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VSA 2016 Session III Courses

A word about Class Placement…VSA session III copy 2

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.

New Problems in Law

Psychology, Neuroscience, Law

Can a brain tumor make someone break the law? How would you even punish that person? What about musicians who copy melodies they believe they’ve never heard before? Why is it so hard to mount an insanity defense for someone who is completely insane? New findings in the social and neurosciences constantly challenge how lawyers, judges, and juries interpret the law. In this class, you will wrestle with these questions too. You will learn how lawyers bring a case to trial, argue before a judge, and file an appeal; you will even get a little practice at mock legal proceedings yourself. Throughout this process you will review the research of scientists who study human behavior and debate what their findings mean both practically and ethically for the American legal system today.

-Chris Jaeger

Medicine, Health, and Society

Anthropology, Sociology, Medicine

What happens when doctors and patients question conventional wisdom about modern healthcare—the diagnoses and treatments we take for granted? Welcome to the multi-dimensional world of medical anthropology! In this class, you will consider how culture influences our ideas about the human body and what it means to be “sick,” “healed,” and “healthy.” We will read and discuss case studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America that prompt debate about the merits and drawbacks of Western “biomedical” and non-Western “ethnomedical” approaches to healthcare. Guest speakers, hands-on projects, and immersive experiences will both challenge and deepen what you know (or think you know) about modern medicine.

-Monte Talley

Novel Writing

Creative Writing

It only took Herman Melville the better part of one summer to write Moby Dick, and Jack Kerouac famously bragged that he wrote On the Road in just three weeks. In this class we hope to give those literary giants a run for their money. Often, aspiring novelists are daunted by the scope of the task in front of them. In this class, you will hone the arsenal of tools necessary for successful completion of a writing project of extended length. We will talk about conquering writer’s block, structuring narratives, developing characters, and manipulating plots. Most importantly, you will have the opportunity to get started on your own voyage to the next great American novel.

-Jan Harris

Phenomenology of Confession

Cultural Studies, Philosophy, Media Studies

Is confession good for the soul? What about the mind? Or might confession make for a good story? Rituals of confession take many forms — political, legal, literary, and even personal. A movie villain who reveals his plot to the seemingly helpless hero is confessing. So are you whenever you send a tweet or post to Instagram. This class will help you think about confession in new and interesting ways. You will come to understand how it acts as a powerful cultural force, shaping the way people understand deep concepts, such as power, guilt, and personal identity. You will learn about the medieval roots of confession and study critical theories that reveal its power dynamics. Then you will “interrogate” (so to speak) the role confession plays in many different texts and contexts, including detective fiction, modern poetry, Supreme Court cases, and contemporary social media platforms. These explorations will equip you to begin to answer some of life’s big questions about how power shapes identity, language shapes truth, and why we keep secrets from others and even ourselves.

-Jane Wanninger

The Global War on Drugs

History, Public Policy, Political Science

In this course you will take a close look at 20th century drug policy and consider its many social, cultural, and political effects both positive and negative. We will start by looking at the origins of the drug trade and its historical trajectory, particularly as it relates to drug-related violence. In addition to examining the role of narcotics in U.S. society, you will “travel” to places like Myanmar, Mexico, China, Colombia, and Bolivia to gain perspective from the impoverished societies that grow them. Additionally, we will study drug addiction and treatment in western countries, the origins of drug cartels in Latin America, and politicians’ efforts to halt the global drug trade. Finally, this class will culminate with a presentation that challenges you to apply what you have learned, taking what you know about the past, and applying it to the present, to propose what you think will be the most comprehensive and effective set of drug policies for the future.

Aileen Teague

Mathematical Reasoning: Theorems, Proofs, and Refutations


If you were to ask a professor of mathematics what it means to do math, you are not likely to hear much about numbers, equations, and quick answers. Really advanced mathematicians think mathematically, and that is what you will be doing in this class. Using logic to solve problems, you will quickly learn that there are a number of different ways to reach a single solution. You will use logic to explain the inner workings of “true” statements, but you will also get some practice using logical arguments to disprove false ones. The concepts we learn in this course will build a bridge to other advanced mathematical concepts such as set theory, number theory, combinatorics, and real analysis.

-Kelly O’Connell

Special Topics in Mathematics*


This course offers a unique opportunity for highly motivated students to expand their knowledge and comprehension of math. We will push the limits of your mathematical understanding through whole-group discussion as well as independent work. Students will study aspects of linear algebra, combinatorics, probability, number theory, logic and game theory, among other topics. You will leave this class with a sampling of higher-level topics, a deeper understanding of the math you have already learned, and an increased awareness of how math is used in the world today.

* Prerequisite: Geometry, Algebra II. Additional application materials: transcript.

-Dawson Gray

Ecological Paleontology

Ecology, Paleontology, Climatology

As a result of anthropogenic climate change, modern organisms are becoming extinct more rapidly than ever before, and many scientists believe we are experiencing the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. But fully understanding the cascading ecological effects of these extinctions is challenging without a detailed understanding of how ecosystems functioned prior to human interference. This class will immerse you in the emerging field of conservation paleontology, which studies climates of the past to plan for the future. You will participate in ecological research simulations and field work (including a trip to an ancient fossil bed right down the road from Vanderbilt), read and discuss the latest scientific research, and practice advanced methods for quantifying and modeling ancient and ongoing climate change. The skills and knowledge you acquire in this course will give you a new perspective on our changing world.

-Jennifer Bradham

Engineering in Adaptive Technologies*

Biomedical Engineering

In the world of adaptive engineering, technological innovation happens on an almost individual level. Adaptive engineers develop special equipment to help people with disabilities learn, play, and live productive lives. You will learn some of the skills of mechanical, electrical, and biomedical engineering to begin to build your own engineering skill set. This course will feature multiple hands-on activities, research, guest speakers, and field trips. We will also partner with the Technology Access Center to adapt toys for individuals with disabilities. You will learn to read circuit diagrams, analyze stress-strain graphs, and understand how engineers use physiology to develop adaptive technologies, medical diagnoses, and treatments. So get creative, and start applying your own problem-solving skills to some of the real challenges engineers face every day!

*Knowledge of physics recommended.

-Amanda Lowery

Med School 101*

Medicine, Biology, Chemistry

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is one of the top hospitals in the country, so it is no surprise that the medical school is at the forefront when it comes to technology and teaching. In this course, you will work with many of the same computer and other virtual medical simulations as Vanderbilt medical students, and use problem based Learning to analyze and diagnose real medical case studies. Taught by a team of medical students, this course will utilize small group discussions, faculty lectures, lab exercises, and the latest resources and technologies from the Vanderbilt School of Medicine to learn about the the practice, ethics, and social impact of modern medicine.

Please note that VUMC insurance and safety regulations state that students must be 16 years old by July 10 to participate. Programs for Talented Youth has no say in this policy.

* Prerequisite: Biology, Chemistry
Additional application materials: Transcript; 2 letters of recommendation. Please visit to access the recommendation form.


Mental Illness in Media

Depictions of mental illness in the media are both very common and very difficult to get right. In this class you will explore psychiatric disorders, developmental disabilities, and acts of violence and abuse from a clinical perspective, and you will take a critical look at books, films, and other sources with portrayals of mental illness. As a class, we will weigh the benefit of increased awareness of mental health issues in popular culture against the sometimes questionable accuracy of these depictions. In addition to multiple guest speakers in the field of psychology and psychiatry, anticipate field trips to an inpatient psychiatry unit, children’s hospital, and/or Electroconvulsive Therapy suite.

Because of the sometimes personal nature of these issues, consider carefully your own background, and speak to the necessary professionals about whether this class would be a good fit for you.

–Michelle Reising