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Session 2

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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!


Courses marked with an * are waiting list only. View the VSA waiting list policy.

Heroes and Villains in Literature – 

From modern short stories to classical mythology, authors have known that the best heroes and villains are like anybody else – complicated! We are often faced with heroes who seem utterly immoral or villains with whom we cannot help but sympathize. In this course, you will explore the problem of the hero and the villain in modern literature, television, and film, as well as in historical sources. David Kumler

A great course for budding literary critics and fans of T.V. Tropes.

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, James Dickerson, Tod Giorgio, David Cliffel, Jim Davidson, Kane Jennings.

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, download and complete this form.

Agents of Change: Advocacy, Rhetoric, and Social Action – 

So, you want to make a difference in the world? Here’s a place to stoke that fire. Taught by a Vanderbilt professor, 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. John English

A great course for future lawyers, politicians, community activists, and anyone else who wants to change the world.

Microbiology and Immunology: Parasites, Superbugs, and other Microbes – 

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 who like gross things.

Prerequisite: Biology

Math and Music – 

The dance between math and music is an intricate one. From Brahms to Beatles, Bartok to Ben Folds, the points at which mathematics and music collide open up both worlds as expressions of beauty and wonder. This course will examine set theory, musical scales, frequency, matrices, serialism, compositional techniques, and the Fibonacci sequence, among other topics, helping students to reach a synthesis between the fields of math and music. A musical background is helpful but not required. – Dawson Gray

A great course for music lovers with a penchant for math.

Reading Bones: Forensics and Bioarchaeology – 

Scientists who study human remains at modern crime scenes (forensics) and ancient burial sites (bioarchaeology) can tell a lot from bones. This fast-paced course will teach students the methods and techniques forensic anthropologists use in the lab and the field to determine everything from age and sex to geographic region and diet of the deceased. Students will work with real human bones in Vanderbilt’s Osteology Lab, visit local archaeology sites, and possibly tour Vanderbilt’s Isotope Chemistry Lab (permission pending). By the end of this course, students will be able to weave together multiple lines of evidence – skeletal, chemical, and contextual – to read the stories written in our bones. Matt Velasco

A great course for people suspicious of crime scene T.V. shows.

The Hidden History of Slavery – 

For most of us, the word “slavery” conjures the same image: displaced Africans toiling under brutal conditions in the cotton fields of the southern United States. But that image is only one truth of many inside a grim history. With a keen eye on both North and South America, students in this course will study maps, photographs, and historical documents from Vanderbilt’s archives to explore the cultural and economic factors that influenced the slave trade, the diverse experiences of slaves, and how such complexities have shaped the world we live in today. Angela Sutton

A great course for budding historians looking for a deeper dive into a complex topic.

Contemporary Topics in Abnormal Psychology – 

How do we know what is psychologically normal? What constitutes “abnormality,” and is it determined? Questions like these have fascinated physicians and philosophers throughout history. Students in this course will develop a deep understanding of how modern psychology classifies, diagnoses, and treats “disorders” ranging from anxiety and depression to substance abuse. They will also explore how modern media reflects shifting attitudes about mental health, and how that affects everything from legal decisions to military policy. Rachel Aaron

A great course for future psychologists and armchair psychologists.

Adaptation in Filmmaking – 

Imagine you are producing a movie based on your favorite book. Where do you start? How do you determine what separates a good adaptation from a terrible one, and as a filmmaker, how can you make sure your film does justice to the original work? This course emphasizes the hands-on processes used to create superlative short films: adapting, planning, filming, and editing. Students will complete several film projects, start to finish, learning how to produce films and how to best capture and convey our favorite stories. Nathan Poole and Jake Wilson



A great course for students inspired by writing and film.

Writing Short Stories – 

In the world of literature there’s hardly anything as satisfying–or as difficult to create–as a well-crafted short story. William Faulkner called the short story “the most demanding” form of prose, but students in this course will develop the skills necessary to rise to Mr. Faulkner’s challenge. Aspiring writers will exercise the creative process, develop plot, craft complex characters, and explore ideas of narrative and voice. They will read and discuss short stories, and they’ll try out concepts in their own daily writing prompts. By the end of the class, students will have completed short stories of their own. Marysa LaRowe

A great course for young writers with stories to tell.

Combinatorics and Graph Theory –

How many ways are there to scoop three different flavors of ice cream? Now, what if you want your two favorite flavors stacked on top of the third? Combinatorics starts with simple questions like these to build powerful techniques used throughout mathematics. This exploration will lead us to Graph Theory, which covers everything from the fastest way to send information through a network to the best way to schedule events without conflicts. Melding the tangible with the abstract, Combinatorics and Graph Theory explore the beauty and function of advanced mathematical ideas, revealing how abstract constructions can be natural tools for describing our world. Zachary Gaslowitz


A great course for playful and practical mathematicians alike.

Stellar Astronomy through Doctor Who – 

The Doctor and his companions encounter all sorts of astronomical phenomena as they travel through space and time. We may not have a TARDIS in this course, but we will study the life cycle of stars and the remnants they leave behind (especially black holes) using currently available data and 8-inch telescopes. In addition to utilizing astronomical tools and methods, students will design research questions, pursue verifiable answers, and share their findings in a culminating poster presentation. Familiarity with Doctor Who is not necessary as episodes of this long-running series will merely raise questions that students will work to answer in class and independently. So, no sonic screwdriver required. – Erika Grundstrom

A great course for stargazers (who know that bow ties are cool).