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

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 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 an introduction to the idea of looking at language use as social practice. Specifically , we will look at how language serves to represent and to constrain its speakers in various social and cultural contexts.  We will 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).

This course is an introduction to the idea of looking at language use as social practice. Specifically , we will look at how language serves to represent and to constrain its speakers in various social and cultural contexts.  We will 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).

ASIA 083S Asian Studies First Year Seminar (3) (GH;IL)(BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements. 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.

Description: Is there a meaningful difference between ¿religion¿ and ¿magic¿? What distinguishes prayers from incantations? Consecrated foods from arcane recipes? Religious symbols from amulets and talismans? The Bible from a book of spells? This course introduces students to the study of magic in the ancient world with particular emphasis on Jewish and Christian traditions. We will consider how ancient people and modern scholars have constructed the category ¿magic¿ both in opposition to ¿religion¿ or ¿science,¿ and in and of itself. We will examine the different types of experts and practices involved in the production and use of magical materials by relating them to the social and cultural histories of Judaism and Christianity across the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Finally, we will explore the possibilities and problems of using magical artifacts as evidence of wider developments in ancient Judaism and Christianity.

This course explores rhetoric of the human condition mainly through the artifact of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks which aired on ABC from 1990-1991. From a humanistic perspective Twin Peaks offers a compelling case study for rhetoric, communication theory, and intersectionality due to the convergence of narratives, problems, dilemmas, and contingencies interwoven into the episodes. Paired with readings from the discipline of communication, the human condition, also as portrayed in the series offers dialogic entry points for generative conversations and deliberations on parallel issues in our lives, local communities, identities, and current historical moment. For example, community, relationships, language, mind and body, ethics, violence, in/justice, power and institutions, memory, technology, and health. The course is geared for critical reflection on the ways beliefs, values, attention, and habits construct a shared reality. 

Theoretical and practical concepts in the comparative, global history of poetry and/or poetics. CMLIT 471 Poetry and Poetics (3) (IL)This course explores theoretical and practical concepts in the history of poetry and/or poetics. Like all comparative literature courses, it pursues this task through discussions of poetry from a wide variety of national or linguistic origins and ranges widely across historical period, medium, and social form, where appropriate. Students will develop a broad array of interpretive skills appropriate to poetry and poetics; they will acquire a knowledge of a wide variety of poetic forms; they will undertake comparative analyses of poems and poetic structures; they will learn how to think about poetics outside poetry.

Germany’s cultural past and present. GER 083S First-Year Seminar in German (3) (GH;FYS;US;IL)(BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements. This course is designed to give the student an introductory overview of certain important aspects of German culture and its development during the past 1500 years. The topics selected will give the student an introduction to major periods and representative thinkers that have helped shape the destiny of German-speaking countries and much of Europe as well. As Goethe noted, our views of the past are a mirror in which we dimly see our own reflection. Serious examination of the issues raised in this course also result in learning something about one’s self and the world in which s/he live today. This course can be used to fulfill the General Education or Bachelor of Arts Humanities requirement, the Intercultural/International Competence requirement, and the first year seminar requirement. A series of short papers will enable students to develop the skills of information gathering and written expression. The course grade will be based on oral participation and on the grade for the papers, which will be evaluated both for content and writing. This course will help to prepare students for a variety of additional courses in the fields of literature and German-speaking area studies. In addition to the academic topic and issues of this course, students can expect to gain a general introduction to the University as an academic community and have the opportunity to explore their responsibilities as members of that community. Students will develop an understanding of the learning tools and resources available to them, including the opportunity to develop relationships with faculty and other students who share their academic interests. The course will be offered once per year to an audience of 20 students.

In the first part of this course, we will look at the different attitudes and reactions of Germans to the persecution and murder of the Jews. Were people in Germany aware that the Holocaust was taking place? Which reactions were possible under a dictatorship and what caused people to make different choices on how to behave and what to believe? We will try to understand the varying reactions and motivations of the German populace to the reality around them, beginning with those who were actively involved in the mass killing of Jews, to the bystanders and rescuers of Jews. In the second part of the course, we will look at postwar attempts made by Germans (and Austrians) of different generations to work through this difficult past. How did they integrate the persecution and mass murder of the Jews into their personal and national history? How did their own experiences have an influence on the way in which they approached the topic? What was the role of family stories, public debates, and cultural representations in shaping their attitudes toward this event?

From ancient Qur’an manuscripts hidden in the ceiling of the Great Mosque of Sanaa to the mysterious St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai desert, Middle Eastern libraries hold astonishing cultural treasures from 1,000 years ago and more. In this class, we will survey several of these archives, learning about their history and the people who study and conserve these treasures. Students will gain a unique insight into the diversity and depth of Middle Eastern history, while also learning some of the crafts of archival research.

Introduction to the study of Italian literature and culture. IT 083S First Year Seminar in Italian Literature, Film, and Culture (3) (GH;IL)(BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements. The first-year seminar will introduce students to the study of Italian literature, film and culture in their first year at Penn State. Students will read significant texts (in English), view videos (with subtitles), listen to music and explore Italian thought and culture in general. These experiences will help prepare students for additional courses in literature and in Italian as well provide a point of comparison with U.S. culture. In addition to the academic topic explored in this course, students can expect to gain a general introduction to the University as an academic community and have the opportunity to explore their responsibilities as members of that community. Students will develop an understanding of the learning tools and resources available to them including the opportunity to develop relationships with faculty and other students who share their academic interests. This course satisfies both the first-year seminar and a General Education humanities or Bachelor of Arts humanities requirement. We will offer the course once every two years with enrollment limit of twenty students.

In the first part of this course, we will look at the different attitudes and reactions of Germans to the persecution and murder of the Jews. Were people in Germany aware that the Holocaust was taking place? Which reactions were possible under a dictatorship and what caused people to make different choices on how to behave and what to believe? We will try to understand the varying reactions and motivations of the German populace to the reality around them, beginning with those who were actively involved in the mass killing of Jews, to the bystanders and rescuers of Jews. In the second part of the course, we will look at postwar attempts made by Germans (and Austrians) of different generations to work through this difficult past. How did they integrate the persecution and mass murder of the Jews into their personal and national history? How did their own experiences have an influence on the way in which they approached the topic? What was the role of family stories, public debates, and cultural representations in shaping their attitudes toward this event?

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 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.

Every day, over a million Americans go to work. The fields of human resources and labor relations prepare students for challenging and rewarding careers managing a wide variety of situations and strategies related to the employment relationship. Human resource management focuses on the employment relationship from the employer’s perspective and includes subjects ranging from the strategic planning, deployment, and redeployment of talent; the functional areas of staffing, compensation, training, and performance management; and strategies of motivating and retaining employees. The field of labor relations reflects workers’ view of the employment relationship and includes topics such as the effects of globalization on unions, social justice, gender equity, and workers’ rights. Both perspectives encompass a variety of growing career areas, all of which address the complex social, cultural, and professional issues you are likely to encounter in modern workplaces. This course introduces students to both of these fields, career development, and Penn State. In addition to learning about current topics in the world of work and having the opportunity to research a current topic of interest, students will engage in self-assessments to better understand their own personal attributes and how they might influence their fit with different career paths. Students will also learn practical skills relevant to succeeding at Penn State, including notetaking, study skills, exam prep, time management, library research skills, and financial planning. Because a big part of feeling at home on campus is knowing how to access all of the resources and opportunities that Penn State has to offer, students will also meet representatives from various campus units to learn about mental health services, career services, financial services, clubs, and other organizations. Students interested in business– seen through a social science lens are encouraged to take this class.

Philosophical examination of nonviolence, including inner peace, nonviolent communication, nonviolent resistance, and antiwar pacifism, along with challenges from opposing perspectives. Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, and Nhat Hanh are among the figures covered. 

PSYCH 83S First-Year Seminar in Psychology (3) (GS;FYS) (BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements. Modern science provides perspectives on human beings that may conflict with our intuitive and conventional views of ourselves as individuals capable of free choice and responsibility. These perspectives raise important questions for how we understand ourselves and others. The goal of this course is to help students to understand the basis of these contemporary scientific views of human beings, and to think critically about the ways in which these views shape human experience. The specific research and theories discuss will vary by section. Students will read selections from the scholarly literature in psychology, as well as popular or media selections related to the topic. The class format will be open discussion, and students will be expected to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings. Evaluation will be based on short writing assignments, exams, in-class presentations, and class participation. Writing assignments will generally require that students apply concepts discussed in class to particular topics, or that they use library and Web resources to find relevant material. In addition to the academic topic and issues of this course, students can expect to gain a general introduction to the University as an academic community and have the opportunity to explore their responsibilities as members of that community. Students will develop an understanding of the learning tools and resources available to them including the opportunity to develop relationships with faculty and other students who share their academic interests. This course fulfills the first-year seminar requirement as well as a general education or Bachelor of Arts social/behavioral science requirement.

We all are members of many different social groups that connect us to other people. Through social interaction and group dynamics, we participate in complex webs of social relationships that influence who we are and how we act.  Our attitudes, values, and how we see ourselves are shaped by these social experiences.  In this class, we will explore how we build our understanding of who we are and how we understand others.  We will learn about different types of groups, such as families, work groups, and voluntary organizations; group dynamics, such as inclusion/exclusion, stigma, and cohesion; and how to manage social interactions, build trust, resolve conflicts, and listen to each other.  Our goal is to better understand how we use these experiences and the meaning we take from them to be the people we hope to be.

This course introduces first-year students to the complex and interdisciplinary field of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Students develop an understanding of a feminist approach to understanding stratifications of power and privilege in society not only impact but co-constitute constructions of gender and sexual identity that are sometimes at odd with an individual’s lived experience. Students learn that social variables such as gender, age, social class, religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and place of residence affect the way people view the world, behave and communicate. Students will develop the ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information about these identity intersections from a variety of sources, and use them to synthesize and analyze their own lived experience as a gendered being. Through the reading of texts, discussions, debates, and individual and collaborative projects, students are introduced to: feminist analysis of current topics and issues in women’s and gender studies; to using women’s and gender studies as a discipline and form of critical engagement; to the concepts of interdisciplinary vs. multidisciplinary research and scholarship; to intersectional analysis of identity, power, and oppression; to scholarly conduct and responsibilities Students will be expected to develop an understanding of current issues and debates within and beyond the field of women’s and gender studies as they relate to contemporary fiction and nonfiction writing as well as feminist thought through social media. Students will recognize that social variables such as gender, age, social class, religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and place of residence affect the way people view the world, behave, and communicate. Students will develop the ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information about these identity intersections from a variety of sources and use them to synthesize and analyze their own ideas as well as come to an understanding regarding the stratification of power and privilege in society.

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