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VSA 2016 Session II Courses

A word about Class Placement…IMG_2257

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.

Agents of Change

Rhetoric, Public Policy

Do you want to make a difference in the world? Here’s a place to stoke that fire. Taught by a Vanderbilt professor and modeled after a coveted (and challenging) freshman seminar, this course will help you apply Aristotelian rhetoric to influence political, economic, and social change. You will identify and research multiple sides of contemporary social issues, make your case, and defend it. You will learn and practice fundamentals of public speaking, and more importantly, you will learn how to think critically, argue effectively, and mobilize support for the issues that matter to you.

-Courtney Caudle Travers

Identity in the 21st Century

Philosophy, Media Studies

What does it mean to have a self? To be a person? To have a physical body in space and time? In this class, you will explore these questions by learning about the many social, historical, political, and cultural factors that shape markers of identity, and you will evaluate how these and other factors contribute to the ways in which certain identities are perceived and valued. Expect deep discussions about what it means to be you in the modern world. Philosophy and critical theory — and in particular the unique interdisciplinary perspective of Women’s and Gender Studies — will provide us with key tools to analyze media, social science, and art and pop culture. You will even create works of your own that communicate your own critical thinking about how identities are formed and understood in the modern world.

Please note that this class will involve scholarly consideration of issues relating to race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, etc. Students (and parents) should thus carefully consider whether this course is a good fit for them at this time.

-Brandy Daniels

Comparative Electoral Politics

Political Science, Sociology

In any game, the best players are not always the winners; the winners are those who best understand the rules. The same is true in politics. There are many different electoral systems in use around the world: single-member plurality, two-round runoff, and ranked-choice voting, to name just a few. When underdog candidates suddenly rise to the top, it is often because they “use” the rules in their local system better than their opponents. This class will equip you to begin to master politics by teaching you about other voting systems. In the process, you will learn about how those different systems impact vote choice, representation, party viability, as well as how political actors can (and do!) select and change the rules of the game to their own advantage.

-Sheahan Virgin

Environmental Law

Law, Public Policy, Ecology

The environment is changing, and what we should do about it — and how — is one of the most pressing and controversial issues we face today. Environmental law places you on the front lines of these complex issues. Of course you can expect some talk of ecology in this class, but it will also ask you to wrestle with other big questions. What is the role of government in society? What should be the cost of a safer and healthier environment, and who should pay it? This class will also give you a hands-on introduction to the life of an environmental lawyer. You will experience a day in the life of a law student at Vanderbilt’s School of Law,
study case law, write motions, and argue a mock environmental case.

-Leah Dundon

Secret Shakespeare

Literature, Theatre

Shakespeare is widely recognized as one of the greatest literary figures of all time, and his plays have been performed countless times and in an endless array of contexts. This class will immerse you in the world of Shakespeare and his plays. (And the secret, of course, is that his plays were never meant to be experienced as words on a page but as bodies on a stage.) We will approach Shakespeare’s plays not as rigid texts but dynamic scripts that are meant to be performed, and whose performances reshape the meaning of the plays again and again (you never exactly see the same play twice). You will learn how Shakespeare’s plays would have been staged in Elizabethan England, research performance history, and evaluate modern stage and film performances of his works. The performances we study will also include a number of his lesser known productions. Drawing on essential techniques for textual analysis, film studies, and dramaturgy, this course will give you the keys to unlock the amazing complexity of the plays in performance and to express your own creative visions for interpretation.

Jane Wanninger

Writing Poetry and Free Verse

Creative Writing

This writing class will help you find and express your poetic voice. By studying different kinds of poetry through daily writing activities, group collaboration, and peer review, you will work toward building a comprehensive collection of your own original poems. We will pay particular attention to free verse, the frontier of poetry beyond meter, with a focus on a world of diverse voices. The writing skills you learn will not only help enhance your poems but also other writing challenges. Above all, by the end of our time together, our goal is that you will worry less about getting poems “right” so that you can focus more on writing great poems.

-Jan Harris



How many ways are there to scoop three different flavors of ice cream? Now, what if you want your two favorite flavors stacked on top of the third? Combinatorics starts with simple questions like these to build powerful techniques used throughout mathematics. This exploration will lead us to graph theory, which covers everything from the fastest way to send information through a network to the best way to schedule events without conflicts. Melding the tangible with the abstract, combinatorics and graph theory explore the beauty and function of advanced mathematical ideas, revealing how abstract constructions can be natural tools for describing our world.

-Zach Gaslowitz

Math and Music

Music Theory, Mathematics

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 you reach a synthesis between the fields of math and music. A musical background is helpful but not required.

-Dawson Gray


Physics, Astronomy, Computer Science

There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the universe (yet), but fortunately, astrophysics gives us many of the tools we need to find the answers. Astrophysicists use computer modeling and advanced mathematics to answer their research questions, and in this course, you’ll learn to do the same. We’ll discover how to construct a good research question, where to find the data you need, and how you can use computer models to test your hypotheses. We’ll observe the laws of physics on Earth and see if our observations match what computer models predict. This course will help you answer questions as wide and diverse as the universe itself.

-Erika Grundstrom

Microbiology and Immunology*

Human Pathology, Biology, Biomedicine

Fact: About 90% of your body is germs. Yes, germs! Microbes don’t just make you sick. In fact, a lot of them are keeping you alive! Delicate and complex interactions are always taking place between your body and the microorganisms who call you home. You will learn about this balance from your professor (a Vanderbilt immunologist), guest presentations from other research scientists, observations of an infectious disease lab at Vanderbilt (with standard safety protocol and only strains approved by a Biosafety Officer), and by developing and testing your own microbiological research question. You should also be prepared to discuss contemporary controversial issues relating to human pathology.

* Prerequisite: Biology.
Additional application materials: transcript.

The material in this class is extremely challenging. Applicants who have not taken and excelled in biology should (1) include work samples demonstrating a thorough grasp of cellular biology and (2) make a strong case for their enrollment in their application essay.

-Holly Algood

Nanotechnology and Engineering

Engineering, Nanotechnology, Chemistry

Most ecology courses focus on watersheds, bunnies, and food webs. What they often leave out is us. Humans! The “next big thing” in engineering isn’t big at all. Nanotechnology is revolutionizing how we interact with our own world. In this class you will survey this fascinating field, with a broad focus on the topics of energy and health. You will conduct hands-on experiments that will help you understand how nanotechnology makes life-saving drugs more effective, converts solar energy into electrical power, and much more.

Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (VINSE) Faculty, including Greg Walker, Richard Haglund, Sandra Rosenthal, Jason Valentine, David Cliffel, Cary Pint, and Risia Bardhan.

This course has a special scholarship fund for Tennessee residents who meet certain criteria.

-Greg Walker and VINSE Faculty