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VSA 2015 Session 1

Class Placement

Classes fill quickly! Please consider your course choices carefully. While we will do our best to place you in your first choice class, it may be filled and we often have to place students in 2nd or 3rd
choice classes. As you review these course descriptions, please rank-order as many classes as you’d like, knowing that you may not get your first choice. Your deposit becomes non-refundable once we place you in a class that you have ranked. So, only rank classes that you are truly willing to take, and pay for!

View the VSA waiting list policy.

Introduction to Nanotechnology

In the world of nanotechnology, less is more. This course will introduce you to the broad field of science and engineering at the atomic scale. You will explore nanoscale technology through cutting-edge examples and hands-on experience in self-assembly, surface science, molecular engineering, nanomaterials fabrication, and nanobiotechnology. We will explore questions such as: What makes certain molecules self-assemble into useful nanoscale structures? How do you design a surface to specifically detect a virus? Can we create materials that contain as much surface area as a football field in a single gram? You will discover the answers to these and other problems in the intricate science of small things.

-Ian Njoroge and Max Robinson

A great course for students who know that big ideas come in small particles.

Introduction to Game Theory

Come explore the fascinating and often counterintuitive world of Game Theory, the mathematics of strategy and rational decision making! Humans can behave in sometimes unexpected ways. Game Theory uses math to explain this sometimes quirky behavior, like why tobacco companies supported legislation banning them from advertising, or why a soccer team once tried desperately to score on its own goal. Students in this course will learn to construct these and other scenarios in mathematical terms, to model rational behavior, and account for lack of information, all to predict (and perhaps even change) the outcome.

– Zachary Gaslowitz

A great course for strategy-minded decision makers.

Crime and Punishment in U.S. History

Attitudes about criminal behavior have changed since the Puritans first put people in the stocks for skipping church and for “coarse” language. Students in this course will follow shifting patterns of crime, violence, and punishment from the colonial period to the modern era. They will engage in archival research, lively discussions, and visits a historic prison as they work to understand how factors like age, gender, and race contributed to our modern understanding of criminals and their place in society.

– Erica Hayden, Ph.D.

A great course for students equally interested in history and sociology.

Pop Culture and Philosophy

Do Marvel comics teach us anything about metaphysics? What might Plato or Hobbes have to say to or about the popular television series Scandal? When we evaluate what Foucalt’s account of panopticon might have to say about Facebook, students will–inversely–have the opportunity to reflect upon popular culture by way of philosophy. From exploring how contemporary obsession with vampires (Twilight, Vampire Diaries) and zombies (Walking Dead, Zombieland) reflect Descartes’ mind-body distinction, to critically examining Keeping Up with the Kardashians in light of existentialist philosophy, this course will provide an introduction to a range of thinkers and theories in western philosophy by way of popular culture.

-Brandy Daniels

A great course for deep thinkers with a finger on the pulse of society.

The Spatial Age: Geographic Information Systems and Research

Smartphones use global positioning systems and satellite imagery to tell you where you are and how to get where you want to go, but did you know that this same technology – collectively called Geographic Information Systems, or GIS for short – is one of the most exciting new research tools in the human, social, and environmental sciences? As one researcher put it, “When you look at data spatially, you reveal things that you might not otherwise have seen.” Students in this course will learn what GIS is, how it works, and how researchers use it to collect and analyze information. They will also get a chance to apply what you have learned by collaborating to collect georeferenced data to produce your very own maps using the same ArcGIS software employed by Vanderbilt researchers.

-Emily Burchfield

A great course for anyone who wants to take a close look at the big picture.

Magical Realist Literature

Magical realism is a distinctly Latin American fiction genre that mixes stark reality with elaborate fantasy in order to show us that the ordinary can be truly miraculous. In this course, we will read and analyze novels and short stories from the magical realist genre in light of historical events occurring in a specific place and time. Such departures from realism speak to a particular cultural voice and context, and as we delve into literary works of magical realism, we will examine the many ways that literature can reflect and alter historical memory.

– Nicolette Kostiw

A great course for avid readers who savor the ordinary within the extraordinary.

Math and Music

The dance between math and music is an intricate one. From Brahms to the Beatles, Bartók to Ben Folds, the points at which mathematics and music collide open up both worlds as expressions of beauty and wonder. This course will examine topics such as set theory, musical scales, frequency, matrices, serialism, compositional techniques, and the Fibonacci sequence to help students to reach a synthesis between the fields of math and music. A musical background is helpful but not required.

– Dawson Gray

A great course for music lovers with a penchant for math.


Volcanic eruptions are some of the most dynamic and exciting phenomena on Earth. Not only have volcanoes played an important role in shaping our planet, they are also responsible for providing humans with unique environments in which to live—sometimes with disastrous consequences. We will use a variety of hands-on activities and experiments, combined with online modules and short discussions, to explore the inner workings of volcanoes and to consider how they shape our world and the people who live in it.

-Tenley Banik

A great course for people who want to understand the inner forces of our ever-changing world.

A Case for Change

So, you want to make a difference in the world? Here’s your chance. Participants in this course will research multiple sides of contemporary social issues and learn to apply Aristotelian rhetoric to make and defend their arguments. Students will learn some fundamentals of public speaking, but more importantly, they will learn how to develop compelling arguments to affect change on issues that matter to them.

-Prof. John English

A great course for lovers of logic and rhetoric who want to make a difference in the world.

The Chemistry of (Almost) Everything

It’s possible that chemistry might spring to mind when we crack the center of a glow stick to “turn it on” or open up an air-activated hand warmer packet on a cold winter’s morning, but chemistry is everywhere, shaping our lives in ways we don’t often consider. Chemistry is in the microwaves you use to heat your food, it’s in the carpet under your feet, and it’s in the lights over your head. Through hands on activities with everyday objects, students in this course will gain a greater understanding of fundamental concepts in organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. Like chemists, you will begin to see vibrational energy states, redox reactions and thermodynamics in (almost) everything.

-Clayton Wandishin

A great course for chemists seeking to understand the hidden complexity of the world around them.

Elements of Fiction: Creative Writing in All Its Genres

You might have the most creative characters, the most vivid settings, or the most elegant prose, but if you don’t have plot, you don’t have a story. In this course, we will look at a wide array of story arcs—everything from songs and videos, to movies, books, and even internet memes—to figure out how the “big picture” of the story you want to tell informs character, dialogue, imagery, and tone. Students in this course should expect creative collaboration and thoughtful constructive criticism to help them reflect and improve upon their own writing. Through writing exercises, workshop, and revision, students will hone their writing craft with clarity and purpose.

-Quincy Rhoads

A great course for those who write with passion but edit with precision.