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VSA 2017 Session 1

Course 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 Waitlist policy.

Programming in Python

Computer Science, Programming, Complex Systems Science, Data Analysis

If you’re a creative problem-solver with a brain for technology, this could be just the class for you! With Python –an accessible programming language that is widely used in business, science, and software/web design–you will learn to query data, perform rapid calculations, and model complex systems, leading to a culminating project where you develop your own software. At the end of this course, you may not have launched the next great internet startup, but you will be equipped with some amazing tools to help you in your future technological endeavors.

– Ashlyn Karan

Creative Writing and Pop Culture

Fiction Writing,, Contemporary Literature, Media Studies

Writers and explorers, come travel through a wide array of story arcs—everything from “standard” literature to music videos and internet memes—to help you perfect the art of plot development, which is the foundation of all good story writing. Plot shapes character development, tone, imagery, dialog, and more. You can expect frequent writing exercises, creative collaboration with your peers, and lots and lots of revision to help you create stories that engage the reader and communicate your point of view with clarity and purpose.

– Quincy Rhoads

Diabetes Research and Treatment

Medicine, Biology, Chemistry

Nearly one-in-ten Americans suffers from diabetes, a serious medical condition in which the wrong snack could have dire consequences. In this course you will look at diabetes through the eyes of a research endocrinologist to better understand how it operates at the cellular and biochemical level. You will learn about pancreatic beta cells, what leads to their dysfunction, and debate the pros and cons of current and cutting edge methods of treatment. So put on your lab coats and get ready to find out what happens when a good pancreas goes bad!

– Peter Kropp


Psychology, Economics, Business, Data Analysis

What is “the Dow,” and why does it go “up” or “down”? What causes gas prices to rise and fall? In this course you will combine problem-solving skills with your own intuition to analyze why people buy, sell, and consume. Moving beyond basic economic concepts, you will experience how economists use mathematics and graphical representations to capture and predict market behaviors. Think economics begins and ends with supply and demand? Think again!

– Zeeshan Samad

Planetary Astronomy

Astronomy, Computer Modeling, Data Analysis

Get ready to contribute your <own voice to our global, astronomical dialog! According to NASA, there are over 2,300 planets outside our Solar System, and as many as 21 may be habitable! In this class you will use astrophysics, publicly available data, and the power of statistics to better understand our planet-filled Universe. You will take what we know about our own Solar System to generate models for studying extrasolar planets. In this way, you will gain firsthand experience in how scientists pose research questions, design studies, and present their findings to their peers. Let the exploration begin!

– Erika Grundstrom

Consumerism in American Society

Economics, Anthropology, History, Statistics

Adam Smith’s famous exposition on capitalism, Wealth of Nations, was published in 1776, the same year as the founding of the United States. This historical coincidence speaks to how much American life is shaped by market acts. This class will introduce you to the history of modern economics and different market theories, providing you with the background to take a close, analytical look at the practice of consumerism and how the cycles of buying and selling contribute to the shape of national and personal identity. Be warned! After this class, you will never look at “Black Friday” the same way again.

– Zachary Settle

Bioarchaeology: Biographies in Bones

Forensic Anthropology, Biochemistry, Archaeology

Bones are like biographies of ancient societies. Skeletal remains can tell bioarchaeologists how people lived in the past—their actions, their diets, and their roles in society. In this course you will learn to use forensic and chemical analysis to better understand the lives of ancient peoples and the world they lived in. Be advised you will be handling human skeletal remains in Vanderbilt’s Human Osteology Lab. So if you are ready for challenging, integrative learning, then pick up your trowel, strap on your boots, and get ready to jump into the hands-on world of bioarchaeology.

– Keitlyn Alcantara

Environmental Engineering: Understanding Climate Events – Class Canceled

Civil Engineering, Complex Systems Science, Data Analysis/Statistics, Ecology

How much sea ice will there be in 2027? What’s the opposite of El Ninõ? How should coastal cities prepare for hurricanes? In this course, you will get an introduction to the tools, analytical techniques, and basic problem solving skills environmental engineers use to try to answer questions like these. Working with publicly available geographic information systems (GIS) tools and fundamental statistics software, you will gain a better understanding of climate events and long-term forecasts. A culminating project will give you the opportunity to apply your new skills through predicting a climate phenomenon of your choosing.

– Paul Johnson


Mathematics, Algebra, Graph Theory

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. 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.

– Zachary Gaslowitz

Digital Storytelling

Creative Writing, Digital Media, Cultural Studies

We all know an image is worth a thousand words, but how can these “thousand words” be used to tell a cohesive story? In this course you’ll learn about the importance of the graphic imagery we encounter daily, including movies, advertisements, news, and even Instagram. You’ll examine how these media are used in entertainment, marketing, and storytelling to better understand how to tell your own story. Finally, using the techniques you have learned, you will create your own graphic short story. If you are the next Stan Lee, or your Instagram caption game is on point, this is the class for you!

– Daniella Chappell

The Business of Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers are on the cutting edge of modern day research, chemical production, environmental debates, and public safety. In this course, students will engage with the many facets of chemical engineering to better understand the field’s great impact on the world. From raw materials to the unit operations that lead to full scale production, students will have the opportunity to learn research techniques and application within an ever-changing discipline. The course will emphasize teamwork, advanced mathematical concepts, developing research-based presentations, along with core business principles. Through a team-based simulation of a working chemical manufacturing company, students will problem solve against real-world obstacles to help this fictional company reach their goals.

– Bryan Beyer