VSA 2017 Session 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 Waitlist policy.
- Programming and Computer Science
- Math and Music
- Agents of Change
- Criminal Law
- Nanoscience and Engineering
- Writing Fantasy Fiction
- Behavioral Economics
- Consumerism and Identity
- Neuroscience of Brain Dysfunction
- Lying with Statistics
- Bioarchaeology: Methods and Applications
- Abstract Algebra
Programming and Computer Science
Computer Science, Programming, Complex Systems Science, Statistics
If you’re a creative problem-solver with a brain for technology, this could be just the class for you! During the two weeks of this course, you will learn to use Python–an accessible programming language–to create scripts, query vast amounts of data, perform rapid calculations, and model complex systems. (You may learn some Java, time permitting.) Daily exercises will give you an expanding knowledge base of fundamental programming skills. Your challenge will be to build upon these skills as you develop your own software solution that tries to address a real-world problem. You will not leave this class having designed the next trending app, but you will have the tools and the knowhow you need to start thinking like a programmer.
Math and Music
Music Theory, Mathematics
From Brahms to the Beatles, Bartók to Beyoncé, the intersections of mathematics with music 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.
Agents of Change
Rhetoric, Public Policy, Law/Politics
Do you want to make a difference in the world? Here’s a place to stoke that fire. 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.
Law, Civics, History
Future lawyers and politicians, pay attention! The study of criminal law is not for the faint of heart. The legal system is complex and ever-changing. In this course you will engage in discussions about controversial topics and real court cases to learn basic legal rules and concepts, criminal defense strategies, rules of evidence, court procedures, and more. You may not be able to pass the bar exam by the time this class is over, but you will know more about the practice of law and what it means to think like a lawyer. Business attire not required.
– Kimberly Goins
Note: Participation in this class will require you to have respectful discussions about sometimes controversial social topics.
Nanoscience and Engineering
Engineering, Nanotechnology, Chemistry
If you see yourself as a future engineer, ready to use the smallest particles to tackle some of life’s biggest challenges, then this two-week immersive overview of nanoscience may be for you. Your two weeks of VSA will be spent tackling laboratory challenges at the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, where you will learn about the different types and uses of nanomaterials in today’s technologies, both where the science is now, and where it is heading. As a culminating project, you will research and propose a nano-engineered solution to a real-world problem.
– Greg Walker and other VINSE Faculty
Writing Fantasy Fiction
Creative Writing, Literature
Did you know that JK Rowling invented Quidditch because of a fight she had with her boyfriend? Or that Tolkein’s Elvish has an elaborate phonology and variety of dialects that you can learn to speak? These authors both drew on their own life events to create elaborate worlds with history and detail that many readers might never notice. Do you have what it takes to create magical and mysterious worlds? Join the quest not just to read classic works of fantasy, but also to begin writing a classic of your own. In this course, we will experiment with short stories, novels, and poems. You will produce a portfolio of creative writing that will set you on the path to discover the secret worlds hidden in your imagination.
Psychology, Economics, Sociology
Have you ever wondered how a celebrity millionaire could find himself bankrupt? Or how a Ponzi scheme could find initial appeal? By using psychological research methods and economic principles, behavioral economics tries to explain people’s decision-making processes within a market setting; in other words, it’s the study of people and their financial decisions using psychological concepts. In this course you will get a primer in basic economic theory and replicate numerous experiments to better understand and predict humans’ often irrational behaviors, considering the implications of these developing insights for standard economic theory. As it turns out, people do not always make expected and reasonable financial decisions, but the right research can help us understand the psychology and identify the patterns that motivate our choices.
Consumerism and Identity
Philosophy, Economics, Business, Sociology
What makes you you? To a certain extent, the answer involves the choices you make, but how much might it involve the market forces that influence you? This class will look at the history of the modern market to consider its structural underpinnings and thus the role it plays in shaping and maintaining identity. This class will challenge you with close readings of difficult texts, passionate discussions, and focused individual research. So get ready to peel back your assumptions about the world to discover the hidden connections between what you buy and who you think you are.
Neuroscience of Brain Dysfunction
Psychology, Neuroscience, Technology
What makes a brain “normal” or “abnormal” is not a simple question to answer. In psychology and neuroscience, it can be hard to tell the difference. This course immerses you into the processes of brain function and dysfunction as they relate to sleep, memory, and emotions. Campus visits to labs will help you understand how EEG and fMRI machines are used in scientific research. You will also complete projects on famous case studies in psychology and neuroscience, gaining practice utilizing the scientific method to design your own research project.
– Mackenzie Sunday and Rebecca Cox
Note: Because of the sometimes personal nature of classes that address mental health, you should consider carefully your own background and speak to the necessary professionals before opting to enroll in this course.
Lying with Statistics
Data Analysis, Computer Programming, Mathematics
Is it possible to mislead when using statistics? This class will help you identify potential misrepresentation along with the inner-workings of statistical “truths”. You will learn to run statistical analyses the right way (using powerful, open source software called “R”) to recognize when data are being misused. Through regular practice, discussion, and your own culminating project, you will become adept at recognizing when graphs are being manipulated, biases are being confirmed, and causes are implied when, really, only correlations exist. Not only will you gain valuable professional skills with broad applications, but you will also be less susceptible to other people’s numerical trickery.
Bioarchaeology: Methods and Applications
Forensic Anthropology, Archaeology, Biochemistry, History
Bones tell stories, stories about how people lived in the past—how they lived, the foods they ate, and some of the roles they played in society. In this course, a bioarchaeologist will help you learn how to read those stories. You will get hands-on practice with human skeletons in Vanderbilt’s Human Osteology Lab, learning forensic techniques to construct a “demographic profile” of the deceased, how to analyze disease and trauma, and use the tools of bioarchaeological chemistry to explore the cellular structure of bone to answer questions about diet, migration, and to gain insight into how bones embody lived experiences.
Mathematics, Algebra, Number Theory
What do a Rubik’s Cube and your Instagram password have in common? Both make use of a fascinating branch of mathematics called abstract algebra. Abstract algebra shows up in physics, encryption, 3-D modeling, and more. In this class you will explore aspects of this field, including group theory, ring theory, and field theory. This will help reveal a logical origin for numbers themselves—what “imaginary” numbers are and the many ways we use them in modern life. There will be a strong emphasis in this class on abstract, logical thinking. You will also study one famous proof or example that you will then present to the class.
– Jordan Nikkel