolution and culture have played in shaping diversity in our species.

This course is usable toward the APLNG minor.

This course introduces the idea of understanding language use as social practice. This means studying how language serves to represent and to constrain speakers in various social and cultural contexts. The activity of using language will be viewed through the lens of several research domains in the field of Applied Linguistics, a discipline that studies language in the way that real speakers and writers actually use it. The class will present readings taken from fields as varied as sociolinguistics (language as social performance); second language acquisition research (language as cognition, language as participation); language and identity; pragmatics (speech, act theory; conversational analysis); and language and power (language an power (language policy; gender and language). Whether being studied as a formal school subject or learned at a mother’s knee, language is in extricabley bound up with who we are and who we become. Theoretical terminology, research-based findings, and innovative ideas about what language ‘really’ is will be introduced and explored through accessible and engaging readings and activities.Students will learn to look at language use in social contexts from multiple perspectives, seeing how it both reflects, and shapes, identity in context (while at the same time allowing speakers to modify and shape those very contexts). Given that this is a first-year class for first-semester students, emphasis will be placed on how the understanding these basic ideas of Applied Linguistics can help us to pursue a satisfying and enriched sense of self, whether as a speaker of a specific language, or as a member of multiple discourse communities. Students will conduct an interview project to better understand the issues faced by language learners in the local community. International students are particularly invited to join this course.

This course is usable toward the ASIA Studies major/minor.

Asian Studies First Year Seminar

The objective of this ASIA First-Year Seminar course is to provide the students with a broad perspective on the Chinese way of life in contemporary China. Through the course the students will have a chance to look at various domains of Chinese culture and society. The topics to be covered include salient characteristics of the Chinese language, prominent elements and practices inherent in Chinese culture and tradition, and essential aspects of China’s social structure, familial structure, religions, values and aspirations, belief system, arts and entertainment, governing system, economic system, education system, and communication system. The students will also gain a better understanding of the Chinese worldview as embedded within the Chinese language and Chinese way of life.

This course is usable toward the ASIA Studies major/minor.

Asian Studies First Year Seminar

This course provides an introduction to the meaning and advantages of a liberal arts education in the context of Asian Studies. Through reading, discussion, research, and writing, students in this course will develop many of the basic skills central to a liberal arts education. The specific topic will vary by instructor, but will address one or more countries of Asia. Materials may include works of fiction and literary criticism, historical documents and analysis, or other scholarship and primary materials related to the specific discipline of the instructor. Through reading, discussing, and further exploring such materials, students will build their skills of critical analysis, research, and argumentation, as well as enhancing their intercultural and international perspectives. The course fulfills the first-year seminar requirement as well as a general education or a Bachelor of Arts humanities requirement.

This course is usable toward the APLNG minor.

Animals and Monsters in the ancient Mediterranean World

This course will explore the ways animals and monsters were represented and used in the ancient Mediterranean world in myths, religion, art and everyday life.

This course is usable toward the LHR major/minor.

Leadership Lessons from the Arts and Humanities

This course is for explorers. Rather than boring lectures, we delve deep into the meaning of life…and how it is enacted through leadership. Leadership is omnipresent in life. Arts and Humanities are the lifeblood of culture. Together, we will discuss, dissect and dissemble important works in the arts and humanities in the search for deeper meaning and insightful lessons that can be applied in everyday life. The format of the course is that of a salon-style conversation, where topics are introduced on particular themes (e.g., power; vision; conflict; perception), which we then explore, together, in deep discussions. A typical assignment to prepare a class session will consist of a reading selection of short stories from literature, viewing a film, reading professional articles from psychology and/or business, as well as viewing or listening to works of art. We will also incorporate “field trips” to visit museums, view architecture, and attend performances. This is a course for profound thinking—not for memorizing tidbits. You will come away from this course with useful knowledge to apply to everyday life, through the lens of leadership.

This course is usable toward the LHR major/minor.

Leadership Lessons from the Arts and Humanities

This course is for explorers. Rather than boring lectures, we delve deep into the meaning of life…and how it is enacted through leadership. Leadership is omnipresent in life. Arts and Humanities are the lifeblood of culture. Together, we will discuss, dissect and dissemble important works in the arts and humanities in the search for deeper meaning and insightful lessons that can be applied in everyday life. The format of the course is that of a salon-style conversation, where topics are introduced on particular themes (e.g., power; vision; conflict; perception), which we then explore, together, in deep discussions. A typical assignment to prepare a class session will consist of a reading selection of short stories from literature, viewing a film, reading professional articles from psychology and/or business, as well as viewing or listening to works of art. We will also incorporate “field trips” to visit museums, view architecture, and attend performances. This is a course for profound thinking—not for memorizing tidbits. You will come away from this course with useful knowledge to apply to everyday life, through the lens of leadership.

This course is usable toward the LHR major/minor.

Leadership Lessons from the Arts and Humanities

This course is for explorers. Rather than boring lectures, we delve deep into the meaning of life…and how it is enacted through leadership. Leadership is omnipresent in life. Arts and Humanities are the lifeblood of culture. Together, we will discuss, dissect and dissemble important works in the arts and humanities in the search for deeper meaning and insightful lessons that can be applied in everyday life. The format of the course is that of a salon-style conversation, where topics are introduced on particular themes (e.g., power; vision; conflict; perception), which we then explore, together, in deep discussions. A typical assignment to prepare a class session will consist of a reading selection of short stories from literature, viewing a film, reading professional articles from psychology and/or business, as well as viewing or listening to works of art. We will also incorporate “field trips” to visit museums, view architecture, and attend performances. This is a course for profound thinking—not for memorizing tidbits. You will come away from this course with useful knowledge to apply to everyday life, through the lens of leadership.

This course is usable toward the PHIL major/minor.

Philosophy of Nonviolence

Philosophical examination of nonviolence, including inner peace, nonviolent communication, nonviolent resistance, and antiwar pacifism, along with challenges from just war theory. Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, and Nhat Hanh are among the figures covered. While readings will draw from a variety of liberal arts disciplines, the course will serve as an introduction to philosophical methodology, with emphasis placed on the role of rational argumentation in justifying ethical positions. It will also include interactive community building activities and a culminating project where students design a nonviolent resistance campaign for social change.

This course is NOT usable toward the Psychology major/minor.

First-Year Seminar in Clinical Psychology

PSYCH 83S has two primary purposes. First, it is designed to introduce students to college life and help them identify the resources and opportunities that will be most helpful to their future personal and professional path. Secondly, this seminar will introduce students to the field of clinical psychology. They will learn about major themes and topics in the field and meet faculty and students from the psychology department. Both aspects of the course will give students a clearer sense of the academic and personal opportunities available at Penn State and in psychology.

This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements. Each section or offering of this course will be limited to 20 students who will be instructed by an experienced faculty member. Each section will focus on a well-defined body of scholarship that addresses a relatively specific topic while at the same time provide an opportunity for surveying broadly existing knowledge in the discipline. The specific content of the course will vary from offering to offering, and depending on the interests of the instructor, will introduce students to a sociological perspective on particular social issues. For example, one section examines racism and sexism as axes of privilege and oppression. Other sections may deal with major social institutions, such as the family or religion, or with fundamental social processes (e.g., demographic, social, and psychological). Finally, some sections may have a heavier policy emphasis–examining responses to social issues–while others might take a comparative or international approach. Each section will emphasize the development of discussion, writing, and analytical skills and will give students the opportunity to work individually and in small groups. Students can expect to receive a general introduction to the University as an academic community and to explore their responsibilities as members of that community. They will also become familiar with the learning tools and resources available to them, and they will be able to establish relationships with faculty and other students who share their academic interests. This course fulfills a general education or Bachelor of Arts requirement in the social/behavioral sciences.

This course is usable toward the Women’s Studies major/minor.

Creating Safer Campuses: Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Education

This first year seminar will engage students in critical conversations about how we can collectively create a safer campus, one free from relationship and sexual violence. Students will learn about relationship and sexual violence on US college campuses, including how campus culture reinforces power discrepancies and resulting violence. We will use an intersectional, power-based framework to understand violence, using various texts, guest speakers, and films to guide our learning. With the intention of dismantling violent systems, we will have thoughtful conversations that are grounded in dignity and respect for one another to imagine how we can collectively create safer campuses through relationship and sexual violence prevention and education strategies on campus.

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