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2015 Session 2 (June 21-July 3)

A word about Class 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 waiting list policy.

The Making of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. did not become a leader in the American civil rights movement by accident. King was also an author, preacher, and intellectual. Students in this course will closely examine the cultural, religious, and intellectual resources that made King who he was. We will study how his ideas about the social role of religion were shaped by Judeo-Christian resources (e.g. the Hebrew prophets, Aquinas, and American Evangelicalism), western philosophical streams (e.g. Plato, Hegel, and Kant), early-modern dissenting traditions (e.g. Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Mandela), as well as the African American leaders who came before him (e.g. DuBois, Washington, and Garvey). We will, of course, review and analyze King-led civil rights campaigns staged in various American cities. The course will end by exploring contemporary ethical issues through insights derived from King’s speeches and writings.

Aaron Howard

A great course for scholars who dream of social justice.

Abstract Algebra: Permutations, Symmetries, and “Space Donuts”

What if chess were like Pac-Man? What if you could move your rook off the board and have it come out the other side? Group Theory is the branch of mathematics that considers these types of questions. Normally, college math majors learn about Group Theory in their junior year. In this course you will get an introduction to fundamental concepts in group theory, such as dihedral groups, permutations, symmetries and even a “space donut”. Group Theory has broad applications in organic chemistry, programming, and theoretical physics. This class involves a lot of group collaboration to solve difficult, non-standard mathematical problems.

Jason Brasel

A great course for math-lovers who don’t mind a challenge.

Antisemitism and Comic Book Heroes

Did you know that comic book heroes have fought more than just crime? In the early days of comics, talented Jewish artists drew upon symbolism from the Bible and Jewish lore to battle anti-semitism at home and abroad. Students in this course will traverse this little-known history of the graphic novel. They will learn essential skills of literary analysis, so they can venture into the world equipped to engage with the works of modern authors and artists. Students will see how modern artists draw upon the tropes, not only of Judaism, but many world religions, in the battle for truth and justice in our own time.

Chris Paris, Ph.D.

A great course for justice-seekers with a penchant for modern mythology.

Stories Untold: Frontiers in Human Geography

Every place has a story. Actually, it has lots of them! There is the official version of events – the story told by high school history books and tourism bureaus – and then there are the stories that not many people talk about or know. In this class, you will engage in human geography to find and tell those stories. With special emphasis on the music and Civil Rights histories of Nashville, course work will investigate new ways of accessing and using professional archives (e.g, in the Nashville Public Library and Country Music Hall of Fame) and personally-curated media. Lab work will focus on the spatial analysis of Nashville through developing tools (e.g. Google MyMaps and ESRI Story Maps). The work you do in the field will help to develop technology-augmented walks that digitally tap into archives rich with musical and political heritage. Together, we will uncover the social forces that help to shape our city.

— Kevin Leander, Ph.D., with other faculty and graduate students from the Department of Teaching and Learning

A great course for technology-driven storytellers who investigate the past to understand the present and want to know more about Music City!

Music and Cognition

Your brain is active when you are making music. It doesn’t matter if you are playing in an orchestra or singing in the shower, music engages your auditory and motor systems, activates your emotional centers, and elicits memories and associations based on past musical experience. By engaging in experiential activities that demonstrate principles of psychology and cognitive studies, students in this course will come to understand how music affects the mind and body, memory, emotion, and social behavior. We will conclude by working together to develop a multi-modal presentation that connects the latest research to your own life.

Perfect-pitch not required!

Sara Lynn Beck & Aysu Erdemir

A great course for music lovers who match science and melody note for note.

Archaeological Chemistry-

Archaeologists don’t just dig things out of the ground. They also spend valuable time in the lab analyzing bone, teeth, soil, pottery, and other materials they find. Archaeologists used chemical analysis of artifacts to learn that the Ötzi “Ice Man” (discovered in Italy) was over 3,000 years old, or what food a clay pot held thousands of years ago. For more modern investigations, the FBI utilizes chemical analysis to identify stolen art and artifacts. By looking at these and other case studies, students in this course will gain an understanding of the ways archaeologists use chemical analysis to understand the past. From the reconstruction of migration patterns and survival techniques of ancient individuals to the origins of ancient artifacts, archaeological chemistry sheds light onto the previously unknown.

Amanda Winburn

A great course for students looking for the chemical keys to unlock the secrets of the near and ancient past.

Magical Realism and Historical Memory

The magical realist author, Carlos Fuentes once said that the “real historians” in Latin America were its novelists. Magical realism is a distinctly Latin American fiction genre that mixes stark reality with elaborate fantasy in order to show us that the ordinary can be truly miraculous. In this course, we will test Fuentes’ claim by reading magical realist novels and short stories as a window into Latin American history, life, and culture. In particular, we will consider how this genre speaks to a particular cultural voice and context in order to examine the many ways that literature can reflect and alter historical memory.

Nicolette Kostiw

A great course for lovers of literature, with an interest in history, who find truth in the impossible.

Game Theory-

Game Theory is the mathematics of strategy and rational decision-making. Basically, it uses math to try to understand and respond to human behavior. Sometimes this behavior can be a bit “quirky,” such as when a soccer team once tried desperately to score on its own goal. We will learn to how to construct scenarios like this (including more common situations) in mathematical terms, model rational behavior, and account for what we don’t know in order to predict and achieve the best possible outcome.

Zachary Gaslowitz

A great course for the strategically minded math-lover.

Microbiology and Immunology

When you were little, your parents might have told you that germs can make you sick, but the story is more complex. In truth, you have more microbes inside you than human cells. These microscopic organisms (microbes) both harm and help the human body. Students in this course will learn how microbes and the body interact, keeping you healthy or making you sick. Students will observe the workings of an infectious disease lab at Vanderbilt University (learning and practicing standard safety protocol with only strains approved by a Biosafety Officer). Students will also discuss contemporary social issues that surround the ways modern medicine both treats and prevents microbe-related diseases.

Holly Algood, Ph.D. and Jen Gaddy, Ph.D.

A great course for future doctors, research scientists, and people fascinated by the microbial world of the human body.

Prerequisite: Biology. Additional application materials: transcript. Applicants who have not taken biology should (1) include work samples demonstrating a thorough grasp of cellular biology and (2) make a strong case for their enrollment in their application essay.

Rhetoric and Advocacy

How does one effectively advocate for change? This course will help students apply Aristotelian rhetoric to influence political, economic, and social change. They will identify and research multiple sides of contemporary social issues, make their case, and defend it. While students will learn some fundamentals of public speaking, more importantly, they will learn how to think critically, argue effectively, and mobilize support for the matters that matter to them.

Prof. John English

A great course for world-changers who love a well-researched argument.

Astronomy of Galaxies

Our Solar System is just one of billions within our Milky Way Galaxy. Our Milky Way Galaxy is just one of billions within the universe. In this course, we will study the observational and the theoretical of galaxies in our universe. We’ll cover the major types and the component parts: gas, dust, stars, supermassive black holes, dark matter, etc. We’ll use freely available observational data and physics to aid our quest. Using 8-inch telescopes at night, we will investigate some component parts of our own Milky Way Galaxy. By the end of this session, you will be able to present a poster answering a research question you design.

Erika Grundstrom, Ph.D.

A great course for expansive thinkers who revel in the vastness of outer space.

Nanotechnology and Engineering

The “next big thing” in engineering isn’t big at all. Nanotechnology is revolutionizing how we interact with our own world. With a focus on two broad topics, energy and health, students will conduct hands-on experiments that will help them understand how nanotechnology makes life-saving drugs more effective, converts solar energy into electrical power, and much more.

– VINSE Faculty, including Greg Walker, Richard Haglund, Sandra Rosenthal, Jason Valentine, David Cliffel, Cary Pint, and Risia Bardhan.

A great course for students who use science to solve problems.

This course has a special scholarship fund for Tennessee residents who meet certain criteria. To apply go to,