First-Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars

Discover new ideas with a First-Year Seminar at Northern Vermont University-Johnson.

First-year seminars are interdisciplinary, seminar-style courses taught by Northern Vermont University-Johnson faculty and specifically for first-year students. You and your classmates will have chosen the seminar based on shared interests, and the small-group, collaborative environment will provide a challenging but supportive environment for you to acclimate to the rigors of college-level academics.

Fall 2019 First-Year Seminars

If I Can’t Dance: Keep Your Revolution

History is not just about important revolutions, battles, politicians and changing borders. It is also about everyday people, and what is important in their everyday lives. This course is a multicultural exploration of the simple things that give people pleasure: their dance, games, social activities, cuisine; some of the things that make a nation’s culture. We see how geography, climate, work, religion/ritual, gender, and age all have their impact on a country’s customs. This course investigates the similarities and differences between the various cultures of people around the globe. This course celebrates what Emma Goldman called “everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”

Parental Advisory: 20th Century American Censorship

Witch hunts, scapegoats, public burnings and a whole lot of dirty words -- who knew the First Amendment could be so interesting? This seminar will explore ways that free speech disputes go beyond hypersexual songs, ultraviolent video games, and hippie comedians yanked off stage in handcuffs to core conflicts deep in the heart of the American identity. Throughout the semester, we'll touch on history, mass psychology, elitism, moral crusaders and political grandstanders, weird rituals, and what it means to really protect children. In class, we'll look at banned books and listen to controversial music and comedy. We'll also study old news footage to get a better understanding of the nature of hysteria.

iMe: Reinventing yourself in the Digital Age

Have you ever uploaded a photo to Facebook, viewed cats from around the world on YouTube, or conquered a video game with online teammates? Digital technology is making it easier than ever to express yourself and communicate on a global scale. With the advent of virtual realities like Second Life, you can reach beyond globalism and enter the realm of total imagination. With all of these exciting changes, how do you navigate this new world? In this seminar, we will explore technology's role in our lives. Through an interdisciplinary approach, we will examine science, art and literature’s take on topics including Web 2.0, cybernetics, and virtual reality. We will look at how these topics have influenced robotics, viral videos and most importantly, you.

Mathematical Puzzles Through History

In this course we will study the history and content of mathematics’ most famous puzzles. The essence of mathematics is not about doing boring calculations, and you won’t see any of those in this course. Instead mathematics is about answering questions and solving puzzles that can improve lives and advance society. In short, mathematics is about making the world a better place. This course will examine some of the great “puzzles” of mathematics and put them into a historical context. We’ll study the challenges faced by humans throughout history and learn how mathematics came to their rescue to get the problem solved. No mathematical background is required. This semester this course will have a special focus on the historical development of the computer from the industrial revolution to present times.

Songwriting: Finding Your Inner Dylan

This course will give you a pathway to gain the ability to write original songs of various types. A wide spectrum of topics will include fundamental aspects of music theory, basics in writing skills, and an analysis of songs from master songwriters. Extensive use of YouTube will allow you to observe songs of various styles such as Blues, Rock, and Jazz. You will write and perform at least three songs during the semester. Each song will be recorded, and at the end of the semester, a CD recording will be produced. There will be a final performance of each student’s best work.

Students taking this class should either have a basic knowledge of music theory or should be interested in the subject. Students should also be willing to sing their songs in front of the class.

Pretty or Nasty

The popularity of cosmetics has increased significantly during the 20th century in western societies, particularly in the United States. This course will look at cosmetic usage from its beginnings 6000 years ago to the current worldwide $18 billion industry. As an introduction to our topic, the class will attend a make-up session offered by a representative from a cosmetic company. We then investigate the role of cosmetics in self-image as a more comprehensive understanding of the influence of one’s social environment (including the media) is developed in the course. An introduction to cosmetic chemistry will allow students to evaluate the safety and ethical issues. The course concludes with a personal reflection and analysis of cosmetic usage.

Critical Thinking in an Age of Media Confusion

This seminar will explore the various ways people think and learn, and provide opportunities to examine your own learning styles, as well as develop an understanding of how others think and learn. Are you a visual learner, an auditory learner, a hands-on learner, or something else? How can you maximize your learning strengths, while building up your weaker areas, to get the most out of your college experience? What does it mean to think critically? How can your thinking style help or hinder your success in life? What do you need to know to make the best possible decisions? These are some of the questions we will explore, as you learn techniques and strategies to become a better thinker and learner – skills that will apply to your college classes, as well as your life.

Dystopia: Cautionary Tales of a Nightmarish Future

This Honors FYS is an exciting educational opportunity available to first-year students entering NVU-Johnson with a strong academic record and a desire to enroll in an intensive learning experience.

As opposed to the utopian vision of a more perfect world, dystopian literature and film depict the worst of all possible worlds. Probing basic questions of human nature and society, they reveal anxieties that remain chillingly applicable today. In this course, we will explore such issues as the self, alienation, freedom, complicity, citizenship, love, faith, sex, technology and happiness through a variety of novels and films.

Students who enroll in Dystopia will also be enrolled in ENG 1072: Exposition and Analysis.

Art of the Social Imagination: Cultivating Skills to Work with Others

Art has the power to enhance social movements, create political action, evoke insight, and invite collaboration. Art of Social Imagination begins with the idea that before sharing our creativity with others – let’s learn more about ourselves. Cultivating awareness, keeping a journal, and creating a portfolio of art projects increases personal self-awareness. In the beginning of this course, students are provided with materials for artwork and opportunities to increase self-knowledge. Presentation skills improve with opportunities to research living artists such as Ai Wei Wei and Marina DeBris to see art-making as a way of creating awareness, sharing space for social connection and individual reflection. This course is designed to facilitate self-discovery and community involvement. We learn to focus inward as well as harness the collective energy of a group. No formal art background is needed!

Students who choose this FYS will also be enrolled in ART 2211: Introduction to Painting.

Journaling: Writing in New Territory

“Laugh at yourself, but don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be bold. When you embark for strange places, don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory,” advised Alan Alda. Every first-year college student is in new territory, and the process of journaling is a journey of discovery. Through journal-writing, students will both explore their new surroundings as well as arrive at new places because of the mental mapping they embarked upon through this writing process. The daily writing assignments are designed for students to examine and experience their own unique world in ways that bring new insight into their lives and build connections through their examinations of culture, interest, ideology, and community. In addition to keeping their own journals, students will read excerpts of other diarists/journal-keepers’ work.

Students who choose this FYS will also be enrolled in PSY 1010: Introduction to Psychology.