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VSA 2019 Session 2

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 9th and 10th Grade – June 16th-28th

Agents of Change or Hot Rhetoric


The Avengers Meets The Hero with a Thousand Faces

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

Destabilizing History

Fantasy Fiction Writing

Gold, God and Glory

Mapping Mentalities

Math and Music

Nanoscience and Engineering

Philosophy of Law

Policy Making and Quantitative Analysis

Strength and Structure of Engineering Materials

Agents of Change or Hot Rhetoric

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.

Courtney Travers

Astrophysics – Waitlist Only

Physics, Astronomy, Computer Science

Do you have a lot of questions about the universe but don’t know how to find the answers? There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the universe (yet), but fortunately, the study of 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.  You can too! In this course, we will discover how to construct a good research question, find and analyze data, and 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

The Avengers meets The Hero with a Thousand Faces: Exploring Intersections of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Literary Criticism- Limited Availability

Literary Theory, Film Theory, Cultural Studies

How has the development of shared cinematic universes affected the design and structure of storytelling? When the Avengers team up against Thanos, are we really witnessing something structurally novel or are we revisiting tried and true narrative tropes? Is there ever more than one story in the multiverse? With Joseph Campbell’s theory of the Hero’s Journey as backdrop, you will mine the Marvel Cinematic Universe for themes and patterns, then move to mapping your findings onto classic story structures that have existed for thousands of years. As the stories of the MCU align (and misalign) with classic structures, you will create emerging theories of meaning that build on and expand Campbell’s classic work.

David Lee

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

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

Destabilizing History

Cultural Studies, History, Deconstruction

A history book is not what you may think it is. It is not simply the “truth” based on facts. It is, instead, an argument for the truth based on the prioritization of some facts over others. Living in a more diverse society with better access to information for all has led to widely disparate notions of the “truth,” so that some people argue that we live in a “post-truth” age. How best to handle this new reality is one of the most pressing intellectual issues of our time, one that historians should productively and eagerly engage. In this course, students will look at various pivotal moments in North American history, from English colonization to the rise of the United States as a global superpower, from multiple and complex perspectives. Through this analytical process that challenges reigning narratives, students will develop their own historical understandings while becoming better prepared to handle the formidable intellectual challenges of the present day.

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

Kevin Vanzant

Fantasy Fiction Writing – Limited Availability

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? What live experiences can you build upon to set you on a path toward writing the next best selling novel? 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.

Jan Harris

Gold, God, and Glory in the Making of the Modern World

History, Social Science, Economics

How does the past inform the present? What role does one’s geographic location and culture play in the monetary success of their country? And in shaping their political and religious beliefs? From the Crusades, to the Silk Road, to the process of colonization, humanity continues to be driven by a lust for “Gold,” a religious faith in “God,” and a yearning for “Glory.” In this course we will follow the emergence of trade relations, religious communities, and nation building projects in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. By examining exactly how “Gold,” “God,” and “Glory” became a driving forces for the accumulation of wealth, territorial expansion, and social-consciousness we will learn how our world’s past informs the present and future. Be ready to engage in debates on how modern day capitalism came into existence, and participate in intriguing discussions as to how greed, desire, and faith shape societal behaviors and traditions.

Danyelle Valentine

Mapping Mentalities: From Idyllic Paradises to Monstrous Creatures

History, Critical Theory, Cartography

The maps and voyage accounts of the 17th and 18th centuries were full of exaggeration and imagination. Faced with blank or uncertain spaces, writers and cartographers described everything from idyllic paradises to monstrous creatures. Despite their inaccuracies, these maps shaped how many Europeans understood the people and world beyond their borders. Many of these dominant views towards outsiders and otherness persist to this day. In this class, we analyze influential maps and voyage accounts and examine how assumptions about other lands and societies are formed.  Rather than blindly accepting pre-conceived notions about the outside world, this class will use a variety of critical methodologies to evaluate, confront and rethink common assumptions in the world around us.

Bonnie Griffin

Math and Music – LLimited Availability

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

Nanoscience and Engineering- Waitlist Closed

Engineering, Nanotechnology, Chemistry

Get ready to don your protective coveralls and enter the exciting world of nanoengineering. In this class, you will get an introduction into key nanoparticles and their properties while, stretching your creative problem solving skills to their limits. You can expect advanced lectures, labs, and extensive study with faculty, grad students, and postdocs at the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (VINSE). You will also spend significant time in one of Vanderbilt’s newest, biggest, and cleanest cleanrooms.* These experiences will challenge you to see the world the way a nanoscientist does—how manipulating the smallest of particles might address some of the world’s biggest problems.

NOTE: Be advised that the special lighting, clothing, and atmosphere of the cleanroom may act as a “trigger” for students with anxiety disorders and tactile sensitivities. Please call our office if you’d like to discuss the specifics of the cleanroom further.

Tennessee students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in science may be eligible to apply for a competitive full tuition scholarship funded directly through Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (VINSE) for this course. Call our office to learn more about the VINSE scholarship criteria and how to apply.

Greg Walker and other VINSE Faculty

Philosophy of Law – Waitlist Only

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

Policy Making and Quantitative Analysis

Politics, Statistics, Social Science

What impact do statistics and past history  have on future policy initiatives? What are the unintended versus unanticipated consequences of creating policy? How does one negotiate public opinion and quantitative data into a well crafted policy when the two conflict?  Step into the role of a policy analyst and examine key issues through the lens of social science and economics. Participate in policy debate and support your arguments using both classical and emerging political theory, historical precedent, public opinion, and quantitative analysis.  Be prepared to grapple with current political topics such as healthcare, taxation, education and foreign policy. Utilizing the same quantitative methodologies and statistical coding software as policy analysts, you will leverage theory and technical skill to engage contemporary hot-button policy issues.

Walt Ecton

Strengths and Structures of Engineering Materials – Waitlist Only

Engineering, Materials Science, Mathematics

If you’ve ever wondered how engineers know a plane won’t fall apart mid-flight, then this is the course for you! Learn principles of engineering and apply this information to machine parts and assemblies. You will examine topics such as the stress/strain relationships within different materials, investigate failure theories, and learn how engineers predict failure. You will also have the opportunity to visit Vanderbilt Engineering labs and put your newfound knowledge to the test by stressing materials until they break and examining how and when the failure occurred. It’s time to examine stress and learn from failure in true engineering fashion!

Kelsay Neely