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VSA 2018 Session 2 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 2: June 17-29

Agents of Change

Nanoscience and Engineering

Climate Change

Writing Poetry & Free Verse

The Fourth Branch of Government

Graph Theory


Mathematical Reasoning

Clinical Psychology


Programming for the “Interconnected Age”

Philosophy and Film

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.

Courtney Travers

Nanoscience and Engineering

Engineering, Nanotechnology, Chemistry

Get ready to don your protective coveralls and enter the exciting world of nanoengineering. This class will put your knowledge of physics and chemistry to the test, 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.  

This course has a special scholarship fund for Tennessee residents. Call our office to learn more about the VINSE scholarship criteria and how to apply.

Greg Walker and other VINSE Faculty

Climate Change: Where Policy Meets Science

Ecology, Statistics/Data Analysis, Complex Systems Science, Urban Planning, Geography

This course presents an unbiased view of the science and policy surrounding global climate change. You will learn some of the tools and techniques scientists use to recognize that climate change is happening, its potential effects on our future, and how humans might respond to it. The human element is an important consideration in this course. While you will work with computer models, global information systems, and R statistical software, you will also consider policy responses to climate change, propose adaptation strategies, and advocate for your point of view in a mock UN climate change debate.

Kelsea Best and Paul Johnson

Writing Poetry & Free Verse

Creative Writing, Poetry, Literature

This writing class will help you find and express your poetic voice. By studying different kinds of poetry through daily writing activities, group collaboration, and peer review, you will work toward building a comprehensive collection of your own original poems. We will pay particular attention to free verse, the frontier of poetry beyond meter, with a focus on a world of diverse voices. The writing skills you learn will not only help enhance your poems, but also other writing challenges. Above all, by the end of our time together, our goal is that you will worry less about getting poems “right” to focus more on writing great poems.

Jan Harris

The Fourth Branch of Government: Welcome to the Administrative State

Political Science, Public Policy, Law

You have probably heard about the three branches of government—Legislative, Executive, and Judicial—but did you know there is an unofficial fourth? The Administrative State refers to the departments that arguably have the most impact on your everyday lives. The breakfast you eat is regulated by the Department of Agriculture; the things you buy by the Federal Trade Commission; the tests you take by the Department of Education. This course will examine the processes that create the agencies that seem to run so much of our lives and the methods used to carry out their missions. As a class, you can also expect to engage in judicial review of agency processes and other limits that restrict administrative power. The Administrative State influences every part of our lives, so if you want to be an informed citizen or political influencer, take hold of this unofficial branch and see how high you can climb.

Zach Richards

Graph Theory

Geometry, Logic, Programming Concepts, and Applications

Do you love to solve problems? Do you live for the “Eureka” moment when you find the answer? This course will provide you with the tools and skills to make reaching a solution easier. In this introduction to higher level mathematics, we will focus on discrete structures with applications to problem solving. Proof-based mathematics will help you better outline the steps to reaching a solution, an algorithmic approach to problem solving will help you organize your logic, and reducing complicated problems to finite visual representations will show you how to simplify questions to find their answer. This course will not only provide you with mathematical knowledge, but with critical problem-solving skills that will help you in any discipline.

Blake Dunshee


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 and migration, and gain insight into how bones embody lived experiences.

Keitlyn Alcantara

Mathematical Reasoning

Logic, Geometry, Problem Solving, History, Programming

If you love math but hate crunching numbers, this is the course for you! We will approach this course from a Ph.D mathematician’s perspective, focusing more on why math is the way it is, and less on how to perform calculations. You will be introduced to a more advanced way of doing math by working through famous conceptual mathematics problems. Through this and other activities you will have a greater understanding that what many people call basic math “facts” may not be facts at all.

Jordan Nikkel

Clinical Psychology

Psychology, Neuroscience, Medicine

About one in every two US adults will develop a mental illness at some point during their lifetime. Clinical psychology tries to understand the causes of mental illness, their effects on people’s lives, and methods of treatment. This class will give you an overview of common mental disorders with a focus on how current neuroscience and psychology  research informs diagnosis and treatment. You will visit research laboratories, learn about  assessment tools, gain exposure to therapeutic techniques, discuss key controversies in the field, and hear from experienced practitioners. This course will culminate in student presentations, fostering deeper exploration of topics of interest.

NOTE: Because of the sometimes personal nature of these issues, carefully consider your own background and speak to the necessary professionals about whether this class would be a good fit for you.

Megan Ichinose and Kendra Hinton

Ecostats: Measuring the Natural World

Ecology, Statistics, Data Analysis

Ecologists and other natural scientists have a wide range of methods to study our complex and beautiful world. One of those methods is statistical analysis. This course will delve into the world of ecological statistics. You will collect data from field surveys and experiments, use descriptive and inferential statistics to analyze your results, and present your findings to your peers like a professional statistician. Expect to leave this course knowing how to code in “R” ( the standard in statistical programming languages), describe and analyze data sets in any field of research, and with a newfound appreciation for the processes that govern and shape the world around us.

Greg Smith

Programming for the “Interconnected Age”

Computer Science, Programming, Business/Entrepreneurship

Do you watch Netflix or YouTube? Search the web? Talk to Siri? Text? If you do, then you use something called “distributed programming.” This type of programming is so widespread, but most computer scientists don’t learn about it until college.This class will provide you with a collaborative visual programming environment to teach you some programming skills from the ground up, which you will then use to design your own  client-server or networked applications, including online data analysis and visualization, collaborative apps, and even multiplayer games.

Akos Ledeczi

Philosophy and Film

Philosophy, Literature, Film Studies

Can film “do” philosophy? Of course it can illustrate some philosophical ideas; it can make you think while it entertains. But is it possible to make a film that makes people see the universe in a whole new, deeper, and more profound way? In this course, we are going to see if we can do real, serious philosophy through the medium of film. We will work together to dissect the different ways film works from a philosophical point of view. Special attention will be given to existentialism, nihilism, phenomenology, and postmodernism. There will be a combination of lectures, readings from advanced philosophical literature, and of course analysis of films and film clips. As time allows, you may even get the chance to put together your own short film or screenplay. Together, we will examine the contours of film and philosophy simultaneously, making sense of the one through the other and questioning the philosophical possibilities of film as a medium.

Zachary Settle