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VSA 2018 Session 1 Courses

A word about 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.


VSA Session 1: June 10-15

Programming in Python

Conservation Biology

Abstract Mathematical Modeling

Stellar Astronomy

Business of Chemical Engineering

The American Legal System

Anthropological Approaches -Canceled

Biopsychology of Sleep

The Science of Emotion

Writing Music City

Kinematics for Mechanical Design

Philosophy and Contemporary Media

Programming in Python

Computer Science, 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 at our fingertips–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

Conservation Biology

Paleontology, Ecology, Biology, Statistics

Can past climate events help us prepare for the future? This is the essential question that paleobiologists attempt to answer. Paleobiology is a new, emerging field that uses established tools and methods to understand ancient ecosystems to develop predictive models of climate patterns. In this class, the tools of professional paleobiologists will become your own. Through lab investigation, field work, and fossil analysis you will gain a deeper understanding of the diverse factors that shaped ancient ecosystems, and begin to apply those newfound insights to the world that you will inherit.

Greg Smith

Abstract Mathematical Modeling

Geometry, Logic, Programming, History

If you asked an expert mathematician what it means to do advanced mathematics, they might wax on about challenge, uncertainty, and failure. Math in grade school is often taught as a series of steps or rules to follow. Expert math is less about how math works than why. In this class, you will explore the why of math by working through some of its foundations in basic proofs, non-euclidean geometry, and real analysis. There will also be time spent in the computer lab, learning LaTeX, the standard software markup language of professional mathematicians. Are you up for the kinds of challenges that keep top-level problem-solvers up at night?

Jordan Nikkel


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 tools and methods to become a kind of “citizen scientist” yourself. A culminating project will challenge you to develop a strong scientific research question, 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.

Erika Grundstrom

Business of Chemical Engineering

Business, Economics, Chemistry

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

The American Legal System

Law, History, Politics, Public Policy

Do you see a career in law, politics, or even business in your future? You’ll be three steps ahead knowing how “the system” works. This class will cover a broad range of topics as it relates to the American legal system, revealing everything from Constitutional Law and Torts, to Criminal Law and Civil Procedure. You might say it’s a kind of “Law School 101.” Expect dynamic classroom discussions, debates about foundational texts, legal statutes, case law, and exciting projects that allow you to practice your newfound skills. By the end of this course, you may not become fluent in all the finer aspects of “legalese,” but you will have a deeper understanding of our legal foundations and how you might make your mark.

Zachary Richards

Anthropological Approaches: Exploration through Ethnography


Political Science, Law, Public Policy, Rhetoric and Debate

“Put yourself in their shoes” may be a trite saying to most, but to an anthropologist it’s a powerful tool.  Ethnography is the scientific study of people and their culture, typically by immersing oneself in that culture. This kind of cultural immersion is just one of the many tools used by anthropologist studying the diversity of humankind. In this course, you will practice approaches used to answer intriguing anthropological questions. In addition to learning techniques for conducting ethnographic research, you will practice “participant observation” research, explore how anthropologists analyze interviews, and investigate anthropological models that govern the world around us.

Emma Banks

Biopsychology of Sleep

Anthropology, Cultural Studies, History, Ethnography

What everyday thing can lower your I.Q., increase your risk of heart attack, and even trigger hallucinations? Sleep! Or rather, the lack of it. Sleep is one of the most essential neurobiological functions. It is also one of the least understood. In this class, you will explore multiple aspects of sleep science—the study of the neurological, psychological, and physiological aspects of slumber—with a special focus on its role in mental health. Lab activities will reveal the neural underpinnings of circadian rhythms, with possible other activities to include self-monitoring (that outfits you with accelerometers and sleep journals), guest lecturers, field trips to Vanderbilt’s polysomnography lab, and the development of your own sleep-related scientific research project.

Rebecca Cox

The Science of Emotion

Psychology, Neuroscience, Biology, Research

Like the animated characters in Inside Out, emotions can be personified as an attempt to understand these mysterious and dynamic expressions lurking within us all. But what is emotion and how does it work? In this course, students will explore the current evidence-based theories of emotion from the diverse fields of psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and biology. An emphasis will be placed on the application of the scientific method to address the complex questions of human cognition and behavior, and their complex relationship to emotion. Students will gain experience integrating knowledge across disciplines and developing testable hypotheses in psychological science.

Kelly Knowles and Marcus Wild

Writing Music City: A Study in Travel Writing

Creative Writing, Digital Media, Cultural Studies

Cowboy boots and hats, honky tonks, and country music. You might think that’s all there is to Music City, but anyone who takes a harder look will see that Nashville means so much more than that. A good writer, a good adventurer, looks beyond the surface in search of the soul of a place. Our class will explore how to write about places that demonstrate a deeper understanding of the city they are in. We will find the overlooked neighborhoods, street corners and sweet spots where people are living, making music, creating and thriving in their own Nashville way. By practicing our observation skills, and ultimately learning how to know ourselves and the places we find ourselves, we will develop the skills to write about the true heart and soul of whatever city we are in.

Daniella Chappell

Kinematics for Mechanical Design

Applied Mathematics, Engineering

Eager to design the winning robot for a team competition or perhaps the moving parts of a satellite in orbit? Kinematics—the study of objects in motion—can provide you with the tools to be able to conceive, analyze, and communicate your cleverly designed mechanisms. In this course you will learn how to analyze pulley systems, fourbar mechanisms, and gear trains that push, lift, carry, rotate, and grasp. Using drafting tools, you will sketch and design mechanisms that perform useful tasks and satisfy realistic constraints. You may never look at a can opener, airplane landing gear, or a Keurig coffee maker the same way again!

Jay Bernheisel

Philosophy and Contemporary Media

Philosophy, Literature, Cultural Studies, Marketing

What might graphic novels, films, short stories, or YouTube videos be able to tell us about the meaning of life? Why we are here? What it all means? In this class we will investigate these questions through a critical inquiry into the philosophical themes and ideas as they appear in contemporary media. By utilizing careful reading, engagement, reflection, and discussion, we will analyze the ways various media work, tease out their philosophical bases or implications, and explore the extent to which popular forms of media as a genre are even capable of doing serious and advanced philosophy. So if you fancy yourself a “bookish” person who doesn’t take things at face value, let’s see which of life’s big questions we can ask (and maybe answer?) together!

Zachary Settle