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VSA 2019 Session 1

Course Placement

VSA Courses are academically rigorous immersive classroom experiences taught by faculty and Ph.D. students at Vanderbilt and the larger Nashville community. Please consider course choices carefully. In the application process you may rank-order as many of the courses as you like. Rank thoughtfully to ensure you will enjoy your VSA experience!

Your deposit becomes non-refundable once you are placed in a class that you have ranked. Please also refer to the VSA Waitlist policy for further information. If you have additional questions about course placement or the VSA Waitlist policy, please email

Courses printed in red are full and not accepting applications for the waitlist. Courses printed in blue are full but still accepting applications for the waitlist. Courses printed in gold have limited availability. Courses printed in green are available.

Rising 7th and 8th Grade – June 9-14, 2019

Aerospace Engineering

Behavioral Economics 

Biology of Cancer: How the Cellular Machinery Goes Wrong and Potential Remedies

Is Green Energy the Answer?

Math and Music

Neuroscience and Music

Philosophy of Law

Rhetorical Advocacy and Criticism

The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing

Sensors and Big Data Analysis

Stellar Astronomy

Writing Poetry and Free Verse


Aerospace Engineering: Yes, We’re Launching Rockets!

Engineering, Physics, Mathematics

It is the dawning of a new age. Reusable rockets are landing on drone ships. Private companies have sent people to space. Humankind is preparing for its first manned mission to Mars. The commercialization of the space industry has renewed public interest in rocketry, and upcoming generations will soon master interplanetary travel. In order to understand the intricacies of space travel, you must first understand and appreciate the laws of physics that dictate our universe. Bridge theory and practice as you put yourself in the shoes of an aerospace engineer. Work with a team of classmates to build, design, and test your own rocket following a rigorous rocket-science crash course. Prepare for the challenge of reaching a target altitude by applying the theories and concepts you have learned along the way. You will not only be a participant in this competition, but also a judge for each team’s phase of flight. This is no walk in the park. This is launching rockets!

Darren Tinker

Behavioral Economics – Waitlist Only

Psychology, Economics, Sociology

Have you ever wondered how a celebrity millionaire could find himself bankrupt? Or how a giant corporation can influence our decision to buy a cool new device?What factors influence the way we spend our money? Behavioral economists work to explain what motivates people to make certain financial decisions and uncover why people spend their money the way they do. In this course you will get a primer in basic economic theory and replicate famous psychological experiments in order to better understand and predict humans’ often irrational behaviors. People may not always make expected and reasonable financial decisions, but the right research can help us understand why. Through case-studies, research, debates, and discussion, we will learn about the impulsiveness of humans and how emotions can play a powerful role in financial decision-making and spending. By the end of this course you will be thinking like an economist and won’t look at commercials or the stock market in the same way!

Blake Dunshee

Biology of Cancer: How the Cellular Machinery Goes Wrong and Potential Remedies

Biology, Chemistry, Cellular Engineering & Imaging

Cancer knows no race, ethnicity, region, or socioeconomic status. It is a global issue that affects families and populations across all seven continents. One of the most interesting facts about cancer is that it does not originate from an outside source. Rather, cancer is our cells malfunctioning and continuing to replicate at an exponential pace. If we can better understand the mechanisms that cause these cancerous cells to begin to malfunction, we can explore tools and therapies to treat the disease. This understanding of tumors on a cellular and genetic level, therefore, is vital to future cancer studies. In this course, you will learn what the disease of cancer means, how it affects the body on a micro and macro level, potential areas of treatment, and connections between populations and cells of origin. We will review current therapies already in usage and identify which aspects of the disease they are treating as well as the method’s efficacy. By the end of the course, you will be able to begin to offer your own proposals on how to approach the disease as well as offer suggestions on future directions in therapy research.

Joseph A Weinstein-Webb

Is Green Energy the Answer?

Environmental Science, Social Science

The global reliance on fossil fuels has massive impacts on our health, environment, and way of life. Are green technologies, however, really the best solution? Is an all-renewable energy use desirable, cost-efficient, and possible? The debate within academia and the public sector is more complex and divided than you may imagine. In this class, we will study coal, natural gas, solar, and wind energy to understand how each technology impacts people in different parts of the world. We will discuss how different forms of energy production generate varying human costs. You will learn about global human connections that drive energy production and develop your own proposal for sustainably meeting our global energy demands.

Emma Banks

Math and Music

Music Theory, Mathematics

The dance between math and music is an intricate one. From Brahms to the Beatles, Bartók to Beyonce, 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

Neuroscience and Music –  Limited Availability

Neuroscience, Music, Biology

Music, often considered a human universal, exists in every culture. How do cognitive neuroscientists begin to answer questions about how music is processed in the brain? How do individuals with language and memory impairments still have a preserved capacity to sing and recall music? This course will survey the ongoing research in music cognition as well as basic neuroscience topics, including brain anatomy. We will cover methods (EEG, fMRI) cognitive neuroscientists use to study the brain and learn how to parse through scientific papers, particularly focusing on music studies.

Anna Kasdan

Philosophy of Law

Politics, Morality, Legal Studies

What ideas shape the creation and formation of laws? What is the relationship between law and morality? This course will examine the philosophical foundations of the philosophical underpinnings of law, legal reasoning, and the relationship between law and morality. We will learn how to analyze philosophical and legal documents in order to engage in robust discussion and reflection upon legal theories and systems in western cultures. . In this course you will also create works that reflect your own critical perspective as these relate to contemporary issues that influence law.  If you are interested in social justice, want to become an informed citizen, are considering a career in law, or just want to learn more about what influences laws and policies then this course is for you! Be equipped with new information that will help you examine policies or advocate for your own ideas in your local area or analyze current state and national issues and policies through a legal and philosophical view.

Sarah O’Brien

Rhetorical Advocacy and Criticism

Writing, Public Speaking

Do you want to be a better public speaker? Do you want to understand how society determines what is true and what is hyperbole? Do you want to be able to effectively research and organize arguments out of the massive amounts of information you are exposed to into something that makes sense? In this class, you will learn how to research, develop and organize arguments, adapt persuasive appeals to specific audiences, and, perhaps even change minds. We will also analyze arguments as we learn basic rhetorical theories and apply them to historical speeches. Be prepared to engage in discussions and critically analyze arguments and texts. Become a more involved and informed citizen, a better public speaker, and a critical consumer of information.

Note: This class will involve scholarly consideration of politics and the public sphere.

John Koch

The Science & Ethics of Genome Editing –  Limited Availability

Biology, Law, Philosophy

Topics in genetics are becoming more popular and genetics research is a fast growing field with long lasting implications for society. In this class we will tackle some of the big issues surrounding genetic engineering. Is genome editing safe? Should there be federal regulations concerning which genomes can be edited and to what extent? We will begin with an overview of molecular biology and genome editing processes. You will learn how methodologies used to edit genomes have been applied in basic science research, agriculture, and therapeutics, while also examining the long term implications of genome editing as it affects daily life. With an emerging understanding of the science behind this issue at the center of public consciousness, we will then consider ethical questions and work to participate in informed scientific conversations about this important topic. Be prepared to ask questions, conduct interdisciplinary research, and defend your own stance on this issue.

Note: This course will include scholarly discussions about topics that are controversial and the potential to be polarizing. Students and parents should therefore consider whether they are comfortable with participation in this course.

Andrea Perreault

Sensors and Big Data Analysis

Data Analysis, Programming, Social Science

How do city planners decide how to alleviate traffic? How do scientists measure and analyze how air quality is related to issues such as public health and socio-economic dynamics? Data analysis is behind many important decisions that are being made on a daily basis.  In this class, you will explore sensor and data technology, assemble real sensor prototypes and collect and analyze data that answer questions you have. With unique access to large datasets from Vanderbilt and the City of Nashville derived from air quality sensor systems, pedestrian movement detection, and even electric scooter-sharing systems, you will formulate and explore inquiries that affect the very flow of society. Gain hands-on experience with electrical engineering, big data analysis techniques, programming languages, and geographic mapping software as you discover answers to your own questions and gain a behind the scenes look at how data driven decisions are made for city planning.

William Barbour

Stellar Astronomy

Astronomy, Computer Modeling, Data Analysis

Get ready to contribute your own voice to our global, astronomical dialog! We will study the life cycle of stars and the remnants they leave behind. (Black holes, anyone?) You will learn how to access publicly available data and utilize astronomical software tools and methods as you think like an astronomer. A culminating project will challenge you to develop a strong scientific research question and use software tools to model scenarios, pursue verifiable answers, and communicate the results of your research to your classroom colleagues via a poster presentation. This course is a great fit for both those planning a career as an astronomer, and those who want a closer look at the scientific process while dabbling in astronomical questions.

Erika Grundstrom

Writing Poetry & Free Verse

Creative Writing, Literary Theory

Led by a published author, this writing class will help you find and express your poetic voice and gain confidence and expert feedback about your work. By studying different kinds of poetry through creative and engaging creative writing activities, group collaboration, analysis, and peer review you will work toward building a comprehensive collection of your own original poems. We will pay particular attention to free verse and the frontier of poetry beyond meter, with a focus on finding your own voice and platform. The writing skills you learn will not only help enhance your poems, but allow you to engage in scholarly conversations with other classmates and express your ideas in unique ways while having a lot of fun along the way.

Jan Harris